Is it Still Foolish to Hope?

two-traumatised-societies1

Palestine-Israel Journal

I grew up in a household that was quietly but staunchly pro-Israel. This was of course (and still generally is) the default position in the west. Most Australians would have stood squarely behind the Israeli Defense Force as it battled Egypt, Jordan and Syria in 1967, been shocked by the Munich massacre in 1972 and enthralled when four planeloads of Israeli commandos, after a dangerous, long, ground-hopping night flight, rescued some 100 hostages at Entebbe airport in July 1976. (Curiously enough, the only commando killed during that mission was Yonatan Netanyahu, elder brother of Benjamin, who seems likely to once again become Israel’s prime minister.)

It was the David and Goliath story brought into modern times.

Today, the story is radically different, at least for me. Let me give you a small illustration of the distance travelled. Last week, a friend of more than thirty years standing (with whom I’d long ago agreed to disagree on this issue) was surprised, and pleased, when some comments of mine in which I’d praised the Jews convinced him I really wasn’t antisemitic. It came as a shock that such a thought had ever even crossed his mind. The experience was a powerful illustration of this issue’s capacity to confuse and divide, and a reminder that assuming even close friends understand what’s in one’s heart can be foolish. Particularly so in this instance since I almost always end up arguing the Palestinian case. As to why, despite our amicable standoff agreement, we ended up discussing it at all, well, the sheer ubiquity of new reports about Gaza made it impossible not to do so. Our conversations, I’m happy to say, remained civil and we might even have made a little progress towards better understanding.

I found it intriguing that the one thing which slightly shifted this friend’s perceptions of the issue was not my eloquence (such as it was), but an article written by King Abdullah of Jordan for The American Magazine in November, 1947. It was entitled “As the Arabs see the Jews” and began with these two paragraphs:

I am especially delighted to address an American audience, for the tragic problem of Palestine will never be solved without American understanding, American sympathy, American support.

So many billions of words have been written about Palestine-perhaps more than on any other subject in history-that I hesitate to add to them. Yet I am compelled to do so, for I am reluctantly convinced that the world in general, and America in particular, knows almost nothing of the true case for the Arabs.

Does it strike you too as a little disconcerting that these words might as easily have been written last week? Reading them (and I recommend you do), knowing they were written with great hope (and intelligence) over 60 years ago and then read by hundreds of thousands of Americans well before I was born provided a visceral confirmation of just how long this tragedy has been unfolding. Like King Abdullah, but with far more reason, I too was, indeed am, hesitant to add to the many words already spilled. And yet, in the end, how can I not? When a people I admired so much (and would love to admire again) appear to be slowly and painfully closing off their chances of achieving a durable peace, and sullying both their memories and perhaps their dreams, should I not at least try to say something constructive? And surely this is no less so when a people who have suffered so long and unjustly in exile and dispossession are brutally hammered yet again in their homes and offices and schools. And for what? Who is it that wins from all this?

After reading King Abdullah’s eloquent plea for understanding, it doesn’t take much imagination to see why much of the Arab world would prefer that Israel had never been established. Nor, of course, is it in the least bit difficult to understand why Jewish citizens of Israel won’t countenance this viewpoint in even its most abstract form.

That fear of annihilation often sits deeply within Israeli Jews ought to surprise no-one. The heartrending history of their persecution through the centuries would be justification enough even without the black hole of the Holocaust. Nor does it help that Israel is in truth alone and surrounded by states that can by no measure be called friendly. The Zionist dream of establishing a Jewish state which would be a haven from an unfriendly world long predated the Second World War (the movement was founded, largely by secular Jews, in the late 19th century) but this shattering catastrophe clearly gave it immense impetus. The appalling lack of generosity shown by the western world in accepting so few Jewish survivors must have made it seem utterly imperative. It’s natural, too, that for many who came and settled the words “never again” were engraved on their hearts. They would fight to the death to hold on to what they had, and to ensure their survival.

And so there is grief, determination, anger and resentment at a great injustice on one side and fear, determination, perhaps some guilt, and anger too at the sheer intransigence of the problem on the other. It’s the core dilemma that has kept this wound open for over two generations. That, and what seems to me a long series of own goals on both sides.

* * * * * * * * * * *

There have been moments when the road not taken seems so very clear. In the immediate aftermath of the six day war, for example, the former Israeli prime minister, David Ben Gurion, was flown over the captured land west of the river Jordan, land with Biblical names like Judaea and Samaria, full of resonance, history and allure. Profoundly moved though he was, Ben Gurion is reported to have said: “Now we must give all this land back at once. Except Jerusalem, perhaps. That we will have to discuss.” Perhaps he understood even then that it would be, for Israel, a poisoned chalice, a temptation which would exert an increasing power and make any lasting settlement with the Palestinians well nigh impossible.

His fears went unheeded. Keeping the captured territory and so establishing buffers against future attacks must have seemed such an obvious answer, whatever the injustice meted out to previous owners. Once Israel had control of these lands, settlements were of course inevitable, however slow the initial moves may have been. I should imagine it was this spectre, and the eternal enmity and conflict it would spark, that Ben Gurion foresaw when he flew over them that day in 1967.

Another friend, this one a retired Brigadier in the Pakistani army, has recently analysed the strategic dilemma confronting America in Afghanistan. Since a somewhat similar one faces Israel in Gaza (and arguably the West Bank), his overview of the available options seems particularly relevant:

When devising a policy and a military strategy to deal with an insurgency, the first question that should be asked is: how widely and deeply is the insurgency embedded in the general population? If the answer is ‘Not too much’, then it is feasible to try and deal with it using a typical military COIN [counterinsurgency] strategy against the insurgents, along with political and economic measures to win over the rest of the population. This is how the US stabilized the situation in Iraq after it stopped waging war against the Sunni population, and instead began to court, and even protect, it (it helped greatly that the remaining insurgents were mainly foreigners).

If the insurgency is well established within a large part of the population, then the above measures will not work, and another question needs to be asked: Are you prepared to wage war (not COIN!) on the general population (as the only means available to strike at the insurgency)? If the answer is ‘No’, then you must find a political solution to the problem. This was the answer of the British in Northern Ireland, and they finally did manage to arrange a political solution.

If the answer you are prepared to give is ‘Yes’, then the chances of success of the war you will need to wage on the general population will depend on the human and natural environment in which you will wage it, and whether you are prepared to invest in it the required time, resources and brutality.

Israel’s current strategy seems to be an awkward hybrid of the first (in the West Bank) and the last (in Gaza). Brutal though the assault on Gaza was, it (thankfully) fell well short of the sort of no holds barred approach Russia took in Chechnya. At the same time, it was sufficiently punitive to stir condemnation from around the world and harden Palestinian resistance. Despite their losses, Hamas now looks even more entrenched in Gaza than it was in December. (It’s ironic to recall that for many years, Israel encouraged the growth of Hamas as a counterweight to Arafat’s Fatah, which was then seen as the more serious threat to Israel’s control over Gaza and the West Bank).

At no stage has Israel provided any incentives that might have strengthened the more moderate political wing of Hamas or attempted to bring it into the political process as was finally done with Sinn Fein in Ireland. Indeed quite the opposite: the constant humiliation of President Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority (which has tried to work with the Israeli government) as settlements continue to mushroom in the West Bank and the Palestinian people face incessant harassment and discrimination serves as a stark disincentive to cooperation.

Combined with a widespread perception of the (previously Fatah controlled) Palestinian Authority as corrupt, this disillusionment ensured Hamas’ win in the January 2006 election. Ironically, again (beware, it seems, of unintended consequences), this election had been heavily favoured by the US administration and they were stunned at the outcome. Rather than accepting what was widely acknowledged as a free and fair election process, and seeking to use it as a potential game changer, the result was instead met with a near total and concerted withdrawal of all aid and cooperation, not only by Israel and the US but also by much of the international community. Certainly not the best advertising for their pro-democracy credentials in the Middle East.

In addition, Hamas (and by default the Palestinian people) were subjected to constant harassment, punitive financial measures and, in Gaza, the imposition of an increasingly comprehensive blockade, particularly after Hamas preempted a US and Israeli backed attempt by Fatah to seize control in 2007. The result has been severe shortages of food and medicine, the progressive breakdown of the sanitation and power infrastructure and a near collapse of business activity since exports were also totally blocked.

* * * * * * * * * * *

That all this has been counterproductive ought not to have come as a surprise: there is, after all, no historical evidence of which I’m aware that such policies benefit anyone other than the more extreme elements in a society. As Brigadier Ali noted later in the piece I quoted from above: “Of these [various counterinsurgency attempts], only the Russians ultimately succeeded, because of the small size of the target population compared to the forces they put in, and the massive brutality of their operation.” Writing in the Christian Science Monitor in March last year, Gareth Evans (Foreign Minister under Hawke and Keating, now head of the International Crisis Group) drew similar conclusions about the futility of trying to cut Hamas out the equation by force:

The policy of isolating Hamas and applying sanctions to Gaza has been a predictable failure. Violence to both Gazans and Israelis is rising. Economic conditions are ruinous, generating anger and despair. The credibility of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and other pragmatic forces has been grievously damaged. The peace process is in tatters.

Many Israelis are also desperately unhappy with the Gaza campaign, not only because of the strategic failure but because what was done so profoundly clashes with their self-perception. Take this recent Haaretz editorial:

This is precisely the moment at which Israel needs to preempt the others and investigate itself. It is impossible to ignore what has already been reported, and one must not leave the task of investigating solely to foreign bodies, some of whom are hostile. Israel also needs to ask itself what was done in its name in Gaza. Were deeds that are never to be done, even in a time of war, perpetrated? Has the IDF crossed the line according to international law? Was there no other way apart from such widespread killing and destruction?

For some, the sense of despair and disillusionment goes even deeper. Avraham Burg, scion of an establishment Israeli political family and himself former Speaker of the Israeli Knesset and Chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, has written and spoken widely about his fears. In the course of a long interview with Ari Shavit (an old colleague from the “small group of reserve soldiers and officers who came out against the First Lebanon War”), they delved deeply into the question of whether the Zionist project had failed. This brief excerpt reveals the intensity of the discussion (Shavit in italics):

What you are saying is that the problem is not just the occupation. In your eyes, Israel as a whole is some sort of horrible mutation.

“The occupation is a very small part of it. Israel is a frightened society. To look for the source of the obsession with force and to uproot it, you have to deal with the fears. And the meta-fear, the primal fear is the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust.”

That is the book’s thesis [the book is "Defeating Hitler", written by Burg]. You are not the first to propose it, but you formulate it very acutely. We are psychic cripples, you claim. We are gripped by dread and fear and make use of force because Hitler caused us deep psychic damage.

“Yes.”

Well, I will counter by saying that your description is distorted. It’s not as though we are living in Iceland and imagining that we are surrounded by Nazis who actually disappeared 60 years ago. We are surrounded by genuine threats. We are one of the most threatened countries in the world.

“The true Israeli rift today is between those who believe and those who are afraid. The great victory of the Israeli right in the struggle for the Israeli political soul lies in the way it has imbued it almost totally with absolute paranoia. I accept that there are difficulties. But are they absolute? Is every enemy Auschwitz? Is Hamas a scourge?”

You are patronizing and supercilious, Avrum. You have no empathy for Israelis. You treat the Israeli Jew as a paranoid. But as the cliche goes, some paranoids really are persecuted. On the day we are speaking, Ahmadinejad is saying that our days are numbered. He promises to eradicate us. No, he is not Hitler. But he is also not a mirage. He is a true threat. He is the real world – a world you ignore.

“I say that as of this moment, Israel is a state of trauma in nearly every one of its dimensions. And it’s not just a theoretical question. Would our ability to cope with Iran not be much better if we renewed in Israel the ability to trust the world? Would it not be more right if we didn’t deal with the problem on our own, but rather as part of a world alignment beginning with the Christian churches, going on to the governments and finally the armies?

“Instead, we say we do not trust the world, they will abandon us, and here’s Chamberlain returning from Munich with the black umbrella and we will bomb them alone.

Unsurprisingly, Burg is now an intensely controversial figure, much reviled, viewed by many (perhaps most) as a traitor to Israel and his own history. As Ari Shavit put it in his introduction to the interview:

I was outraged by the book [Defeating Hitler]. I saw it as a turning away of an Israeli colleague from our shared Israeliness. I saw it as a one-dimensional and unempathetic attack on the Israeli experience. Still, the dialogue with Avrum was riveting. We got angry at each other and raised our voices at each other and circled each other warily like two wounded gladiators in the arena. You can’t take away from Avrum what he has. You can’t take away the education or the articulateness or the ability to touch truly painful places. Maybe that’s why he is so infuriating. Friend and predator; brother and deserter.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of this kind of extreme viewpoint, it seems clear that the Palestinians are not the only people in crisis. The exhaustion on all sides is palpable, even from this distance. Many Israelis have no doubt retreated behind metaphorical (and literal) walls, unable to see any way to unravel the intricate tangle. As for the Palestinians, whatever energy is left after the daily struggle for survival must surely often coalesce as rage. Man disposes, God weeps.

What, then, is to be done? And, as Primo Levi put it, “If Not Now, When?”

* * * * * * * * * * *

On Monday last week, President Obama gave an extended interview (indeed his first formal interview as President) to al-Arabiya, the Saudi satellite television station. For many, including Mark Lynch, a professor of political science at George Washington University who writes at ForeignPolicy.com, he struck pretty much the right tone:

He repeatedly emphasized his intention of moving past the iron walls of the ‘war on terror’ and ‘clash of civilizations’ which so dominated the Bush era.   “My job is to communicate to the Muslim world that the United States is not your enemy,” Obama said, emphasizing as in his inaugural address that he is “ready to initiate a new partnership [with the Muslim world] based on mutual respect and mutual interest.” And where so much of the Bush administration’s ‘public diplomacy’ was about manipulating and lecturing, Obama begins — as he should — with listening: ‘what I told [Mitchell] is start by listening, because all too often the United States starts by dictating..so let’s listen.’

