Thursday, June 29, 2006

One European Response to the Gaza Escalation

Israeli armor, north of the Gaza strip

An op-ed by Christiane Schlötzer in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung illustrates once again that the Europeans just don't get it. The analysis is full of clichés and condescending judgments. Perhaps the kicker was Schlötzer's assertion that
Both sides in the conflict are hostages to policies that, one has to say it, ... , are characterized by Old Testament obstinacy. [In dem Konflikt sind beide Seiten Geiseln einer Politik, die – man muss es sagen, ... – von alttestamentarischer Sturköpfigkeit geprägt ist].
To the writer, the Israelis (and Palestinians) are like children, abandoned by their irresponsible parents (the US). What they ought to do, she seems to imply, is to talk things out like reasonable adults. Or worse, they are like unconverted Jews, who must open their ears to the New Testament's message of love and kindness.

Although Schlötzer accuses Israel of living in a "dream" (nightmare would be better), her critique seems fundamentally divorced from the realities on the ground. She does not present even a shred of understanding for the responsibility of a state to protect its citizens and borders. Nor does she consider the possibility that a government that allows terrorists to launch an attack across a border ought to be held accountable in some way.

Equally absurd is the writer's patronizing conclusion:
by now at the latest, Israel ought to recognize that it is impossible to separate itself from the Palestinians forever by unilaterally drawing a border. A few terrorists who dig a tunnel to kidnap a soldier could destroy this dream. [... spätestens jetzt muss Israel erkennen, dass es nicht möglich ist, sich mit einer einseitigen Grenzziehung ein für alle Mal von den Palästinensern zu trennen. Schon ein paar Terroristen, die einen Tunnel graben, um einen Soldaten zu entführen, konnten diesen Traum zerstören].
The problem is that this was not "just" a few terrorists but a sophisticated, well-planned operation. Furthermore, it is bizarre that the writer turns this into an argument against Israel's "dream" of separating itself from the Palestinians. The terrorists operated from Gaza, which is no longer occupied by Israel. They ventured far beyond the 1967 borders to launch an offensive raid on Israeli troops. This is unacceptable in any scenario; it cannot be regarded as some kind of inevitability that resulted from a policy of unilateral disengagement, unless one argued the right-wing view that no withdrawal should have taken place at all because the Palestinians would be rewarded for terrorism.

It was also annoying to see the writer evade responsibility by attributing to the Palestinians en masse the rhetorical question:
Why should a brutal kidnapping be worse than the daily perceived arbitrariness of the occupation? [Oder dass ein brutales Kidnapping schlimmer sein soll als die alltägliche, als Willkür empfundene Besatzung.]
This ignores the fact that the Gaza Strip, from which the terrorists attacked, is no longer under occupation. Indeed the entire analysis sounds like something canned long before the withdrawal took place. Perhaps this is why it sounds so trite.


Derek said...

I have heard a lot of analysts say that the chaos in Gaza is due in a large part to the unilateral nature of the withdrawal. It was sort of just "handed over to the dogs".

Whether or not unilateral withdrawal was unavoidable is another matter and I've heard a lot to that effect by many of the same analysts. Maybe there just weren't any better parties dog or otherwise to hand it over to at the time.

I still haven't really heard any good explainations for the unabashed targeting of electricity infrastructure which doesn't just shut down people's TVs but the majority of the water resources in an already very water poor area during an especially hot (John?) time of the year. In an urban environment that really causes harm to everyone in a very existential way. Unless Pallywood is hiding vast tanks of water that are being distributed to the people this is not an issue that is "being overblown" by the Palestinians or anti-Israeli elements.

The esteemed Mos Def put it best in "New World Water" of "Black on Both Sides" (1999):

Man, you gotta cook with it, bathe and clean with it (That's right)
When it's hot, summertime you fiend for it (Let em know)
You gotta put it in the iron you steamin with (That's right)
It's what they dress wounds and treat diseases with (Shout it out)
The rich and poor, black and white got need for it (That's right)
And everybody in the world can agree with this (Let em know)
COMPSUMPTION promotes health and easiness (That's right)
Go too long without it on this earth and you leavin it (Shout it out)
Americans wastin it on some leisure shit (Say word?)
And other nations be desperately seekin it (Let em know)

John said...

