Israel cannot bomb its way to peace

As the war rages in Gaza, it is hard to find pieces that are neither cheerlead nor stir up hatred toward one side or the other. Here are some perspectives we’ve seen that shed light on the Israeli action in Gaza.

Rosa Brooks wrote in the Los Angeles Times on New Years Day that “Israel Can’t Bomb Its Way to Peace.

But if there is no reason to doubt Israel’s ability to pulverize Gaza, there’s also no reason to think this offensive will improve Israeli security. Destruction of Hamas’ infrastructure may temporarily slow Hamas rocket attacks, but sooner or later they’ll resume.

The Israeli assault may even strengthen Hamas in the longer run and weaken its more moderate secular rival, Fatah. As Israel should know by now (as we all should know), dropping bombs in densely populated areas is a surefire way to radicalize civilians and get them to rally around the home team, however flawed.

Ironically, it’s precisely this psychological phenomenon that Olmert, Barak and Livni are counting on among Israelis, but they seem to assume it doesn’t exist among Palestinians. (Or, worse, they’re too cynical to care, as long as they profit politically.)

Israel has no viable political endgame here: There’s just no clear route from bombardment to a sustainable peace. But the damage caused by this new conflagration won’t be limited to the Israelis and Palestinians. Israel’s military offensive already has sparked outrage and protests throughout the Arab world. The current crisis also may destabilize some of the more moderate Arab governments in the region — in Egypt, for instance — where leaders now face popular backlash if they don’t repudiate Israel.

Ann Fontaine said in her sermon yesterday:

I read the news from all sides in the conflict and do not know who is more righteous. The Palestinians, confined and barricaded in small bits of their former lands, the Israelis under siege by those who would eliminate them from the region? Perhaps it is the Israelis who even now are protesting the actions of their own government or the Palestinian medical and aid workers desperately trying to save all lives in hospitals with broken windows and few supplies?

Our hearts cry out for wisdom and finding another way. The Magi had the wisdom to look for the Christ child. They discovered that God appears in the most unlikely of places. When they returned home it is said they went “another way.” The powers of the world do not seem to have the will nor the wisdom to find answers. Perhaps there are none when both parties want the same land and sovereignty. The strategy that is being pursued has not worked so far and does not seem likely to produce anything but a constant cycle of revenge and violence. I remember times of hope along the way during this conflict. The Oslo accords, the meetings at Camp David (where President Jimmy Carter was able to get each side to see what they needed beyond the cycle of violence), the truces, the leadership that rose up in new ways but was soon cut down often by their own people. It is not often that leaders arise, like Nelson Mandela and Bishop Tutu who can see a larger picture and encourage all of us to see one another as children of God where all children can find safety and a life of peace.

What is our call in the midst of this and other tragedies around the world? Support those who work for peace, those who call for new ways of relationships. Give to the Anglican hospital that cares for all regardless of nationality and ethnicity. It all seems too small in the face of the overwhelming and seemingly intractable issues but I take heart from the infant lying in the manger and from the wise ones who knew enough to be humble and giving. It is the only thing I know.

Give to Episcopal Relief and Development here to assist the hospital in Gaza.

The Washington Post published two articles yesterday that told about the conflict from both the Palestinean and the Israel perspectives.

Eyad El-Sarraj wrote “As the Troops Enter, We Fear the Worst” from Gaza City:

How much worse can it get? After a horrifying week, the Israelis have arrived once again at our doorstep. What now? Already we have experienced so much terror and want.

When the Israeli strikes first began, my wife and I were worrying about lentils. She said we could not have lentil soup for lunch because there were no lentils in the shops. Nor any rice or flour. Suddenly there was a deafening noise, followed by a succession of blasts the likes of which I had never experienced. Our house was rocking, the windows rattling in their panes.