The Mitchell he’s referring to is George J. Mitchell, appointed by Obama (in one of his first acts as President) as special envoy to the Middle East. Mitchell has form, and, unusually, it’s good. Previously Senate Majority Leader from 1989-1995, he was Clinton’s special envoy to Northern Ireland from 1995-1998 and played a substantial role in bringing about the historic “Good Friday Agreement”. He, and Richard Haass (who was Bush’s envoy to the N. Ireland peace process), wrote an article for the International Herald Tribune in May 2007 on the occasion of devolved government fully returning to Northern Ireland. In it, they summed up the principles they saw as vital to successful peace negotiations. They’re worth quoting at some length:

Those who would shoot or bomb their way to power must be prevented from doing so if they are ever to turn from violence to politics. At the same time, making sure that people realise that violence will not succeed is not enough. They must also come to believe that a true political path exists, one that will allow them to realise enough of their agenda to persuade their followers to turn away from violence.

Negotiations are essential. Peace never just happens; it is made, issue by issue, point by point. In order to get negotiations launched, preconditions ought to be kept to an absolute minimum.

In the case of Northern Ireland, it was right to make a ceasefire a prerequisite. Killing and talking do not go hand in hand. But it was also right not to require that parties give up their arms or join the police force before the talks began.

Confidence needs to be built before more ambitious steps can be taken. Front-loading a negotiation with demanding conditions all but assures that negotiations will not get under way, much less succeed.

Parties should be allowed to hold onto their dreams. No one demanded of Northern Ireland’s Catholics that they let go of their hope for a united Ireland; no one required of local Protestants that they let go of their insistence that they remain a part of the United Kingdom.

They still have those goals, but they have agreed to pursue them exclusively through peaceful and democratic means. That is what matters.

Including in the political process those previously associated with violent groups can actually help. Sometimes it’s hard to stop a war if you don’t talk with those who are involved in it.

To be sure, their participation will likely slow things down and, for a time, block progress. But their endorsement can give the process and its outcome far greater legitimacy and support. Better they become participants than act as spoilers.

It takes no great insight to see how these principles could be applied to the Israeli / Palestinian dispute, nor to grasp how little they have been to date. Although a great many private individuals and groups (including those within Israel) have long been working tirelessly towards goals of this sort, little of substance can happen until the Israel government, and those states who have the power to influence it, are willing to seriously set foot on this long road. Israel is, after all, the regional superpower.

Nor does it help that Israel has of late made it ever more impossible for the Palestinians to “come to believe that a true political path exists, one that will allow them to realise enough of their agenda to persuade their followers to turn away from violence.” In a recent article in the New York Review of Books, Roger Cohen illustrated this point rather well:

There is another right that Israel does not have: to delude its people into thinking that peace is achievable without coming to terms with the deeply entrenched Middle Eastern realities that are Hamas and Hezbollah, organizations still viewed in the US government and Congress almost exclusively through the prism of terror, but whose grassroots political movements present a far more complex, variegated picture. The logic of the Israeli offensive, if there is one, must surely be that Hamas can be so weakened as ultimately to crumble. That is also the logic of the relentless blockade that persisted during the six-month cease-fire despite Israel’s earlier commitment, as part of the deal, to opening border crossings. But such logic is flawed. Hamas is not going away. As Brigadier General (Res.) Shmuel Zakai, the former commander of the Israel Defense Forces’ Gaza Division, told Ha’aretz on December 22 [2008]:

‘We could have eased the siege over the Gaza Strip, in such a way that the Palestinians, Hamas, would understand that holding their fire served their interests. But when you create a tahadiyeh [truce], and the economic pressure on the Strip continues, it’s obvious that Hamas will try to reach an improved tahadiyeh, and that their way to achieve this is resumed Qassam fire.’

We are left, then, to wonder whether Obama’s more conciliatory attitude towards the Muslim world and his appointment of Mitchell heralds the beginning of a new and more hopeful process, one where America might be able to set aside its historical one-sidedness on this issue sufficiently to truly assist. Despite all the difficulties (by no means all of them originating in the Middle East), and the historical animosities, it ought surely not be beyond the ken of man to move matters in a slightly more constructive direction. To judge from this transcript of Mitchell’s remarks on the occasion of his appointment (found via an excellent article by Daniel Levy entitled “Can George Mitchell Astound the Skeptics, Again?”), he certainly seems to think so:

In the negotiations which led to that agreement [the Good Friday Agreement], we had 700 days of failure and one day of success.

For most of the time, progress was nonexistent or very slow. So I understand the feelings of those who may be discouraged about the Middle East.

As an aside, just recently, I spoke in Jerusalem, and I mentioned the 800 years [the time since Britain began its domination of Ireland]. And afterward, an elderly gentleman came up to me, and he said, “Did you say 800 years?” I said, “Yes, 800.” He repeated the number again. I repeated it again. He said, “Ah, such a recent argument. No wonder you settled it.”

(LAUGHTER)

But 800 years may be recent, but from my experience there, I formed the conviction that there is no such thing as a conflict that can’t be ended. Conflicts are created, conducted and sustained by human beings; they can be ended by human beings.

For anyone inclined to believe in the efficacy of prayer, this may be a good time to send up a few.

78 thoughts on “Is it Still Foolish to Hope?

  1. Hi Ingolf,

    your piece raises more issues than can be answered in a hurry. Let me quickly respond to the most important ones though.

    1. If you want to look at the importance of fear in keeping individuals in their current position, look no further than your own piece. You should not have to write this many words to convince the audience you are trying to be balanced and informed of history. You shouldnt have to tell us you have friends on the other side to convince us of your good intentions. If you think Israel has committed war crimes (which I think you believe), you should be able to just say so and not hide behind quotes of others. It is a piece that reeks of the fear of the label ‘anti-semetic’. How can you ask others to step over their fear with a piece that is full of it? Let me turn your own piece on you and ask you to step over your own fears and tell us what you really think. Or has freedom of informed opinion died even in the blogoshpere?

    2. yes, it is foolish to hope at this time. It is not part of human nature to reach an agreement in which you share the pie if you believe you can have the whole pie for yourself. Rather, you convince yourself you have an inalienable right to the whole pie. It was always yours to begin with. At the moment, Israel’s military superiority over the Palestinians is too overwhelming to realistically think Israel will give up land, water, territorial claims, or whatever. If you believe you can have it all, you dont share. Why would you? Even if you do not have the stomach to eradicate your opponents so that they wont pester you in the future, you will simply keep them in a prison camp whilst you enjoy the fruits of the resources. Worse still, you will keep the prisoners poor and demoralised so that they wont bother you too much. It helps if they make threatening noises because that gives you an excuse to bomb any hint of economic independence (and hence strength) out of them. The brutal strategic reality is that if the Palestinians want to be taken seriously, they have to have a seriously better organised army. The big mistake Palestinians like Hamas have made is to threaten too much with a stick that is too small. The mistake is understandable given the imperatives of their internal politics (which are fascinating), but the obvious way forward for them is to walk softly and meanwhile carve a much bigger stick.

    3. Yes, you are fool to hope at this time, but it is very necessary that you keep on hoping. After all, the abandonment of hope is the doorstep of hell. Just imagine what truly desparate Israelis could do to the Palestinians.

  2. Pingback: Is it Still Foolish to Hope? - Global Cable Reviews

  3. Palestinians have their two state solution at last. Hamas and Fatah. Like me, no Israeli could possibly live under the yoke of either and that’s what breaching that wall means now for Israelis. When a million Muslim troops gathered meanacingly on the borders with Israel and Palestinians licked their lips at the thought of driving the Jews into the sea, they were gambling on all the pie as Nasser told the UN to bugger off which they hastily did. Unfortunately it was an all or nothing gamble for the Palestinians and they lost. The rest of Arab Street sued for peace and ditched the Palestinians for most of their own land back.

    Ever since they’ve used Palestinians as their useful idiots to nip at the heels of their humiliators. They quietly load Palestinian guns, they’re too afraid to fire themselves, at the same time maintaining the domestic rage against an iconic enemy that is the typical diversionary tactic of every dictatorial regime. I refuse to be their useful idiots too and so support the only decent democracy in the region bar one. The fledgling Iraqi beacon of light that may yet prove a greater challenge to the gaggle of gangsters in the region, that so publicly champion the rights of what are really their private pet poodles. I’m not that soft in the head to be used like that.

  4. ‘At no stage has Israel provided any incentives that might have strengthened the more moderate political wing of Hamas or attempted to bring it into the political process as was finally done with Sinn Fein in Ireland.’

    Nonsense! It was 9/11 that held a mirror up to the IRA and when they didn’t like what every decent civilised person saw reflected there, they had enough intelligence to no longer want to be associated in any way with the methods of fundamentalist Islam and its large caravan of hangers on. Then and only then could a peaceful resolution begin. That’s the intractable problem for Israel and indeed many infidels dealing with much of Islam. Palestinians don’t have that same intelligence although they had the golden opportunity to demonstrate it with their PA under Arafat after Oslo.

  5. observa,

    this is clearly an emotive issue for you, so let me tread carefully here. Even though I agree that this issue has been tainted by internal political pressures (not just within Arab countries though!), I think you miss the main point. The point is not whether the Palestinians have made mistakes, have the wrong leaders and the wrong friends, and not even what they threaten others with. The point is that they are humans and that the stronger side has the obligation to treat them with as much human dignity as possible. From the (BBC) documentaries I have seen, the Israeli military this time has stepped over the line of what is deemed acceptable behaviour of the strong towards the weak. It will be up to the international courts to nail it all down, but one would need a heart of stone to see the disproportionate suffering of the Palestinian women, children, and men, and to nevertheless say ‘they had it coming’.
    The missed opportunity of Oslo, when Barak went as far as one can expect an Israeli prime minister to go, should tell you something: the claim of statehood and territory is the main bit of dignity left to the Palestinians. You do not sell your dream if it is all you have left, even if it will mean great hardship for many years to come. And this is the difference with Northern Ireland: the Irish Catholics had some degree of economic wealth and were never required to give up their dream of a United Ireland. Even in the peace treaty following the Good Friday agreement, the protestants were not asked to give up any significant amount of resources. Giving up land and resources is far more difficult than agreeing not to shoot each other for a while. It really only happens when you truly believe you cannot win by force. That needs military parity.

  6. Paul, thanks for weighing in. I’d hoped the piece might spark some real discussion and looked forward to seeing what the range of views might be like, whether (please God) there would be some surprises. Silence was on the list of possible outcomes, but I confess it was last. Perhaps that’s the fault of my writing (see below) or perhaps for most the issue is worn out or too tricky. I just don’t know.

    Your first comment was in at least one sense spot on; I consciously set out to write the article in as balanced and low-key a fashion as I could manage, given my views. It was a deliberate experiment, born out of the results of many discussions about this issue in recent months. I guess I can see how you might feel Why don’t you just bloody well say what you mean? Then again, I hardly think anyone reading the piece carefully could be in any doubt of my views. (By the way, using quotes from those who are directly involved, or have relevant knowledge or experience doesn’t mean I’m hiding behind them. They’re chosen because they make a given point more strongly, and usually more appropriately, than pontifications from me.)

    Nor was the tack I took done out of a fear of being labeled antisemitic; I just wanted to open up a discussion that might do more than garner a few cheers (maybe) from Palestinian supporters and the usual arguments from the pro-Israeli side. The very attempt may be misguided, doomed even; perhaps the fault lines on this issue are truly set in stone and any attempt to be reasonable will be brushed aside as irrelevant. Or pretty much ignored, as seems the case here.

    Still, unless the road to compromise is reopened (and, yes, I do think most of the needed shift, and the initiative, has to come from the Israeli side), the outlook is chillingly bleak, perhaps even catastrophically so. As should have apparent from the essay, one of the things that fascinates me is how Israelis found their way into such a cul-de-sac and how they now view that journey. Ideally, I wanted to hear from supporters of Israel, not through inciting a pointless flame war, but through trying to offer a forum where they could feel their arguments might be taken seriously. Again, perhaps a foolish notion, but it’s not as if there was anything to lose.

    Observa, I’m happy to go with Paul’s response to your comments, even though I’m somewhat less pessimistic than him about the potential for a negotiated peace.

  7. “…and, yes, I do think most of the needed shift, and the initiative, has to come from the Israeli side…”

    What would you suggest, Ingolf?

    Withdraw from Gaza? Done, with the results we have seen.

    Withdraw from the West Bank? Offered by Barak, Sharon and Olmert. Rejected.

    Evacuate the West Bank settlements? Offered by Livni and Olmert. No substantive response from Abbas (not least because with the settlers and the IDF gone, the West Bank would instantly fall into the hands of Hamas).

    Sit still under rocket fire? Done, for eight long years before Cast Lead.

    More generally, you seem to think it’s a generous concession that the arguments of Israel’s supporters be ‘taken seriously’. Why is that?

  8. Here is a quote from someone who really knows what he’s talking about – Khaled Abu Toameh, a Palestinian who writes for the Jerusalem Post:

    And where are we standing today? I told you before that Im one of those people who support a two-state solution. I think its a wonderful solution. But in the end were getting a different kind of two-state solution. We have two separate entities. One in Gaza, and one in the West Bank.

    The one in Gaza is an Islamic state run by Hamas and supported by Ahmadinejad, Syria, Hezbollah, and some people say Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood. Its a very dangerous situation, and as a moderate Muslim thats the last place I want to live on this earth.

    What we have in the West Bank is the secular, corrupt, powerless regime of the PLO. Abu Mazen, Abu Shmazen, all these Abus. The Arafat cronies who failed their people over the past fifteen years. Who lost the election in January 2006 because of the corruption. Who were kicked out of Gaza because they failed. Who have lost control over half the Palestinians who live in this part of the world. And they are sitting in Ramallah. These people are in power only thanks to the presence of the IDF in the West Bank. If the Israeli army were to leave the West Bank tomorrow morning these PLO people would collapse in five minutes and Hamas would take over.

    The question we should ask ourselves in the wake of this scenario is whether or not there is really a partner on the Palestinian side for any deal, let alone a peace agreement. Any kind of deal. Is there really a partner on the Palestinian side? And the answer is simple. No.

