OPINION: There is No White Knight in Gaza

by Isaac Matson

As Hamas and Israel exchange fire in Gaza, both parties show their ugly side.

The monster in the closet rails against the monster under the bed.

 The conflict in Gaza has entered its sixth day. In Israel, air raid sirens sound, on average, every seven minutes, according to the Israeli Defense Force. In Gaza, the constant humming of Israeli drones in the sky sound like “everyone is out mowing their lawns in the dark,” according to NBC’s chief foreign correspondent, Richard Engel. Such is life in the quagmire that has become Israeli-Palestinian relations. Who fired first? And why? Israel claims their operation is in response to rocket attacks on their cities. The Palestinians claim their rockets were fired in retaliation for an Israeli military incursion that killed a 13 year old boy. As the days wear on, those questions will grow less relevant and the hospitals in Gaza will grow more crowded.

Israel has the right to defend itself. President Obama noted as much in a recent press conference, saying that no nation would tolerate rockets falling onto its populations. Targeting Hamas and other militants with precision weapons with the goal of protecting Israeli civilians from the rockets Hamas and company hurl at Israel - 980 thus far, according to the IDF - is completely permissible. To ignore the fact that Hamas and the main faction behind the most recent string of rocket attacks, the Islamic Jihad, have deliberately and indiscriminately targeted Israeli civilians would be logical malpractice. The New York Times is reporting that 3 Israelis have been killed thus far.  It is terrorism; pure, twice distilled terrorism. 

However, to ignore the plight of Gaza - the occupation, the blockade, and the stifling of economic activity by Israel - would also be logical malpractice. Yes, Hamas has radical ties and has refused the recognize the legitimacy of the Israeli state. But Israel has never recognized a Palestinian state. Gaza is a slum, a 25 X 7.5 (at its widest) mile stretch of land that is home to a staggering 1.6 million people, most of whom are Palestinian refugees. Some of these refugees have been in refugee camps for decades, according to The New York Times. Since Hamas took over the region in June of 2007 after a brief civil war with the Palestinian Authority, Israel has imposed crippling sanctions on Gaza. Their shoreline is under blockade by the Israeli navy and all traffic between Israel and Gaza is heavily regulated. Under Hosni Mubarak, who was friendly with Israel and the West, Egypt sealed off their border with Gaza, allowing only the bare essentials to pass through. Because Israel fears Hamas will use concrete and steel to build rockets and launch sites, such material is not permissible. Gaza’s infrastructure is in shambles. 

According to a U.N. report, by 2020 Gaza may not be “livable” and its economy would collapse by the same year unless conditions change. 39% of Gaza’s citizens live under the poverty line and the unemployment rate is at 29%. Barricade 1.6 million poor, frustrated, unemployed humans in a 25X7 mile slum controlled by Hamas and one can only expect rockets to be hurled toward Jerusalem. This is not a hall pass on terrorism, only context. Whatever victory Israel will achieve in Gaza, if there is any victory to be had, will be overshadowed by the tremendous amount of civilian casualties. After claiming to have assassinated the head of a Hamas rocket unit in an airstrike, Haaretz reported that the IDF mistakenly targeted the house of a civilian, Yehiya Rabiah, killing 10 members of his family and 2 of his neighbors. According to Reuters, there have been 75 Palestinians killed thus far, among them 21 children and several women, along with hundreds of wounded. These numbers will only grow and will add to the frustration that will most assuredly fuel Israeli blowback. There is no winning here. Fire cannot be fought with gasoline.
Map of the Gaza strip and surrounding area, produced by The New York Times .
Indiscriminately targeting population centers is Hamas’ obvious black mark. But Israel can be guilty of a bankrupt morality as well. Gilad Sharon, son of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, called for a military campaign that resembled a, “Tarzan-like cry that lets the entire world know in no uncertain terms just who won, and just who was defeated.” Writing in an op-ed that appeared in Sunday’s Jerusalem Post, Sharon demurred Israel’s attempts to limit civilian casualties in Gaza, writing, “The desire to prevent harm to innocent civilians in Gaza will ultimately lead to harming the truly innocent: the residents of southern Israel.” Later in the article, Sharon called for total war, “We need to flatten entire neighborhoods in Gaza,” he wrote, “Flatten all of Gaza.” 

To defend his stance on total war, Sharon evoked World War Two America, “The Americans didn’t stop with Hiroshima - the Japanese weren’t surrendering fast enough, so they hit Nagasaki too.” Appalling, but not surprising when placed within context. The hatred some Israelis have for Arabs can be matched to a hatred of outsiders, particularly African migrants. In May of this year, Jewish rioters in Tel Aviv beat African migrants they found on the street and smashed windows of stores frequented by migrants. According to Haaretz, the mob even stopped a taxi, searching for migrants. Responding to the unrest, Likud MK Danny Dannon told Haaretz, “The infiltrators (migrants) must be distanced immediately. We must expedite the construction of temporary detention facilities and remove Africans from population centers.” After the riot in Tel Aviv, Haaretz editor Aliyana Traison, commenting on the state of race relations in Israel, wrote, “I am as afraid to live in the Israel of 2012 as any right-minded German should have been in 1938 or an any right-minded American should have been in the 1960’s.” The racial violence in Tel Aviv broadcasted the ugly side of Israeli culture, a side that resurfaces in Sharon-like calls to target Palestinian neighborhoods.

There are no white knights in Gaza. Hamas and the Islamic Jihad target Israeli cities with rockets, terrorizing Jewish civilians as they run for cover to the sound of air raid sirens. The amount of civilians killed in Israeli air strikes far outpaces Jewish casualties and will only continue to grow. There have been reports of Israeli units massing on the border, preparing for a possible ground invasion of Gaza. The last time Israel invaded Gaza, 1,400 Palestinians died. Without robust negotiations and an attempt at a long term peace deal, the monster in the closet will continue to rail against the monster under the bed and nothing will change. Hamas will fire rockets. Israel will launch drones. Civilians will die. Repeat. “You want to hear about what it’s like here?” asks Slate magazine’s Dahlia Lithwick, who is living in Jerusalem with her family while she works on a book. “It’s fucking sad. Everyone I know is sad. My kids don’t care who started it and the little boys in Issawiya, the Arab village I see out my window, don’t care much either. I haven’t met a single Israeli who is happy about this. They know this fixes nothing.”

Isaac Matson can be reached for comment at isaac.matson@outlook.com

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