Thursday, January 01, 2009


I have been deliberating about what to write about Gaza. So much has been written already. I must admit that I have had many doubts as to whether this is the right thing for us (Israel) to have entered into at this time... a war is a big thing. In addition, we have all been shaken by the huge numbers of casualities in Gaza. Of course the coming days and weeks will tell us whether this was the right course of action. The test of this will be whether we can indeed stop the rocket fire and not function as if Hamas is calling the shots, which has been the case for the past 3 years. To write comprehensively about this would take many posts. I will just write some short notes here and give you some links. (I liked this blog)

1. There is no question that this is more than justified. after 8 years of holding back and trying every negotiation route, what is Israel to do? we have the right to fight back.

2. While we certainly do not want any civilian casualties on the other side, of course there will be, and have been many. Any talk about how we are hitting civilians has to be considered in the light of the following factors:
a. Hamas put their arms depots and military instillations amongst civilians to make them immune to Israeli attacks. So does that mean we can never attack terrorists like this?
b. Of the 300+ Palestinians killed 75% are terrorists. So say the UN figures. That is a very good statistic. Tzahal clearly have their bombs well aimed.
c. In Gaza just like in South Lebanon, I think that most people civilian or military are Hamas. The entire population are mobilised to destroy Israel. Just like 9/11 which was perpetrated by cicvilians, in the new constellation of the non-conventional war (like in Iraq or Lebanon etc.) there isn't the traditional division between civilian and military. Where do you draw the line for Ahmed who has a store but mans a Hamas phone line at night, or Fatima who passes messages by hanging out her green shirt on the washing line, or Muhammed who smuggles arms for money but doesn't really believe in the cause?

3. we need to pray that this is succesful and that many Chayalim don't get hurt.

4. Having said that, I am fearful that we are going to fail here. why?
Because of us and because of them.

Us: See Harel's article in Haaretz (link) and Bret stephens in WSJ (link).

We are not determined enough. We need to persist and not to look back. If we realy want to succeed we are going to have to be quite ruthless and to really engage in alot of destruction and punishment. I am unconvinced that Olmert Livni and Barak have the staying power. already after 48 hrs, Barak was pining for a way out. What is that? If you start, don't you know how you want to continue? as Harel writes, the person who blinks first is dead. Barak blinked first! This, if it is to be succesful will be long, very long and arduous. Do we have the stamina? Do our leaders have the ability to keep going... y'know - the long haul?

Again what is the point of this op.? It is to make them realise that shooting missilies is NOT in their best interests. How do we do that? By making sure that we take out their infrastructure and weapons stores and by making them suffer. True, we have destroyed development labs and many missiles and tunnels. All good. We have given them a shock. But if we go in, do we know the objective? When will it be clear that we have victory? What if the missiles don't stop? Do we stay in Gaza if the missiles dont stop? At what cost? And if we do pull out , how can we ensure that they do not see it as a victory??

Caution is needed.

Them: I always think that our secular leaders misjudge the religious mind. Hamas are religious people. They are passionate and they believe in the name of God in their way. They will fight to the death. I feel that frequently secular thinkers don't get it, they think that our decisions are based upon self interest and quality of life. But for a religious person it is based on belief. The Haredim are willing to live in abject poverty for the sake of limmud torah. Hamas think that we are infidels. They believe that Israel should be destroyed. Will a few bombs break that? I doubt it.

(Now again, this just underscores how dangerous Hamas are... go back to Bret Stevens article. When they get funds, they use it to buy weapons, not to pave streets or to creat industry and prosperity for the average Palestinian in Gaza. But again, if they are so motivated, so focused, so ideologically directed, then will a few strikes deter them? I fear that we are back in Lebanon 2006.)

And then there is the desparation of the Palestinians. See this interesting article. (link)

“There is a state in the world with no heat, no gas, no oil, no diesel, no drugs, no food,” said Muhammad Ahmed, 33, angrily. “The Jews have everything, and they won’t understand that on the other side there is nothing!
“People dig the tunnels out of hunger,” he insisted, and then warned, “When you don’t feed animals, they get angry and they bite you!”

They Palestinians have little to lose. In Sharon's Op. of 2001 (Homat Magen) he was succesful because he totally ran over the cities and he did stop the terrorism. Will this do the same? I fear that the Gaza people have little to lose. How will their lives become worse exactly? Do they have anything to lose?

Once again, I do hope our leaders know what they are doing,and I know we are justified in striking Hamas, but knowing Ehud Barak and Olmert, I doubt they have what it takes to finish the job.

And if we pull out and they see it as a victory, we are far worse off.

I do really hope that our leaders will prove my fears wrong. I hope that we can indeed change the status quo, and restore Israel's deterrent vis a vis Hamas. I do not envy our leaders in these situations. Only time will tell.


