One of the time honored tactics for being on the right side of a debate is to find the smart people and imitate them. This kind of mimicry usually works well, assuming of course that you do find the truly smart people and not the ones who making a living sounding smart, a crucial difference which is often overlooked.
Today I want to introduce another tactic, and it is exactly the opposite of the previous one. To be on the right side of the debate, find the stupid people and do the opposite of what they are doing. I used to think that was a cheeky answer with no meaning, but these days I'm not so sure. You don't have to look far to find uninformed speculation and bloviating. And I think I've hit the motherlode; an article that perfectly sums up the complete disconnect a lot of Americans, even ones that are supposedly "experts," have about Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank. It's an article by Charles Krauthammer, otherwise known as Fox News' most persistent scowl. He's Jewish, but also atheist (although you wouldn't catch him using that word). There's an interesting history there, but in the interest of succinctness, it's only important to know where he's coming from. The title alone screamed out to me that I had struck gold: "Why was there war in Gaza, by Charles Krauthammer."
Why was there war in Gaza? Why indeed Charles, why indeed.
One could be justified in thinking that this is some kind of genuine plea from Charlie to anyone who is reading the message to come to his residence and explain this whole thing to him. One could be forgiven for assuming that it is a tacit admission of the truth: that he is an exorbitantly over-valued talking head who knows about as much about why there is war in Gaza as he does about why certain subatomic particles change their spin at the moment they are observed.
In fact, it is your standard pro-Israel piece, laying the blame for everything that has happened in the troubled region squarely at the feet of those darned Arabs. It could have been written word for word by the JIDF, and, knowing Rupert Murdoch and the outstanding journalists at News Corporation, probably was cribbed only from a selection of their talking points.
Let's take apart the assumptions line by line, because it sheds a great deal of light on the conflict, and more importantly, how Westerners perceive it. In the new era of warfare, where high-intensity conflict is rare and short, perception is everything. The hell with air support, the hell with nuclear weapons, the camera is the most powerful and cost-efficient weapon in insurgent warfare. International sympathy is worth more than gold to embattled minorities like the Palestinians, who have few effective tools in their arsenal besides angry funerals, a high birth rate and missiles that are essentially glorified fireworks.
What the article really should have been titled was: "Let me tell you whose fault it was that there is war in Gaza."
First we have to understand the mentality of the average young Palestinian male. He's sweating, he's unemployed, he's depressed and he's frightened. He's been fed a diet of Allah and Israeli airstrikes for breakfast lunch and dinner since the time he was born and told that outside these concrete walls and barbed wire, the Jews are taking his grandfather's land piece by piece.
"Why was there an Israel-Gaza war in the first place? Resistance to the occupation, say Hamas and many in the international media.
What occupation? Seven years ago, in front of the world, Israel pulled out of Gaza. It dismantled every settlement, withdrew every soldier, evacuated every Jew, leaving nothing and no one behind. Except for the greenhouses in which the settlers had grown fruit and flowers for export. These were left intact to help Gaza's economy - only to be trashed when the Palestinians took over."
The anecdote is supposed to carry most of the punch here. The settlers, who were just minding their own business, left peacefully and even left their fruits and flowers so the Palestinians could make little gift baskets for their women folk. How thoughtful. But then the ungrateful Palestinians smashed them all. If we can't trust them with strawberries and daisies, how can we trust them with even a sliver of the holy land?
Of course, there is also the elephant in the paragraph. Two little words that belie a frightening disconnection with reality: "What occupation?"
I think an Israeli reading that, even a conservative one, would probably find that rhetorical question absurd. The entire Israeli state was predicated on the idea of an alliance of Jews, local and international, plus whatever Soviet refugees could claim Jewish ancestry, who would take over an existing country by force.
Palestine was a British invention, just like so many of the borders in the Middle East. The argument over who has a "right" to the land is at this point irrelevant, as is any judgment over what side is the morally defensible one. Neither side is morally defensible. It is the quintessential Western mistake: treating every tribal war as though it were a war of ideology rather than race and religion.
It helps to think of these historical forces as tectonic plates crashing against each other. The seismic forces that changed Europe and the United States into what it is today have cooled somewhat, although they are still definitely in motion. In the hotspots of the Middle East, however, places where plates collide are still erupting. Some plates are getting subducted underneath others, slowly dying out or being assimilated.
This is what motivates conflict in these regions. They could care less about the battle between Capitalism and Communism. It was always about race and tribe and religion, and who owned what and who had slighted who.
Now we start to see why it is such a sticky, intractable problem. We have already put our fingers in it, by casting our die with Israel. We did this for various reasons, some religious, some sentimental, and some economic. The key factors that keep us from even contemplating getting out of this mess are still in place, chief among those a large Zionist lobby in the United States. Every day that the US continues to play high and mighty by choosing sides in an ethno-religious war for territory is another day we could be sucked into a costly war with Iran or be generally smeared for every bad PR photo ever taken of the IDF. Again, whether it is fair for the international community to guilt the US by association is not the question. It's all about perception.
