Someone asked me an innocent question: “What is the position of Israelis who are against the war?”
There are obvious answers.
First, this is a disproportionate war that harms huge numbers of civilians. The IDF is bombarding an area that it has already imprisoned by occupation from 1967, and then through suffocating border, movement, import and export control since 2007. Its residents have been stateless since 1948. It is attacking by air, land and sea, while Hamas attacks civilians in Israel through rockets and now through terrorist infiltration, at an increasingly frenzied pace.
Second, escalation breeds escalation. The south of Israel has not been at peace for a decade, but in this war, the whole country is under attack. And “Protective Edge” made things even worse for the south; all the Israel casualties so far – as of today two civilian deaths, numerous wounded (including children) and one soldier killed – have been in the south. “Code Red” warnings in Sderot all these years were awful, but death is worse. On a good day, there is suffering in Gaza; now the death and destruction there is indescribable.
Third, most of the stated goals of the war seem impossible to fulfill. Israeli Foreign Minister Liberman’s blustery call to take down Hamas is hot air, unless Israel wants to full-out occupy Gaza (it doesn’t) or watch even more extreme groups take over. Destroying the “infrastructure of terror” also falls apart upon close inspection, since, as I have heard some say, “you can’t kill an idea.” The stated goal of the ground operation is to destroy tunnels into Israel where terrorists have tried to infiltrate over the last few days (following the air war). I certainly support preventing terrorists from reaching Israel. But tunnels can be destroyed, as many of the Rafah ones were by Egypt late last year, without going to war.
Fourth, the political and social consequences of the war will be a disaster in the short, medium and long term. In the short term, Hamas could easily become stronger, having become the defiant face of military resistance against Israel as diplomacy crumbles.
In the medium term, the best hope for the two-state political resolution in years is dead: that was the Fatah-Hamas agreement, which removed Hamas from government and could have led to elections. Jerusalem Post writer Gil Hoffman, speaking at a Limmud conference in Australia just a few days before the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens, optimistically predicted that peace talks would resume immediately following Palestinian elections.
None of that will happen now. The chances of a negotiated two-state agreement are even lower than when the Kerry talks broke down, if that’s possible. The internal Palestinian reconciliation process appears dead in the water. Once again, Israel will spend the next decade saying there is no partner, because if Hamas gets stronger, Mahmoud Abbas only gets weaker.
In the long term, I shudder to think about the souls of people who lost two, three, or 18 family members to Israeli bombs. The sobbing father who begged his child to wake up because he had brought new toys; the woman who told her sister in England to stay away and live, so that at least one of the family members would survive. I see what national trauma has done to the Jewish people more than 60 years following their darkest moments. The manifestations of Palestinian suffering in future generations will be terrible.
The fifth and final reason to oppose the operation is that previous wars have failed. Operation Cast Lead in 2008/9 begat Pillar of Defense in 2012, begat Protective Edge in 2014. Hamas was not toppled, Gaza was not disarmed. The only thing changing is the accelerating pace of the wars.
But those reasons fall flat in the face of another simple question: past and future notwithstanding, what else can Israel possibly do when Hamas is firing rockets at its civilians? At me? Of course we prefer a political resolution in the long term. But first we must stop the aggression against Israelis today. “Ein ma la’asot” – there is no other way.
This is the argument made by friends, family, the news, the cabinet, elected Parliamentarians of the left and the right alike.
Here is my extremely unpopular answer. There is no such thing as today devoid of yesterday and tomorrow; it is a fiction. The measures of the last ten days grow directly out of the measures in recent years. They will have devastating consequences in years to come. My criticism of this war is not “I told you so,” because some of us have warned for years that the status quo is illusory. Opposition to this war means finding a different response to predictable situations, so that there won’t be a next time, and in two years Israelis won’t have to say “this is no time to analyze the past.’”
Finally, what do those opposed to the war propose instead? Israel already agreed to a ceasefire that was rejected.
With humility, because I simply don’t have perfect answers – find me someone who does – here are two observations:
First, Cast Lead ended with a unilateral, not agreed upon, ceasefire. The idea has already been raised by some commentators, as well as Meretz leader Zehava Gal-on, but has so far been ignored.
Second, like in 2012, there was another way: the reconciliation deal could have been cautiously welcomed; rewards and incentives could have encouraged Hamas pragmatism. The murder of three Israeli teens did not have to be disguised as a hostage-rescue effort for three weeks and leveraged to provoke the predictable violence of Hamas. Wrongful escalation from both sides could have been contained – of course, a Palestinian-Israeli peace agreement would be the best mechanism for that. Eventually Palestinian elections could have been held; stabilization could have followed.
They say the best treatment is prevention. But nobody seems to care.
Update: Since the publication of this article, Israeli media has been given permission to report on two more soldiers who were killed earlier today.