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Teaching the Palestinians a lesson

The Israeli government’s insistence on maintaining the political and diplomatic status quo in Gaza and the West Bank guarantees many more years of violence and suffering – especially for the Palestinians. 

Palestinian women mourning the death of Mahmoud Raed Saddllah, a 4-year-old child, killed in an explosion in Jabaliya, Gaza strip, November 16, 2012. (photo: Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

Three days into the Israeli attack on Gaza, it seems that a political window for a ceasefire could have emerged. Israeli casualties are still limited, and unlike in previous rounds of escalation, there isn’t a public demand to remove Hamas from power, nor other unrealistic goals (like the promise to release Gilad Shalit during Operation Cast Lead). Netanyahu can claim victory today, stop the bombing and save much suffering from both sides. As Daniel Levy’s excellent analysis shows, Hamas can also present itself as the winner after hitting Tel Aviv and the greater Jerusalem area. This conflict is a zero sum game only from the perspective of the casualties – the immediate political interest of both leaderships could be served at the same time. Still, we may just the same be heading toward an escalation. As I write, Israel is drafting 75,000 reservists and preparing the public for “a prolonged confrontation” whose goals are unclear at best.

Whether a ground invasion starts or a ceasefire is reached, it remains clear that another escalation, somewhere in the future, is all but inevitable. The fundamentals of the problem remain unchanged: the Israeli closure on Gaza, the separation of the Strip from the West Bank, the absence of a political horizon. Between 2006 and now, very little has changed.

Contrary to Israeli statements about the deadly status quo in the south that “no country would have accepted,” the current Israeli government is characterized by its addiction to the status quo. The twist and turns in the last two decades have led to a strange situation in which quasi-autonomous leaderships in Gaza and the West Bank are running the daily operations of the occupation for Israel. When pressured from their public, Hamas and Fatah turn to some forms of resistance (Hamas through rockets and attacks on IDF soldiers along the strip, Fatah through diplomacy); when pressured by Israel, they move back to obedience.

This situation can at times be uncomfortable from an Israeli point of view, but it’s still preferable in the eyes of the political leadership to all other alternatives.  A popular complaint these days is that Israel does not have a Gaza policy. But Israel does have a policy, and that’s keeping things as they are. The reason for it is simple. Ending the occupation, opening the Strip, removing the blockade – giving the Palestinians their independence – will carry an enormous political price, not to mention certain security risks; other forms of power sharing – most notably, giving the Palestinians their political rights within the state of Israel – are even less acceptable to the Israeli mainstream. Israelis, and even more so, Israeli leaders, prefer to stick to the status quo and deal with the Palestinians’ attempt to challenge them one by one. Thus, diplomatic initiatives are blocked with the help of the U.S. and the European Union, and armed attacks are met with heavy retaliation. Each Israeli response carries its own internal logic – I certainly don’t expect my government to accept attacks on Israeli civilians – but taken together they cannot be justified, morally or strategically.

If history has taught us something, it’s that in those rare occasions when the other party is able to inflict too much pain and discomfort on Israelis – thus making the status quo “less tolerable” – concessions are finally made. This is the way the First Intifada led to Oslo and the second one to the disengagement (much in the way the 1973 war led to the peace treaty with Egypt). In all these cases, the Palestinians (or Egyptians) paid a heavy price – much heavier than Israel – but they were able to move Israel out of its comfort zone. Israeli leaders often express the desire to “teach the Palestinians a lesson against the use of violence” or “to burn it into their consciousness,” as Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon famously said. But in reality the terrible lesson we have taught them is that in order to get something out of Israel, violence is not enough – one needs a lot of violence. It seems that the world understands that, and after two decades of diplomatic efforts, the latest escalation is met with indifference (which Israelis wrongly interpret as support).

Israel had chances to explore other options. Hamas could have been dealt with politically after its election victory. Negotiations on the Shalit deal could have been a platform for other form of contacts, as many security officials advised. Egypt, which has a real interest in stability in Gaza, could have helped. But talks only made sense if Israel was ready to back them with adequate actions. Clearly, it wasn’t.