  9. At the risk of being excessively simplistic, it does seem that the one thing that’s become obvious from the whole Israel-Palestinian conflict is that retaliating to violence with more violence does nothing to stop it (*).
    Does Israel really not have the technology to simply render the attacks coming from Palestinian useless, e.g. by destroying their missiles in the air? Does such technology exist?
    If it became obvious that Israel had enough wealth and technology to protect itself from whatever Palestine could afford to throw at it, and wasn’t bothering to attack back, surely the enthusiasm for violent solutions among Palestinians would wane pretty quickly.
    The fact that Israel is going beyond simply protecting itself, and is instead launching counter-attacks, does seem to reveal some amount of intent to acquire more territory for itself. As long as that’s the case, the situation isn’t going to resolve itself.

    (*) I’m not arguing this as a general case – obviously WWII was an example where violence was the only thing that was going to stop Hitler’s violence.

  10. No it’s not, NPOV. Many people have been killed and injured by the Qassams, which is the reason Hamas/PIJ fire them. The secondary reason is to create such a climate of fear in the southern towns that the inhabitants evacuate north. This is an avowed purpose of the rocket barrage. Many residents have done so (half the residents of Sderot were recently re-housed in a tent city in Tel Aviv, IIRC), but most are too poor. So they have to soak it up – kids afraid to go to school, no weddings, etc.

    On your other question about destroying the rockets – these missiles are unguided, so normal electronic counter-measures can’t be deployed (these lock onto missiles’ guidance systems, which the Qassams don’t have). I believe Israel is looking at radar-based defences but because the missiles are in flight only for a few seconds, that’s a big ask of any defensive technology.

    Hamas uses these missiles precisely because they are unguided – no effective defence, but maximum fear and confusion, since no-one knows where the rockets will fall.

  11. The “climate of fear” part is why I agree just sitting there and taking the hits won’t work. Even if it’s true that the chance of getting killed by a rocket is low compared to many other possible means of death for most Israelis, I can well imagine they continually inflict significant psychological damage.
    On that grounds, Israel are justified in attempting to protecting their citizens. And if it’s true that no technology exists yet to reliably prevent the rockets from reaching Israel, then the next best thing would seem to be high-precision attacks on where the rockets are coming from, ensuring that civilian casualties are not measurably more than those caused by Hamas rockets. But the scale of Israel’s recent retaliation is well over and above that. And there’s basically no reason to believe it’s of sufficient scale to stop the violence once and for all (which would probably require wiping out the Gaza strip entirely).

  12. High-precision responses, yes – to the extent that is possible. My understanding (which may be wrong – I’m not a military expert) is that the Israelis use shell- and rocket-tracking radar systems to pinpoint the point of origin of hostile fire. They can’t see what they’re firing at, obviously. So, if the rockets or mortars are fired from a school, a private residence or a hospital or any other civilian installation – as they almost always are – when the IDF fire back at what their computers tell them is the point of origin, there is a high likelihood of hitting civilians.

    During the recent engagement in Gaza there were drones directly surveilling the environment and aircraft steering the missiles, so there was a greater chance of precision strikes. But in the years before Cast Lead, the IDF fired back from within Israel. Thanks to Hamas’ practice of using the civilian infrastructure as cover, civilian casualties were inevitable. And that’s exactly why Hamas operates in that way.

  13. Rob, terrific talk by Khaled Abu Toameh. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

    I do wonder, though, whether you’ve read the whole thing, together with the followup questions. There wasn’t a lot there I’d want to argue with; indeed most of what he said seems to me very much in line with the tenor of my piece. This exchange, for example:

    Khaled Abu Toameh: Look. Look. As I said before, let’s stop saying Fatah and Hamas. Talk to anyone who wants to talk. Talking to Hamas does not mean that you recognize Hamas or that they become your buddies. The funny thing is that Israel went to war against a party that it doesn’t recognize. And in the end Israel made a cease-fire unilaterally and negotiated with the Americans and the Egyptians for how to end it. And Hamas is still sitting there.

    There’s nothing wrong with Israel talking to Hamas if they want a ceasefire. Israelis can’t ignore the fact that Hamas is in power. And Hamas continues to enjoy tremendous support over there.

    Dr. Barry Posen, MIT Security Studies Program: I’m interested in going back a couple of steps and asking for your assessment of Hamas’ strategy to let the ceasefire lapse and accelerate the firing of rockets. You already mentioned that they miscalculated the Israeli reaction, but what were they hoping to benefit? And what does that tell us about deterring Hamas in the future?

    Khaled Abu Toameh: I think this is something many people in Israel and the West don’t hear. I hear it in Arabic, and I hear it directly from them.

    Dr. Barry Posen: That’s why I’m asking you.

    Khaled Abu Toameh: Just before the ceasefire expired, Hamas went to Egypt and said Listen, folks. We agreed to the previous ceasefire because you, the Egyptians, promised us you would open the Rafah border crossing. And it didn’t happen. And we, Hamas, were committed to this. We did our best to honor the ceasefire.

    Okay, there were some violations here and there, but Hamas did in a way honor the ceasefire. They arrested people who were firing at Israel.

    Mubarak said To hell with it. I’m not going to open the Rafah border crossing unless you allow Mahmoud Abbas to come back into Gaza. Do whatever you want. I’m under pressure from the Israelis, the Americans, and Mahmoud Abbas not to open the Rafah border crossing.

    Mahmoud Abbas went to Mubarak before the ceasefire expired and said President Mubarak, please don’t reopen the Rafah border crossing because that will strengthen Hamas. If you want it to be open, only give it back to me in line with the 2005 US-brokered agreement.

    And so, if you think about it, Mahmoud Abbas and Hosni Mubarak bear indirect responsibility for this war. When Hamas saw that they weren’t going to open the borders, Hamas said To hell with the ceasefire and started firing rockets again. Israel reacted and now we are where we are today.

    So now we are back to square one. Hamas is still making the same demand. They said Okay, we agree to a ceasefire, but reopen the border. They keep saying reopen the border.

    As for the questions you raised in your first comment, the first and fourth are effectively answered in the course of Khaled Abu Toameh’s talk (and in my piece, for that matter).

    Questions two and three, well, it seems to me you’re putting a rather simple (and one-sided) face on this hugely complex issue. I guess in part at least you’re referring to the failure of the Camp David Summit in 2000. Who was right and who was wrong? Well, I don’t know enough to begin to judge but there’s plenty of commentary which seems to offer reasonable explanations for why the deal didn’t get done. The concluding words of a fairly indepth article at the NYRB in 2001 exploring this very question were:

    When the two sides resume their path toward a permanent agreementand eventually, they willthey will come to it with the memory of those remarkable eight months, the experience of how far they had come and how far they had yet to go, and with the sobering wisdom of an opportunity that was missed by all, less by design than by mistake, more through miscalculation than through mischief.

    More generally, there’s been, I think, a widespread acceptance for a long time that agreement with the Palestinians will not be possible without the large scale evacuation of the West Bank. The issue has blown up again in recent days with Livni (under pressure from Netanyahu) backpedaling from her earlier involvement in any such proposals:

    After Netanyahu and senior Likud officials blasted Olmert and Livni’s “promises” and accused Livni of agreeing to divide Jeruslem, she was forced to disassociate herself from the understandings.

    “I will advance only an agreement that represents our interests. Maintaining maximum settlers and places that we hold dear such as Jerusalem – not a single refugee will enter,” Livni said. “This morning’s headline does not represent me or what I stand for,” she told students at the Tel Aviv Academic College.

    The devil has always been (and still is) in the details. And of course in finding the political will to eventually take on the settlers.

  14. I understand that, but I don’t believe Israel counter-attacked with such force as to result in what is almost certainly over a thousand civilian casualities (vs less than 10 caused by Hamas) merely because there was no alternative.

  15. Obama’s directive to his chosen envoy Mitchell to go and listen to the protagonists rather than issue directions puts him, at least in the first instance, in the same position as probably most of the readers of this post. I would have described myself as neutral on the issue until roughly the time Sharon came on the scene as Israeli premier. Even so I’m still a listener and can even applaud Sharon for his decision to exit Gaza. What I didn’t understand and what makes me less of a listener was actions such as destroying the homes of the ex-Israeli Gazans and some horticulture, presumeably for some scorched earth policy of giving the Palestinians no helping hand. If exiting Gaza was a peace gesture why muddy it with such wanton vandalism. The same would go for collective punishment by the IDF bulldozers.
    On the Palestinian side it is reprehensible that Hamas would not honour the previous Fatah/PA ‘recognition of Israel’ policy. This is what responsible incoming democratic administrations do, like it or not. But there is a dreadful logic in their hatred for Israeli actions and the increasingly partisan hardliners in Tel Aviv who sponsor it only encourage more violence. As the much stronger partner, Israel may have to contemplate a much greater degree of forebearance in the use of force if it is going to ever find a peace partner with enough stature among the Palestinians to win a peace deal.
    Blaming Arafat for the failure of the Clinton peace plan with Barack is unfair according to some like Zbiginew Brzenszki former national security advisor under Pres Carter. Clinton was too vague on the assurances to Arafat he believes. Obama won’t want to make the same mistake if ever Mitchell gets close to a deal with Olmert’s successor and the PA leadership. Refusing to even listen to Hamas – at least in public comment – doesn’t strike me as a very good start. Maybe that is just spin but I am getting very jaundiced by the spin that too often invades brave posts such as Ingolfs. May a thousand listeners bloom.

  16. I think you are missing the point, Ingolf. The settlers aren’t the problem. They are cordially disliked by mainstream Israelis and few would weep many tears for them if they were uprooted, as were the settlers of Sinai and Gaza. It’s a solvable problem. But the climate has to be right, as Toameh says, and it’s wrong now. If Israel pulled the settlers out now, along with the IDF presence, the territory would be immediately seized by Hamas. And then the rockets would start to hit Tel Aviv (which is only about 10 miles from the West Bank, remember). Israel was willing to sacrifice Sderot for three years, but it won’t do the same when Grads, Katyushas and Qassams start hitting Tel Aviv.

    Here’s how Totten put it in an earlier post, and he’s no less clear-eyed than Toameh:

    A clear majority of Israelis would instantly hand over the West Bank and its settlements along with Gaza for a real shot at peace with the Arabs, but thats not an option. Most Arab governments at least implicitly say they will recognize Israels right to exist inside its pre-1967 borders, but far too many Palestinians still wont recognize Israels right to exist even in its 1948 borders. Hamas doesnt recognize Israels right to exist inside any borders at all.

    Far too many Westerners make the mistake of projecting their own views onto Palestinians without really understanding the Palestinian narrative. The occupation doesnt refer to the West Bank and Gaza, and it never has. The occupation refers to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. A kibbutz in the center of Israel is occupied Palestine according to most.

    That‘s the problem – a rejection of Israel’s right to exist – not the settlements. That’s the huge stumbling block.

    Talk to Hamas, as Toameh suggests? Sure, if they want a ceasefire, if they want peace on some terms worth talking about. But they don’t. That’s Toameh’s whole point.

  17. “….actions such as destroying the homes of the ex-Israeli Gazans and some horticulture, presumeably for some scorched earth policy of giving the Palestinians no helping hand. If exiting Gaza was a peace gesture why muddy it with such wanton vandalism…..”

    pablo, it was the Palestinians who wrecked the greenhouses – if that’s what you are referring to. A bunch of Jewish philanthropists raised about 13 million USD, bought them from the settlers and gifted them to the PA. A third of them were wrecked an d looted in the first days after the Israeli evacuation, and most were subsequently destroyed a few months later.

    There was no scorched earth policy. Israel left behind a USD100 million export industry in flowers, fruit and vegetables in those greenhouses. It was the Gazans who destroyed it.

  18. “I understand that, but I dont believe Israel counter-attacked with such force as to result in what is almost certainly over a thousand civilian casualities (vs less than 10 caused by Hamas) merely because there was no alternative.”

    In the spirit of Ingolf’s post I am trying not to get really angry about this. Israeli casualties from the rockets were as low as they were because the IDF has whole arm – the Home Front Command – which is dedicated to protecting its citizens. It builds bomb shelters, secure rooms in houses, operates a whole infrastructure to protect its people from being killed. Hamas, despite being loaded with money from Israel, the EU and the US does nothing like that. They know Israel will retaliate if attacked, but they do nothing to protect their civilians – indeed, they do everything possible to put them in harm’s way. It wins them brownie points when they die. Israel doesn’t operate that way.

    Are you saying if a thousand Israelis had been killed it would somehow have been OK for the IDF to kill that many Gazans, and only then? And the latest assessment from the IDF is that ONLY 250 of the casualties were not Hamas operatives. Why should we believe the IDF? Well, why should we believe Hamas? Given Hamas’ tactics of hiding among civilians, it is inevitable that some innocents would have been killed.

    As for the ‘disproportionate’ tag – how ‘proportionate’ was it to fire 6000 rockets and an uncounted number of mortar shells into civilian areas of Israel over a three year period after every last Israeli settler, soldier, donkey, goat and gnat had been removed from Gaza?

    (Apologies for the heat.)

  19. There’s nothing proportionate about what Hamas does – their actions are completely inexcusable. Israel is justified in defending itself, but absolutely some degree of proportionality is required. If Hamas rockets had killed 1000s of Israeli citizens I don’t think anyone would feel that their counter-attack was unjustified.
    Even if it’s true that “only” 250 of the casualties were genuinely innocent civilians, it’s still well over an order of magnitude greater than the number killed by Hamas attacks. If it was known that many of the Hamas launching sites were in areas occupied by a significant civilian presence, and it wasn’t possible to get those civilians out, then aerial strikes are not a justifiable response, and aside from the unnecessary death, destruction and devastation aren’t going to do anything to stop terrorist groups from attacking Israel (and probably quite a bit to help create support for such groups).

  20. Not according to the Law of Armed Conflict. If civilian installations normally immune under the LOAC – schools, religious centres, etc. – are used for military purposes, they lose their immunity and become legitimate military targets. And the responsibility for the deaths of civilians in such cases lies with the organisation (Hamas, in this case) which put them in that position.

  21. “If Hamas rockets had killed 1000s of Israeli citizens I dont think anyone would feel that their counter-attack was unjustified.”

