I am not in the front lines of this conflict but I am not exactly behind the lines, either. So as I write this I hear the sounds of war in the background. Mostly this consists of Israeli artillery pounding away at targets in Gaza with the occasional sound of a Kassam rocket heading overhead in the direction of Beer Sheva or Ofakim often punctuated by the explosion of the Iron Dome missile bringing down the Kassam. Normally I write with no background noise, such as music, to distract my thinking. However I find it somehow appropriate to have a symphony of death and destruction disturbing my thoughts as I write this.
Though my writing is an intellectual exercise, the war itself has been a very real thing. Early this morning we were notified that one of the residents of my village, a twenty-two year old officer severely wounded two days ago, died last night in hospital. In Israel the customary Hebrew phrase said to someone in mourning translates as “I take part in your sorrow.” I suppose that it is the proper thing to say even though no one feels the sorrow as deeply as family and friends. Tomorrow I will be attending the funeral as the representative of my village. It seems to me that everyone who chooses to write about this conflict should attend at least one funeral, either in Israel or in Gaza, just to remind ourselves that we are dealing with human beings and their pain, suffering and loss, before we indulge in the intellectual and ideological gymnastics to prove who is right and what the sides should be doing.
My enemy this month is the Hamas organization in Gaza and the very real question is how to bring the overwhelming Israeli military superiority to bear on Hamas in a way that will lead to a political decision on their part not to engage Israel in armed conflict any more or at least for a very long time. In the good old days this was done by the armies of each side fighting it out until one side was exhausted and sued for peace. This was done under the assumption that the leaders of both sides had the same order of tactical concerns: 1. protect themselves, 2. protect the civilian population, especially the economically valuable portion, 3. protect the officer corps 4. protect the common soldier. Hamas has a slightly different order of tactical concerns which places the civilian population in fourth place followed by the common soldiers, the officers and the leadership. This different order of priorities is mirrored by the Hamas tactical goals. For Hamas the number one priority in the use of their fire power is targeting the Israeli civilian population, followed by common soldiers, officers and finally the Israeli leadership.
The Israeli counter measures that have been developed over the years, have more or less neutralized Hamas attempts to attack their first priority targets, Israeli civilians. However the Hamas policy to place Palestinian civilians as their lowest priority presents both a moral and a strategic problem for the use of Israeli fire power. Morally I suppose we can all agree that it is not a good idea to kill civilians even when they are being used as human shields. There are three problems that this presents to Israeli decision makers. The first two problems are that killing Palestinian civilians wastes military resources and degrades Israel’s public image among European and American consumers of mass media. However, what is often forgotten is the third problem which is of much greater strategic importance than the first two. The third strategic problem is the fact that because Palestinian civilians are devalued as expendable by their own political leadership, killing Palestinian civilians does little or nothing to convince the Hamas leadership to refrain from using military force against Israel.
As a consequence the Israeli military does its best to by-pass the Palestinian civilian human shields as often as possible and direct its fire at Hamas soldiers, Hamas war material and when they show themselves, Hamas officers. Damage has also been done to the civilian property of Hamas leaders but some observers have already accused Israel of committing a war crime when a home belonging to a Hamas official is blown up (after suitable warning to get family members out of the house).
No matter how much care is taken by the Israeli military, the conflict promises to be a long struggle with many innocent civilians killed along the way. It seems to me that if a more direct attack could be made on the Hamas leadership, then perhaps some positive (from Israel’s point of view) political consequences can result with less loss of innocent life.
Though the Hamas have mostly failed in their military efforts, their propaganda efforts have met with a measure of success. But even here the kind of popular response that such a conflict had in the past has not been equaled this time. In addition Hamas fellow travelers on the European left and among Islamist groups (an interesting combination) have made some serious missteps especially in Paris where protests against Israeli actions have degenerated into anti-Semitic attacks on French Jews.
Another public relations forum that has not quite lived up to Hamas expectations is the United Nations Human Rights Council which has gone through the motions of prejudging Israel and issuing the usual unbalanced resolution. However, the flaws in the resolution have been recognized by the EU which abstained in the vote. The UNHRC resolution can be found here.
The EU explanatory note included the following comments:
“We are convinced that the most efficient way of reacting urgently to the alarming developments on the ground is to make use of existing mechanisms and available expertise, such as through a swift dispatching of an OHCHR inquiry mission to investigate all violations and abuses of international human rights and humanitarian law committed by both sides.
We regret that our suggestions to this effect have not been taken on board by the main sponsors. The proposed commission of inquiry, requiring a long process before starting its work, would not, in our view, provide a sufficiently rapid response to the urgent situation on the ground. In addition, the final draft text continues to be unbalanced, inaccurate, and prejudges the outcome of the investigation by making legal statements. The EU emphasizes that the Commission of Inquiry pertains to all violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law by all sides, including those committed by Hamas and other militant groups. The EU will closely monitor the implementation of the mandate and continue to work towards a balanced outcome of the investigations. The draft resolution also fails to condemn explicitly the indiscriminate firing of rockets into Israeli civilian areas as well as to recognize Israel´s legitimate right to defend itself. For this reason the EU cannot support this resolution and EU Member States who are members of this Council will abstain.”
The entire EU statement along with a statement by the Irish government can be found here.
Even among states that voted for the UNHRC resolution some domestic commentary showed a certain lack of enthusiasm. For instance from India we get the following comment on India’s vote:
“The Indian government's seemingly schizophrenic attitude to the Israeli pounding of Gaza is a classic case of the head and the heart being seriously misaligned. In its heart, the BJP-led NDA would like to be with Israel and feels an emotional connect with that beleaguered, but militarily powerful, Jewish state; the head, however, dictates that India’s economic interests - oil, Indians working in the Gulf - also need to be protected. Then there is the need to mollify the Muslim minority in India, whose sentiments are the exact opposite of the Modi government’s – i.e., against Israel.
This may be an oversimplification, but sometimes simple explanations work best. This is the only explanation that tells us why a government that opposed a resolution favouring the Gazans in our own parliament went ahead and voted for a resolution that was heavily loaded against Israel at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva yesterday (23 July).”
Additionally, those portions of liberal Jewish opinion that can generally be counted on to legitimize criticism of Israel have shown signs of support for the Israeli military action in Gaza.
In Israel itself the public has never been so solidly behind the government. Of course, some of the Arab members of the Israeli Knesset have been critical, but it may be difficult for Israeli-Arabs to be supportive of Hamas when Hamas rockets are coming down on Arab communities in the south. Demonstrations are picking up in the West Bank and we may see the development of a third Intifada there but so far the demonstrations on the West Bank have not attracted the kind of numbers that indicate really wide spread support.
Last night an Israeli left-wing demonstration against the war was held in Tel Aviv with approximately 5,000 people in attendance. Some of the Israel’s more moderate left such as the Meretz party and Peace Now declined to attend. The demonstration had been scheduled to run until midnight but had to be ended earlier as Hamas rejected a call for the extension of a humanitarian ceasefire and began firing rockets after 8:00 PM. By comparison, a fallen lone soldier, which is a soldier who doesn’t have an immediate family living in Israel, was buried in Haifa and an estimated 20,000 people attended the funeral. In Jerusalem another fallen lone soldier was accompanied by approximately 30,000 people to his final resting place.
A few days ago the children of my village and some adults devoted an afternoon to decorating a bomb shelter that was delivered to our community shortly after the beginning of the fighting. It is the presence of shelters like these, the Iron Dome system and other measures that allow us to continue our lives with at least a semblance of normality.