It's interesting that both the withdrawal from Lebanon and the withdrawal from Gaza were carried out unilaterally. Both withdrawals were also severely criticized by Israel's military establishment for the way in which they were carried out. The problem is that, as you said, there wasn't much faith in the Gaza withdrawal in the other side. I think that lack of faith is warranted. The PA was incapable of really confronting Hamas and the other militant groups that are involved in Qassam rocket attacks. Hamas has shown itself to be similarly incapable or unwilling to deal with this very fundamental problem. Many Israelis backed the unilateral withdrawal, because they felt that it would deprive the Palestinian groups in Gaza of a pretext for their missile launches, etc. Many Israelis also felt that it might restart the peace process as a confidence building measure. Others who are ideologically opposed to the settlement enterprise saw this as an opportunity to begin breaking the taboo on the evacuation of settlers. There were also many people who argued that once IDF forces and the settlements were withdrawn from the Gaza Strip, Israel would have the right to retaliate severely against any attacks on its territory and that such retaliations would be viewed with more understanding by the international community. That's probably why a lot of Israelis are plain fed up and don't give a damn about who or what gets bombed in the Gaza Strip.

Dude, you bet it's hot here. In Beer Sheva, we got 34+ degrees (Celsius) and hell yeah, we need that water, and Mos Def's wisdoms are mos definitely salient, I sure don't wanna doubt him. Wow, that song brought back memories of 3414 Stanley and the Aiwa stereo system. BUT, I think you're actually wrong about the link between the electricity infrastructure and the water supply. Now, I don't want to be doubting your Civil Engineering expertise, Derek, but from what I've read, most of the water in the Gaza Strip comes from wells that pump water using fuel-powered generators (I imagine it's fossil fuels, maybe Diesel, but I don't know). The domestic electricity supply has reportedly been cut by 40 %, because the air strike knocked out Gaza's local capacities. The rest of Gaza's electricity is in any case supplied by Israel (by the way, the amount supplied by Israel can be increased). So, the water problem that people have been talking about is due to a shortage in FUEL (hydrocarbons), which has developed due to Israeli closure of the border terminals. That is not really an irreparable problem: more fuel could be allowed in and more electricity... but you can bet that Israel is using those things as levers.

By the way, I'm pretty sure that many people in the Gaza Strip also have their own generators ... Not all of Gaza is urban. There also villages and small towns, and I do not think that they are all hooked up to the national infrastructure grid.

John said...

That Sueddeutsche Zeitung article that Amos wrote about, by the way, is friggin' ridiculous. I was always struck by the pompous tone of some of the European papers in their Middle East coverage, especially the Frankfurter Allgemeine. The Europeans are so convinced of their superiority and enlightenment, sometimes. They assume that their post-nationalism puts them on some higher civilizational level. They just can't grasp the fact that a country such as Israel, whose existence is still regarded as illegitimate or even temporary by many of its neighbours, doesn't have the luxury of being pacifistic or of relying on trans-national institutions to solve its conflicts.

John said...

Oh, Derek, one more thing. Here's a source article for my claims regarding water, electricity and fuel in the Gaza Strip:

It's a Detroit Free Press article, published today, June 30, 2006.

Derek said...

Thanks for the sources and perspective, John and Amos. That's why I keep reading your blog and refering it to other Americans with whom these topic surfaces in converstation; less often than you might think with all of our consuming issues over here: Iraq, Guantanamo, Torture, the imfamous GAY AGENDA, and of course my favorite: energy security.

Keep it coming. Give'her.

John said...

Thanks Derek for the compliments! We definitely appreciate all the comments and debate you add to the blog.

BTW, today I just read a Ha'aretz article that reported that the power station was owned by an American Palestinian businessman (it was originally built or owned by Enron!). The company that owned the power station had it insured with an insurance called OPIC (Overseas Private Insurance Corporation) which is indirectly connected to the State Department. The purpose of this insurance company, according to the Ha'aretz article, is to insure US companies doing business in risky places, and it covers damages incurred by political violence. They said that the cost of repairs would be about 48 million dollars. So, it's a major embarassment for the Israelis - apparently, the military people who chose targets weren't in close consultation with the advisors at the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs (who are probably furious). As soon as the story hit, the "talkback" comments section jammed up with Israelis complaining how this was a "typical Israeli way of operating" and about how the IDF are a bunch of morons. You see, Israelis actually have pretty low faith in their government or in the army - they have a real inferiority complex towards other countries (like European countries, America or Canada) who they think do everything right. But that's another issue...