    I don’t understand this. How many British citizens had been killed by the German Wehrmacht in September 1939? None. Not one. Lots of Poles had though. So why did Britain declare war on Germany?

  22. Sorry to be a bore – but to go back to the headline post:

    Ingolf, I’m amazed that you are so impressed with King Abdullah’s letter. You cannot fail to be aware that at the League of Nations’ San Remo Conference in 1920, it was decided to confer upon Britain the responsibility for administering he Mandate of Palestine – which specifically called for the establishment of a Jewish National Homeland in Palestine. Under the terms of that Mandate hundreds of thousands of Jews immigrated lawfully and peacefully to Palestine.

    As for Abdullah here:

    “In the 1920s, Arabs were annoyed and insulted by Zionist immigration, but not alarmed by it.”

    Rubbish. Arabs were rioting against Jewish immigration and land purchase as early as 1920. Hundreds of Jews were killed in Jerusalem, Hebron and Safed in the anti-Jewish riots of 1929.

    “Even the League of Nations sanction does not alter this. At the time, not a single Arab state was a member of the League. We were not allowed to say a word in our own defense.”

    That’s because there were no Arab states in 1920. They were all constituted by the British and the French in the lands that they (principally the British) had liberated from the Turks, who had been the imperial power in the region for the past 400 years. Abdullah himself (of the Arabian Peninsula’s Hashemite dynasty) was given Transjordan by the British.

    I could go on, but…

  23. Ingolf,

    yes, its a fine line you are trying to tread and I appreciate your wish for balance, but your piece does read fearful to me. One can now and then quote others so that it is clear you are not alone in your views, but we cannot here debate with the people you quote. We can only debate with you so its important to know where you stand without us needing to read between the lines.

    I agree with you that the current situation is one of which one can ask ‘how did we get to a situation no one wanted and almost no one wants to see continue, but which looks like will almost inevitably continue for a while?’. You need to be almost super-human to come up with a satisfactory answer though. There is so much history and background and psychology to get on top of, it is truly daunting. It’s probably better not to spend too much time on the past but rather on how to go forward and whether peace has a chance. You are right that I am pessimistic in the medium term for the Palestinians and for any form of peace accord, but I am not that pessimistic for them in the long run. In the long-run I am pessimistic for the Jewish Israelis, with or without peace accords. All the long-run indicators look bad for them, including relative population growth, the decline of the influence of their closest allies, the inevitable eventual economic growth of their swarn enemies, the proliferation of weapons technology that could cause havoc in a small area, etc.. Their long-term future in that part of the world looks bleak. However, let’s not make this thread a cold analysis of power play because that is not in the spirit of your piece. Let’s concentrate on the joint humanity of all involved.

    The debate about whether it was 1000 women and children, or only 250 seems shallow to me. The families of the 750 supposedly ‘legitimately killed’ will bemoan their lost ones to no less degree than the ones ‘illegitimately killed’. Am I supposed to believe the casualties at the bombed UN school were anything less than a tragedy because of the political games by the Egyptian hierachy and the other Palestinian parties? These arguments feel like attempts to take the human side out of the situation and to pretend its all just a game whereby you ‘win’ if you can convince others of the sub-human qualities of the vanquished.

  24. Rob, I think each of us tends to see as clear-eyed those who are broadly in agreement with our own view. As I said earlier, I rather liked Toameh, and also liked the fact that Totten simply printed the whole talk and subsequent discussion. That doesn’t mean either one has things nailed. There’s a good deal of evidence (through both words and actions) that their view of Hamas is too one dimensional.

    To take but a few examples, consider the quote I extracted from Toameh’s talk above. He readily conceded that Hamas had largely held their side of the bargain last year when Israel did not. Elements of Hamas were also ready to renew the truce, providing Israel would actually meaningfully ease the blockade. Here’s Henry Siegman (former national director of the American Jewish Congress and of the Synagogue Council of America) in the latest issue of the London Review of Books:

    The truce, which began in June last year and was due for renewal in December, required both parties to refrain from violent action against the other. Hamas had to cease its rocket assaults and prevent the firing of rockets by other groups such as Islamic Jihad (even Israels intelligence agencies acknowledged this had been implemented with surprising effectiveness), and Israel had to put a stop to its targeted assassinations and military incursions. This understanding was seriously violated on 4 November, when the IDF entered Gaza and killed six members of Hamas. Hamas responded by launching Qassam rockets and Grad missiles. Even so, it offered to extend the truce, but only on condition that Israel ended its blockade. Israel refused. It could have met its obligation to protect its citizens by agreeing to ease the blockade, but it didnt even try. It cannot be said that Israel launched its assault to protect its citizens from rockets. It did so to protect its right to continue the strangulation of Gazas population.

    Or, as regards the eternal intransigence of Hamas, consider this excerpt from an Haaretz report in early January:

    Israel’s position is based on the fact that Hamas refuses to recognize its right to exist. However, the three Hamas leaders interviewed said they would accept statehood in just the West Bank and Gaza and would give up their resistance against Israel if that were achieved.

    We accept a state in the ’67 borders,” said Hamad. “We are not talking about the destruction of Israel.

    I could go on but there’s little point. Beyond all these niceties is the inescapable fact that Hamas is in control of Gaza, is the most popular and well disciplined force amongst the Palestinians and seems to grow in popularity each time Israel takes action against them or Palestinians more generally. I see Hamas as the end of a long line of developments, most of them unfortunate. As I mentioned in the article, for years they were tolerated (indeed encouraged) by Israel as a less troublesome alternative to Fatah and Arafat. Some now fear that Israel’s efforts against Hamas could easily lead to far more radical groups gaining influence, including Al Qaeda. It’s all such an endlessly destructive, counterproductive spiral.

    As Mitchell and Haass wrote in their article, At the same time, making sure that people realise that violence will not succeed is not enough. They must also come to believe that a true political path exists, one that will allow them to realise enough of their agenda to persuade their followers to turn away from violence.

    Who knows whether in the end such a patient, open, creative, resilient and above all realistic approach might work. One thing, though, does seem certain: the current strategy isn’t really working out all that well for anyone.

    Re: Abdullah’s letter, nothing to be amazed about, Rob. I simply thought it beautifully written in a way that helps the reader to stand for a moment in the shoes of the Arabs. This is surely what we must all try to do if deep seated conflicts are ever to be resolved. It alone (rather than the sort of barrage of facts and opinions we’re sharing here today) mildly shifted the perception of the whole matter for that friend I mentioned in the article. As for your quibbles with it, I’m a little surprised: they strike me as a good deal less than I’d expect of you from your comments to date. Almost pettifogging and legalistic. It was a lament and a plea for understanding, for goodness’ sake.

  25. Rob, you’re seriously suggesting Hamas is in anyway comparable to Third Reich?
    I don’t doubt for a moment that if Hamas invaded Israel with 2,000,000 men and over 5000 tanks that Britain, Australia, the U.S. and virtually every democratic nation in the world would send assistance, quite justifiably.

  26. In its annihilationist fantasies it surely is, NPOV. In this it precisely reflects the ambitions of its sponsor, Iran.

    As for your other point, who sent assistance to Israel in 1948 when it was invaded by five Arab armies bent on its extermination? No-one, except Czechoslovakia (and that quietly).

    Meanwhile, Ingolf….

  27. Ingolf:

    Let’s take some of your points one by one.

    “To take but a few examples, consider the quote I extracted from Toamehs talk above. He readily conceded that Hamas had largely held their side of the bargain last year when Israel did not.”

    “Largely held” means it did not hold. Rockets fell throughout the 6-month hudna, though in greatly diminished numbers. I take Khaled’s point, though; Hamas was re-arming and re-grouping, consistent with the concept of the hudna (not a ceasfire, not a truce, but merely a pause, a calm). Toameh did not say the Israelis had not honoured it. He said that Hamas had honoured it “in a way”. Right.

    From your LRB article: “This understanding was seriously violated on 4 November, when the IDF entered Gaza and killed six members of Hamas. ”

    Yes. The IDF detected a tunnel that had been bored under the border with the intention of kidnapping Israeli soldiers (like Gilad Schalit, who was kidnapped two years ago and is still held by Hamas or its affiliates, with no decisive proof of life, and no Red Cross visists allowed). The IDF judged the threat of incursion to be imminent, and sent a team to destroy the tunnel. Hamas operatives fired at the IDF in the tunnel; fire was returned, Hamas fighters died.

    Further: “Hamas responded by launching Qassam rockets and Grad missiles. Even so, it offered to extend the truce, but only on condition that Israel ended its blockade. Israel refused.”

    There is no credible evidence that this was the case. On 21 December, the Israeli Cabinet considered a report by its intelligence chief, who stated that Hamas was interested in continuing the hudna on wide-ranging terms. This appears to be the basis of this allegation. However, on that day, which was 2 days after Hamas terminated the hudna and recommenced rocket attacks, 50 Qassams fell on Israel.

    On the “blockade”: there was no blockade. Israel continued to supply fuel, electric power, food. medical supplies and humanitarian aid throughout the three years after its withdrawal from Gaza. It is surely unknown in the history of warfare for one party to supply such largess to an adversary swron to its destruction.

    As to the Ha’aretz report, that’s a mish-mash of what other outlets had carried about Hamas’ terms for putative a ten year hudna (again, not a truce, not a ceasefire, merely a pause). If those precise words were said, which I doubt, they were a lie. I prefer to rely on Toameh, Totten, and on Hamas itself. You can’t go much past their 1988 Charter as an authority. If that weren’t enough, consider the rhetoric of Iran, Hamas’ sponsor.

    “I simply thought it beautifully written in a way that helps the reader to stand for a moment in the shoes of the Arabs.”

    I could cite a dozen statements from Ben Gurion that would help readers stand for a moment in the shoes of the Jews.

  28. Paul, as you’ll see from the latter part of my reply to Rob (#27), I agree with the point you’re making in your second paragraph. Whatever the conclusions of post mortems (and they’re in any case always going to be controversial), the participants must work with what exists, not what they might wish existed.

    I too see greater danger for Israel than for the Palestinians in the long run if a workable agreement isn’t found. It’s always been a part of my terrible frustration with this whole business, the feeling that not only are great injustices being committed, but that the strategy behind them is in any case doomed to utter failure. As I said in the piece, And for what? Who is it that wins from all this?

    As for your last point, wholly agree. “Concentrat[ing] on the joint humanity of all involved” is exactly what we all need to try to do.

    P.S. I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree over fear and the quotes thing. I’m here, I’m debating and I’m not sure I can explain it any better than in my first reply to you. I don’t think it’s of any great matter anyway.

  29. “I too see greater danger for Israel than for the Palestinians in the long run if a workable agreement isnt found.”

    That’s nonsense. Israel has survived greater challenges in the 60 years it’s been in existence, and it remains the most successful example of nation-building in the post-WWII world. That’s not going to stop.

    The only real losers from the present situation are the Palestinians. They need to agree to three things: (1) stop firing rockets and mortars into Israel (2) stop sending suicide bombers into Israel (3) stop terrorist attacks on Israel.

    Then all would be, well, not well, but tolerable. Israel could live in peace and quiet, and the Palestinians could get on with building the civil infrastructure and economic base they need to establish a viable state.

    But that’s not going to happen in this generation. As Toameh says, the thing to do is not look for a “solution”, but manage the situation as it is. Otherwise, sit on you hands, and wait.

  30. I don’t pretend to know much about the 1948 invasion – did Israel request help? Was providing assistance seriously considered by other nations? Remembering that it was barely 3 years since the end of WWII, it’s not too surprising that battle-weary Western nations were reluctant to send men, but surely there was more to it than that.

  31. NPOV – I don’t believe so, but I may be wrong. The attacks by the Arab armies commenced (air attacks by Egypt) even as Ben-Gurion read the Declaration of Independence over the radio. The air lift of arms from Czechoslovakia began some time later.

  32. Rob, it seems you see only what you want to see. Taking your points in order:

    1. Hamas largely holding their side of the bargain.

    Again, I’m using your own source:

    Khaled Abu Toameh: Just before the ceasefire expired, Hamas went to Egypt and said Listen, folks. We agreed to the previous ceasefire because you, the Egyptians, promised us you would open the Rafah border crossing. And it didn’t happen. And we, Hamas, were committed to this. We did our best to honor the ceasefire.

    Okay, there were some violations here and there, but Hamas did in a way honor the ceasefire. They arrested people who were firing at Israel. [my emphasis]

    Seems to me that’s about as close as thiings gets to working in the real world, particularly when the agreement is not being honoured by the counterparty, a point I’ll return to in a moment. Note, though, Toameh’s passing reference to the failure of the promised opening of the Rafah crossing.

    2. The November 4th incident:

    Yours is one view, it’s not the only one. Per Wikipedia: On November 4, 2008, Israeli military raided a Hamas-dug tunnel near Israel on the Gazan side of the border. The IDF claimed it was intended for the capture of Israeli soldiers, while Hamas, and according to Robert Pastor one IDF source, maintained it was for defensive purposes. As six members of Hamas were killed, it considered this attack a “massive breach of the truce, and rocket attacks towards Israeli cities around Gaza increased sharply in November 2008, approaching the pre-truce levels.

    I of course don’t know the truth, but the matter seems relatively incidental.

    3. Hamas’ offer to extend the truce:

    Toameh again, just to keep this short and simple:

    And so, if you think about it, Mahmoud Abbas and Hosni Mubarak bear indirect responsibility for this war. When Hamas saw that they weren’t going to open the borders, Hamas said To hell with the ceasefire and started firing rockets again. Israel reacted and now we are where we are today.
    So now we are back to square one. Hamas is still making the same demand. They said Okay, we agree to a ceasefire, but reopen the border. They keep saying reopen the border.

    and

    Look. I believe this war could have been prevented. Really. Had we gone to Hosni Mubarak and the Americans and said Okay, let’s forget about the 2005 agreement. Let’s come up with a new agreement. Hamas would have agreed to have some Palestinian Authority representatives at the border in return. But no one wanted to listen. They all said Bring down Hamas, bring down Hamas.

