ONE BY ONE the justifications given by Israel for its latest war in Gaza are unraveling. The argument that this is a purely defensive war, launched only after Hamas broke a five-month old ceasefire, has been challenged, not just by observers in the know such as Jimmy Carter, the former US President who helped facilitate the truce, but by center-right Israeli intelligence think tanks.
The Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, whose 31 December report titled “Six Months of the Lull Arrangement Intelligence Report”, confirmed that the 19 June truce was only “sporadically violated”, and then not by Hamas but instead by “rogue terrorist organizations”. Instead, “the escalation and erosion of the lull arrangement” occurred after Israel killed six Hamas members on 4 November, allegedly after spotting them digging a tunnel, and then placed the entire Gaza Strip under even more intensive siege the next day.
According to a joint Tel Aviv University-European university study, this fits a larger pattern in which Israeli violence has been responsible for ending 79 percent of all lulls in violence since the outbreak of the second Intifada, compared with only 8 percent for Hamas and other Palestinian factions.
Indeed, the Israeli Foreign Ministry seems to realize that this argument is losing credibility. During a conference call with half a dozen pro-Israel professors, the NY Consul General focused more on the importance of destroying the intricate tunnel system connecting Gaza to the Sinai. He claimed that such tunnels were “as big as the Holland and Lincoln tunnel,”, and offered as proof the “fact” that lions and monkeys had been smuggled through them to a zoo in Gaza. In reality, the lions were two small cubs that were drugged, thrown in sacks, and dragged through a tunnel on their way to a private zoo.
The claim that Hamas will never accept the existence of Israel has proved equally misinformed, as Hamas leaders explicitly announced their intention to do just that in the pages of the Los Angeles Times (as did deputy political head Mousa Abu Marzook in a 6 January Opinion article), or to any international leader or journalist who will meet with them.
With each new family, 10, 20, and 30-strong, buried under the rubble of a building in Gaza, the claim that Israeli forces have gone group at the University College, Irvine, sent out an urgent email to the community explaining that, “Over the past week, increasing amounts of evidence lead us to believe that Hamas is largely responsible for any alleged humanitarian crisis in Gaza.”
I have no idea who the “us” is that is referred to in the appeal outside of the membership of the group (which the President of Anteaters has assured me is in fact growing), but I am sure that the number of believers is shrinking. Indeed, one of the sad facts of this latest tragedy is that with each claim publicly refuted by facts on the ground, more and more Americans, including Jews, are refusing to trust the assertions of Israeli and American Jewish leaders.
Even worse, in the Arab/Muslim world, the horrific images pouring out of Gaza daily are allowing preachers and politicians to deploy well-worn yet still dangerous and inciteful stereotypes against Jews as they rally the masses against Israel – and through it, their own governments.
What is most frightening is that the most important of Israel’s socalled friends, the American political establishment and the mainstream Jewish leadership, seem clueless to the devastating trap that Israel has led itself into – in good measure with their indulgence and even help. It is one that threatens the country’s existence far more than Hamas’s Qassam rockets, with their 0.4 percent kill rate; even more than the disastrous 2006 invasion of southern Lebanon, whose weakening of Israel’s deterrence capability in some measure made this war inevitable.
First, it is clear that Israel cannot destroy Hamas, it cannot stop the rockets unless it agrees to a truce that will go far to meeting Hamas’s primary demand – an end to the Gaza siege. Merely by surviving (and it surely will survive) Hamas, like Hezbollah in 2006, will have won. Israel is succeeding in doing little more than creating another generation of Palestinians with hearts filled with rage and a need for revenge.
Second, Israel’s main patron, the United States, along with the conservative Arab autocracies and monarchies that are its only al- lies left in the Muslim world, are losing whatever crumbs of legiti- macy they still had with their young and angry populations. The weaker America and its axis becomes in the Middle East, the more precarious becomes Israel’s long-term security. Indeed, any chance that the US could convince the Muslim world to pressure Iran to give up its quest for nuclear weapons has been buried in Gaza.
Third, as Israel brutalizes Palestinians, it brutalizes its own people. You cannot occupy another people and engage in violence against them at this scale without doing even greater damage to your own soul. The high incidence of violent crimes committed by veterans returning from combat duty in Iraq is but one example of how the violence of occupation and war eat away at people’s moral center.
While in the US only a small fraction of the population participates in war; in Israel, most able-bodied men end up participating. The effects of the latest violence perpetrated against Palestinians upon the collective Israeli soul is incalculable; the notion that it can survive as an “ethnocracy” – favoring one ethnic group, Jews, yet by and large democratic – is becoming a fiction.
Who will save Israel from itself? Israelis are clearly incapable. Their addiction as a society to the illusion of violence-as-power has reached the level of collective mental illness. As Haaretz reporter Yossi Melman described it on 10 January, “Israel has created an image of itself of a madman that has lost it.”
Not Palestinians, too many of whom have fallen prey to a similar condition. Not the “Quartet”, the European Union, United Nations, or Arab League, all of whom are utterly powerless to influence Israeli policy. Not the organized Jewish leadership in the United States and Europe, who are even more blind to what’s happening than most Israelis, who at least allow internal debate about the wisdom of their government’s policies. Not the growing progressive Jewish community, which will need years to achieve enough social and political power to challenge the status quo. And not senior American politicians and policy-makers, who are either unwilling to risk alienating American Jewish voters, or have been so brainwashed by the constant barrage of propaganda put out by the “Israel Lobby” that they are incapable of reaching an independent judgement about the conflict.
During the US presidential race, Barack Obama was ridiculed for being a messiah-like figure. The idea doesn’t sound so funny now. It is hard to imagine anyone less saving Israel, the Palestinians, and the world from another four years of mindless violence.