Anyway, I looked up OPIC ( and the claim made in the article that the American public will bear the cost of this operation is wrong. According to OPIC's website:

"By charging market-based fees for its products, OPIC operates at no net cost to taxpayers. It has earned a profit in each year of operations — $163 million in 2004 — and built its substantial reserves to more than $5.9 billion. All of OPIC’s guaranty and insurance obligations are backed by OPIC’s own substantial reserves and by the full faith and credit of the U.S. Government."

Ariel said...

This is the first time I've looked at this site (I go to Berkeley with Amos) and I feel I have to comment. I'll begin by saying that the Israeli response to the attack and kidnapping is completely disproportional. It's ludicrous to talk, as Amos does, about the Israeli government's responsibility to protect its citizens while conveniently ignoring the fact that it was the IDF that killed 23 (as I recall) Palestinian civilians over the last couple of weeks. What about the PA's responsibility to protect its citizens? After all, the "terrorists" attacked SOLDIERS, not civilians. Just because the IDF lobs bombs from the air and across the border doesn't make it any less of an invasion.

I imagine someone is thinking of Qassams right now, but one can hardly compare the entire operational history of those ineffectual weapons, frightening and irritating as they may be, to the destruction the IDF has achieved in just the last month. Say what you will about the legitimate targets that Israel was pursuing, but when you fire missiles in crowded areas you have to expect that you might miss, and when you do, in fact, miss, and by missing hit the home of innocents, and then do it again, and and again miss your target, and again kill innocents, and then do it again... well, when you keep doing that it might seem that you just don't care who you hit. For all the talk of Israeli governments about not having a partner for peace, its own recent actions couldn't possibly demonstrate the same of itself more clearly.

As if this persistent deadly incompetence weren't enough, the government now feels justified in holding the entire PA and all of Gaza hostage, unleashing a torrent of righteous rhetoric about the fact that Hamas officials need to be held responsible. And Israeli officials, are they to be held responsible? Can anyone claim in good conscience that Sharon is not a war criminal? I say this not to suggest that Israeli leaders be taken to trial, but to emphasize that Israel's position in the current crisis is the height of hypocritical chutzpah.

I'm amazed that the mainstream American press has failed to recognize this. Today's Washington Post editorial had this to say:

"When Cpl. Gilad Shalit was abducted by the military wing of Mr. Haniyeh's Hamas movement last weekend, his administration faced a choice. It could behave like a civilized government -- and work to free the hostage -- or align itself with a terrorist operation. It chose the latter."

A civilized government would not continue to conduct military operations in crowded civilian areas after an action had resulted in civilian casualties. A civilized government would not concoct excuses for why it was not responsible for blowing up a picnicing family (I still haven't figured out if the IDF is actually suggesting that Hamas is hiding bombs in the sand on public beaches), but instead would offer a public apology, reparations, and the promise to stop lobbing shells. In short, I don't think either government has much claim to being civilized.

One last thing: I absolutely agree with both Amos and John that Europeans really need to get over themselves. I've had the experience so many times when Europeans talk to me about the Middle East with this attitude of, "can't you people just get along?" They seem so pleased with themselves because they've managed not to start a world war in almost three generations.

John said...

Ariel, welcome to the blog! I think there are a few problems with what you said in your morally impassioned response.

First, you characterize the Israeli response to the kidnapping of the soldier and to the ongoing launching of Qassam missiles to the western Negev as "disproportionate". I take issue with that assertion. Just because the missiles launched from the Gaza Strip have caused relatively few deaths so far, that does not mean that one can deny the potential for massive bloodshed. Over the past few years, various terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip have succeeded in increasing the range and deadliness of their home-made missiles. Think about a situation where the power plant and oil depot in Ashqelon are within range? Do you think the Popular Resistance Committees will care to carry out a precise night-time hit on these assets to minimize civilian casualties? You know as well as I do that their aim is to terrorize and demoralize the Israeli public to achieve their aims, so the answer is obviously no. The confrontation between the Palestinians and Israel is a classic example of asymmetric warfare. The fact that Israel has a greater capacity to strike Palestinian combatants who are, unfortunately, based in civilian areas, should not obscure the fact that the damage that could potentially be inflicted by Palestinian terrorist groups is extremely high. The Qassam rocket attacks - and the Israeli air raids and incursion are mainly about the Qassams and not about the kidnapping - are a grave threat to the security and economic viability of the western Negev. The problem in your analysis is that you are fixated on the current toll of the Qassams and that your view of the threat that they pose is short-sighted. I agree with you that a 100 percent effort must be made to avoid civilian casualties. Like you, I even suspect that a full effort is not always made by the IDF in this regard. On the other hand, it is impossible for the Israeli government to stand idly by as the Qassams continue to fall in Sderot and the rest of the western Negev. What would happen if those involved in launching the Qassams were given the impression that they are immune as long as they operate in civilian areas? What would happen if the IDF were to simply stop pursuing the perpetrators of these attacks? Unfortunately, I do not see any realistic alternatives to gunships and air raids. Useless artillery is a different issue - I think that much of the artillery fire is meant for domestic (Israeli) consumption - a desire by the government to show the people that it is doing "something".