    4. You say: On the “blockade”: there was no blockade.

    This one has me wondering whether I’ve wandered into an alternate universe. A Google search of Israeli blockade of Gaza (as a phrase, not the individual words) produces 60,500 hits. One of the better summaries comes from the BBC (November 11 2008), complete with charts, analysis of the impact on individual categories and so on and so on.

    A few brief quotes: The Gaza Strip has been under an Israeli blockade since the militant group Hamas seized control in June 2007. / Since Hamas took control of Gaza, its 1.5m people have been relying on less than a quarter of the volume of imported supplies they received in December 2005. Some weeks, significantly less than that has arrived. / The closures have devastated the private sector of Gaza’s economy. Nothing, apart from a small number of trucks of strawberries and flowers, has been exported since June 2007. Combined with the lack of raw materials, and agricultural inputs such as fertilisers, this has left approximately 95% of Gaza’s industrial facilities closed or operating at minimal levels. / By December 2007, 75,000 of Gaza’s 110,000 private sector workers had been laid off and 3,500 of its 3,900 factories had closed, according to a UN report. / The UN says the economy has suffered “irreversible damage”, and that 37% of breadwinners are now unemployed, with on average 8.6 dependants per employed person.

    5. The Haaretz report. I can’t see much point in carrying on with a yes, they did / no, they didn’t exchange.

    6. Abdullah v Ben Gurion: Of course, the process should run both ways. Entirely agree.

    Rob, I’ve been treating you in good faith up to now. That is, after all, part of the aim of this whole exercise. For now at least, I’m no longer going to do so. I fear the tit for tat will never end and I’m certainly not enjoying it. If you feel I’ve wronged you, by all means convince me, but realise you do have a lot of ground to recover.

  33. Ingolf:

    1. Israel does not control the Rafah crossing. Egypt does. If Hamas has got a problem with Rafah, it has a problem with Egypt. Not with Israel.

    2. The November 4th incident. What’s a “defensive” tunnel into Israel? What kind of sense dos that make? That’s how Hamas (actually the PRC) got Shalit. D’you think the IDF should have waited for a stream of Hamas gunmen to come out of the dark to kidnap some more IDF soldiers before they took action?

    3. So Hamas ended the hudna and resumed hostilities. We all knew that. Your citations do not in any way support your contention that Hamas offered to extend the hudna. On Toameh’s account, it is Mubarak and Abbas who bear the responsibility refusing to open the border with Egypt on Hamas’ terms and thus sparking the termination of the hudna. Not Israel.

    4. Thanks for the BBC commentary, famous for its anti-Israel bias. No mention of the fact that Hamas routinely confiscated the aid shipments and sold them to the highest bidders. No mention of the fact that Hamas shelled the crossings with Israel to prevent aid getting in, because it didn’t suit their propaganda (which you bought, apparently). Even during the war itself Israel was bringing hundreds of aid trucks through, which Hamas hijacked.

    5. Ha’aretz is about as reliable a source as The Guardian (i.e. not reliable at all). The paper is going out of business because of the radical position it takes, notably its hosting of Israel’s most famous anti-Israel reporter, Gideon Levy.

    6. Only one side is right, though. If Abdullah’s letter had been penned by the BNP, people like you would not have hesitated to call it racist. “All these horrible foreigners! How can we be expected to accept them! They will overwhelm us”, etc. etc.

    I’m sorry to say it, but you simply don’t know what you’re talking about.

  34. It would be good if you could back up your claims with links, Rob.

    I tend to have more sympathy for the Israelis than the Palestinians but you appear to have a ridiculously black and white view of the situation which I find as repellent as, well, Hamas.

  35. Rob, the Israeli government itself announced its intention to place “additional sanctions…on the Hamas regime in order to restrict the passage of various goods to the Gaza Strip and reduce the supply of fuel and electricity.” (http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2007/gapal1064.doc.htm). No doubt Hamas has played a role in preventing aid getting to those who most need it, but even without such actions, the sanctions have been punitive and dehabilitating by any measure. And there’s no evidence I can see they’ve done anything to reduce support for the Hamas regime, or to significantly disrupt its military capacity.

  36. Fair point, mel. I write in heat sometimes, and that’s a mistake. But I went through dozens of these idiotic arguments at LP recently, so I’m feeling tired and pissed off with the ubiquity of the demonisation of Israel.

    Apologies to Ingolf and the CT crew if I’ve over-stepped

  37. NPOV @ 38. OK. I’m not trying to be bad, difficult or argumentative. But please explain to me by what structure of warfare, logic or other process of reasoning is Israel compelled to support, sustain and supply with food, medical aid, fuel and electricity an enemy government (yes, government, democratically elected and all that) which is sworn to its destruction? Especially when it could get all of it from a (putatively) comradely Arab neighbour, namely Egypt?

  38. I’d also say that your implication that Hamas hijacked “hundreds of aid trucks” or sold much of the aid intended for the most in need doesn’t seem to have a lot of substantive evidence that I can find, but by all means feel free to provide it. Most of the articles describing the phenomenon rely on vague references to “reports coming out of Gaza” – only one bothers to name a specific incident of a Jordanian aid truck being hijacked by gunmen.

  39. What a lot of fruitless argy-bargy. Im in the right and youre wrong. Im moral and youre immoral. What a bore. There is nothing original in it and it does nothing to illuminate root causes.

    Unlike Paul, I dont see the root causes as all that complicated.

    The problem in Ireland was recently resolved by sharing power. The same sectarian problem is solved in Germany, Switzerland and Belgium (more or less) by sharing power.

    If, as appears to be the case, the systemic domination of one religion is not stable, then the a solution in the ME, too, would require that power be shared. It is not so much the pie that has to be shared; it is power. This would seem to mean, necessarily, the one-state solution.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Binational_solution
    Qaddafi recently promoted it:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/22/opinion/22qaddafi.html?th&emc=th

    But in the state of Isratine the Arabs would soon outnumber the Jews and the Jewish state would be no more. It wont happen. With no sharing of power there is no prospect of a solution. So thats that: no true political path exists. Its hopeless.

    The crucial factor is Jewish exclusiveness. Judaism is not just a religion; it is a way of life. Christianity and Judaism are both monotheisms saying people should be nice to each other. The essential difference is render unto Caesar i.e. separation of church and state. The Jews couldnt or wouldnt and in 69AD the Roman empire, which didnt give a damn about local religions, lost patience and wiped them out.

    It was a monumental catastrophe. The argy-bargy merchants might like to decide: Do you blame the Romans for disproportionate aggression or do you blame the Jews for bringing it on themselves?

    There is a price for exclusivity. Even without an air of superiority, an apartheid attitude causes jealousy. The events of 69AD, two thousand years of pogroms, and the super-pogrom in the 30s and 40s, have had no apparent impact on Jewish exclusivity. On this logic the strife will continue, maybe for centuries. On this logic, what conceivable solution is there other than, someday, somehow, another serious final solution?

  40. I never implied that Israel was “compelled” to supply anything. But clearly the Gazans had relied on Israel supplies of fuel etc. (it’s not clear to me whether this was provided at market rates, or heavily subsidised), and Israel intential cut those lines of supply off. Indeed, as I understand it, it basically stopped all trade with the Gaza area. Now it may be true that most of those supplies could have been imported from Egypt instead, but, at least according to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rafah_Border_Crossing, it was Israel that insisted that the border crossing remain mostly closed between June 2006 and June 2007, when Hamas took control of Rafah. What’s not clear is who had the responsibility for keeping it closed up until the breach in January 2008, or to what extent it has remained opened for trade since then.

  41. Rob, you must use a different definition of the word ‘substantive’ than I do.
    Who observed these “100″ trucks being hijacked, and how is it known that Hamas then auctioned it off at whatever prices it could get?

    It certainly wouldn’t surprise me that wihin an organisation like Hamas there would be groups quite willing to carry out such activities, but I’m somewhat skeptical that it’s making a huge impact on the livelihood of innocent Palestinians, relative to decisions made by Israel.

  42. Can anyone, anywhere, anytime, point me to one blog thread that has even infinitesimally leavened the load on the ground in the Middle East.

    Why do you guys bother?

  43. Oh right. Now I’ve actually bothered to read the thread, I see Mike Pepperday was already on the case here.

    Aside from some semantic reservations about the third last and last paras, I’m pretty much in accord with Mike @43.

    Not that it will do any good.

  44. Mike and Nabokov,

    I beg to differ. I do believe there is a political path, but simply not one that includes a long-run viable Jewish state. One possible path of what will happen in the next 50 years or so is as follows:

    - continuing marginalisation of the Palestinians in Israel and outside.
    - a gradual further exclusion of Arab Israelis in Israeli society, fuelling their population growth.
    - following some real or trumped-up threat, a functioning dividing wall which will annex some bits of the West Bank and the whole of the Gaza strip into Israel and, potentially, siphon off the Arab bits of south Israel into the West Bank which is then subsequently declared an autonomous state. I would call this a unilaterally imposed bi-state ‘solution’, ex post ratified by everybody who matters.
    - despite the syphoning off, the Arab Israelis continue to out-grow the Jewish Israelis, eventually leading to an internal form of power sharing within Israel between the Jews and the Arabs. This eventually reduces the political power of the Jews in Israel who will in ever greater numbers leave for Western countries. A small group of Jews remains, connected to holy sites and particular enclaves. These are grudgingly allowed to remain for a long time, just like Jewish enclaves were allowed to be in Middle East for the 2 thousand years before the 20th century. We are then more or less back to the situation in 1900.

    This is just one of many different scenarios I can think of, but the end result is the same: the Jews will eventually leave Israel. The main difference with Mike and Nabokov is that I do not see another great catastrophe coming for the Jews. It is not in anyone’s interest to allow it to happen, now or in the foreseable future. Also, it doesnt fit the psychology of Arab culture. The Arabs have historically not really been into the business of wiping out others. As long as the others acquiesce in the superiority of Islam and dont make too much noise, they are left alone, and have been left alone for a very long time through very difficulty circumstances. Arab history is surprisingly tolerant towards its Christian, Jewish, and other minorites within its borders, even through centuries in which Christianity was weak and in no position to protect its minority in Arab countries. I thus think the majority of the Jews will leave Israel before another catastrophe happens and be re-absorbed into Western societies where they will make outstanding contributions and dream of once returning to Israel.

    As to the exclusivity of religion, I do not see it that simplistically. There are many religions that are exclusive and non-evangelist. It doesnt seem a winning evolutionary strategy to not include newcomers, but this does not mean the adherents inevitably get wiped out. They will often get converted. After all, do not forget that many of the early Christians and Muslims were Jews. Hence conversion is well possible. The argument on the Roman empire hence misses the real point, which is not who was persecuted (the Christians were also persecuted, perhaps even more fanatically) but rather which group managed to convert more people to its faith faster.
    I guess where I agree with Mike and Nabokov is that in the run-long, their logic of the school playground does have some merit in explaining politics: if you are weak, you had better keep quiet whilst you grow in strength. When you are weak but act strong, your powerful friends come and go, but the resentment against you remains and hence if you are weak, you had best act weak. If you dont, then eventually you lose.

    Ingolf,

    I guess you and I have virtually identical views on most of this, so there’s indeed no point in looking to disagree on minor stuff.

  45. The reversion to Palestine 1900 scenario sounds reasonably persuasive. I was only extrapolating the logic to another Jewish catastrophe. What is inevitable is strife continuing until the Israel project ends.

    They’ve had sixty years of military superiority clearly the Jews cannot win. Whether the other side wins or it peters out through Jewish emigration and Arab population growth, end it will. Might as well recognise it and introduce the one-state now. Then the 1900 reprise would carry less baggage. Wont happen; theres a lot of pointless pain to go.

    Paul, I dont actually follow your paragraph about school playground logic. All I was saying is that exclusivity breeds resentment. Ex-pat Chinese build up their wealth dealing with each other till they control the towns business and once a generation get cut down to size via arson, murder and rape. High achiever Jews or Chinese integrated in (Western) society get respect, not resentment.

    I have wondered if Israel had a window in 1948 and the years immediately after to resolve their Palestinian problem. If so, they blew it. Machiavelli advised the Prince that he should better kill a mans father than take his land since a dead father is gone forever but land remains and fuels the irredentist dream.

    On the other hand I cannot imagine a viable state founded on religion. It just doesnt seem to be the future of the human race.

    Are there really many religions that are exclusive and non-evangelist? I cant think of any. I disagree that Christianity succeeded against the Romans mainly through population growth. There was no state of Christianity to wipe out so despite being fed to the lions, Christianity could spread within the Roman empire. Christianity could obey Roman law; Judaism couldnt.

  46. Mike,

    oh, I say what you mean by exclusivity now. I thought you meant the impossibility of outsiders to become a Jew, rather you mean getting ahead through ethnic monopolisation. Sure, that breeds resentment but it is just another example of the same schoolyard logic. One might be momentarily economically strong due to monopolisation, but if you are with few and the real military power lies with the rest, you eventually get, as you call it ‘cut down to size’. Not convinced that exclusivity is a fixed part of any culture though. The current Chinese expansion doesnt seem based on some fixed exclusivity, but rather on starting to be more inclusive. I think inclusivety is something that can be learnt and adopted. Just think of how well minorities of many denominations have been absorbed into Australia. Greeks, Italians, Thai, Malay, Indian, Chinese. I dont see ethnic ghettos here based on exclusivity, but rather a melting pot.

    I guess important examples of non-evangelist religions would be Hinduism and some strands of Buddism, though I am sure someone will object to these being called non-evangelist. They are not part of the ‘Dash for Africa and Asia’ like Islam and Christianity currently are (though Buddhism does seem to be on the rise, but not due to professional converters as far as I know). Like Judaism, Hinduism is quite broad and as much of a group culture as it is a religion. Hinduism definitely has its exclusive elements though. You cannot just walk into Hinduism and decide you will be a Brahmin. Its a birth-right thing, just like Judaism.

    I never said the Christians succeeded within Rome due to out-breeding the others. I think they out-evangelised the others because it gave the adherents something Rome didnt give.

  47. “Can anyone, anywhere, anytime, point me to one blog thread that has even infinitesimally leavened the load on the ground in the Middle East.

    Why do you guys bother?”

