They say that home is where the heart is. As news of the carnage in Gaza pours in, our hearts—broken, saddened, disgraced—pull us back to that wretched stretch of land that we were destined to call home. As Israelis, we look with horror and shame as our country unleashes its incommensurable military might on defenseless civilians. We are not alone in our outrage. Many Israelis share our mortification, our concern, and our understanding that in decades of violent struggle, force has never brought us closer to fulfilling our professed aspiration for peace and security. But their voices are drops in an ocean of enflamed national passion.
The state of Israel has the right to apply force in the quest to ensure the security of its citizens and protect its sovereignty. However, frustrating as it might be, states cannot retaliate against acts of terror, such as firing rockets into concentrations of civilian populations, by committing their own terrorism.
Since shortly after its withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in September 2005, and in direct response to the kidnapping of the soldier Gilad Shalit in June 2006, Israel has effectively put Gaza under a continuous and cruel siege. At first, Israel refused to allow people and goods through the crossing for extended periods of time, but after Hamas was elected to government in June 2007 the crossings were completely shut down. Food, fuel, cooking gas, and even medications are still hard to come by in Gaza, resulting in miserable living conditions by any standard.
The pretext of this policy has been to prevent Hamas from transferring large quantities of ammunition into Gaza—a task that has nevertheless failed, as evidenced by the ballistic performances of Hamas since the current crisis broke out. However, the fundamental purpose of the siege was to pressure Gazans to topple their own elected government. Hamas, it must be emphasized, has repeatedly expressed willingness to stop all assaults on Israel if the latter agrees to end this hermetic siege. For a while now, the U.N. and aid organizations have been calling the situation in Gaza a humanitarian crisis verging on catastrophe.
After manipulating the civilian population by way of depriving it of bare necessities, Israel has resorted to the current military aggression. An Israeli incursion into Gaza in early November, which constituted a breach of the ceasefire agreement reached in June 2008, quickly deteriorated into back-and-forth rocket launching, air strikes, and a significant tightening of the blockade. Needless to say, any large-scale military operation in the world’s most densely populated area is bound to sacrifice the lives of hundreds of innocent civilians.
Neither siege nor war is a legitimate or effective means for advancing Israel’s struggle against terrorism or its political agenda. What is more, Israeli officials have publicly acknowledged the limited efficacy of aggressive means in accomplishing their ends, which further undermines the justness of such measures. These measures will not lead the Palestinian people to overthrow their elected government, nor will they cause Hamas to stop launching rockets into Israel. Diplomatic efforts in the past few days have focused on attempts to erect an international mechanism that would supervise the opening of the crossings for the flow of merchandise while disallowing the transportation of weapons and ammunition into Gaza. The very same arrangements would have been possible before the military operation. Why, then, were the lives of more than 700 Palestinians (including 240 children and 100 women) and 10 Israelis (including three civilians) wasted?
In recent years, many Israelis, like many Americans, began framing their understanding of the world in terms of a war of civilizations. Envisioning the other side as an incarnation of evil and themselves as the West’s flagship in this relentless fight, they stopped looking for ways to bring this conflict to a resolution. Mendacious and disastrous, this imported perspective makes us forget that, for better or worse, the people we are bombing will forever be our neighbors. A report issued by the U.S. Army War College several days ago argued that “Hamas’ political and strategic development has been both ignored and misreported in Israeli and Western sources which villainize the group.” The report concludes that “a long-term truce, or even a longer-term peace” is within reach. Let us hope that this possibility will not be shattered by the current explosion of violence. We call upon our own government to effect an immediate and unilateral ceasefire and endeavor to negotiate with the Palestinian representatives. Anything short of that will continue to bring shame and ruin on our home.