29 June 2006

On tigers and opportunities

Paul, our reader, posted a comment that, I think, deserves more attention than a Haloscan comment system warrants. Here is its updated version from Adloyada.

Many people have been saying that the Hamas attack on the tank and the capture of Gilad Shalit are particularly heinous in light of the complete pullout from the Gaza strip. I heard an Israeli on a BBC radio call-in discussion expressing utter outrage over the fact that the Hamasniks had CROSSED THE BORDER and attacked an IDF position that was NOT occupying Palestinian land. And many have condemned the Qassam attacks in this context (the Gaza pullout) as well.

Now, I'm a passionate supporter of Israel. But it must be said the Gaza pullout didn't change anything about the moral context nor about the morality/immorality of any specific actions, for two reasons.

1. Attacks on civilians are always immoral and illegitimate, they are just terrorism, and there is nothing -- no occupation, no settlements -- that can mitigate the moral depravity that. So the Gaza pullout has no impact on the moral considerations of firing missiles at Sderot, for example.

2. But I'm also baffled by political comment that pretends that Gaza and the West Bank are separated in any way other than geographically. Hamas is at war with Israel, full stop, and one of the main reasons for that is the occupation (whether Hamas would make peace with an Israel within the "'67 borders" is a further question). As long as the West Bank is occupied, of course Hamas is going to take advantage of the new situation in Gaza to attack Israel from an area where it can now operate more freely; it can be expected to do that and there is no logical reason why it shouldn't. So why shouldn't Palestinian fighters cross the Gaza border to grab Israeli soldiers? War is war; soldiers are soldiers; and if you are already at war with a country, then you're not exactly going to worry about respecting its borders, are you. Nations at war don't respect each other's borders (particularly when the war is partly ABOUT borders). Now THIS is something that would be changed by disengagement, because disengagement would remove all justification for war. But disengagement hasn't happened yet. Disengagement will only change the moral situation when it's complete -- in other words, when the settlements and the IDF have been pulled out of the West Bank as well as Gaza. At that point, the Palestinians will have no further justification for waging war against the IDF. Until then, Hamas correctly considers Palestinian land to be occupied and it's nonsense to make some sort of artificial distinction between occupying a little bit of Palestinian land in Gaza and occupying much more Palestinian land in the West Bank.

I hate terrorism with a passion, and on top of that I take terrorism against Israelis personally. I love Israel with all my heart. And I have enormous admiration and affection for the IDF. But let's keep our thinking straight: A small part of disengagement has been completed (Gaza). But by far the most significant part of it (the West Bank) hasn't even begun. The Palestinians are at war against Israel. Gilad Shalit, who was on active duty and in uniform when he was captured, is not the victim of a terrorist hostage-taking; he is a prisoner of war. I hope Israel succeeds in freeing him without any negotiation, compromises, or concessions.

Shabbat Shalom


I do not think I am going to argue with the formal part of this post. Although Palestinian Authority has never formally declared a war, de facto we are in a war. And I do not consider the capture of a soldier being a terrorist act too. In a war as in a war.

But here is where the similarity to a war stops. To start with Qassams that are, according to Paul, just another aspect of the war: Qassams are definitely not pointed toward any Israeli military target, their sole purpose is to terrorize the population. On the other hand, Israel has not yet responded to Qassams as any other country would respond in such situation. Shelling empty fields and taking out individual "rocket scientists" of Gaza is hardly an appropriate response.

The capture of Corporal Gilad Shalit, being by itself an act of war, ceased to be such immediately after the soldier was hidden in a concealed location. Had Hamas wanted to acquire some semblance of legitimacy, it would have declared Gilad a POW, allow ICRC access to him to establish that he is alive and to report on his health, in short - demonstrate behavior expected of a polity. Such behavior would have allowed negotiations on exchange of prisoners (although most of the prisoners kept in Israeli jails could hardly claim the status of POW, but I am sure a way could have been found). Instead, everything that happened since the capture clearly shows that Hamas cannot liberate itself from the behavior pattern of a terrorist gang. Now the capture of Gilad Shalit became a kidnapping, and any demands issued by Hamas are no more than blackmail by a kidnapper.

Now to the main point of the comment: "As long as the West Bank is occupied, of course Hamas is going to take advantage of the new situation in Gaza to attack Israel from an area where it can now operate more freely; it can be expected to do that and there is no logical reason why it shouldn't." The answer to this statement does not exist in the realm of the formal definitions. Formally it is correct, although I know some folks that will argue the "occupation" term to their last breath, I am not one of them: yes, we are occupiers.

The answer to this statement or, rather, an advice to Palestinians, is derived from the following:
  • Violence was tried for many years and did not bring any results, it will not bring any results in the future, aside from more blood on both sides and alienation of the (already waning) international support.
  • We do not believe in a peaceful solution to the crisis, the years that passed from the days of Oslo disillusioned us. Gaza was the opportunity for Palestinians to demonstrate to us and to the world that the two states could coexist side by side. This opportunity is going down the drain.
  • The only way to resolve the stand-off is peaceful protest and negotiations. When Palestinians realize that this is the way to win the hearts both in Israel and in the world, then they shall win. Not immediately, not quickly, but eventually the peace will come if they choose this way.
True, the change required from Palestinians is difficult to undertake. It requires a Gandhi when all Palestinians have at the moment is Khaled Mashal. It demands a visionary when Palestinians are led by terrorists unable to break the mould, and there is no one in sight able to change this.

A tiger never changes his stripes, they say. Unfortunately, everything Palestinians have done since disengagement only confirms that saying.

And so far the famous Abba Eban's "Palestinians never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity" seems to be the only constant in our mad region.