There is a depressing air of plus ça change about this siege of Gaza, but there is something else as well.
At times I think this will play out much like the previous Israeli operations that sound like they have been named by children who will grow up to be psychotic adults. Israel will kill five hundred or a thousand more civilians and find some pretext to stop and get out, and we will wait a year or two for the next atrocity. But maybe not.
The world’s media are more horrified and outraged with each passing day. Israel’s spin is along the absurd lines of “self-genocide” (Naftali Bennett) and that Hamas is “deliberately wag[ing] war so that your own people can be telegenically killed” (Krauthammer, quoted approvingly by Netanyahu). The message the Israelis are putting forth is transparently weak, tone-deaf, and odious. So far, the US political establishment and mainstream media are toeing the line, but perhaps not for long. (Among mainstream reporters, Anne Barnard has been terrific for the Times, not known for its balance on Middle East topics). Reading reports from inside Israel, it is scarily apparent that the nation has descended into mad racial panic and aggression more quickly than the most pessimistic could have imagined.
Netanyahu, monster that he is, certainly deserves his day in front of an international criminal court. But, in no small part thanks to his genius for racial incitement and provocation, has been eclipsed by his one-time followers. In the landscape of Israeli fanaticism, he has become something he never imagined, a moderate. His ugly rhetoric now appears to be weak sauce compared to that of Moshe Feiglin, Deputy Speaker of the Knesset, with his steely-eyed and lunatic idea to expel all residents of Gaza into the Sinai before flattening the place, and rising Home Party star Ayelet Shaked, who quoted Uri Elitzur charming words about Arabs on her facebook page (to thousands of “likes”:
they are all enemy combatants, and their blood shall be on all their heads. Now this also includes the mothers of the martyrs, who send them to hell with flowers and kisses. They should follow their sons, nothing would be more just. They should go, as should the physical homes in which they raised the snakes. Otherwise, more little snakes will be raised there.
Again, I have absolutely no sympathy for Netanyahu, but I can see his predicament clearly now. From behind, in Israel, there is a loud call for blood. Abroad, he knows there are limits on how far he can take his butchery. He has to find that Happy Place where the Israeli right is satisfied with his cull of Arabs (for that is what this operation is, at bottom), without horrifying the west to the point of taking meaningful action. Complicating things is that Hamas is putting up a much better fight than was expected, and in spite of the heavy losses it is sustaining, is emerging as the clear leader of the Palestinian resistance. Samantha Power is making noise about partnering with the hapless Abbas.
I don’t know how this will play out. I don’t think anyone does.
All I can do here is share what I have been reading.
About ten days ago, at the beginning of Israel’s assault on Gaza, JJ Goldberg, self-described “devout Zionist” published an incredibly damning piece on Netanyahu’s machinations. Its main points have turned up elsewhere since then, but for me it was the first laying out of a chronology that has been (purposefully) blurred. No, Hamas did not break the ceasefire. Netanyahu told two egregious lies about the kidnapping of three yeshiva students — one, that Hamas was responsible, and two, that that a massive hunt for the kidnappers was necessary. And so it came to pass. Mouin Rabbani, in another essential essay, described the hunt as ” really an organised military rampage” that involved
the killing of at least six Palestinians, none of whom was accused of involvement in the disappearances; mass arrests, including the arrest of Hamas parliamentarians and the re-arrest of detainees released in 2011; the demolition of a number of houses and the looting of others; and a variety of other depredations of the kind Israel’s finest have honed to perfection during decades of occupation.
And, as another piece, this one by Matt Duss in The Week:
At a security briefing on July 9, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said the attack on Gaza “will expand and continue until the fire on our communities is over and the quiet is back.”
But the key thing to note here is that Israel already had quiet. In the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority provided years of quiet through security cooperation with Israeli security forces. Yet Netanyahu’s response to this unprecedented calm — which Israel had long sought — was to undermine his ostensible partner Abbas at every conceivable opportunity through settlement construction, incursions into Palestinian cities, on top of the daily harassment and humiliations of Palestinians that are the reality of the occupation.
In Gaza, Hamas had largely held to the terms of the cease-fire signed in 2012. While rocket attacks did occur, they were usually launched by competing extremist groups. Israeli forces also carried out their own periodic attacks and incursions inside Gaza during that time. But in general, things were very quiet for Israel.
