Thursday, December 25, 2008

What Every Child Knows

Over 8o Qassam missiles landed in areas bordering Gaza over the past 24 hours. Nobody should doubt how insufferable this is. But what should Israel do? Every child knows that you are attacked because the other person doesn't realize you can hit back, that your hurt can become his hurt. Reasonable people want action.

"We have no father, we have no mother," a resident of Shderot screamed at a radio journalist this past week, understandably in despair about his government's inability to protect him from explosions; in despair also, no doubt, about his children's growing realization that he cannot protect them. "Our response will be substantial and painful to Hamas," an Israeli government official said this morning.

Then again, children don't know everything

ONE CANNOT INFLICT pain on Hamas without magnifying pain on the residents of Gaza, whose support for Hamas was born out of just such violence and political stalemate. One cannot magnify pain on the residents of Gaza without further discrediting the Palestine Authority in the eyes of West Bankers, particularly the youth, whose relative affluence only makes them feel like traitors. Spreading violence means not only new and tragic deaths, but new pictures on al-Jazeera of ambulances pulling bodies from crumbled buildings; new reports on the BBC, or CNN, adding up the casualties, implicitly daring viewers to value the lives of Israeli children over those of Palestinian children. Still want to hit this tar-baby one more time, but harder?

The sad truth is that exercising sovereign power is a more complicated thing than getting your father to beat up his father. In his weekly newsletter, M.J. Rosenberg astutely quotes former Mossad chief, Ephraim Halevy: "'[Hamas] leaders entered into the arrangement . . . with the intention of making it the beginning of a process.' They sold the cease-fire to their followers as means to achieve certain 'deliverables': a prisoner release and an easing of border restrictions. But Hamas got neither, just as Israel did not achieve Gilad Shalit’s release."

Rosenberg continues: "Israel has no difficulty blaming Hamas for breaking the cease-fire. The logic sounds impeccable. If Hamas stops shooting, it will get quiet in return. From the Gazans’ point of view, however, the Israeli blockade is a form of violence. How can Hamas be expected to stop its attacks if Israel keeps a million people penned up in what they view as a vast prison camp?"

Indeed, if you were the leaders of Hamas--Islamist, rejectionist, housed in Damascus, supported by Iran, and so forth--and you saw Israeli peace talks with Syria taking shape, Obama hinting broadly about a moderate alliance of Arab states, a rekindling of the Saudi peace initiative, a tightening of cooperation between Israel and Egypt, and a desire by the current Israeli government to extend the status quo indefinitely, so that Gaza residents have nothing to think about but their poverty, well, what would you do? Older kids know about it. It's called a sucker punch.