Israel’s Dilemma: Winning the Battle & Losing the War

The notorious Chuck Colson, a Watergate conspirator, once famously said (as did Franklin D. Roosevelt), “If you’ve got them by the balls, their hearts and mind will follow!”

Palestinian militants of Iz al-Din al-Qassam, Hamas' armed wing, Gaza Strip, June 30, 2014.

Palestinian militants of Iz al-Din al-Qassam, Hamas’ armed wing, Gaza Strip, June 30, 2014

Shelton, WA (7-16-14) — The greatest challenge of our times is holding corporations and governments to the same moral standards required of individuals. Our failure to have achieved this dream threatens the nation, humankind, the environment, and, indeed, civilization itself. Even a casual observer can’t help but notice how the contradiction of this failure is playing itself out before the eyes of the world in Syria, Iraq, Palestine, and Israel. Ah, but that last in a maelstrom of words and blizzard of invective vainly attempting to gain the upper hand for public opinion over the ‘enemy’ along with whatever military/financial support comes with a successful media campaign.

Israel and the Palestinians have taken each other’s measure in this regard. They know each other only too well. Who cannot sympathize with a people victimized by the Holocaust and entire generations lost to Nazi death camps? And yet, what was the point of triumphing over the Nazis to become just like them when Israel seeks to exterminate an entire generation of Palestinians who call upon the right to self defense and self determination as devoutly as any Jew?

While Germany continues to pay reparations to Israelis for its war crimes even today, Palestinians were not the oppressors of Jews during WWII. Some have asked why western powers chose to carve a Jewish homeland out of Palestine for the survivors rather than the land of their persecutors after WWII which the Allies also controlled? Zionism had, of course, been around prior to WWII, but it reached its fruition in the partition of Palestine for a Jewish state.

Today, the Old Testament edict of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth passes for statecraft in the ongoing war against Palestinians and Israelis alike. Israel supposes it can prevail so long as it can prove it is more ruthless, more powerful, more ferocious, more murderous, more atrocious than its rival. What once was condemned as Nazi excess now is labeled collateral damage as innocent women, children, babies, and even hospital patients are blown to bits in a race to the bottom of immorality, atrocities. 80% of the victims of today’s bombing runs conducted by the Israeli Defense Force are civilians. This is a war crime by anyone’s standards except Israel’s and its primary patron, the U.S. At the same time, the storm of rocket attacks launched against Israel by Palestinians target cities and densely populated civilian neighborhoods. There is infamy enough for all.

Ambassador Ron Dermer is Israel’s chief diplomatic representative in the U.S. He asked some 700 American Jews on a conference call this week for their help in shifting the [media] messaging on Israel. Israel is being routinely portrayed in both conventional and social media as an angry, well-armed giant leaving many innocent victims in its wake during the current crisis with Hamas, Dermer said. Dermer is far from the only Israeli to believe his homeland is unfairly getting bad press–for a host of reasons including some of the following arguments.

Dermer told his audience Hamas may be winning the war over public opinion, as Israel is vilified for the civilian casualties [80%] its bombs cause in Gaza, while Hamas is not being blamed for instructing Palestinians to stay in their homes – even when they have been warned by the IDF the locations will be bombed imminently. Apparently those at the highest levels of government in the Jewish State believe Palestinians should evacuate their homes en mass to avoid massive retaliation. It is not known whether Hamas leaders have considered issuing similar warnings to Israelis or whether those targeted would comply or if the Israeli government would urge them to do so. If this were the case, Hamas would no doubt count it as a PR victory. That Israel’s leaders do not seem to see the parallel raises some interesting questions.

“Hamas is putting its missile batteries and command centers next to schools and hospitals. That is a major war crime. While we are doing everything possible to keep civilians out of harms way, Hamas is trying to put their people into harms way. Gaza’s interior minister said people should ignore warnings and go back into their homes. We are taking action to minimize, to the greatest extent possible, the number of civilian casualties; they are doing everything to maximize it,” Dermer said. Dermer didn’t explain how an 80% civilian casualty rate appeared to belie his argument Israel was attempting to minimize the number of civilian deaths, nor how bombing schools, hospitals, and other non-military targets could be expected to result in a reduction of civilian deaths. If war is diplomacy by other means and a violently brutal method of bending others to your will, targeting civilian populations is still considered a war crime. Much of the Cold War, of course, accomplished precisely that. Despite having the nuclear capability to trigger such terror and complete destruction, Israel prides itself for also having the conventional capability to accomplish the same ends. Gaza, after all, is a relatively small territory and lightly armed in the conventional sense. It is an asymmetric battle which Israel counts on winning, though hopeful it can do so without paying the price in public opinion. It’s not at all clear Israel can win this more total warfare or go the distance. After all, when you’ve got all those knives and forks, you’ve just GOTTA cut something! Born out of the Holocaust, is Israel doomed to forever revisit that nightmare by recreating it?

