Thursday, 31 July 2014

On Gaza

I just read this interview with Israeli author Amos Oz on the conflict in Gaza. It was recommended to me by friend, and author and journalist, David Patrikarakos.

Seeing as everyone else has an opinion on Israel-Palestine, I thought I should have one too.

First off, I'm a Zionist. I'm not sure why a belief in Israel's right to exist still requires a term, as if believers are agitators some sort of. Is there a term 'Frankist', for people who argue strenuously not only that France exists, but should keep on existing? Obviously not - it's too blandly obvious and universal an argument. So too we shouldn't need the term Zionist any more - history has happened, Israel exists, and the toothpaste won't and shouldn't go back in the tube.

Oz articulates pretty well why I think Israel's existence, in the face of its largely abominable enemies, is a good thing:
This morning I read very carefully the charter of Hamas. It says that the Prophet commands every Muslim to kill every Jew everywhere in the world. It quotes the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and says that the Jews controlled the world through the League of Nations and through the United Nations, that the Jews caused the two world wars and that the entire world is controlled by Jewish money. So I hardly see a prospect for a compromise between Israel and Hamas. I have been a man of compromise all my life. But even a man of compromise cannot approach Hamas and say: "Maybe we meet halfway and Israel only exists on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays."
To borrow an argument from Howard Jacobson: every time sentiments like these are expressed, the case for a Jewish state is made ever stronger. Which is rather self-defeating, if you're Hamas.

All that said, I think Israel has gone terribly astray.

The civilian body count, in this and the other recent interventions in Gaza and Lebanon, has been unacceptable for a country as militarily advanced as Israel. It is disgraceful, and anomalous, that insurgents have inflicted a lower civilian vs. combatant casualty rate than the most technologically sophisticated military in the Middle East (though, admittedly, Hamas would have killed many more civilians were it not for Israeli defences).

The IDF cannot claim innocence - by now they know what happens when you strike one of the world's most densely populated areas with artillery and air-power. It's difficult to avoid the charge of callousness.

I'm not sure the denunciation of Hamas' use of human shield convinces either, just as it didn't convince when America used it to excuse its excesses. There's no doubt that Hamas probably use it, and that it is disgraceful - but if non-combatants are killed, their deaths are still the responsibility of those who opened fire knowingly, not those at the receiving end. Arguing otherwise is an attempt to put responsibility for an action on the person about to suffer it, rather than the person committing it. Which is a terrible, bananas idea.

I wonder if the Israeli military has degenerated into callousness because it is no longer guided by any real political mission - its purpose is just to enjoy doing what the military does best, i.e. killing and destroying. The military of any country would become coarsened in this situation.

Consider this: the IDF is unarguably very good at killing terrorists, an expertise attested by the Western governments that regularly seek their advice. And yet, among developed nations, Israel is disproportionately bad at defeating insurgencies. Has Israel ever successfully concluded a counter-insurgency campaign? 

I wonder further: is this because insurgencies are almost always brought to an end by political, or at least partly political, solutions, whereas Israeli governments have little or no political will to stop fighting the Palestinians? In the absence of which, military action is liable to become just butchery for its own sake.

I don't know why Israeli governments seem happy for the fighting to continue. Maybe the reasons are understandable but misguided, maybe they are totally valid, or maybe Israel wants peace and I've got this totally wrong. But I have always thought that Israel has become, to coin a phrase, stuck in a moment it can't get out of. That is, constantly trying to relive the Six Day War and its triumphal moment of existential legitimacy, except now it has to make do with shooting stone-throwing kids and flattening houses. 

Through a sort of addiction, Israel has worked herself up into the belief that any retreat from absolute self-belief, any backsliding from her (by-now monstrous) sense of limitless justification, would spell doom and total loss of direction. When, really, Israel just has to get on with the boring stuff of being a developed nation state - compromise, diversity, and ultimately, probably, the reality of being a multicultural society (difficult to be anything else in that part of the Med).

Final word to Amos Oz:
I think not about the last 20 or 50 years but about the last 2,000 years. But I will tell you what my hope and prayer for the future of Israel is. I would like to see Israel removed once and for all from the front pages of all the newspapers in the world and instead conquer, occupy and build settlements in the literary, arts, music and architecture supplements. This is my dream for the future.
I think we must get used to, and indeed celebrate, the reality of a muscular Jewish state, not just an intellectual or aesthetically-minded one, but this caveat aside - amen to that.

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