August 16, 2022
Last week, Michael Koplow the Chief Policy Officer at Israel Policy Forum, titled his column “PROOF OF CONCEPT FOR A BETTER GAZA POLICY.” The “better” policy I was about to read about turned out to be the 3-day long attack by Israel’s military forces on the leaders of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the citizenry of Gaza. He wrote in his lead paragraph that “it is safe to say that it stands as one of Israel’s most successful confrontations in Gaza in the past 15 years. The IDF completed its military objectives of striking Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s top leadership and rocket facilities while limiting Palestinian civilian casualties, no Israeli civilians were killed despite over 1100 rockets fired by PIJ, and Israel’s political leadership ended the operation after deeming it a success and without risking a wider and longer conflagration. It was a demonstration of impressive Israeli military and intelligence capabilities and responsible political decisions…”
Koplow wrote these words as a representative of a progressive organization, one that sees itself as a force for peace. “Today, Israel Policy Forum’s analysis, commentary, and educational initiatives are providing essential background and information to community leaders and policymakers with regard to how Israel’s security can be enhanced while preserving and advancing the goal of a lasting two-state solution.”
What struck me as I read Koplow’s well-considered political analysis was how it blithely brushed over the human toll of Israel’s diplomacy by war. It ignored the carnage, the faces of their victims whose lives have been the price for his proof of concept experiment that you could see so clearly if you wish to.
Here’s how a recent Haaretz article described what had happened in the three days of Israeli success. “ Forty-nine Palestinians have been killed as a result of the latest military escalation between Israel and Islamic Jihad, which lasted three days. They include five girls, 11 boys, and four women. Thirty were killed during Israeli strikes. Of those, 17 were civilians, among them three girls, a boy and four women. Botched launches of Palestinian rockets killed 19 non-combatants, including 12 children. The Palestinian Health Ministry reported 360 people wounded, including 150 children, 59 women, 130 men and 20 people 60 or over. Since its report on Wednesday, two other Palestinians have succumbed to their wounds.”
For Koplow, the exercise of military force was just “an extension of the Netanyahu government’s approach of increasing economic concessions to Hamas in an effort to buy quiet, rather than buy off Hamas itself, the Bennett-Lapid version—with credit to Defense Minister Benny Gantz as well—was to improve the situation for ordinary Palestinians in Gaza as a way of raising the stakes for Hamas. When the economy in Gaza is effectively non-existent and electricity is only available for four hours a day, Hamas has nothing to lose by shooting rockets into Israel and Palestinians in Gaza have no incentive to do anything other than encourage violent and armed resistance against Israel. Alongside the moral imperative of improving the lives of Gaza’s residents, the theory is that opening up Gaza for greater freedom of movement and more economic opportunity puts Hamas in a more difficult situation when deciding whether to escalate with Israel, since it now risks rolling back tangible gains for Gaza’s residents and in turn its own standing.”
The daily lives of Gaza’s 2 million Palestinian residents are just chits in the game as Koplow approvingly describes Israel’s approach to realizing his and other progressive Israeli supporters fantasized hope for a two-state solution. That the number of victims was “only” 49 and not counted in the hundreds or thousands makes these three days a success, an improvement on previous governments’ efforts which lasted longer and killed and maimed more.
Koplow concludes his writing with a ringing endorsement of the good it has done. The evidence over the past year and the evidence from last weekend’s fighting point to the success of Israel’s recent Gaza policy. If Israel continues along the same trajectory, it will not solve the Hamas problem once and for all, but it may lead to mitigating the effects that Israelis have felt from Gaza for 15 years while undoubtedly leading to a better life for the Palestinians who live there.”
Koplow’s is not alone in seeing Israel’s “success” in those three days. So did Friends of Sabeel North America: A Christian Voice for Palestine. Here’s their analysis from posting on their website: “In three short days, the Israeli military managed to rain death and destruction on Gaza, assassinating another Islamic Jihad leader, killing 46 Palestinians (including 16 children), and wounding 460 others. Meanwhile, it suffered no casualties itself aside from a few lightly wounded by shrapnel…. The operation succeeded in further fragmenting the Palestinians by distinguishing Hamas from Islamic Jihad and Gaza from the West Bank, Jerusalem, and Palestinians within Israel’s borders, as well as the wider Arab world. Israel suffered no losses, illustrating the power of its iron dome defenses and setting the stage for seeking additional military aid from the supportive US. It achieved a muted response from Arab countries and the international community, which found itself busy elsewhere. Israel successfully used varying tools of influence to “manage” the event, and it got what it wanted at little or no cost. In addition, the Gaza operation served as a useful tool for internal Israeli politics, improving the chances of the interim government ahead of elections. The operation’s success was such that Israel did not even need to pretend it was defending itself or only retaliating. Now, the discourse is about Israel’s “right to protect itself” from anticipated Palestinian reactions to Israeli provocations. Its power and military dominance was in full display yet again, as was the weakness and helplessness of the Palestinians.
