How To Think of The Gaza War

The discussion of ‘who did what to whom, when’ about the current shooting war between Israel and Gaza misses the point. Whether or not Hamas fired its rockets first or whether Israel justifiably killed the senior Hamas military commander, Ahmed al-Jabari, is beside the point. So is the question of whether Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu ordered the attacks to strengthen his position in the coming Israeli elections. So is the question of whether or not Hamas has fallen more deeply under the control of Iran, which seeks to take some of the publicity away from its ally, Bashar al-Assad’s continuing killing of his own people.

To get to the point requires a different way of thinking about Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. To do that, you need to go back to the 1983 remarks by then Israeli Defense Forces Chief of Staff Raphael Eitan. He remarked that “When we have settled the land, all the Arabs will be able to do about it will be to scurry around like drugged cockroaches in a bottle.”

Well, since 1983 and actually beginning immediately after the end of the 1967 War during which Israel conquered the Jordanian army and took over the West Bank and Gaza, Israel has expanded its settlements, particularly on the West Bank.

The number of Jewish settlers in the West Bank has now reached 350,000 and has doubled in the last 12 years primarily under the premierships of Ariel Sharon and Bibi Netanyahu. The number of Jewish settlers in and around former East Jerusalem is now 300,000.

Most importantly, there is no evidence that Israel under a Netanyahu government would give up the West Bank under any circumstances. Worse, for the prospects of peace, Netanyahu has formed an electoral coalition with Avigdor Lieberman, the head of  Yisrael Beiteinu, a political party whose electoral base is made up of immigrants from the former USSR. (Full disclosure: My father was born in Kishinev, then part of Romania. Lieberman was born in the same city, by then, part of the Soviet Union. The connection stops there.)

During the last Israeli onslaught on Gaza, in 2009, Lieberman argued that Israel “must continue to fight Hamas just like the United States did with the Japanese in World War II. Then, too, occupation of the country was unnecessary.” Since it was the atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki that made the occupation of Japan unnecessary, many wondered just what Lieberman was proposing for Gaza. What is certain is that Lieberman represents the hardliners of the far right.

But what about Gaza? Under Sharon, in 2005, Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza. What more could those Gazans ask for? Well, there are several factors worth remembering. For one, the Israelis actually removed settlers from 21 different settlements in Gaza and then destroyed every aspect of each settlement. Bibi Netanyahu was Finance Minister in the Sharon Cabinet and resigned in protest of the withdrawal, even though Israel public opinion polls showed 60 percent of Israelis in favor of the withdrawal.

But the withdrawal was done in the most appalling manner. Sharon refused to discuss his forthcoming action with the Palestinian National Authority. The Israelis left with no coordination with the Palestinians or with Hamas, no preparation for them to build a reasonably competent civil administration. After the withdrawal and to this day, Israel controls Gaza’s land and maritime and airspace borders through tight travel restrictions.

In other words, in both Gaza and the West Bank, the Israelis have achieved Raphael Eitan’s goal of keeping the Palestinians bottled up like cockroaches. Periodically, they strike out, in desperate rage at the apparent endless occupation, now in its 45th year. And, periodically, in response, the Israelis seek to administer such painful punishment that the Palestinians will revert back to their passive and ‘drugged’ state.

That is what’s happening in Gaza now.

11 Responses to "How To Think of The Gaza War"

  1. lawrence Grossman   November 19, 2012 at 10:19 am

    the Arab rejection of Israel's right to exist is the issue, as it always has been. what does zonis say about that?

    • urbanite   May 31, 2013 at 8:18 pm

      what about Israel denying Arab peoples' right to exist? They kill you if you were born on the wrong side of an imaginary line.

  2. Bangalore   November 20, 2012 at 7:29 am

    Explain to me a better ME (or a better World for that matter) with Hamas and Hezzbolah occupation and control of the Jewish lands they claim? The answer is obvious; NOT!

  3. Ted   November 20, 2012 at 1:44 pm

    Good article, Marvin!

  4. Henk Van Der Veen   November 20, 2012 at 2:22 pm

    I can't imagine what it would mean to be a Palestinian youth right now. It is clear the Israeli politicians will continue to repress untill the 'greater Israel' is achieved. They want all the Palestinians out, and they can play this provocative agressive politics under the nuclear threat and under the US backing. It's unimaginable how uncreative they have become on the narrow path chosen. It is a chosen path, a given. Now what? I can only place myself into the shoes of a Palestinian youth, think I would just take off. I would leave. This is what they want, so I would, to have a future. Still, the problem is there, the fact is, they can not leave. Therefor, the politics from both sides can have no other possible logical outcome than the continuation of the destruction of both identities. To kill is to be killed. To lose you humanity. The dramatic moral consequences can´t be felt by the political radicalized factions because it would void their basis for existing. There has to be an enemy, there has to be a threat. Art, humor, music, love, pure morality, rationality, the lived through values of humanity, all fall victim to the militarized confict. Emotion is only in play for rethorical and propaganda purpouses.