Panicked, we ran into the small hallway. My sister-in-law, who lives upstairs, joined us, frantic because her young daughter was not yet home from school. Sari, a boy from the neighborhood, banged on our door asking for shelter. He trembled as he told us that he’d been on his way home from school in a taxi when there was a thundering blast. The driver stopped the car and ran for cover. The passengers scattered in all directions. Sari found himself running aimlessly. The explosions seemed to be chasing him, he said. Suddenly, he came upon people lying bleeding in the street. He went up to a man, wanting to help him, and touched his hand. It was nothing but a piece of burnt flesh. Somebody shouted at him to get away, so he ran off….

…By Tuesday night, Gaza was like a ghost town. Its streets were deserted and people didn’t dare to come out of their houses.

The children suffer the most, I think. They see the fear in their mothers’ eyes. The image of their fathers as a source of security is shattered. Their fathers could not provide them with food, and now they are unable to protect them. The rockets will eventually stop flying, I am certain, but it may be too late for these children. To me, the chances seem great that they will join Hamas as they search for a replacement for the father figure, someone to provide and protect. In this way, Israeli actions will only strengthen Hamas.

Wisdom tells us that violence can only breed violence. Israel’s brutality guarantees that its people will not be secure. Israel may destroy much and kill many in Hamas, but that is not the solution. Hamas was born because of the occupation and won the democratic elections in 2006 because of false promises of peace and people’s disillusionment with the Palestinian Authority. Israel and its allies should address Palestinian grievances instead of aggravating them by denying justice and security and by violating basic human rights. Most of the Palestinians in Gaza are here because they were expelled in 1948 when Israel was created. Since then, we have not had a day of freedom or of equal rights with Israelis. We can barely feed our children or provide them with medicine, because Israel controls everything that goes in and out. From where I sit, in the middle of this barrage of bombing, Israel looks to be increasingly living outside the norms of the world community and outside international law.

Yossi Klein Halevi wrote “As My Son Goes to War, I Am Fully Israeli At Last” from Jerusalem about his son, Graviel, who is in Israeli Army fighting in Gaza:

For the past eight years, Israel has fought a single war with shifting fronts, moving from suicide bombings in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv to Katyusha attacks on Israeli towns near the Lebanon border to Qassam missiles on Israeli towns near the Gaza border. That war has targeted civilians, turning the home front into the actual front. And it has transformed the nature of the conflict from a nationalist struggle over Palestinian statehood to a holy war against Jewish statehood. Except for a left-wing fringe, most Israelis recognize the conflict in Gaza as part of a larger war that has been declared against our being and that we must fight.

But how? Even some right-wingers are saying that we should have declared a unilateral cease-fire after the initial airstrike and then dared Hamas to continue shelling our towns, rather than risk another quagmire. And even some left-wingers are saying that we should now destroy the Hamas regime and then offer to turn Gaza over to international control or, if possible, an inter-Arab force led by Egypt. Every option is potentially disastrous. Most Israelis agree on two points: that we cannot live with a jihadist statelet on our border, and that we cannot become occupiers of Gaza again.

The despair of Gaza is contagious. One friend, a Likud supporter, said to me, “I don’t know what to hope for anymore.”

Meanwhile, I try to reassure myself about Gavriel’s safety. Growing up in Jerusalem during the suicide bombings in the early 2000s, he has already known danger, intimacy with death. A 13-year-old acquaintance was stoned to death, and was so mutilated that he could be identified only by his DNA. A friend lost the use of an eye in a bus bombing on his way to school. At least now, Gavriel and his friends can defend themselves. Perhaps one reason most of them volunteered for combat units was because now the generation of the suicide bombings can finally fight back…

…Even now, perhaps especially now, I feel that our family is privileged to belong to the Israeli story. Gavriel, grandson of a Holocaust survivor, is part of an army defending the Jewish people in its land. This is one of those moments when our old ideals are tested anew and found to be still vital. That provides some comfort as Sarah and I wait for the next text message.

Ethan Bronner, reporting for The New York Times, says:

Israel has said it wants to end Hamas’s will or ability to shoot rockets at civilians in southern Israel, which Hamas has been doing for years, terrifying tens of thousands of inhabitants. Recent rocket attacks have been of longer range and greater power, suggesting that Hamas has been successfully arming itself in recent months and adding urgency to Israel’s efforts to stop them.

