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Pillars of Fire and Smoke


Pillar One: Israel has the right to defend itself. Of course it does, and the obligation, too. However, no one—at least not in the civilized, democratic part of the world—is denying Israel this right. It goes without saying, even though from PM Netanyahu down the chain of spokesmen and explainers, everybody is repeating this talking point as if it were an original mantra. Israel should defend itself. The question is how (more about it later).

Pillar Two: Hamas’ aim is the destruction of Israel. Yes, it is: in words and in actions. Since its inception, in 1987, and continuing with the jubilation with which its members had welcomed Arafat when he returned from Camp David, where he refused to sign the peace deal with Israel and partners Barak and Clinton, which would have created a viable Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. This organization’s connection to Iran, its refusal to recognize Israel’s right to exist as a viable Jewish state, and its latest bombardment of Israel’s civilian population indiscriminately, to go along with its continuous hateful rhetoric—are all pointing towards one goal: the destruction of Israel.

Pillar Three: Peace is better than war. Yes, it is; but not when it comes to the Middle East, in general, and to Israel and Hamas in particular. Israel had called its operation against Hamas “Pillar of Defense” (though the exact translation from Hebrew should’ve been “Pillar Cloud;” go figure.) And yet, Israel prefers this war to an agreement with the Palestinians on a two-state solution. It prefers settlements and expansion to peace. Israel has a partner for peace, President Abbas; a more moderate, agreeable Palestinian leader it may never find. But both Israel and Hamas are pushing him to a marginal corner with their latest actions. Hamas had started its latest bombardment probably for that reason, to instigate another Intifada, and to prevent Abbas from going to the UN asking for an upgrade to the Palestinian UN status. And Israel willingly went along with it—including the targeted assassination of Ahmed al Jabari, Hamas’ military chief, just as he was engaged in an attempt to bring about a stop to the rocket barrages—finishing the task of giving Hamas the prominence it was seeking so much in the Arab world, and pushing Fatah and its leaders to the sidelines.

Pillar Four: Civilian citizens are always innocent. Not so. They do elect their leaders, don’t they? Certainly in Israel people choose their leaders at the polling stations, but also in Gaza, where the population chose Hamas over Fatah in 2006. And yet, many of them are innocent indeed, especially the young ones. And the old ones, maybe too, like my mother, a Holocaust survivor who again had to experience the threat and horror of war, as she fled the warmth and comfort of her living room in the Tel Aviv and rushed down the stairs to the ground level (no elevator or workable bomb shelter at her building). So yes, as always, there are innocent victims in this war. But, as the old saying goes (more or less), the people of the land deserved their leaders, and carry some of the blame and responsibility, too.

Pillar Five: Death will always come. Yes, it would. And all for what, the living may ask? The parameters and formula for success, for establishing two states living side by side in relative peace are not so complicated. They are achievable. Peace is also achievable. But not where the biblical “eye-for-an-eye” code-of-action has ruled the game for so long, and where it is so much part of the fabric of the human and people’s existence. It is hard to depart from it. So now there is a fragile, enforced ceasefire, which—as I write these words— seems to be holding steady (despite the latest border shooting incident), and that’s very good. Let’s hope the “quiet for quiet” recipe will prevail, and will lead to a real progress towards normalization and peace between the two sides. Still, I’m afraid otherwise. I’m afraid the circle of blood will continue to spin, and the results will always be the same: death and destruction; tears and bloodshed; fire and smoke.

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One Response

  1. Hillel: How disappointing that this time you fall back into reciting some of the key myths that blind so many Israelis and their friends from seeing through the fog of war. Perhaps that would have been the most apt name for the carnage of last week, and it’s sad that you’ve gotten lost in it. To note a few things briefly:
    Re your “Pillar Two”:
    1. For decades, successive Israeli and U.S. governments refused any dialogue with the PLO, giving the excuse that it “wanted to destroy Israel. This allowed the conflict parameters to deteriorate, adding many more complications, and flew in the face of obvious evolution taking place in the organization; the charge was patently false by the 1980s but it took another decade to get past it. It also ignored the wisdom that peace needs to be made with enemies, not friends. You know all this. Yet you dismiss Hamas with the same canard, when it too has evolved (you mention the truce negotiations scuttled by Israel’s assassination of Jabari, who was conducting them) and has become an indispensable partner to any now-conceivable peace process.
    2. No serious student of the 2000 Camp David process believes the Barak propaganda line that blamed Arafat for failure to accept the “generous offer.” Yet you repeat it, strangely, as evidence that Hamas in 2012 is intent only on destroying Israel. Hamas was created by the occupation regime 30 years ago as a cynical effort to weaken Arafat’s PLO, and it was elected to lead the occupied people in 2006 (with higher support in the West Bank than in Gaza, by the way — so should Israel bomb there too?). Sharon then and Netanyahu now have been more than happy to help perpetuate the split, demonizing and literally blasting Gazans while undermining any chance that Abbas could lead the way to a political, true two-state (or any) solution based on true equality — e.g. by dismissing and ignoring the Arab League peace and normalization proposal, which Hamas also endorsed, by the way.
    “Pillar Three”:
    You say as a matter of fact that Hamas “started its latest bombardment” and attribute political motivations that make no sense. It has consistently supported Abbas’ plans to seek UN observer status, for instance. And if its goal is simply to heat things up and promote revolt in the West Bank, then why at this time? And more importantly, in an offhand remark you ignore that as in 2008 and in several flare-ups in between, Israel was consistently the one to breach cease-fire agreements. The rockets of Nov. 12 were preceded by several serious Israeli provocations, and a Nov. 13 shaky truce was decisively violated in the killing of Jabari followed by the start of intense bombardment on the 14th. Jabari, as you surely know, was also the Hamas leader most responsible for efforts to keep other small militias from firing rockets in the past few years, and for the prisoner exchange that freed Gilad Shalit.
    “Pillar Four”
    See also above about Hamas’ creation and election. In recent years we (maybe not you or I, but other Americans) have elected leaders who invade other countries, bomb civilians regularly in several others, carry out assassinations … and more. Does that justify terror attacks by Al-Qaeda or others on U.S. civilians? That would be obscene, but so is any blaming of Palestinian civilians for their electoral choices. Yet that’s what you seem to be saying.
    In public discourse, truth is said to be the first casualty of war. Among us who know better, we need to be extra aware of this, and of any instincts that cause us to join in circling the wagons. It only hurts the now-minuscule changes of reconciliation rooted in justice.

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