  5. Alan from CA   November 20, 2012 at 2:26 pm

    The point that you fail to consider is that Gazans sealed their fate when they elected a Hamas government

    Maybe if even one Palestinian or Arab leader acknowledged to his people that Israel has a right to exist, we could start down the road to meaningful peace discussions

    • alanfromCA   November 21, 2012 at 2:50 am

      On your first point, I would like to argue that maybe you should think that Israel would cease to "exist" not in a physical manner but rather in a psychological one if the Gazans had not chosen the Hamas government. Frankly, they are just attention seekers who want to be deemed as victims of their own fate.

      Further, on your second point the road to meaningful peace discussions would only be achieved if the Israelis start by getting a grip and move past what happened to them under the reign of the Nazis. All they want is revenge and the Arabs are the only one that can take it (military wise).

      What about Iran? Have you thought of their plan?

  6. Jack Shasha   November 20, 2012 at 4:08 pm

    Look at the map of the Middle East. Israeli is tiny in relation to the huge expanses of Syria, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt. Look at what we have achieved. All they want is to throw us out. Look at the land in the Sinai. Why doesn't Egypt resettle the Gazans in the Sinai? Why has Egypt refused to take responsibility for Gaza?
    When Arik Sharon decided to disengage from Gaza, he "In addition to the synagogues, all of the greenhouses in the settlements were left intact after the Economic Cooperation Foundation raised $14 million to buy the greenhouses for the Palestinian Authority." Wikipedia. And what happened after the Jewish settlers left? "The settlements' greenhouses, which were left intact by Israel, were also looted by Palestinian mobs. Palestinian Authority security forces attempted to stop them, but did not have enough manpower to be effective. In some places, there was no security, while some police officers joined the looters" (Wikipedia). The greenhouses which were the successful work of the Jewish settlers and paid by Jewish philanthropists to encourage the Gazans to continue the work, were destroyed by the Arabs in senseless looting.
    That is why they still live in refugee camps.

  7. khaled   November 23, 2012 at 7:02 am

    this erea belong to palestine either you love it or not and it will be back . study the history he will tell you.

  8. margaret beresford   November 23, 2012 at 4:32 pm

    I totally agree with the concrete points you have made about the clear intentions of Israel in creating a systematic process to clear out Palestinians to the point where they no longer have the means or livable conditions to remain. The major culprit here is the US, at any time over the last 20 years they could have stopped Israel settlement drive to possess Palestinian land by withdrawing their billion dollar yearly aid packages. It is now up to other Arab countries to either act or only mouth the words of Palestinian support while the world loses respect for all of them.

  9. Burak   November 25, 2012 at 10:37 pm

    My respect for Marvin Zionis, and Economonitor as a whole has just increased tenfold due to this article. Economonitor will now be my main reference point for longterm investment insight, and international relations.
    I unlike Hamas recognise Israels right to exist, and their right to live in a peaceful, rocket free environment. However beyond the historical notion of which I dont understand why Palestinians had to pay for Germany's atrocities , I also think its shamefully short sighted that the mainstream media including respected sources such as NYT declaring that this conflict is purely due to Hamas aggression, and painting the organisation as completely irrational no matter what compromise Israel makes. The truth is that Israel has always been the aggressor. This is not only present in the case of Israels military aggression both towards Gaza, and Lebanon, but also its draconian illegal measures of development in the West Bank, and the turning of Gaza into a large prison camp.
    Israel disregards international law, unfortunately treats Palestinians at best as second class citizens, and at worse criminals. This does not even encompass non Jews, and left leaning Jewish & non Jewish citizens whom live in Israel whom have complained of an increase in blatant discrimination largely due to the current governments political and racial divisive policies.
    In conclusion, behind the scenes Israels current policies do as much damage to Israel as it does to Palestinians. A simple measure of this is a recent European poll which indicates 70% of those surveyed support the cause of the Palestinians, where as 50 years ago over 70% supported Israel in its war with its Arab neighbours.
    Once (and hopefully soon) Israel escapes the victim hood mentality which no longer suffices for a prospering economy and civil society, and a military questionably the strongest in the region in a short term war will be when Israeli policy makers can actually construct positive policies for its own purposes and the wider region as a whole. However if this does not take place and Israel maintains its extremely self righteous attitude, the current issues will only get worse and further isolate Israel. This may seem impossible concerning current relentless US support, but such policies can surprisingly change. An example is the US change of policy towards South Africa in the 80s.
    The only countries whom are at bigger fault than the US and Israel is the Saudis, and other Gulf cronies. They practice unrealistic and infant political rhetoric based policies such as not recognising Israel, but yet only care about their royal seats when action is prompted, especially soft power due to their immensely cozy relationship with the US which potentially surpasses that even of Israels with the US