There is something else that I didn't quite understand in your post. You dismiss the argument that the Israeli government is responsible for protecting its citizens and has a right to retaliate by saying "What about the PA's responsibility to protect its citizens? After all, the "terrorists" attacked SOLDIERS, not civilians." First of all, are you implying that the PA carried out the attack on those soldiers? It sounds as if you are saying that the raid on the Israeli outpost can be justified as an attempt by the Palestinian government to defend its people against Israeli attack. But from all the reports that we have received so far, the PA (Palestinian Authority) was not at all involved in the attack. Secondly, it's ludicrous to characterize the attack on the IDF soldiers (the kidnapping, according to many, was unplanned) as somehow intended as a defence of Palestinian civilians. The attack on the soldiers did nothing to defend Palestinian civilians - quite the opposite is true. The Qassams and other attacks on Israel have only increased the loss of life on the Palestinian side. The PA's responsibility is to its citizens! I do not think that carrying out a guerilla raid, even if it does not target civilians, will do anything for Palestinians. A responsible, strong government would GOVERN - establish a monopoly of force over its area of authority. An entity that cannot really do so (the PA) isn't very useful.

Ariel said...

Perhaps I took the wrong tone in my first comment--after all, I don't really think there's any need to preach here. I suppose I was just blowing off some steam since the current situation is so distressing. However, upon reflection, I still think that my points stand, so let's look at your objections one at a time.

You say that the real issue with the Qassams is that they represent the potential to do greater damage in the future. I grant the possibility, but I don't see how that can justify a response that results in the immediate deaths of so many civilians. An editorial in Ha'aretz last week made the same point, suggesting that the operations of the IAF (Israeli Air Force) hardly deserve the designation "precision air strikes." So when you write, "The fact that Israel has a greater capacity to strike Palestinian combatants who are, unfortunately, based in civilian areas, should not obscure the fact that the damage that could potentially be inflicted by Palestinian terrorist groups is extremely high," I have to ask whether it is reasonable to compare actual with potential death. The logic of potential threats, after all, is what got the US into the current ill-advised war (an action, incidentally, seemingly intended to prove the old adage, "the devil you know is better than the devil you don't"). You also say that "the Israeli air raids and incursion are mainly about the Qassams and not about the kidnapping." If this is true, why wait for the kidnapping to take such action?

But I think that your bigger point is that the continued launching of Qassams is completely unacceptable and not only warrants, but demands, a very strong response. I agree, but, if we are not to give in to all out war, the response must not be a bludgeon. To reverse your take on it, just because Israel could respond even more forcefully than it has does not mean that it can congratulate itself on its restraint. I repeat, the civilian casualties of the past few weeks are utterly unacceptable. Your own opinion that artillery shelling is just for show--a fact that, if true, can only be characterized as obscene--must be taken as indicative of the IDF's general attitude just as surely as we take the savage, anti-semitic rethoric that passes for mainstream opinion in the territories and Arab world generally as indicative of the other side's true intentions. My point here is that, given the rather cavalier disregard for Palestinian civilian life demonstrated by the IDF recently, I could hardly fault an observer who concluded that Israel was not really interested in a lasting peace. You say that you "suspect" the IDF fails to make a 100% effort to avoid civilian casualties every time, but you must know, not suspect, that this is the case. We often listen in horror to what gets said in the territories, but how often do you think about the fact, for example, that crowds at Subliminal's concerts (a popular Israeli rapper) often break into spontaneous chants of "death to Arabs" (mavet la'aravim)?