Yes, terrorists are vile and must be defended against. Yes, Christ may have been the Prince of Peace, but until all men are like him, it is well for us to keep our swords sharp. Still, can an unending escalation of violence bring peace without destroying the world? Jesus tells us no. Ghandi tells us no. Dr. Martin Luther King tells us no. Mandela tells us no. Israelis tells us yes. In fact, it is their national foreign policy. The U.S. appears to support this proposition. Is a continual compulsive ratcheting up of a cycle of violence and war crimes actually a legitimate exercise of the right to national self defense?–even for the descendants of Holocaust victims? Will an eye for an eye not lead to the whole world becoming blind? “War! Huh. Yeah. Good God, Y’all. What is it good for? Absolutely NOTHING!” -Edwin Starr- 

Dermer claims three quarters of Israel’s population has had to rush to bomb shelters in the past week and asked the Jewish Federation leaders on the phone call to advocate on Israel’s behalf with elected officials and local media. Dermer didn’t say what percentage of Palestinians had to rush to bomb shelters or if they even had bomb shelters they could access. His argument seemed centered around the notion leaflets warning Palestinians to clear out were a sufficient shield against allegations of war crimes…as though a note from one’s mother was enough. It sounded like an echo of the U.S. helicopter gunners who machine gunned civilians and children according to Bradley Manning’s expose of U.S. atrocities in Baghdad. When informed of the children they’d just machine gunned, U.S. soldiers were overheard sneering in the recording, “Well, they shouldn’t have brought their kids to a war zone.”

After the U.S., Canada, Great Britain, Germany, and France expressed support for Israel’s right to ‘self defense, Dermer said there hasn’t been enough focus on the fact Hamas’ approach is to use Gaza’s citizens as human shields. During one infamous incident during the Korean war, U.S. forces opened up with machine guns on a huge crowd of Korean refugees fleeing toward American lines from the retreating Red Chinese and North Koreans. U.S. officials later attempted to deflect criticism for this atrocity by claiming it was feared there were North Korean infiltrators among the refugees. The massacre remains a controversial sore point with many Koreans even today. Israel’s approach? Tried and true, like their U.S. allies, kill them all! God will sort them out.

“We haven’t seen the world come out strongly against the use of human shields,” Dermer admonished. “Hamas thinks they will succeed because we can’t be perfect. The IDF has hit 1,200 targets in a very densely populated area. Even if just one percent of those actions goes wrong it can claim civilian lives. [80% of the casualties have, in fact, been civilians, not 1%.] It is important for the international community to send the message that Hamas is responsible for sending these non-combatants into harms way. [Blaming the victims is a neat trick and a defense Nuremberg judges rejected in the trials against accused and convicted Nazis war criminals.] If they think it works and it leads to greater pressure on Israel, you will see it more and more. Putting blame on Israel is actually giving Hamas a great victory,” he added. Dermer failed to explain how holding Israel accountable for the huge number of Palestinian civilian deaths it inflicted was a ‘great victory’ for Hamas. Could Israel be shifting its strategy to allow for more civilian deaths among its own population to achieve a competing ‘great victory’? In order to ‘save’ the village, it was necessary to destroy it. In order to ‘save’ the country, it had to be destroyed. In order to win the war, the population had to be killed. Israel has crafted its own final solution.

“Anyone making Israel’s case should make the case of how other countries facing similar threats would act,” Dermer advised. “That makes it clear that Israel’s actions are astounding. Everyone here knows if America were facing this threat, it would take at least as strong action. Everybody knows that’s true and that’s how Israel has to be defended. We are not perfect and we should try to do our best, but we are imperfect. That should not be a reason for maligning Israel. We should be very proud Israel is upholding the values we’re upholding in the face of a direct threat.” It wasn’t clear just what the values were Dermer was eulogizing–a sharper sword and greater death toll inflicted? A reluctance to kill all the Palestinians in the Gaza strip in one fell swoop? A reticence to go nuclear against a militarily weak opponent? It’s a measure of how far we’ve lost our way when virtue is measured by damning with faint praise. 

“Never lose sight of the difference between Israel and Hamas. Hamas is deliberately targeting civilians. That is a war crime. Israel is actually trying to target the terrorists. Every time an innocent is killed that’s a failure…It’s important to remember that we are not perfect. We can’t get it 100 percent of the time right. We’re pretty close. When you look at how densely populated this area is, but we are not perfect…We go to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties,” Dermer insisted. An 80% civilian casualty rate is ‘pretty close’, in his mind, to ‘getting it right’. Setting its priorities on winning this battle, Israel has effectively conceded it cannot win the peace. Dermer did not allow for the possibility the Palestinian hawks were ‘imperfect’ too in light of the actual hugely disproportionate number of Palestinian civilian deaths Israel had inflicted. Not only is targeting civilian populations a war crime, but hugely disproportionate responses are considered war crimes as well–allegations Israel would have a difficult time defending against. The travesty here is a people so completely persecuted have become the persecutors, abandoning their claim to the moral high ground along the way by becoming more obsessed with the nature of Palestinian terrorists than their own.