Mickey Keller said...

Dear Rav Alex,

I hope this post finds you well.

Whilst i agree with you that given how densely populated Gaza is civilian casualties are inevitable and Hamas must bear responsibility. The question becomes is it legitimate to attack a target if you know certainly that civilians will die as a result?. Further i dont believe you can justify civilian casualties by assuming they are all collaborating with Hamas, there are young children dieing.

That is not to say i dont believe Israel has a right to defend itself. A ground incursion, apart from being more moral on the grounds that it would almost inevitably lessen civilian casualties, would also be far more effective. Israel seems to presume that they can manipulate the Palestinian people into turning against Hamas, they seem to think that if the civilian population suffers enough they will conclude that it is Hamas who are responsible for their suffering and will turn against them. If Israel learnt anything from the second Lebanon war it ought to have been that causing suffering to civilians leads to a rise in the popularity of the terrorists, in short in the long run Israel will strengthen Hamas's standing in Gaza by creating a whole new generation of aggrieved Palestinians. Of course i understand that a ground invasion will almost inevitably lead to casualties for the IDF but, sadly, perhaps this is necessary to get the job done properly and ensure a period of genuine calm.

I agree that the philosophy of a terrorist motivated by religious beliefs is perfectly consistent and , sadly, there will always be those hell bent on the destruction of Israel. But the question is do we marginalise them, propping up the moderates and portraying Hamas et al. as the thorn in the side of a peaceful resolution to this conflict and a stable and economically prosperous Palestinian future or do they become symbols of national resistance which, from their perspective, is necessary to defy the Israeli "oppressors".
I only hope that this ends with as little unnecessary blood spilt on both sides.

Alex Israel said...

Hi Mickey. Thanks for your comment.

The moral problems are considerable here, and are not to be minimised.

I'm not sure that you are correct when you say that the aim is to turn moderate or average Palestinians in Gaza against Hamas. I think that is too much to expect. I think the moderates probably live in fear of Hamas.

No, I think Israel wants to cause alot of damage, kill central Hamas figures, destroy as much Hamas infrastructure including tunnels of Hamas, laboratories and arms factories etc. And in general to deal them a severe moral blow. I believe that part of this is the knowledge of how much Israeli intelligence has infiltrated their organisation which of course is a great source of frustration and confusion.

Whereas I am exceptionally puzzled by the timing here (5 weeks before elections... although in the lull between Bush and Obama), I do think that Olmert and Barak want to change the ground rules here. i.e. not just to sit back, but for Hamas to understand that Israel is going to react fiercely to rocket attackes in the hope that increased pressure on Hamas will stop the missile fire, not because Israel has capitulated but because Hamas compromises.

I just wonder how realistic that is.

I think it is really a question of how long Israel is willing to keep at it.

So shabbat Shalom, and let us hope for some peace soon.

I certainly feel that the situation in Sderot has been deeply immoral for a prolongued period. At some point Israel is meant to protect its people. The danger of allowing whole tracts of Israel become ghost cities is a real possibility and that cannot happen.


BTW war is a funny thing when it comes to morality. I need to read up more about this. Sometimes I get very confused.

I have a friend - an intelligent guy - who in the intifada advocated taking out a city block in Gaza for each suicide bombing. I challenged him as to the morality of such a suggestion (which I couldn't entertain myself) He said the follwing. In the 2nd world War why did the allies bomb Dresden and Cologne. Very simple. If an army really wants to win, war says that you kill as much of the enemy as possible until they surrender even if they are civilians. eventually they crack. If this is a real war, and I do believe that Hamas, like Hizbolla are a real threat to Israel and not an enemy who will come to any sort of concilliation with Israel, one may argue that you kill until you get the enemy to surrender. Can such logic be used? Or is this not a war? Or what? Again I am just posing the question. I find my self to gentle-hearted to contemplate such indiscriminate killing. It sounds totally immoral to me. But sometimes I ask whether I am too soft.

Someone on the radio today said that if the Hamas want 1000 prisoners for Gilad Shalit, that means that they will only stop firing when 1000 Gazans are killed for every Israeli. Sounds sick - correct? Is it actually a realistic reading of the way Hamas work?

and even if it is, is it simply too evil to contemplate?

This national existence is very testing in almost every sphere. Not easy.

Shabbat Shalom

Mickey Keller said...

Thank you for your response.

I was referring more to the economic siege which Israel imposed on Gaza prior to this operation with regards to my comments about collective punishment and turning the Palestinian populace against Hamas.

If your interested i have actually just begun reading a book on the topic of morality in war called Just and Unjust Wars by a guy named Michael Walzer. It discusses all these issues with historical examples (including some from Israel's history).