As bad as Hamas might be, one can be certain that any regime in Gaza would stand the same pressure from the population to challenge the blockade and reunite with the West Bank. All the self-righteous cries on “Israel’s right to defend itself” won’t change the basic fact: Israel cannot go on holding three million people as its prisoners. The situation is not symmetrical. Reports of a ceasefire that could have been reached had Israel refrained from carrying out the Jabari assassination might be accurate for all I know, but this story shouldn’t divert our attention from the heart of the matter, which is the Palestinian right to freedom, dignity and justice. Only then will we have peace.

Cut off from everywhere: When Gaza feels like another world
Gaza escalation: There was another way
A week in photos: Assault on Gaza intensifies
Tragedy, farce and denial in Kiryat Malachi

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    1. Obsidian

      Daniel Levy’s analysis is based on a faulty timeline.
      The current hostilities began before the young Gazan boy was allegedly killed by the IDF.


      I say allegedly because Maan, the only news outlet to cover the alleged death, admitted that there had been a nearby firefight involving Gazan militants and the IDF.

      Call me cynical but the Mohammed Dura hoax is still fresh in my memory.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Aaron Gross

      I wasn’t aware of this public pressure on Hamas to launch rockets. (I don’t follow the news that closely.) Was it reported in +972 before the escalation in rocket attacks? If so, well, I missed it. If not, then why wasn’t it reported? It would have been a perfect +972 story.

      I’ve seen it written that Israel can’t keep “holding Palestinians prisoners” ever since I started paying attention to regional events. In order to rise above the level of cliche, maybe you could say how long Israel can’t continue with it. Two years? Five years? Ten? Another forty-five years?

      Reply to Comment
    3. Tom

      “Out of its comfort zone”? When has Israel ever been in a comfort zone?

      Reply to Comment
    4. Ed Frias

      Noam Sheizaf we all knew you were radical, but atleast now people see your an anarchist.
      Its very simple to understand whats going on here.
      All Hamas has to do is stop firing missles from Gaza and Israel will not attack Gaza back.
      Even the Egyptian PM couldn’t get Hamas to agree to stop firing missles at Israeli civilians.
      Everyone with a brain can see Hamas is trying to create a wider war with Israel and bring in Egypt and Turkey into this situation.
      This is why Hamas is firing from civilians area’s.
      We learned from documents recently that Hitler wanted all Germans to perish in 45.
      I believe Hamas is trying to do the same thing here.
      This is Good verse Evil here and the fact your supporting these Islamo fascists shows how demented you are.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Ed Frias

      Palestinian hatred seems as persistent as Israels’ self-defense, and the Palestinians don’t seem to be bothered by death and destruction.
      Then again, what do you expect by people who strap bombs on their children for 72 virgins.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Ed Frias

      No country would tolerate relentless firing of rockets & missiles at its cities. Hamas terrorists have brought nothin but misery & suffering to the Gazans whom they use as human shields like cowards. Israel always goes to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties & makes phone calls, drops leaflets and dummy bombs before they attack Hamas terrorists operating in populated areas.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Ed Frias

      What do the Palestinians think they will accomplish by sending rockets into Israel? 72 virgins.
      Are they not asking for what they are getting? The Palestinians are making their own bed. The blood is on their hands.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Linus

      Thoughtful piece, thanks Noam.
      ed, your one-eyed view is quite horrifying. You think Palestinians – and Gazans in particular – are just naturally hateful? A whole nation of people (or perhaps a religion? it’ difficult to tell from your spewing) just randomly but collectively full of hate? That’s nonsensical by any rational measure. Verging on racist. They’ve had their lands forcibly taken; been physically contained, unable to travel freely; economy decimated, essential services starved of funds etc etc. They have been killed at at rate of 1000 for every 13 Israelis who’ve died. They’ve been battered and abused and dehumanised. If they don’t have cause for defending themselves, there is no such cause imaginable for anyone.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Bronxman

      Israel has always had the upper hand tactically, but strategically, which supposedly concentrates on the long term, seems to be missing. From what I see, bombing Gaza into submission 4 years ago and maintaining a blockade in order to eliminate the importation of weapons, doesn’t seem to have worked. There are more weapons and they are upgrades of what previously existed. What happened? The Arab Spring, for one thing. The border with Egypt into Gaza is more porous. The surrounding regions have changed significantly. Most people saw this but nobody in the leadership offered an updated Israeli strategy to take these changes into account. As the writer notes, it is business as usual. Gaza again will absorb a big dose of punishment. But all that Israel has succeeded in doing is again kicking the can down the road. It doesn’t appear that the road extends far into the horizon anymore.

      Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser

        Bombing and blockading actually did worked well enough – Palestinians are lacking miscellaneous weapons systems, such as shoulder-launched Surface-to-Air missiles like Stinger or Igla, which in turn allows IDF to use more precise weapons and maintain minimal collateral damage.

        The road is the very same road as 64 years ago – Arabs will either live in peace on their own good faith or be forced to live in peace – up to them.

        Reply to Comment
        • Bronxman

          As for lacking adequate ground defenses vs control of the air, look at the rebel situation in Syria or, for that matter wartime Vietnam, for examples. I don’t say that I have the solution but the cycle played out over so many years has no long term future. Highly skilled people will emigrate, commercial investments will slow, foreign alliances will change, theocracy will replace democracy, etc. What is needed, at least on the Israeli side (because the Palestinians are not going to produce one) is a true leader and statesman. Politicians need not apply. Nothing, good or bad, lasts forever.

          Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser


            True leader and statesman is needed for what exactly?
            To make peace?

            Reply to Comment
          • Bronxman

            Lincoln would be a good example. He bought a war (a civil war, the worst kind) to an end and saved the Union (United States), ended massive injustice (Emancipation Proclamation which ended slavery), proposed reconciliation (not getting “even”)- (before getting assasinated). A historian could probably add a few things. War has changed since then along with the prospects of one side vanquishing the other in order to achieve peace (or a least a temporary quiet). The “enemy” has many more faces and addresses these days and putting down one temporarily(say Palestinians) won’t end the hostility in the neighborhood. Success for a leader/statesman will have to account for a much wider territory.

            Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser


            What in your opinion could an Israeli statesman do to improve the situation?

            Reply to Comment
    10. Ed Frias

      Noam is ignoring a simple equation: if you attack Israeli civilians with rockets, expect to be attacked right back. And if you attack with barrages of dozens and hundreds of rockets, expect a war.

      Not a single Gazan would be killed or injured if Hamas and Gaza would stop attacking Israel.
      Its that Simple. Even a nut job like Noam should understand that.

      Israel has been out of Gaza since 2005. If the Palestinians had chosen to focus on building up Gaza, they could have done so. Instead, they’ve chosen to continue attacking Israeli civilian centers with regular rocket fire. When the inevitable Israeli responses come, the Palestinian leaders and their propagandists should really just bow their heads in shame instead of continuing with the absurd pretense that this is Israel’s fault or doing.

      Reply to Comment
    11. Ed Frias

      Israel unilaterally leaves Gaza.

      Hamas fires thousands of rockets into Israel.

      Israel hits back.

      And Israel is the villain, because its firing back at missles fired at them.

      You couldn’t make this up the logic of the left and Muslims.

      Reply to Comment
    12. Ed Frias

      Israel has not only survived but also thrives in-spite of all the horror, lies, and hatred she has endured from the Arab/Palis by a sheer MIRACLE, and the resilience of the Jewish people and her supporters

      Reply to Comment
    13. Vicki Vance

      Hamas should be recognized as the freely-elected government of Gaza, not a terrorist organization. And, Israel and Hamas need to begin direct talks. But the truth is that until Israel ends the land, air and sea siege of Gaza, they can expect resistance from them. Disproportionate collective punishment does nothing but harden that resistance. Hamas is not delusional. They know they are out-manned and out-gunned and that they are on their own in their fight for freedom. To quote Che Guevara, they would rather “die standing than live on their knees”. Eventually the Israeli public will need to decide if they are willing to continue to squander lives and treasure in a futile attempt to break the resistance.

      Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser


        Hamas has a main goal of destruction of Israel.
        You wouldn’t argue with that, would you?
        Gazans elect Hamas, which means Gazans support destruction of Israel as well.

        Until Hamas drops that goal – or Gazans re-elect another government – there is nothing to talk about.

        Reply to Comment
      • Vadim

        Vicki, several question (if I may):

        1. If Hamas being elected freely is of any consequence, where does it put Abu Mazen?
        2. If Hamas was freely elected – doesn’t that mean it has the support of the population and they must take responsibility for their choices?
        3. Does being “freely-elected” give any legitimacy to a terror organization?

        For myself, I don’t think an organization like the Hamas has any right to exist. The world (and our neighbors included) will be a better place without it, this is regardless of whether is freely-elected or not.

        Reply to Comment
      • Vicky
        You put that beautifully. Israel should give back the Palestinian land that it has stolen since 1947, knock down all its illegal settlements on Palestinian land, refuse all the millions of dollars of aid from American citizens and recognise that it is behaving like a bully in charge of a fascist state. No other country in the world would stand for this type of land grabbing, citizen humiliation and checkpoint charlie dictatorship behaviour. Shame on you Israel.

        Reply to Comment
    14. Richard Witty

      In every respect, Hamas cannot proceed to actual state adminstration.

      It would require elections, which it might lose.

      If, as a state, it acquiesced to the attack on a foreign country’s civilians, that would no longer be an action of “resistance”, but an action of war.

      Israel regards the degree of authority that Hamas controls, to construct the responsibility of a state, which is why the current military operation began.

      Egypt knows that if it treats Hamas as a state, that it has supportive state to state alliances, that that will put it in direct contravention of treaties with Israel, and agreements with the US, Arab League, UN.

      Today, Egypt closed the Rafah crossing, that had been periodically opened to Egypt-Gaza personnel and materiel transport. (They are also destroying tunnels on the basis of the expected normalization of border.)

      All, because rage and adolescent boundary testing by Islamic Jihad and others, and acquiesed by Hamas, controlled, rather than reason, prudence, let alone human compassion.

      Enough is enough already, from Israel, from Gaza.

      What I don’t understand is why Hamas would allow such expression of militancy before the Israeli election, in this critical formative campaign period. Why it seems to have endorsed likud (by contrary logic).

      Why would Hamas want likud to win the election?

      Reply to Comment
    15. “this story shouldn’t divert our attention from the heart of the matter, which is the Palestinian right to freedom, dignity and justice. Only then will we have peace.”

      972 could put that as a motto above every article. Or carve into their tombstones, whatever comes first.

      Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser

        You see, the problem is that you have no idea who are those “Palestinians” you are talking about.

        To be more exact – please tell whether Palestinian Jews are entitled to the same freedom, dignity and justice as Palestinian Arabs do?

        Reply to Comment
    16. Janice Garfunkel

      Wow, I am appalled that someone can write this, and others can agree with it! Oy!
      Palestinian violence against an enemy other than Israel (with Israel’s power)would have resulted in their elimination, I think.
      The Palestinians should try accepting Israel’s right to exist and expressing real peace (a la Ghandi). Israel (unlike the British in India) would fall for it way too fast, and peace would break out (and then the Palestinians could be in a better position to kill Israelis… ah, my cynicism is evident). Anyway, my point is, Palestinians could have peace easily, just by becoming committed to it. Most Israelis are eager for it, and I think even too gullible.

      Reply to Comment
    17. We know from Wikileaks that Israeli Administration tried to keep–by their own admission–the Gazan population “just above starvation” by severely restricting food imports. The construction of autonomous economic growth has similarly been suffocated by the quarantine. These gross manipulations of the resource environment create conditions for strong arm networks which distribute scarce food, goods, and labor; the networks will be latent militant, at times overtly so. Weapons upgrades will be sought–they have had too many deaths not to try. Militant ideology will flourish. There will be no single hierarchical chain of command; local groups will retain some command and control. These will sometimes release rockets as a “vote” for attack; if others follow, that vote wins. Hamas can act as a partial suppressor, but events can negate that ability. Thi killing of Jabari was such an event.