“It’s hard for me to accept responsibility for Israel’s actions when I see how hard we try to put their civilians out of harms way, and risk the security of ourselves…What would America do, or Canada do, if three-quarters of its population were in bomb shelters?” he said. The answer, of course, was America and the Soviets prepared to destroy all mankind along with civilization itself. Mutually Assured Destruction was the background for brinkmanship such as the Cuban missile crisis when the world held its breath on the precipice of Armageddon.

Israel has not suffered more casualties because of “a very disciplined Israeli population paying attention to the home front command,” and the Iron Dome missile interception system, Dermer contended. It might also be related to the fact Palestinians have no air force or air defense system.

Iron Dome, which was partly funded by the U.S., has intercepted about 700 of the 1,000 rockets fired at Israel, Dermer said. “It won’t engage every one of them…only when it is heading toward a built-up area does it fire a missile.”

The system has completely changed the way Israel responds, he said. “Iron Dome has allowed Israel to control events rather than be controlled by them. It protects Palestinian civilians as well. It gives the prime minister and cabinet the option to approach the war in a calibrated way. Without Iron Dome we would have to act much faster and take stronger military action, which could lead to casualties on our side and the other side. Iron Dome has uniquely changed the battlefield for Israel,” he said.

He also sounded a defiant note. “I’m not going to apologize for the fact we’re able to defend ourselves,” Dermer said during the hour-long phone call. “More [people] have not been killed because we have a very strong IDF and have invested a lot in protecting our civilians. Those of you who doubt Israel is holding these standards, remember: Only one other country has faced this amount of rocket fire–Great Britain during World War II. It is always important to judge Israel by the way other countries would respond.”  Despite its technological and military advantages, one thing is clear: Israel cannot win the war by attempting to be the more ruthless or inflicting 80% civilian casualties in numbers that dwarf the damage inflicted by Palestinian terrorists. The death of Rachael Corrie is a testament to the resilience of a people and their dream. While Israel may easily inflict more suffering upon its militarily weak neighbors, it cannot win the peace by doing so. Like the Jewish people after WWII, history will prove to be on the side of the Palestinians.


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3 Responses to Israel’s Dilemma: Winning the Battle & Losing the War

  1. siragwatkins says:

    First of all, Rachel Corrie has no connection to “the resilience of a people and their dream.” She was a white American who thought that would protect her–it didn’t. In a sense it was a good death–she died doing something she believed in–but I’m getting heartily sick of having her brought into every mid-East discussion around here. Her death is no more meaningful or important than that of any Gazan, or of the 3 Israeli boys whose kidnapping and murder triggered this latest battle.
    And I object to the comparison of Israelis with Nazis: Israel has never stated an aim of wiping Arabs, Palestinians, Muslims, or any other group off the face of the earth, whereas Hamas has been loud and clear in its intention to sweep all Jews (not just Israelis) into oblivion.
    Hamas also locates its rocket launchers in or near hospitals, schools, and private homes, and tells its people not to leave when Israel warns that those are targets. This is an effort to use civilians as shields and/or martyrs, a smart PR move but also a cause of needless civilian deaths. In addition to rocket-launching sites,Israel is targeting the tunnels used to move fighters and weapons onto their territory, tunnels that, if dug elsewhere, could shelter civilians — but obviously Hamas isn’t interested in that option.
    I don’t think Israel is blameless — no one can claim much moral high ground here–but I do think it can and should defend itself, by any means necessary, and I think those who ignore Hamas’ genocidal statements, as well as actions, need to do their homework.

  2. pf soto says:

    Here we go with the Hasbara, from siragwatkins. It was bound to come.

    Why bother, really, for such a limp-wristed piece of writing. “can an unending escalation of violence bring peace without destroying the world? … Israelis tell us yes. In fact it’s their national foreign policy. The US appears to support this position.”

    A loaded supposition; we are supposed to believe that all this USRaeli carnage is an exercize in peace-making? (Right goal, wrong method?) Surely you jest.

  3. Adam Kline says:

    Amicus, you must be working very hard NOT to see the importance of Hamas’ advice to Gazans to stay put, despite Israeli advice to leave. It’s all the verification you need to understand that Hamas, which purposefully hides its missile launchers near schools and hospitals, knowing that they will be collateral damage in Israeli retaliation, is trying to maximize the damage to their own civilians. That’s the narrative Hamas wants to sell you: Israelis are the new Nazis, a powerful bully wantonly killing children because it can. And you buy it hook, line, and sinker.

    Even some Palestinian survivors of this violence curse Hamas as well as the Israelis. They get it, they live it. What is keeping you from seing it?

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