"Israel then declared its border with Gaza to be an international frontier, meaning that it renounced any claim to the territory and considered it an independent entity.
In effect, Israel had created the first Palestinian state ever, something never granted by fellow Muslims - neither the Ottoman Turks nor the Egyptians who brutally occupied Gaza for two decades before being driven out by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War.
Israel wanted nothing more than to live in peace with this independent Palestinian entity. After all, the world had incessantly demanded that Israel give up land for peace.
It gave the land. It got no peace."
Here we see the difference that a simple choice of words can make. Where a pro-Israel supporter would see the Israelis as giving an incredibly generous concession to the ungrateful Palestinians, a pro-Palestinian would see the downtrodden and oppressed getting tossed the scraps and told to make due. The argument relies on the presupposition that all of this land belonged to the state of Israel anyway, and that they should be happy with whatever they get.
We also see some of the sympathy-mongering that both sides are engaging in. By using phrases like "many in the international media" and "the world demanded," we get the impression that Israel is a scrappy underdog fighting against the powers that be, a story that people with western, and especially American mentalities, eat up.
To the Palestinians, however, the Israelis are the powers that be, and the Palestinians are the scrappy underdogs trying to reclaim land that was stolen out from underneath them. To the Palestinians, any land that Israel has taken is theft, and so a statement like the one Krauthammer has just made is simply proof that history will not tell their version of the story should they lose, and provides an incitement to fight even harder.
To a Palestinian kid staring down the barrel of an abnormally short and extraordinarily bleak existence, dying an honorable death in the name of Allah and having his buddies shoot off guns at his funeral is like the western equivalent of rolling your 401K into your IRA and retiring to a condo in Boca Raton.
Then we have another statement that uses a favorite tactic of talking heads everywhere: begging the question. Besides ad homenim, this is a favorite tactic of people who don't know what they are talking about, because it is quite subtle to the layperson.
"They gave the land. They got no peace."
This statement assumes that any land swaps would result in peace, which is not the case. The truth is that nothing will bring peace in that region. No amount of haggling, no amount of ceasefires, treaties or deals will get either side to lay down their arms. The only way the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will come to an end is when the country is either ruled in its entirety by Muslims or by Jews. This is the mindset behind the transparent truces that are only breaks in which both combatants rearm and gear up for the next showdown, and it is the reason why so many people who are considered the hottest of hotshot statesmen in the West have put their brains to the problem and come away empty handed. Even Krauthammer seems to grasp this, in his own one-sided way:
"The Gaza Palestinians did not reciprocate. They voted in Hamas, who then took over in a military putsch and turned the newly freed Palestine into an armed camp from which to war against Israel. It has been war ever since.
"Interrupted by the occasional truce, to be sure. But for Hamas a truce - hudna - is simply a tactic for building strength for the next round. It is never meant to be enduring, never meant to offer peace."
Both the Israelis and the Palestinians know that this is an ethnic war, and unlike ideological wars, as long as there is a single true believer left standing on either side, the fighting will continue. In times past, this issue would have been solved like every ethnic conflict: removal of the enemy population, whether by genocide or by forcible relocation. In this new age of instant media, however, genocide does not look good, so the only feasible measure Israel has been able to take is to confine the Palestinians onto a sliver of land in the west which they make miserable beyond definition in the hopes that it will spark a mass emigration (it hasn't), and a larger block in the east which they seek to eventually overpopulate and eradicate by birthrate. Israel uses treaties the same way Iran does: to buy time while they get a little closer to their goals.
"But why, given that there is no occupation of Gaza anymore? Because Hamas considers all of Israel occupied, illegitimate, a cancer, a crime against humanity, to quote the leaders of Iran, Hamas's chief patron and arms supplier. Hamas's objective, openly declared, is to "liberate" - i.e., destroy - Tel Aviv and the rest of pre-1967 Israel. Indeed, it is Hamas's raison d'etre."
Here, Krauthammer has stumbled upon the truth without knowing it, but like any good shill, he picks himself up and hurries on quickly as though nothing had happened. You can almost see two pairs of pale fingers putting the quotes around "liberate." This is the trap that westerners fall into: assuming there is a "right" side in this bloody clash of civilizations.