    Why? Because it’s stinking hot outside. Believe you me, I’d much rather be watering my wilting banksias and hakeas :)

    But on a more serious note, it is noteworthy that we pay so much in the Middle East shit hole while we virtually ignore equally deplorable situations in places like Burma.

  48. Mike, the points you’re making (far better, I feel, in your second post) are intriguing. Later in that interview between Burg and Shavit they dig into this question of Jewishness as opposed to Zionism and Burg clearly views things much as you do. (Again, Shavit in italics)

    There really is a deep anti-Zionist pattern in you. Emotionally, you are with German Jewry and American Jewry. They excite you, thrill you, and by comparison you find the Zionist option crude and spiritually meager. It broadens neither the heart nor the soul.

    “Yes, yes. The Israeli reality is not exciting. People are not willing to admit it, but Israel has reached the wall. Ask your friends if they are certain their children will live here. How many will say yes? At most 50 percent. In other words, the Israeli elite has already parted with this place. And without an elite there is no nation.”

    You are saying that we are suffocating here for lack of spirit.

    “Totally. We are already dead. We haven’t received the news yet, but we are dead. It doesn’t work anymore. It doesn’t work.”

    And you see in American Jewry the spiritual dimension and the cultural ferment that you don’t find here.

    “Certainly. There is no important Jewish writing in Israel. There is important Jewish writing in the United States. There is no one to talk to here. The religious community of which I was a part – I feel no sense of belonging to it. The secular community – I am not part of it, either. I have no one to talk to. I am sitting with you and you don’t understand me, either. You are stuck at a chauvinist national extremity.”

    That is not completely accurate. I am aware of the Jewish richness you are talking about. But I am also aware that the basic Zionist analysis was correct. Without Israel there is no future for a non-Orthodox Jewish civilization.

    “Take the purest Israeliness there is. Moshe Dayan, for example. And we will shed all the Avrums from him. Totally immaculate Israeliness. No nudniks. No effete types. Nothing. Are you sure that this living-in-order-to-live will endure? Take on the other hand the ‘kites.’ Martin Buber, George Steiner. You say that these [ethereal] kites will not get anywhere. But my historical experience tells me that these kites get farther than the troopers.”

    You are actually preparing tools for exile.

    “I have been living with them from the day I was born. What is it when I say in prayer that because of our sins we were exiled from our land? In Jewish history the spiritual existence is eternal and the political existence is temporary.”

    In this sense, you are essentially non-Zionist. Because the energy needed to establish and maintain this place is tremendous, and you are saying that we must not give our all to this place.

    “There is no Israeli whole. There is a Jewish whole. The Israeli is a half-Jew. Judaism always prepared alternatives. The strategic mistake of Zionism was to annul the alternatives. It built an enterprise here whose most important sections are an illusion. Do you really think that some sort of floating secular Tel Aviv-type post-kibbutz entity will [continue to] exist here? Never. Israeliness has only body; it doesn’t have soul. At most, remnants of soul. You are already dead spiritually, Ari. You have only an Israeli body. If you go on like this, you will no longer be.”

    Shavit’s passing comment the energy needed to establish and maintain this place is tremendous also inadvertently confirms that, as structured, Israel is swimming upstream (this is hardly news, of course, but it’s interesting to see it confirmed by a strong pro-Zionist in such an essentially unconscious fashion). Perhaps, as you (and Paul) believe, the required energy will not be found in the future in which case it will only be a matter of how it fades.

    I can certainly see that things may turn out that way but I’m not convinced it’s the only possible outcome. As you say, if there was a window in 1948, they blew it. It still seems conceivable to me that a new window could be created (however farfetched it seems right now) in which case the current against which they’re swimming would be much reduced.

    Unfortunately, what makes this much less likely is the way politics in Israel seems to be heading. From the outside at least, the hardliners appear to be in charge, and perfectly prepared to amp up the decibels.

  49. “But on a more serious note, it is noteworthy that we pay so much in the Middle East shit hole while we virtually ignore equally deplorable situations in places like Burma.”

    Absolutely. I kind of liked this little exchange between an interviewer and Geoffrey Wheatcroft, author of A Century of Zionism (1996):

    You point out that over the past thirty years, the Holy Land, with its seven million people, has attracted more television and newspaper coverage than all of tropical Africa or all of India. Why this world-wide fascination?

    The Israeli affair takes place in what one could almost call the spiritual and mystical center of the world, in a region that was very much in the center of the Cold War and that is peculiarly volatile. But I mentioned the intense media scrutiny not to offer an explanation for it but to present a paradox. The heart of my book is that a hundred years ago, Herzl said that he would resolve the Jewish Question by removing the Jews from the pages of history, normalizing them, and making them like any other nation. All the conflicts and anguish within the Jewish people would come to an end once they had a Jewish state. But have a look at the Op-Ed page of The New York Times any day of the week. It is a very ironical comment on Herzl’s vision to see the sheer amount of space devoted to ferocious debate on the future of Israel by western commentators, notably by Jewish-Americans. [my emphasis]

    The Jewish question has not disappeared. Zionism has changed and complicated the Jewish question, but it has quite plainly not wound it up.

    All those reasons, and oil, of course . . . .

  50. Hi ingolf. Great post.

    I look at the problem is pretty down to earth way. There are plenty of examples of displaced people or lands taken over by other groups. This isnt something that was suddenly invented by Jews.

    On a personal level my great grand parents were displaced refugees from Nice and were forced to move after the French took out the entire the Riviera that once was part of Italy or would have belonged to Italy. I dont really hate the French. Well let me qualify that, I dont really dislike the French for that reason as there are plenty of other reasons

    There are numerous examples of displaced people. The Aborigines, Eskimos, South America Indians, Hawaiians, North American Indians, Tibetans. These are just a few. For that matter what about the displaced Jews from Arab countrys that had to leave with only a suitcase on 24 hour notice?

    Was the birth of Israel unfair on the local Arabs that lived there? On balance sure it was. However it was also unfair to all the displaced people around the world.

    The aboriginals being exhibit A as far as were concerned. The fact that it happened 200 odd years ago vs 60 years ago in Israels is really beside the point. Its a little dishonest for say, Australians to be taking a harsh line against Israel when our history is basically the similar. How about this then (which I read some time ago and thought was a very good analogy)? If the black man here started to take matter into his own hands and began to blow himself up in crowded areas of the big cities and continued doing this with no respite the bet is that a lot more people would begin to feel sympathetic to the plight of Israelis having to live in deadly fear of rocket attacks and seeing the local bus getting blown up.

    Israel, like Australia, the US, Canada are done deals. They may have been very unfair to the locals but thats how history has been.

    The Arabs that are alive and lost their land or homes should receive compensation in the same way that Arab government ought to compensate those Jews that lost their land when they were kicked out.

    If theres any agitation after such an agreement is reached the retaliation should be remorseless and fully sanctioned by the UN.

    Mike Pepperday:

    Heres a question for you. You more or less suggest Israel should not exist in the present form. If that were your position how would you feel if aboriginals began to demand more than the crappy lands we have offered? How about if someone asked you to give up your house as it was built on ancestral land?

    My point is that Israel is being treated differently than the way we would expect for ourselves.

  51. It’s quite possible to be harsh about specific Israeli actions (such as their use of sanctions and now considerable military force against the Gaza strip region) without holding the position that Israelis shouldn’t be there in the first place. Israel is a functioning, mostly prosperous, democratic nation that I have no desire to see destroyed, whereas it would probabaly be better for all concerned if the entire Gaza strip was evacuated and turned into a nature reserve – but I cannot condone the effect of Israel’s recent actions on innocent Palestinian citizens, much as some sort of response to Hamas attacks is justified.

  52. Thanks, JC.

    You’re right but I think here are also some important differences.

    In Australia, New Zealand, Canada and so on, the low point in relations with the original inhabitants was reached a long time ago. The improvements since then may leave a lot to be desired but I think it’s fair to say things are broadly cooperative and heading in a positive direction. The opposite is true in Palestinian / Israeli relations.

    I read an interesting article by Conor Cruise O’Brien this afternoon. It was written in 1985 and is titled Why Israel Can’t Take ‘Bold Steps’ for Peace and subtitled Political reality in the Middle East. Although he was pro Israel and Zionism (he wrote Seige: The Saga of Israel and Zionism), O’Brien wasn’t unsympathetic to the plight of the Palestinians. A lot of things struck me in his essay but this one seems relevant to your argument:

    In the ten years after June of 1967 the Open Bridges policy and Israel’s little-heralded “adversarial partnership” with Jordan (in Ian Lustick’s phrase) led to a kind of working arrangement on the West Bank whereby the Arab inhabitants were left as far as possible to their own devices and allowed to continue to feel part of the Arab world. This arrangement–inspired mainly by Moshe Dayan–allowed the Arab population to develop peacefully and to attain a considerable degree of prosperity. Civil administration and Arab education on the West Bank remained generally under Jordanian control, and the Jordanian dinar remained legal tender on the West Bank.

    This suggests a working arrangement wasn’t impossible. Perhaps with some delicacy, some give and take, some compensation (as you suggest), a similar principle, carefully and cooperatively applied in a more general fashion, might have avoided much of the bloodshed and travails of recent decades.

    What derailed this arrangement was:

    In the following years, especially from 1980 on, the Likud pressure for augmenting Jewish settlements (often close to densely populated Arab areas), combined with the manipulations of Begin-style autonomy, made for increased Arab unrest and some violence. The old working arrangement, amounting to a kind of tacit condominium between Israel and Jordan over the West Bank, was strained by these developments but did not collapse.

    There was, moreover, an evident and apparently growing tendency on the far right of the Israeli political spectrum to deliberately provoke the West Bank Arabs, in the apparent hope of inflaming violence, which would have to be met by Israeli repression, in a cycle that could eventually force the Arab population out.

    That cycle has been pretty much continuous ever since. I think it’s the constant sense of being chipped away at, surrounded, harassed, discriminated against (and periodically attacked) that keeps the wound open and festering on the Palestinian side, JC. I imagine with suicide bombers, rockets and the general air of unsettled menace it must also feel that way for many Israelis.

    The only encouraging takeaway from the essay (viewed from the present) is how far things did move in the years after the piece was written. The fact that the Camp David Summit even occurred (and, arguably, almost succeeded) would, I think, have seemed well nigh impossible to O’Brien back then.

    So, perhaps everything isn’t quite yet set in cement.

  53. I’m also inclined to the view that in the long run Israel’s future is doomed.

    In 2002 Conservative columnist John Derbyshire came to this conclusion also.

    I had better step out front and center here and admit that I am a pessimist, of the Unz party. I think Israel will go down.

    Interestingly though he in-part bases this on a pessimistic assessment of the possibility of solving Irish terrorism. “Democracy is no match for terrorism”, says Derbyshire because it is the stamina and ruthlessness of the terrorists that will see the democracies undone.

    But as we know the Irish problem was solved, and solved politically, so why not solvable for Israel? The answer lies I think in Ingolf’s piece. Burg depicts an Israeli culture that is traumatised, paranoid and feeling unloved in the word. If Burgs depiction is true – and it rings true to me – then the paranoia of Israel is what drives them to behave in a way that is considered by people in many other nations, who admittedly do not face the same stresses, as quite noxious. (Incidentally I don’t accept Mike Pepperday’s view #43 that it is Jewish exceptionalism that is an important factor)

    A global brand survey in 2006 ranked Israel as the worst brand name in the world, and a 2007 BBC poll provided a country by country assessment of Israel’s image revealed that even Australians viewed Israel in a mostly negative light. It is the USA, almost alone, that stands out as the great supporter of Israel.

    In Isreal we have a culture that feels fenced in, feels consistently threatened, and feels generally unloved – and so its no surprise that they lash out viciously the way they do, with so little regard for the helpless amongst the Palestinians, and often in defiance of much of world opinion. In the process stoking the cycle of revenge and making themselves yet more unloved again.

    And here’s where the Irish parallel becomes interesting, because the democracy in that case was Britain. And Britain is not Israel in so very many respects. Britain was not surrounded (in the same way that Israel feels surrounded by Arabs), Britain was never paranoid as far as I can recall about the bombing in its pubs and busses – it was stoic and was never vengeful, the British didn’t really need Northern Irish territory the same way the Israel thinks it needs Palestinian territory, the British didn’t provide the same level of institutional support to the extremist Provos that Israel provides its armed settlers, and finally the British never felt unloved by the rest of the world. They were confident of their place in it.

    In short Britain had all the reasons to be generous in its approach to the Irish problem, while Israel, although occasionally attempting generosity and being rebuffed and disappointed – falls back on the old paranoid habits and brutal unpleasantness that just keeps the rage burning.

    And this problem for Israel will go on, and on, and on probably for another fifty – maybe one hundred years until Israel’s biggest supporter, the USA, its own power diminished, has had enough and can’t afford to support it anymore (While a ascendant China most certainly won’t be stepping up to the plate). Then comes, as Mike Pepperday chillingly notes, some kind of ‘Final Solution’.

    So like John Derbyshire, I am pessimistic about the future of Israel – not because of the terrorists – but because Israel’s inability to change how it sees itself.

    As a final wrap up, it is interesting to note how Derbyshire’s views of a slowly withering Israeli culture reflect those of Burg’s in Ingolf comment at #54 above.

    ..Sick of terror, longing for a normal bourgeois life, those who can those who have education, talents, marketable skills will slip away. The dumbed-down remainder, outnumbered and outwitted, will sink into a defeatist lassitude punctuated by crude, insensate acts of rearguard violence. The only great nation at all inclined to act as protector will tire of doing so, making all sorts of excuses as she backs away from her obligations..

  54. Britain was never paranoid as far as I can recall about the bombing in its pubs and busses – it was stoic and was never vengeful, the British didnt really need Northern Irish territory the same way the Israel thinks it needs Palestinian territory, the British didnt provide the same level of institutional support to the extremist Provos that Israel provides its armed settlers,

    I must have learnt about a different Britain and a different Ireland then. Maybe that was a parallel universe.