But Israel has not made clear if its goal of ending rocket fire would include ending Hamas’s 18-month rule. The rockets continued Sunday, with some 45 hitting Israel, including the city of Sderot, where Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York was visiting. He was rushed to a safe area when the alert sounded. Across southern Israel, six people were reported to have minor injuries.

Rage in the Arab and Muslim worlds intensified over Israel’s war, with demonstrations in recent days in Turkey and Lebanon as well as in a number of European capitals. The leaders of Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority, which all have diplomatic relations with Israel, condemned the attacks as disproportionate and called for them to end.

During rock-throwing demonstrations near the Israeli separation barrier in Qalqilya in the occupied West Bank, Israeli troops shot and killed a Palestinian man, according to an Israeli Army spokeswoman. She said that two Palestinians had started to climb the barrier and ignored warning shots from Israeli soldiers.

There have been scattered arrests of protesters, including seven Israeli Arabs, since Israel began its offensive in Gaza on Saturday night.

But the United States placed the onus on Hamas, saying it must stop the rockets.

The European Union, currently headed by the Czech Republic, was increasingly critical of Israel and urged the Israelis to allow more aid into Gaza, saying it worried about rising civilian casualties….

…Israel has mounted a public relations blitz to explain its war to the world, bringing in dozens of officials as spokesmen in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and along the border area. Numerous reporters have been driving along the Israeli-Gaza border straining to see events through binoculars and television camera lenses, the occasional mortar shell striking not far away, producing a plume of smoke. Drones and warplanes have come and gone overhead.

Israel pulled its settlers and soldiers out of Gaza in 2005 but maintained control of its borders, sea and airspace. Hamas shot rockets at Israel soon after its departure. Hamas leaders went on to win legislative elections and, in June 2007, to throw out their Fatah rivals and rule Gaza, an area of 1.5 million people.

Israel imposed an economic blockade, supported by much of the West and parts of the Arab world, because Hamas refused to recognize Israel, renounce violence against it or accept previous Palestinian agreements with Israel. Still, many rights groups considered the boycott inappropriate, a collective punishment of an area that Israel had occupied for four decades.

Hamas has been seeking an opening of its commercial passages into and out of Israel to build the economy. Israel and others have expressed fear that such an opening would only improve Hamas’s standing among its people.

Joshua Mitnick, writing for the Christian Science Monitor, reflects how Israel and Hamas might define “victory” in Gaza:

Escalating a week-long assault against Hamas, Israel invaded Gaza over the weekend to stop the Islamist militants who continue to launch cross-border rocket attacks.

But what victory means for each side still remains vague. The Israeli military says the ground offensive is aimed at eliminating militant rocket-launching sites, destroying weapon caches, and pursuing fighters hiding in the crowded coastal strip.

Will it be satisfied if the militants stop firing rockets or if it destroys the hundreds of tunnels to Egypt that make up Hamas’s supply line? Some experts say Israel wants to force a more extensive cease-fire with Hamas, compel the creation of an international peacekeeping force in the coastal strip, or destroy the Islamist group altogether.

For Hamas, survival might be victory. It will be lauded across the Arab world if it can hold out against the region’s strongest military.

“One of the most important things in this conflict between state and nonstate actors is what is the meaning of victory?” says Eitan Azani, a former Israeli Defense Forces colonel and a deputy director at the Institute for Counter Terrorism at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya. “A lot of people from [Hamas] dying? A collapse? Or most of the operational capability destroyed? This is up for debate. We are in a very complicated situation.”

In the 2006 Lebanon war, the Shiite militant group Hezbollah showed the world it could not only survive Israel’s superior firepower but that it could confront them on the battlefield. Israel withdrew from the 34-day war with Hezbollah claiming a “divine victory.”

So far, Hamas has succeeded in stirring up regional and domestic sympathy under the Israeli pummeling during the first week in the war. But as the fighting continues, the militant group risks seeing its fighting force quickly degraded.

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