To address a latter point of yours, I certainly was not suggesting that Israel does not have a responsibility to protect its citizens (myself, parents and brother among them), or that the PA directed the assault on the outpost, although one always wonders what it means when they talk about the "military" arm of Hamas. My point was that, if the PA had been involved, the operation, although it could not be considered a direct defense of its people, could be justified under the logic of strong response, a logic you yourself employ when you discuss the need to demonstrate to the Qassam launchers Israel's toughness: "What would happen if those involved in launching the Qassams were given the impression that they are immune as long as they operate in civilian areas?" One might not unreasonably ask from the Palestinian perspective, what would happen if the IDF got the impression that it could bomb and invade our country with impunity? The logic of showing strength, unfortunately, is pervasive in Israel and, I imagine, all of the Middle East, from regional on down to office politics. But, to paraphrase another adage, nothing could be better calculated to leave the whole world blind.

The real question here is whether a peace is even possible. For years Israelis on the right knew that it was not. Recently, however, even the Likud, now Likud 2 (Kadima), has realized that some kind of settlement is a must if Israel is to continue to exist. Yet it seems clear that many in the government and IDF are not really convinced. I have to admit that I myself am not always convinced, but I believe that a good faith attempt must be made. I'll leave it at that for now and await your further comments or, given the indulgent length to which this current response has grown, perhaps we can renew discussion over another blog entry.

John said...

Hi Ariel, no worries about the tone! These are indeed distressing times, and I think everyone of us is engaged once again in that well known ritual of trying to reconcile what is going on with our vision of what Israel should be. I certainly know where you are coming from and appreciate you taking the time to articulate your thoughts. Having said that, I'd still like to have the last word on this comment forum :)

First off, the Iraq-WMD comparison is wrong. The Qassams are certainly a lot more tangible than Iraqi WMD. They have already killed people and done a lot of property damage. There is no denying that a little more range, a little more accuracy, a little more explosive power and some bad luck will make the Qassams into devastating weapons. All the claims of made by the right-wing groups opposing the withdrawal from Gaza will be completely vindicated. I shudder to think what will happen if/when more sophisticated rockets are smuggled into the Gaza strip or, if/when the crude Qassams start being used in the West Bank, let's say within range of Ben-Gurion Airport.

I've heard a lot of people say that they are amazed at Israel's willingness to do everything for one soldier. It's true that kidnappings resonate very strongly in Israel, but this hostage taking was only a trigger for the Gaza campaign that is being prepared. Plans for a ground-based operation into Gaza have been in the works for a long time, and both Olmert and Peretz have been criticized by the IDF (albeit circumspectly) for making such an operation a taboo. The attack on the soldiers and the kidnapping was the straw that broke the camel's back. It convinced Olmert that, no matter how bad it looks going back into Gaza (and I mean to the Israeli public, which was told that the withdrawal would solve a lot of problem), there is no longer any choice.

You raise a lot of other issues, Ariel, that I won't get into, because I agree with you that we should move on. I do object to your characterization of what is going on as a "Middle Eastern show of strength competition". I think that adversaries all over the world struggle with the problematics of juggling the need for deterrence with the need to avert an escalation. Things just get a lot more complicated in situations where a state is pitted against numerous non-state actors.

Finally, I'm sure that most people in the IDF, Kadima and even the present-day Likud would agree with you that a good faith attempt at peace should be made, but they would probably have different interpretations of what that is. I'm not really concerned on this blog with whitewashing everything Israel does. I just want to use this as an outlet to vent about certain issues or to bring things that I find interesting to the attention of a broader public. So, I certainly won't deny that there is racism in Israel - I've been here long enough to know better - in the same way that I would never deny that there is racism in the United States or Canada.

ariel said...

Fair enough. I look forward to checking in on this blog from time to time in the future.

Amos said...

I've just returned from a weekend-long trip to the south of the country, so I am sorry I missed this very interesting discussion. I think the arguments and counter-arguments have been excellent, so I do not want to intervene further. However, I do have a suggestion for a future topic of discussion, which might be covered in a post. Having talked to a number of people on this trip, including some who live in areas within Qassam-range, I am starting to worry about the (seemingly) growing opposition to further withdrawals, because the lesson seems to be that even going back to the 1967 lines is not enough for Hamas (or for Hezbollah).