    As far as I can see, no-one has really addressed from the Arab perspective the moral issues (although Rob’s comments about the law of armed conflict (?) touched on them). To my understanding of the moral issues, absolute harm is relevant, but only incidentally. The fundamental moral discrimen between Hamas and Israel is that Hamas is trying to kill children and innocents, whilst Israel is trying not to.

    I find it very hard to find any sympathy or excuse for Hamas after that, but I find plenty for Israel.

  55. Rex

    I think a little to do with solving the Irish situation was the economics side of things. Ireland at the time was growing at Asian tiger rates and there was for the first time inward migration from the need to fill jobs.

    So a wealthier society and the chance of finding a decent paying job created less of a desire to make trouble.

    If Gazans had the same living standards as the Israelis or a fast growing one I would think a great deal of the problem would go away.

    Economics and economic growth is hugely important and seems more than a little under-estimated when looking at these problems.

  56. Great comment, Rex. Certainly, viewing things in this way offers a plausible explanation for the (apparently) more irrational aspects of Israeli behaviour. If it’s correct, it also suggests that piling onto Israel, as seems to be happening more and more, is as likely to reinforce this bunker mentality as it is to bring about constructive change.

    I’ve often wondered if Israelis have some sense that their dream was founded on a fundamental injustice, and if so how much this colours things. A bit like the guilt that to varying degrees (including, of course, none at all) affects white Australians, except in the Israeli case, it all happened within living memory and the consequences are in daily, painful view. (As JC suggested earlier, tolerance here might change into something quite different if we perceived ourselves as universally pilloried and under real threat.)

    The tragedy (or at least the latest manifestation of it) is that matters seem to be spinning away from any resolution. Perhaps the Israelis are no longer able to pull out of the spiral they’re caught in (that appears to be one of Burg’s fears). And if they can’t, I don’t like the odds that the Palestinians will be able to; far too much bad blood has been created in the last few years since the initial evacuation of Gaza.

    Perhaps in the end it was fear that prevented the Israelis from opening up the Gaza borders and letting things unfold. Fear that Hamas would acquire more destructive weapons, or fear that they would make a decent fist of things in the Strip in which case Abbas and the PA would be fatally weakened. And yet . . . . if so, what has this fear brought them but more reasons to fear? As JC says in #61, much of the problem might in time go away if there was hope in Gaza (and the West Bank) of a decent, settled and potentially prosperous life.

    In any case, unless someone, somewhere is able to to make a leap of faith (and be willing to take some reverses and pain without losing that faith), it’s hard to see anything but a remorseless descent into greater turmoil. If the US (and the ROW) has any useful role to play at all, it must surely lie in trying to break this downward spiral.

    ———————–

    Patrick, I think I understand what you’re saying and I don’t excuse the rocket attacks. They’re indiscriminate, randomly lethal and immoral. I’m not sure it’s quite right, though, to say that Hamas set out to kill children and innocents. My guess is that it doesn’t matter to them as long as the attacks serve a political purpose.

    As for Israel, I don’t think they’re setting out to kill civilians (although there have been some disturbing reports about messages inculcated into IDF soldiers in the recent battle and about actual IDF behaviour). Here too, though, I think the issue is a little more complex than it first may appear. The Israeli leadership (and the IDF) know that conducting war with figher bombers, attack helicopters, artillery barrages and tank attacks will kill large numbers of civilians. How much does it change things in the moral sense that this isn’t their specific aim? I don’t really know, but it does seem to me a rather scholastic type argument.

    ————————

    Finally, a few thoughts on the Derbyshire piece that Rex referred to. It’s intriguing that he accepted his gloomy conclusion (democracy is no match for terrorism) without considering the possibility that terrorism may just wither and die once the underlying causes are settled. Not only because constantly nurtured grievances are necessary to provide, in his words, the iron determination to press on for decades, for generations, brushing aside all reverses, weathering all storms, expelling all doubters, holding steadfast to the golden vision but also because in their absence, the soil from which fresh recruits germinate turns barren.

    Perhaps he sees terrorism as some sort of vocation, entirely isolated from root causes. Even then, though, those that could be so characterised, nihilisitic, deracinated groups like Baader Meinhof and the Red Brigades were either caught, killed or finally tired of the game. Very odd. It almost makes one wonder who really belongs to the intellectual, litigational, over-educated elites.

    FWIW, I think democracy has tremendous resilience, providing people aren’t encouraged to panic by their politicians and leaders, thereby sacrificing the very things that make an open society strong.

  57. My guess is that it doesnt matter to them as long as the attacks serve a political purpose.

    That seems about as bad to me.

    I didn’t mean, btw, to impute either belief to you, just to outline how I saw the morality of it.

    As for the Israeli position, for me they are legitimately seeking to destroy Hamas, given my view of Hamas’ actions. That they try pretty hard to not kill civilians seems to be about as much as they could do, to me. I think, and I think just war doctrine would bear me out here, that there is a vast gulf between being aware that you are likely to cause some civilian casualties but trying to minimise them, and actively targeting civilians or even being merely indifferent to civilian casualties.

    I think that is where proportionality is usually invoked.

  58. Patrick, I agree.

    It’s a simple point and you made it above @ 60: “The fundamental moral discrimen between Hamas and Israel is that Hamas is trying to kill children and innocents, whilst Israel is trying not to.”

    Yet it seems so hard for many to grasp.

  59. I’d also like to revert to Ingolf’s disbelieving response to my (accurate) claim that there never was a blockade of Gaza during the hudna.

    The official figures from Israel’s MFA are here.

    Scroll to the bottom and work backwards.

    The last two weeks of the hudna:

    Week of Dec. 14-18
    On Sunday, Dec. 14, the crossings were closed (with the exception of Erez). On Dec. 15 and 16, the crossings were open (see below) until rocket fire began, resulting in closing all of the crossings except for Erez. Rocket fire continued and the crossings were still closed on Dec. 17.

    Karni crossing: 58 trucks with 2134 tons of grains.
    Kerem Shalom: 78 trucks with 1784 tons of goods
    Nahal Oz depot: 642,200 liters of heavy diesel fuel for the power station; 174 tons of cooking and heating gas
    Erez crossing: 60 people (patients and companions)

    Week of Dec. 7-13, 2008
    After a quiet day without rocket launchings, the Defense Minister gave permission to open the crossings (Dec. 9 & 10).
    Erez crossing: (open every day to patients and to international humanitarian traffic) 142 medical evacuations
    Kerem Shalom: 189 trucks, 2317 tons of goods on Dec. 9-10 and 1340 tons on Dec. 12: food, tools and raw materials, agricultural equipment and medicines.
    Karni: 117 trucks, 2664 tons of grains and animal feed on Dec. 9-10 and an undisclosed amount on Dec. 11.
    Nahal Oz: 865,900 liters of heavy diesel fuel for the power station, 379 tons of cooking and heating gas. In addition, special fuel supplies were transferred specifically for UNRWA: 299,000 liters of heavy diesel fuel, 101,000 liters of fuel for transportation, and 50,000 liters of gasoline.

    No doubt some will guffaw and say, well, the Israeli MFA would say that, wouldn’t they? But that response is not evidence or argument, it is simply polemics. If these figures are correct, there was no blockade. If they are not, adduce your evidence evidence.

  60. No problems, Patrick. I took your comments exactly as you meant them.

    The only point I was trying to make about Hamas is that their rockets aren’t targeted at all in any meaningful sense; what they end up hitting is essentially random. If they had far more precise weapons, perhaps they’d target Olmert’s office, or perhaps children’s playgrounds; any prediction from me would be mere opinion. These attempts at greater clarity, by the way, don’t imply any sort of approval for the firing of these rockets, or for suicide bombing or anything else that targets civilians. As far as I’m concerned, that should always be taboo.

    I wonder, though, if you’re not being a little too generous with Israel. Even the most civilised nations and people are capable of great savagery; for proof we need look no further than the fire bombing of Tokyo and Dresden. War, particularly more or less constant war, can break down constraints and that’s even more true when those one wars against are the other (I think this applies equally to the Palestinians, it’s just that their war making capability is so much less).

    Given their strategy, tactics and the actual outcomes, how hard Israel tries not to harm civilians seems to me open to debate. Perhaps even more important, though, is the question of whether there were alternatives open to Israel that wouldn’t have inevitably resulted in widespread civilian deaths. Here I think the evidence is against them. I won’t rehash all the points covered earlier in this thread but there seems to be a wide body of opinion that thinks a fresh truce could have been arranged without too much difficulty had Israel been willing to open up the Strip.

    The blockade suggests a willingness on Israel’s part to engage in collective punishment. It’s not the Hamas fighters who’ll suffer most from the closed borders, it’s the frail and the powerless. If Israel is willing to impose suffering indiscriminately on Gaza’s population (presumably in the hope it might lead to a lessening of Hamas’ grip on power), I think there’s reason to wonder about how fastidious they’re going to be about their military operations.

    ————————————————————————————————————————

    As for the blockade issue, Rob, it would make things easier if you actually read my responses (including the info I link to). There was no suggestion (either from me or the source I noted) that the blockade was total (although apparently it pretty much has been as far as exports are concerned). It’s simply that the quantities of aid, and trade, have been greatly reduced, at times to the point of near strangulation.

    According to the chart in the BBC overview, in May 2007 (before the Hamas takeover and subsequent tightening of the blockade), the number of trucks entering Gaza monthly was about 10,000 (ie roughly 500 per day or 2500 per week). By Feb 2008, the monthly total had been reduced to less than a thousand. During the period of calm, the totals rose again to 2500-3500 per month which was still only a quarter to a third of the earlier levels. Similar (but far less drastic) reductions occurred in the various fuels.

    I see no reason to doubt the MFA figures. Those from earlier in the period (eg the week of Sept 7-12 shows 689 trucks coming in) seem to line up OK with the figures noted above (ie the reduction was around 75% during the time when the truce had eased things a bit). Later ones, especially once hostilities broke out again (and the figures you quote fit into this period) were down by much more. Indeed, the December weeks you selected look to be a reduction in volume of around 85-95%.

    You generally seem unhappy with sources of information that don’t accord with how you see things, so let me supply at least one that may pass muster and so allow you to accept there has been a blockade. It’s a brief report (on the MFA website) about the Israel Supreme Court’s decision to deny a petition for order nisi and temporary injunction submitted by a number of organizations to the Prime Minister and Minister of Defense regarding the Israel government decision to reduce or limit the supply of fuel and electricity to the Gaza Strip on October 28, 2007. The full text of the decision can be found here.

  61. Ingolf, I probably share many of your apprehensions and a prioris about this area, hence I waited so long to contribute and contributed so little.

    But I suspect we share those meta-perspectives from perhaps opposite (albeit neither very extreme) positions. I think our positions are more defined by what we vehemently oppose than what we support. To wit, I suspect that you are mildly pro-palestinian & vehemently anti-likudnik whilst I am mildly pro-Israeli & vehemently anti-Hamas. Who knows, we may agree to hate the same things – that seems to be how alliances are made in that part of the world!

    I have to support my being anti-Hamas, first by pointing out that you don’t address my contention that mere indifference to civilian deaths is in and of itself probably as bad as calculated targeting. Secondly by disputing that there is any mere indifference. From a recent Michael Yon guest-post on Instapundit:

    The officer explained that the peak times for launch are when the kids are going or coming from school, and shoppers are in the open, for the greatest odds of casualties.

    Is the officer lying? Is Michael? Can you even be bothered trying to believe that either are?

    OTOH I have read and considered your comments on letting Israel off too easily. I would note that the second sentence (about Dresden et al) appears to me implicitly refuting the first – Israel hasn’t committed any Dresdens despite decades of existential conflict. Maybe they have a higher form of civilisation?

    Your point about alternatives and opening up the strip is still valid, though. I guess where we differ is on the validity of opening up the strip. If, like me, you believe that Hamas was probably not capable of earnestly committing to a truce and certainly not capable of enforcing one, then you can see that opening up the strip was on balance likely to make life more dangerous for Israelis. If you differed, as you apparently do, then it would seem the logical thing to do.

    I am not sure if that difference can resolve itself, turning as it does on judgments as to the character of men we have both heard much about but neither of us knows.

  62. Dear oh dear. Back to the fruitless partisan argument over who is more (im)moral.

    I wanted to weigh in yesterday but I was too busy. Its the best excuse in the world: I have just submitted my PhD thesis.

    Thanks for #54. Burg is vividly asserting what I was trying to analyse: People are not willing to admit it, but Israel has reached the wall. Ask your friends if they are certain their children will live here. How many will say yes? At most 50 percent. We are already dead. We havent received the news yet, but we are dead. Israeliness has only body; it doesnt have soul. There is no important Jewish writing in Israel.

    The energy of the early Kibbutz days was hear-warming but, like the similar and contemporary energy building the Soviet Union in the 1950s, it has vanished and all that is left is the stubborn insistence on exclusivity. It may that that kind of egalitarian, communitarian spirit, marching arm in arm to a glorious new dawn, is intrinsically unstable. The new world is reached and people want their private lives and ambitions. It looks like that state no longer even has the will to live. As Rex R says, Israel is doomed and the tragedy is it will keep lashing out till somehow it is quashed.

    No question, Paul, that those minorities in the melting pot are positive. That is just what I was saying. When they come to Australia (or America) they receive a fair share of power there are no impervious systemic barriers against them. At first they support each other in suburban enclaves but then their children are seduced by the opportunities outside their parents culture. And when their strange names dominate the school exam results we dont want to cut them down to size. Instead we salute them because (a) they DONT want to be exclusive and (b) we are not illiterate peasants.

    In my view, Mahathirs racial policies of university places in proportion to population was sensible goal-oriented action. In the same breath as calling Malays lazy, he guaranteed them opportunity. He empowers Malays and undermines Chinese exclusivity. This did punish the industrious Chinese (who apparently trooped off to Australian universities) but surely not as badly as taking to them with machetes.

    And no, of course it wasnt Christians out-breeding others in ancient Rome. Yes, they gave their adherents something. It was the Jewish be-nice-to-each-other but without the Jewish law, i.e. render unto Caesar. That way Christians could spread within the Roman empire. Unlike the Jews, they actually needed the empire and its wealth and law to live. Christianity is essentially other-worldly and wont provide wealth. (Are economists aware of this at all?)

