Amidst the predictable media-fest, here are some thoughts. They do nothing to alter the reality of what we are seeing as Israel responds to the showers of rockets from Gaza on Israeli population centres in the south of the country. However there is some strength to be gained by sharing concerns and prompting questions.
One indicator to how “people like us” in Israel are thinking is the statement issued last Thursday by Meretz-Yachad: "It's time to act uncompromisingly and refrain from narrow political considerations, and defend the residents of the Gaza vicinity and Sderot… There's no other choice but to hit Hamas in a focused operation and work for a renewed ceasefire."
Though this is per se a politically considered statement – Meretz like every other party is positioning itself for the upcoming general election – it contains within it the view of most Israelis that “enough is really enough”. No nation can indefinitely tolerate rocket attacks on its towns without responding.
At the same time no military response where it involves targets in densely populated civilian areas can avoid collateral damage. Who knows better than this if not the Israel Air Force, the commanders of Israel’s Defence Force, the Minister of Defence and his senior advisors. Their experience of the second Lebanon war and the outcry and disgust at the disproportionate response to Hezbollah by flattening whole neighbourhoods in Beirut, and Ehud Barak’s own commando lead raids into Beirut decades earlier, must teach them that civilian losses need to be minimised.
None of this stops that stomach lurch at the TV images on our screens and the photographs currently on Haaretz and the New York Times internet front pages. If there is any mollifying information, it is that as recently as Sunday (28th December) Hamas TV quoted the Hamas Police Chief as confirming that of the fatalities, 180 were from his forces.
If the IDF sends in ground troops and large numbers of body bags come back, then the Israeli electorate will question the whole operation and blame Barak. Still, he acted. He contributed to what Tzippi Livni and Bibi Netanyahu are pledging the electorate to do if they win the elections -bring down Hamas. Hitting the Hamas police is more than just attacking obvious symbols of Hamas power. Barak, who has hardly acted to thwart settler activity in the West Bank and has been challenged by right wing parties to act over Gaza has given Israel’s reply to the incessant rockets on Sderot and other places.
Hamas is not Fatah. It claims to have Allah on its side, just like Hizbollah, and even if the money bags is Iran, having Allah on your side is more psychologically potent than any material weapon. Reports that Hamas is refusing exit to Egypt of casualties, is all part of the same piece. For if you have Allah on your side, then civilian casualties and fatalities are essential injured and martyrs for Allah. Hamas is culpable of enormous cynicism, sacrificing its only resource, its faithful, in its war against Zion.
Is Israel culpable of cynicism too in this latest bombardment? Well if its use of force is disproportionate and it cannot call up every Gazan civilian that may become collateral damage as Reuters has suggested the IDF had been doing, then the question isn’t moot. What remains is what happens after the rocketing, bombing and bloodshed.
Another cynical view is that both sides calculated the timing of these events for maximum media coverage with a clear message to the incoming US President – “don’t ignore us!”
Do we have to await the knight in shining red white and blue armour to gallop into the frame -and then some?
Paul Usiskin Co-Chair