The Rabbani essay makes the point that it was too quiet, and the thing that frightened Netanyahu the most was Palestinian cooperation and unity. First, with the April reconciliation agreement between Hamas and Fatah, and then,
on 2 June, when a new Palestinian Authority government was inaugurated, following the April reconciliation agreement between Hamas and Fatah. Hamas endorsed the new government even though it was given no cabinet posts and the government’s composition and political programme were virtually indistinguishable from its predecessor’s. With barely a protest from the Islamists, Abbas repeatedly and loudly proclaimed that the government accepted the Middle East Quartet’s demands: that it recognise Israel, renounce violence and adhere to past agreements. He also announced that Palestinian security forces in the West Bank would continue their security collaboration with Israel. When both Washington and Brussels signalled their intention to co-operate with the new government, alarm bells went off in Israel. Its usual assertions that Palestinian negotiators spoke only for themselves – and would therefore prove incapable of implementing any agreement – had begun to look shaky: the Palestinian leadership could now claim not only to represent both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip but also to have co-opted Hamas into supporting a negotiated two-state settlement, if not the Oslo framework as a whole. There might soon be increased international pressure on Israel to negotiate seriously with Abbas. The formaldehyde was beginning to evaporate.
At this point Netanyahu seized on the 12 June disappearance of three young Israelis in the West Bank like a drowning man thrown a lifebelt. Despite clear evidence presented to him by the Israeli security forces that the youths were already dead, and no evidence to date that Hamas was involved, he held Hamas directly responsible and launched a ‘hostage rescue operation’ throughout the West Bank. It was really an organised military rampage. It included the killing of at least six Palestinians, none of whom was accused of involvement in the disappearances; mass arrests, including the arrest of Hamas parliamentarians and the re-arrest of detainees released in 2011; the demolition of a number of houses and the looting of others; and a variety of other depredations of the kind Israel’s finest have honed to perfection during decades of occupation. Netanyahu whipped up a demagogic firestorm against the Palestinians, and the subsequent abduction and burning alive of a young Palestinian in Jerusalem cannot and should not be separated from this incitement.
This is a mess, and the incursion into Gaza continues to get bloodier. Protests are occurring all over the world, some of which might (or might not) be devolving into race-based rioting.
What more to read? There is a great deal of excellent writing and photography at +972 magazine. Mondoweiss as well. I often check the twitter feed of Emily Hauser, always current and humane. She also maintains a useful Israel/Palestine/MidEast public list. I cannot recommend highly enough two Israeli writers for Haaretz, Gideon Levy and Amira Hass.
Levy, whose July 13 column, Israel’s real purpose in Gaza: to kill Arabs, begins like this:
The goal of Operation Protective Edge is to restore the calm; the means: killing civilians. The slogan of the Mafia has become official Israeli policy. Israel sincerely believes that if it kills hundreds of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, quiet will reign. It is pointless to destroy the weapons stores of Hamas, which has already proved capable of rearmament. Bringing down the Hamas government is an unrealistic (and illegitimate) goal, one that Israel does not want: It is aware that the alternative could be much worse. That leaves only one possible purpose for the military operation: death to Arabs, accompanied by the cheering of the masses.
“The most hated man in Israel” was right. Of course.
And then there is Amira Hass, whose Haaretz column from yesterday, Reaping What We Have Sown in Gaza, was angry and poetic and absolutely spot on:
I’m fed up with the failed efforts at competing with the abundance of orchestrated commentaries on Hamas’ goals and actions, from people who write as if they’ve sat down with Mohammed Deif and Ismail Haniyeh, and not just some IDF or Shin Bet security service source. Those who rejected Fatah and Yasser Arafat’s peace proposal for two states have now been given Haniyeh, Hamas and BDS. Those who turned Gaza into an internment and punishment camp for 1.8 million human beings should not be surprised that they tunnel underneath the earth. Those who sow strangling, siege and isolation reap rocket fire. Those who have, for 47 years, indiscriminately crossed the Green Line, expropriating land and constantly harming civilians in raids, shootings and settlements – what right do they have to roll their eyes and speak of Palestinian terror against civilians?
Hamas is cruelly and frighteningly destroying the traditional double standards mentality that Israel is a master at. All of those brilliant intelligence and Shin Bet brains really don’t understand that we ourselves have created the perfect recipe for our very own version of Somalia? You want to prevent escalation? Now is the time: Open up the Gaza Strip, let the people return to the world, the West Bank, and to their families and families in Israel. Let them breathe, and they will find out that life is more beautiful than death.