      Israeli defense wants to elliminate long distance rockets, and events now prove their point. I read that they want 13 Iron Dome units for future security; I have no idea how much they cost, but I would give US funds for 15, and not out of love for their cause–to simply limit future deaths.

      There is an arrogance in Israeli logic: we know the only reality, we make that reality, and you will act accordingly as we see things or pay until you do. There can be no peace without autonomy; slavery was not peace but controlled, focused violence. The Israeli State has now created a social environment in Gaza where the very concept of autonomy is frightening to that State. If you ever are to have peace you must face what you have partly shaped. Turning from that, the status quo is holy, salvation, the true way; Gazans have stopped being people in Administration eyes some time ago. Congratulations on bombing in words all of us into, if not the Middle Ages, certainly not the Peace of God.

      Now Ed, above, seeing an “enemy” comment, will unleash a barrage of short comments to bury false thought, little warrior that he is.

      Reply to Comment
    18. Linus

      Wait, am I reading you right, Janice? PALESTINIAN violence? Really? Would you like to think about that for a second? Who originally invaded who? Who originally stole whose land? Who has built walls around who? Who has refused links with the outside world to who? Who has systematically denied who access to fertile land and water? Who denies who enough medical supplies or access to hospitals? Who actively denies who statehood at the UN? Who has decimated whose economy? Who prevents all outside trade with whom? Who continues to build on land in a way that every major authority in the world has said is illegal? Who locks up thousands of whose citizens without due process? Who has the right to defend themselves?
      And Palestinians, had you bothered to read your history books, have maintained ceasefires and peace far longer than the Israelis have over the years. FAR longer. You say Israeli’s are eager for it – I’m sure many of them are. But no more than most Palestinians. I don’t mind the “both sides have screwed things up over the years” argument – undoubtedly true. But to suggest some form of irrational hate is the reserve of Palestinians, as if they are somehow genetically predisposed to it, and to hint that there is perhaps an argument for their ‘elimination’ is simple and utterly disgusting. It is essentially rationalising crimes against humanity. It is the uninformed, simplistic, black and white logic of the ‘superior race’ mindset. Ug. Wash you mind out with something vaguely compassionate, please.

      Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser

        Originally Arabs invaded Palestine and stolen Jewish lands.
        Also, Palestinian Arabs were the first to start violence towards Jews, many hundred years ago, and haven’t stopped for a moment.

        Walls etc., only became necessary a decade or two ago, after Palestinians finally were able to make everyone understand that they are not intending to live in peace.

        There is no irrational hate among Palestinian Arabs – they just want all Jews dead or gone, that’s it.

        Reply to Comment
        • Elisabeth

          Who has fed you all this nonsense Trespasser. You make me laugh! Really, where do you get all his stuff from! Are Israeli schoolbooks really that bad?

          Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            You are welcome do prove wrong any of my claims.

            Reply to Comment
          • Obsidian


            Elisabeth and Linus have found something else to do.

            Reply to Comment
        • Linus

          Hey Trespasser, please do educate me because this is a completely new version of history – “Originally Arabs invaded Palestine and stolen Jewish lands.” – can you fill in the details there please? When i said ‘originally’ I meant at the origins of this conflict, i.e. in 1947. What ‘origin’ are you talking about?
          “Also, Palestinian Arabs were the first to start violence towards Jews, many hundred years ago, and haven’t stopped for a moment.” Again, incredible statement and would seem to make everything really quite simple if it’s true. Please elaborate do the rest of us can understand.

          Reply to Comment
    19. Sarah Greene

      Israel would not be “giving” the Palestinians their independence. It’s not theirs to give. It would only be no longer denying Palestinian independence.

      Reply to Comment
    20. I know this if off topic but I’m looking into starting my own blog and was wondering what all is needed to get setup? I’m assuming having a blog
      like yours would cost a pretty penny? I’m not very web savvy so I’m not 100% positive. Any tips or advice would be greatly appreciated. Many thanks

      Reply to Comment
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