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Components of Power: An Israeli’s Argument Against the Attack on Gaza

Monday 19 January 2009, by Haim Baram, Hagada Hasmalit

During the entire week I read a majority of the responses in the major (Hebrew language) websites and the letters to the editor in the three major Israeli newspapers. There were sensitive and intelligent responses, but the vast majority were bloodthirsty, aggressive, primitive and self-righteous. There were also legitimate questions directed toward the few, isolated speakers of the peace camp. The most common related to Hamas. Some quoted the principle speakers of Hamas, attacking their “unacceptable” demands and contending that there is no one with whom to speak. The demand of the Islamic movement’s leaders to open the passages and stop the military attacks aroused furious anger, despite the fact that the protesters knew (like Hamas members themselves) that a concession on these topics also involves an absolute ceasefire on their part. It must be assumed that international and perhaps even Egyptian supervision over the tunnels will be part of the inevitable package deal.
My primary problem with the criticisms of the Hamas (many of which were also directed at me personally) derives from the incorrect perception of us that is extremely common amongst the general public. radical right, accompanied by horrendous preaching of a majority of the rabbis of their synagogues, reaped great rewards from their perspective. Outside there exists glaring hatred toward anyone not joining the cheering squad of the Israeli military, and even more so toward those who completely refuse to be a part of the orgy of destruction in and of Gaza, which leads to nothing apart from an additional deepening of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and terrible acts of Hamas, which will harm us all.

Therefore, our position requires an additional clarification, even if it involves repeating contentions raised here already in previous years. I must repeat that none of us represents Hamas or radical Islam, and we therefore have no responsibility for the comments of the leaders in Gaza. With this, we have grave responsibility for the lives of the Gaza residents, over whom we are ruling for decades already, despite the formal gesture of “separation.” Our role is to explain to the public that we must rehabilitate Gaza, not destroy it, and to take care of the residents and not reduce them to absolute misery. Following the ceasefire, which sooner or later will be forced upon the sides, we must think about crowded Gaza that is so close to us, in humanitarian terms and not in the murderous and revengeful manner which characterizes us now. If we will not build new hospitals and rehabilitate the schools in the Gaza Strip, we will bring disaster upon the residents and eventually it will fall upon us also.

Destruction of Hamas is impossible and the political price (which always involves an economic and cultural price) for our shameful behavior in this war will cost us dearly. Last week the generals took control of matters, and they want to quench their thirst for revenge not for the missiles from Gaza, but primarily for their defeat in the second Lebanon War. The apathy amongst the Israeli public concerning the spilled blood of children in Gaza transforms all of us into lepers in the eyes of every decent person in the enlightened world. The shouts of hypocrisy and anti-Semitism will not alter this fact. The complaints about Tzipi Livni and the Israeli public relations are also ridiculous. The public relations are actually excellent, but the policy itself is terrible. I have always expressed here substantial fears of Ehud Barak, but in this war he became a true monster. I am aware of the fact that his opaque and uncompassionate actions bring him votes and support in public opinion polls. These polls testify to the fact that we have become corrupt just like our leaders, and this also has a price tag that we will have to pay.

Hamas is not particularly nice, but dialogue with it is certainly possible. Also when we contended that we must speak with the PLO, we received identical responses. Precisely the institution that established the Hamas in order to fight against the Palestinian national movement demands from us accountability for the actions of the golem, which is essentially us. However, a ceasefire under tolerable conditions would save us from the political and public relations defeat that we are experiencing here and now. If even Condoleeza Rice, George Bush’s Secretary of State, expresses revulsion toward the Israeli government, we should all understand what is awaiting us from the new administration. Perhaps then the public will understand the essence of power, and the relative importance of all of its components.

It is possible that we copied the conduct of Bush in Iraq and bombed civilians in order to achieve aims that are essentially unattainable, but we did not learn the differences between a superpower on the one hand, and a tiny country dependent on external aid on the other. The loss of the humane image of Israel, the fact that good people and even Jews are liable to boycott Israeli products abroad, the huge demonstrations against Israel throughout Europe—these are all more important than which real or fake Chief of Staff that we killed in bombings together with five of his little children.

Numerous components in the power of a small country like Israel were critically damaged in the Gaza war. Amongst them I count the image of the state, the ability of Israel to form trade relations with numerous enlightened states, the huge damage in international public opinion, the jolt to the relations with states in the region, the future boycott of Israeli technological products and academics in progressive states, the damage to the Israeli economy as a result of the new political-image situation, and the chance that an additional escalation will also result in a substantial change in the policies of the United States toward Israel. As the almost mystic belief that Israel is the key to the immense heart of Washington represents an important component in our international relations with numerous countries throughout the world, every small break with the Americans will have strategic implications. It is not sufficient that a certain person has a huge arsenal of deadly weapons in the storage area of his home; he must be capable of using it without being critically wounded. We can murder hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, but what about the price? Are we prepared to pay it?

To this cold and practical calculation must be added the moral implications, which do not involve only the calculations of image profits and losses. If so many Israelis have no drop of human compassion toward civilians in Gaza, what does this say about us and our pretensions to be the expression of Jewish morality? The responses amongst the secular chauvinists and a majority of religious Jews create a terrible fear. Orthodox rabbis in Israel very narrowly interpret the commandment “though shall not kill”, and they do not apply it to women and children in Gaza. The moral bankruptcy of these rabbis is perhaps not surprising, but it is still alarming. Unfortunately, following three weeks, an image is forming that will be engraved in the future as a disgrace in the history of Israel.

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