Time to reward moderation?

By Hannah Weisfeld, July 24, 2014

When those close to us are in immediate danger, we agonise over each news update. But proximity to war, emotional or physical, does not always give us the best perspective. That is true for all parties in this or any conflict. In the heat of the moment, our desire to see calm restored means we do not challenge the perceived wisdom put before us. Israel is at war, so ask no questions. There is no choice.
The question is not whether Israeli civilians have a right to live free from rocket fire, which of course they do, nor whether rocket fire is justified: firing rockets indiscriminately into civilian areas constitutes a war crime. It is rather, whether "mowing the lawn" in Gaza every few years, as it has come to be known, in which countless lives are lost, and civilian infrastructure totally destroyed, will mean that what we all presumably want - for the moderates to win out- will actually happen. Put another way, can you bomb people into supporting peace?

The fact that we are back in Gaza, might suggest otherwise. The IDF website states that the objective of 2008's Cast Lead operation was to "destroy the terrorist infrastructure of the Hamas… while taking control of some of its rocket launching area…" That could have been written about this operation, Pillar of Defence, and countless others.

Many Palestinians do not see moderation winning at all. They see violence bringing what they constitute as success, whereas non-violence produces few results. Hamas kidnapped a soldier, and fired rockets from Gaza (according to the Shabak, 276 were fired in 2004, the year before disengagement), and in return managed to remove the settlers and bring home 1,000-plus prisoners. Abbas took Palestinian statehood to the UN and renounced violence. He was punished with more settlement building and the withholding of tax revenue.

The answer cannot be to ignore the danger Hamas poses. It is not a beleaguered national movement, simply defending the Palestinian people, as some who oppose Israel's current military operation like to portray. It is a terrorist organisation bent on destruction.

But some of its leadership can be engaged with, and when Israel wants to, it finds ways to negotiate with it, as is clear from the Gilad Shalit deal, and the much smaller skirmishes that have taken place across the Israel-Gaza border over the past few years, which have been quickly de-escalated.

It is not wrong to ask questions in this conflict

Rewarding moderation, creating a day-to-day reality in which those who seek violent means are marginalised by their own people, because the people are gaining something from peace, surely must be tried. Hamas as a military wing might be the enemy of the state of Israel, but the people of Gaza are not. Improving living conditions and finding creative, non-punitive ways, to maintain a secure border, might be a better way to delegitimise Hamas rule long-term. Even allowing a national unity government between Hamas and Fatah to give it a go. Before the latest round of violence began, a poll conducted in Gaza in June found that 57 per cent of Gazans thought that Hamas should accept a unity-government rule that renounced violence, and 73 per cent said proposals for non-violent resistance should be adopted. If the Gazan population were to be polled today, 600 deaths later, I am not sure we would find these results.

We are right to be extremely concerned when, over the past week, chants of "Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas" have been heard in Europe. But that does not mean that the only motivation for questioning the current strategy of the Israeli government is antisemitism. It is not wrong to ask questions or challenge perceived wisdom, and doing so does not mean you do not stand with Israel within its hour of need. Surely none of us want to be back here again in two years' time?

Hannah Weisfeld is director of Yachad

Last updated: 1:00pm, July 24 2014