  63. To JC. I dont know that Israel should not exist. I say it is not viable. It cannot exist and one day it will not. I dont know but guess that those Jews kicked out of Arab lands dont want to go back there. The ejected Palestinians want to go back. You can tell them its a done deal and they should get on with their lives but they arent listening.

    Just as the Israelis arent listening to me: form Isratine and be a medium size modern country with a large minority of Jews. Switzerland is a good model. The French minority whinges about the majority German bumpkins but federalism means they dont get in each others hair too much.

    You compare with our Aborigines. But the Palestinians are not a small minority. Even if Aborigines harboured the resentment of the Palestinians and we were at war with them, the Australian state would remain viable. One reason we are not at war with the Aborigines may be that they are not (now) systemically excluded from power.

  64. The French minority whinges about the majority German bumpkins but federalism means they dont get in each others hair too much.

    It’s been a while since either side tried to kill each other. Keeping within the realm of inane inapt analogies, Belgium would be closer to the mark, sans the EU.

    As for that last sentence, well, one reason the sun is hot may be that it is yellow.

  65. I wonder if we aren’t moving into diminishing returns territory on these topics, Patrick. I sense you feel the same so I’ll just offer a quick response to your questions and then let it go.

    Is indifference as bad as deliberate targeting? Arguable, but I don’t think so. Are the officer and Yon telling the truth? Probably. As I said, I can’t know whether (given the necessary expertise and equipment) Hamas would rather target Olmert’s office or a children’s playground. My guess is either the former, or both, but in the end it would probably depend on which was judged likely to be most politically effective. It would also depend on who was making the decision on the day; Hamas is not a monolith. That said, there’s no reason to think they’re not perfectly capable of deliberately targeting innocents; after all, they only renounced suicide bombing in 2006.

    The critical thing as far as I’m concerned is that Hamas has shown itself willing to engage in the sort of compromises that constitute practical politics. They are a genuinely popular grass roots organisation that won an election (and have been harassed and pilloried ever since). This is not al Qaeda.

    No, thank God, Israel hasn’t done a Dresden, or anywhere near. That wasn’t the point I was trying to make with that example; it was used because I have the impression you can’t bring yourself to believe that Israel could really behave badly, that the very idea is alien. They’re a civilised people, after all, as indeed they are. I was just trying to point out that this is no foolproof guard against savagery.

  66. Mike,
    congrats on the thesis. Do you now think you know how other people think the world works?
    Bar one, we’ve run out of major disagreements sinse you’ve allowed for the possibility that exclusivity can be unlearned and that the Christians out-evangelised the others in ancient Rome. My big disagreement is your objection to the moralising. I think you miss the core point of the discussion if you take the morals out of it. People are moral beings and influence each other via morals.
    As a minor and largely irrelevant tiff, I dont think Christianity needed Rome. It was thriving nicely without its backing, but its certainly true that it had uses for Rome that Judaism didnt have. Its only a thought experiment, but I would venture that Christianity (or something like it) would have eventually taken over Europe anyway. The message of a loving god who rewards you in the afterlife even if you were a loser in this life is very enticing. A much nicer god to follow than the brutal pagan gods of the Romans or the Germanics.

    “It may be that that kind of egalitarian, communitarian spirit, marching arm in arm to a glorious new dawn, is intrinsically unstable. ”
    interesting thought, perfectly in line with standard economic reasoning about the impossibility of ignoring selfishness for long periods. I guess if one is looking for examples of sustained egalitarianism, you’d have to point to hunter-gatherer societies that were egalitarian and communitarian for very long times without any hint of instability. But then, such societies were not of the ‘go forward’ variety, but rather of the continuing variety. I guess the religious zeal aspect of it is missing in hunter-gatherer societies and there are intricate mechanisms for reducing the importance of selfishness within the group. Similarly, strongly religious egalitarian communities can keep going for a long time without much apparent change. Hence one would have to link the instability either to a degree of zealotry that is unsustainable or else invoke specific material circumstances under which communitarian systems break down.
    On the other hand, there have been militaristic societies, like the Spartans, that had an egalitarian go-forward ethos within the warrior class. Such societies need to be fuelled by conquests though and you inevitably run of those. Hmmm, I think we can go on a long time like this….time for me to get back to work

  67. “The critical thing as far as Im concerned is that Hamas has shown itself willing to engage in the sort of compromises that constitute practical politics.”

    You could try re-reading the Toameh piece:

    Hamas is not a partner for any peace agreement because Hamas is not going to change. All these people who believe that Hamas will one day change its ideology, that pragmatic leaders will emerge in Hamas, these people are living under illusions. Hamas is not going to change. To their credit we must say that their message has been very clear. It’s the same message in Arabic and in English. They’re being very honest about it. They’re saying Folks, we will never recognize Israel. We will never change. We will not abandon the path of the resistance. They’re very clear about it.

    After they won the election, by the way, the international community went to Hamas and said Listen. If you want us to deal with you, accept Israel and everything will be okay. And Hamas was very honest. They said No. We are not going to renounce terrorism. We are not going to recognize previous agreements between Palestinians and Israel. And we are not going to recognize Israel’s right to exist. They were very clear about it. And they say the same thing today.

  68. Rob, citing one commentator (however interesting he may be) doesn’t close a discussion. These are complex issues, and you aren’t showing much interest in trying to understand some of the nuances. Toameh (directly and indirectly) acknowledges that complexity again and again, as I noted a few times in earlier posts. In terms of what one is to really make of Hamas, consider these words from Toameh:

    Because in January of 2006, the parliamentary elections that were held in the Palestinian Authority were largely about internal reforms in the Palestinian areas. Hamas was ready to deliver. What did they do? They came to the Palestinians and said Listen, folks. You’ve tried all these PLO people. They’re corrupt. They’re bad. Arafat was a thief. Abu Mazen is also a total failure. These guys stole your money [most of which Toameh has earlier readily acknowledged as true]. These guys are US agents, they are CIA. Why don’t you try us now? We will show you that we can establish good government. And, by the way, look at what we’ve done for you since 1988. We’ve established a vast network of educational, social, health, and economic services. Arafat built a casino, and we built two universities. Arafat gave his wife 100,000 dollars a month so she can do her shopping while we gave poor people money. Arafat built bars and restaurants in Ramallah while we built orphanages and charities. So the Palestinians said Let’s try Hamas. If they come to power there is nothing left to steal. They can’t be more corrupt than the PLO.

    So, on the one hand, Hamas is a radical organisation willing to use terrorist means; intransigent to the last. On the other it’s done a lot of constructive work and (successfully) sought election (for which sins it is of course attacked by some its more radical brethren as a traitor to the Palestinian cause):

    The group’s greatest sin, says Abu Mustafa, who is also the father of two children, is its effort to bring Islam and democracy together. “Hamas represents an American style of Islam. They have tried to curry favor.” Which is not such a bad thing for Abu Mustafa and his Salafis. “Hamas is like a block of ice in the sun,” he says. “Every minute they get smaller — and we get larger.[There are real worries about what might arise in Hamas' place were it to be destroyed.]

    So, what are they? Well, I think they’re a work in progress; they have their own moderates and their own hardliners. Right now, after all that’s happened, the latter are almost certainly in the ascendancy. Which will win out depends in part on whether the Israelis (and the world at large) find a way to reward moderation. Israel’s failure to open the Strip had the opposite effect.

    It’s also important to remember that symbolism is critically important to both sides of this conflict. This article in the NYT explored that territory off the back of a lengthy research survey (from 2004-08) involving 4000 Palestinians and Israelis. Here’s the concluding paragraph:

    Making these sorts of wholly intangible symbolic concessions, like an apology or recognition of a right to exist, simply doesnt compute on any utilitarian calculus. And yet the science says they may be the best way to start cutting the knot.

  69. All I have been saying is that people who insist on exclusivity will get their comeuppance. Can exclusivity be unlearned? Israel is not going to unlearn it. Israeli elites have two passports and as history closes in, the country will be left to the zealots and the empty-headed patriots.

    As a minor and largely irrelevant tiff, I dont think Christianity needed Rome. It was thriving nicely without its backing, but its certainly true that it had uses for Rome that Judaism didnt have. Its only a thought experiment, but I would venture that Christianity (or something like it) would have eventually taken over Europe anyway. The message of a loving god who rewards you in the afterlife even if you were a loser in this life is very enticing. A much nicer god to follow than the brutal pagan gods of the Romans or the Germanics.

    Yes, it is irrelevant in the present context but I think I can show it is not minor. I dont think Christianity thrived without Rome, or could even exist without Rome.

    For perhaps six or eight thousand years people warred as polytheist pagans. Uncounted empires rose and fell. This might have gone on for a million years but suddenly (so to speak) monotheism turned up. The Jews had a single all-powerful god who did not want to do deals which provide material services in return for expensive sacrifices. Instead He required sincere acknowledgement of Him.

    It might not be the first and only monotheism one could make an argument for Hinduism but the advent of monotheism in the ME was singular. A loving, all-powerful, disembodied god organising the afterlife arose. It arose just once. Why? I dont know. `

    For 10 tribes He was not as powerful as the pagan gods and the 10 were lost – a holocaust. The remaining two tribes survived for seven centuries or so by exploiting their position as a buffer between the polytheist imperialisms around them. That might have gone on for seventy centuries but suddenly (so to speak) the Romans turned up. They didnt need any buffers and though they did not care about local religions, when the Jews refused to acknowledge Roman law, they dispersed those remaining two tribes.

    There simply was no Christianity before Rome. It existed and spread within the empire, Judaism without Judaic law. It could not otherwise have existed for it was too other-worldly. That is (a) it was parasitic and only a wealthy economy could pay for it and (b) only a stable polity could provide the internal state security for its turn-the-other-cheek philosophy to be persuasive.

    The above is very sketchy but I am suggesting that the advent of monotheism, and the advent of Christianity a thousand years later, are crucial turning points in the history of world. It took a thousand years for monotheist Christianity to arise from monotheist Judaism. It had to wait for the advent of Rome.

    Was the Roman empire also a crucial turning point? Not really. Though bigger, it, like all empires, died. Without Christianity it would be just another of those pagan empires and we might have had dozens more of them and still be running around with swords and shields.

  70. To JC. I dont know that Israel should not exist. I say it is not viable.

    Really? Why?

    And Israeli’s should simply accept the rest of the world will take them in like they did in the 30′s and 40′s, which reminds me of that old saying…. How does it go?

    Full me once…. Full me twice…

  71. Mike,
    we’re a littel in the realms of chrytal ball gazing here, but let’s play along.

    A single god originated way before Judaism and persisted outside of Judaism too. I think the Zoroastians are credited with being amongst the first, originating (I think, without going to google) in the highly organised region of Persia.
    You overstate the degree to which there was stability in the history of the Middle East. It wasnt merely a coming and going of civilisations, there was a gradual, almost imperceptible, increase in the level of sophistication of the empires. Bureaucracies became more intricate with more and more useful inventions (think of the census and ever more broadly educated individuals). Military technology kept improving as agricultural technology that could feed large armies spread and as weapons (including horses and the like) spread. This meant that it became easier and easier to have large empires for a while, meaning there were more and more societies to ‘parasitise of’.
    Also, I am not sure Christianity is merely a parasitical religion. It survived without a major empire for several hundred years in the early middle ages. True, smaller kings and rulers had their uses for Christianity, but rulers have uses for almost any religion.
    Finally, the ‘turn the other cheek’ philosophy of Christ doesnt seem to me to have been that important for most Christians most of their history. Turn the other cheek doesnt seem to have stopped the crusades, the inquisition, or, more generally, the pillaging of the Middle Ages.

  72. Hmm, didnt think of the Zoroastrians. Thanks. With origins around 1000BC, Zoroastrianism is about parallel with Judaism. Now that Ive consulted Wikipedia and know all about it, let me make the facts fit the theory.

    So monotheism popped up twice. And other monotheisms might have occurred which we dont know about. Actually this supports my thesis: like Z and J they faded or (more likely) were crushed. Monotheism was surely rare and it took five or six thousand years of agriculture for it to turn up. Its just not coherent to build an empire by conquest while following an, all-powerful god who promises eternal life in return for a sincere heart and being nice to each other. International relations is not like that.

    Monotheism needs a stable state. It seems either (a) the earlier empires that supported it were not big enough, rich enough, secure enough, or durable enough for the monotheist message to prevail, or, (b) these monotheisms were not big enough to transcend the state and the monotheism died when the state died as in the case of Judaism.

    After the long time it took to invent monotheism, it took another thousand years until Christianity arose. Its new twist was the separation of church and state. Christianity in its early centuries was about holding hands and singing Kumbaya. This cant generate wealth and it cant defend itself. It can only prosper within a wealthy, secure environment. The Romans allowed it where they would not allow Judaism. Though persecuted, the converts evidently outnumbered the martyrs.

    After Christianity took over the empire (after 325 AD) it was no longer just Kumbaya; it became bureaucratic. But by then it pervaded and the egalitarian, meek shall inherit the earth philosophy at the core of Christianity, with its emphasis on poverty and humility, never died. The church in all its splendour mouths these sentiments to this day.

    The behaviour of Medieval Christianity is not really relevant. Finally, the turn the other cheek philosophy of Christ doesnt seem to me to have been that important for most Christians most of their history Yes of course. But sociologically it is of vital importance. The Bibles relentless egalitarianism has repeatedly given rise to people like Luther and Calvin. For all the violations, this philosophy is now universal and informs all our lives.

    There has to be an explanation for the rise of Rome and your remarks seem to fill the bill. The invention and application of wheel, chariot, bronze, phalanx, compound bow, rideable horse, writing, iron, and mathematics must have effects. These technologies would be crucial enablers for Rome because you couldnt do the engineering and rule such a vast empire without them. So mighty Rome had to wait for them and since they occurred at the rate of about two inventions per thousand years, it was a long wait.

    So Ill stick with my thesis. If Rome hadnt been Christianitys midwife, wed now be two thousand years further along a well-worn path a few more empires would have risen and fallen, an Athens or two might have flared and faded, a few slave uprisings might have been quelled, there would be no forests left in Europe, and we might have stirrups and muskets.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.