Sunday, June 28, 2009

Israel in Gaza

Like all of you, I’m sure, I’ve been watching the events in Israel with the greatest trepidation and anxiety since the attack on Gaza began a few days ago. And, also like all of you, I’ve been reading the news voraciously, both on- and off-line, and trying to sort out my emotions. I’ve also been receiving an unprecedented number of e-mails from various organizations eager to tell me how I feel. In the end, though, the problems I face in writing to you today have very little to do with the difficulty of ferreting out information about the Gaza strikes and everything to do with the deep sense of ill ease and foreboding any aggravation of what was already a very tense situation must necessarily occasion in any of us who care about Israel and its destiny.

I think we have to think about the events at hand on two levels without succumbing to the incorrect conclusion that there is something duplicitous or hypocritical about doing so.

On the one hand, there is the natural sadness any of us must feel when considering the loss of innocent lives. This is not a political or a tactical decision, feeling this way—just a human response to the loss of life. I feel the same way about the demise of innocents, even when I have no inner conflict at all about the larger good of the action that brought about their deaths. Babies died at Hiroshima. Innocent citizens, including children, who had never raised a finger against a Jewish neighbor or done anything to foster or spread Nazism died in the firebombing of Dresden. One doesn’t have to be of two minds about the morality or the ethical justification of the Allies’ cause during the Second World War to mourn the deaths of children! Nor does it behoove any decent citizen to behave as though there is some virtue in steeling one’s heart to the suffering of the innocent. Or in behaving as though bemoaning their deaths is a sign of weakness or mural turpitude.

On the other hand are all the arguments you have seen adduced for you in all the same e-mails I myself have been getting. It was Hamas that called off the cease-fire, not the Israelis. It was Hamas, not the Israelis, that sent not hundreds but many thousands of rockets against civilian towns and villages. (I read this morning that according to the most reliable reports, there have been upwards of 6,300 rockets fired at Israel since 2005.) It was Hamas, not Israel, that abused the spirit of the cease-fire by refusing to negotiate an honorable settlement, but by illegally smuggling rockets, fuel, and other weapons into Gaza from Egypt and through the tunnels that Israel is now trying to destroy. And it is Hamas, not Israel, that openly self-defines as a terrorist organization devoted not to building a lasting peace in the Middle East, but to destroying Israel.

All that is true. If anything, in fact, it’s been heartening to see how few of the above points have been refuted, even half-heartedly let alone strenuously, in venues that are generally openly hostile to Israel. (I regularly read the on-line newspapers from Canada, the U.K.,France, and Germany, so I’m entirely used to reading stories that purport to be even-handed, but which are in reality wholly or almost wholly one-sided. That has specifically not been what I’ve noticed in the papers I read regularly.) But the real point, I believe, lies elsewhere than in the details of the Israeli operation.

In the end, the Palestinians are reaping the bitter fruit of their own willingness to select an openly terrorist organization to govern them. This, for better or worse, is what happens when a nation elects a government that is unabashedly hostile to the concept of mutual co-existence with the neighbors, that is openly and forcefully disdainful of any notion of reasonable compromise. What the Palestinians are experiencing, then, is the direct result of their decision—and I speak specifically of the Gazans now—to be governed, thus led forward, by thugs and murderers.

I wrote about the children of Dresden just above. They didn’t die because they deserved no longer to live. And they didn’t die because there was something about the citizens of Dresdenthat made them more deserving of punishment than other citizens of the Reich. That much, I think is obvious, but it is also true, I believe, that they did not die because the RAF firebombed Dresden, not really, not ultimately. They died, I believe, because a nation turned away from decency and moral rectitude to elect a government of avowed and open fascists whose program included not only virulent anti-Semitism, but an open and undisguised disdain for compromise, for peaceful coexistence. The died because Germany embarked on a path that could only lead to war. And they died because the German people as a whole opted to dance with the devil rather than turn their backs on those who would lead them to ruin. The dead children of Dresden were killed by their parents and their parents’ co-citizens far more potently than by the pilots of the RAF.

I don’t believe it is impossible to maintain both points of view. I believe what I just wrote about the children of Dresden and I mourn, unapologetically and unambiguously, their untimely and unwarranted deaths. But I have no doubts that doing whatever it was going to take to defeat Germany was the right and just path for the Allies to take in Europe, just as I have no conflicted emotions about Hiroshima, about saying that war was foisted upon us and that we did what it took to win. I feel the same about defeating Hamas.

I don’t know how the attacks on Gaza are going to end up. But I do know what I hope: that when the dust settles, Hamas will have been weakened, perhaps even dealt a fatal blow, and the Palestinians will finally realize that they have no choice but to elect officials willing to make peace, then live in peace, with Israel. I’m not enough of a military strategist to guess just how realistic that hope is. But hope is all we have as we sit here on the sidelines and pray for the welfare of Israel and its citizens, knowing that only in their peace shall we too ever come to know true and lasting peace among the nations of the diaspora. Ken yehi ratzon! May this week’s violence come to a productive, meaningful and useful end quickly, and may we all merit to look back on these attacks on Hamas as a real turning point in the long road towards a safe and secure Israel living in peace with its neighbors. (January 2, 2009)

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