The question now is, what is America going to do to avoid getting sucked in further? What can we do to remove ourselves from the situation? Not much. As stated previously, we've already thrown our lot in with Israel, assuming that they would win and win quickly. Like so many other flights of fancy by western powers dabbling in middle eastern affairs, the results didn't go cleanly one way or the other, which is kryptonite for any red-blooded, God-fearing American, to whom anything less than total victory is surrender. Now the conflict is festering, spreading discontent and ill will to all involved. The wisest course of action would be to gradually distance ourselves from Israel. The Jewish lobby won't like it, you can be certain of that; AIPAC will kick and scream that we are betraying our religious brothers-in-arms for an enemy that doesn't share our values. But the truth is that neither of them share our values. Neither of them enjoy the fact that we exist, and neither of them would care one whit for our friendship if it didn't mean the difference between victory and defeat. Bibi himself was recently caught on candid camera talking to a few of his constituents. Take note Americans. If nothing else in this article sticks, please let it be this exchange:
"Bibi:...The Arabs are currently focusing on a war of terror and they think it will break us. The main thing, first of all, is to hit them. Not just one blow, but blows that are so painful that the price will be too heavy to be borne. The price is not too heavy to be borne, now. A broad attack on the Palestinian Authority. To bring them to the point of being afraid that everything is collapsing...
"Woman: Wait a moment, but then the world will say 'how come you're conquering again?'
"Netanyahu: the world won't say a thing. The world will say we're defending.
"Woman: Aren't you afraid of the world, Bibi?
"Netanyahu: Especially today, with America. I know what America is. America is something that can easily be moved. Moved to the right direction.
"Child: They say they're for us, but, it's like...
"Netanyahu: They won't get in our way. They won't get in our way.
"Child: On the other hand, if we do some something, then they...
"Netanyahu: So let's say they say something. So they said it! They said it! 80% of the Americans support us. It's absurd. We have that kind of support and we say "what will we do with the..." Look. That administration [Clinton] was extremely pro-Palestinian. I wasn't afraid to maneuver there. I was not afraid to clash with Clinton. I was not afraid to clash with the United Nations. I was paying the price anyway, I preferred to receive the value. Value for the price.
"In the following segment, Bibi boasts about how he emptied the Oslo Accords of meaning by an interpretation that made a mockery of them:
"Woman: The Oslo Accords are a disaster.
"Netanyahu: Yes. You know that and I knew that...The people [nation] has to know...
"What were the Oslo Accords? The Oslo Accords, which the Knesset signed, I was asked, before the elections: 'Will you act according to them?' and I answered: 'yes, subject to mutuality and limiting the retreats.' 'But how do you intend to limit the retreats?' 'I'll give such interpretation to the Accords that will make it possible for me to stop this galloping to the '67 [armistice] lines. How did we do it?
"Narrator: The Oslo Accords stated at the time that Israel would gradually hand over territories to the Palestinians in three different pulses, unless the territories in question had settlements or military sites. This is where Netanyahu found a loophole.
"Netanyahu: No one said what defined military sites. Defined military sites, I said, were security zones. As far as I'm concerned, the Jordan Valley is a defined military site.
"Woman: Right [laughs]...The Beit She'an Valley.
"Netanyahu: How can you tell. How can you tell? But then the question came up of just who would define what Defined Military Sites were. I received a letter -- to me and to Arafat, at the same time -- which said that Israel, and only Israel, would be the one to define what those are, the location of those military sites and their size. Now, they did not want to give me that letter, so I did not give the Hebron Agreement. I stopped the government meeting, I said: 'I'm not signing.' Only when the letter came, in the course of the meeting, to me and to Arafat, only then did I sign the Hebron Agreement. Or rather, ratify it, it had already been signed. Why does this matter? Because at that moment I actually stopped the Oslo Accord.
"Woman: And despite that, one of our own people, excuse me, who knew it was a swindle, and that we were going to commit suicide with the Oslo Accord, gives them -- for example -- Hebron...
"Netanyahu: Indeed, Hebron hurts. It hurts. It's the thing that hurts. One of the famous rabbis, whom I very much respect, a rabbi of Eretz Yisrael, he said to me: "What would your father say?" I went to my father. Do you know a little about my father's position?
"...He's not exactly a lily-white dove, as they say. So my father heard the question and said: 'Tell the rabbi that your grandfather, Rabbi Natan Milikowski, was a smart Jew. Tell him it would be better to give two percent than to give a hundred percent. And that's the choice here. You gave two percent and in that way you stopped the withdrawal. Instead of a hundred percent.' The trick is not to be there and be broken. The trick is to be there and pay a minimal price."
I feel what I have said in my previous articles on Syria bears repeating: this is how war is waged in this part of the world. Not in battles or in wars, but in intensely personal conflicts that last for centuries. These are the tactics that define this war, as Bibi himself has said: getting the maximum payment for the minimum price. Israel is no more a friend to the United States of America than Palestine is, and it is high time the average American sees that before the consequences of picking sides in a religious and ethnic war we had no business intervening in comes back to haunt us.
Why was there war in Gaza? Im Yirtseh Hashem. Insha'Allah. Deus vult. There is, was, and will be war in Gaza because God wills it.