“Israel could now magnanimously turn on the faucet and judiciously allow a few droplets of benefits for the imprisoned Gazans: a few more work permits, a few more medical permits, a few more truckloads of food, some fuel for electricity, a bit of water, and some relief aid from Qatar—subject to their continued subservience and “quiet” acceptance of domination and control by Israel. The biggest victory for Israel was in the muted response by the American media. National Public Radio did not even cover the story until the third day when it gave a three-minute report that merely parroted the Israeli line, falsely claiming that the bombardment of Gaza was a response to Palestinian rocket fire. Even Israel itself proclaimed that its actions were “preemptive” and not retaliatory. By keeping the operation short, while the attention of the world was diverted elsewhere, it achieved all its objectives and now life could “return to normal.” Israel was even emboldened to step up its arrests, assassinations, raids, and other outrages in Jerusalem and the West Bank.”
Theirs is a pained understanding that it was the success that the captor, the jailor, and the tyrant feels when they are able to tighten the screws and keep their captives under their thumb.
The tragedy of this moment is that too many see Israel/Palestine only through biased eyes; we hear only the apologists for Israel’s actions and refuse to recognize that there is another, very painful side to this story.
In that world, one side is always in the right and the other is always wrong.
Consider these words from a Palestinian reporter based in Gaza who in a critique of how the news media covered this last conflict captured the way we allow reality to be distorted in order to support Israeli policies. “Mohammed Mhawesh…argued in an interview with The Intercept that coverage of the latest Gaza assault, which Israeli officials admitted was “pre-emptive,” focused almost exclusively on Israel’s ostensible justification for the attack rather than its impact. And even though the majority of victims were not engaged in acts of resistance, the portrayal of Palestinian resistance, he added, stands in stark contrast with that of the Ukrainian people.
“For the past months, newspapers and websites and social media have been filled with stories of Ukrainian resistance and heroism, stories about soldiers blowing up bridges to delay the approach of Russian tanks and sacrificing themselves in the process. We have seen civilians attacking armed vehicles with whatever they have, and common people receiving weapons training and digging trenches,” Mhawesh said. “And yet, if any of these stories took place in Palestine rather than Ukraine, they would of course not be perceived as acts of heroism and resistance. They would only be classified and condemned as terror.”
For even “progressive”, peace-minded supporters of Israel, the plight of the millions of Palestinians who live under Israeli control seems not to matter, their stories seem unimportant. If Israel now no longer speaks about a two-state solution or an enduring peace it does not matter. It is a hopeful sign that their control of a captive population seems less brutal, the two-state solution that supporters of Israel keep advocating for is now an American opiate. It allows those who might be troubled by the brutality of this reality to sedate themselves and not have to question their loyalty to a bankrupt Israeli government.
Let’s listen to that reality as spoken by FOSNA. “Strategically, Israel has no plans for Gaza or the Gazans. It believes it can use its power and influence to continuously “manage” the situation, while its connections, influence, and clever hasbara (“propaganda”) will continue to ensure that it faces no consequences for its actions. The world will conveniently look away and forget or ignore Gaza and its Gazans.” It has no plan for peace, for a two-state solution that results in a Palestinian state. It has no plan for the protection of the human rights of Palestinians.
Or listen to the words of Kholoud Balata , a 22-year-old lecturer, poet, writer, and lifelong Gaza Resident in a piece she wrote for Jewish Currents. “It was just a week ago that I saw children practicing childhood the way they are supposed to, but that must have been deemed too good for them. They are Gazan children after all; the world seems to think they should be denied any of the feelings of a normal childhood. Now none of the children are playing. Reality—our reality in Gaza—was restored soon enough.”
If you are a supporter of Israel, take a few moments and consider the impact of Israel’s actions. Tell me about the plan that you are advancing that recognizes the humanity of those whose lives you control (and sometimes take.)
Don’t just tell me that Palestinians kill also (and they do.) Don’t just tell me that Palestinians fire rockets (and they do.)
Remember, as I have learned from my heritage, that “All life is sacred and must be protected, no human is inherently more important than another, and though we may look different from one another, the infinite nature of the Divine means that we are all equally created in the image of God.”
If that speaks to your soul then join me in speaking up. 3 days of war on Gaza was not a successful proof of concept; it was a brutal extension of an occupation that must end…now!