Israel charges, and the media dutifully reports, that the provocateurs are Hamas and other groups in Gaza, typically labeled “militants” or “Islamists” both code words for “terrorists”, unlike the more noble-sounding “rebels” or “resistance fighters” of Syria which the U.S. government supports. But the question of “who started it” is not a simple one.
The Gaza Strip has been under Israel’s control in some fashion for 47 years, but with suffocating intensity since 2007. Israel strictly limits travel in and out; controls the supplies that come in, including a ban on most construction materials; and prohibits virtually all exports, thus crippling the economy and triggering one of the highest poverty and unemployment rates in the Arab world. One could call such long-term, repressive conditions a continual provocation. (Pam Bailey in Mondoweiss)
Not only could, but should. The irony is exquisite. How can a people so abused throughout history be so apparently blind to their reversal of roles?
To anyone paying attention to the unending tragedy in Gaza, these periodic and apparently lunatic volleys of rocket fire into Israel are no surprise. And yet, as Bailey says, “It’s those Palestinian rockets that that are dominating the headlines [in the West], and that cause even normally sympathetic progressives to waffle in their condemnations of Israel’s ongoing collective punishment of the 1.7 million people corralled in Gaza.”
It’s easy for us in our comfort and security to quibble in this fashion. Firing rockets indiscriminately into civilian areas seems so pointless, so barbaric. It may be pointless, it may even be counterproductive (although the jury’s probably still out on that) but we do need to try to understand why it’s being done.
In a recent thread over at Sic Semper Tyrannis, a dear friend (responding to precisely this question: “WTF is Hamas doing? What is THEIR objective….”) summed up the emotional essence of this despairing strategy.
Hamas (and the Palestinians generally) are not in any position to consider strategy or tactics or options; for them it is just a question of how they choose to die: grovelling in the sand or fighting back, however hopelessly. Hamas and the people of Gaza have obviously chosen the latter course.
Just so. The general charge, however, is that they “started it” and that therefore the Israeli response (if perhaps a little “disproportionate”) is justified.
In the shorter term, the question of “who started it first” depends greatly on when you start the clock. Take any rocket attack from Gaza, and go back in time a few weeks or months. You’ll quickly find an Israeli act of aggression –raids, shootings or abductions. An example: The current rocket fire flared following the mass arrests and nine deaths of Palestinians in the West Bank, committed by Israeli forces in retaliation for the abduction of three Israeli settler youth. In the two weeks before that tragedy, however, Israeli forces abducted 17 teenage Palestinian boys in the occupied West Bank. The youngest was 13. Some were dragged at gunpoint from their homes and family under cover of dark; others were seized from the streets in broad daylight.
It’s a game of tit for tat, except one side is the world’s sixth largest arms exporter (11th in terms of “global firepower”) and the other an imprisoned slum with a poverty rate of 70 percent.
Violent responses to continued oppression and injustice are in any case, whether one likes it or not, the norm. Any oppressor must expect it. There is an irony here too.
However, many Haganah fighters objected to the official policy of havlagah (restraint) that Jewish political leaders had imposed on the militia. This policy appeared defeatist to many, who believed that the best defense is a good offense. In 1931, the more militant elements of the Haganah splintered off and formed the Irgun–a group widely labeled a terrorist organization and responsible for the murder of many civilian Palestinians as well as British soldiers. Perhaps their most famous attack was the bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, which served as headquarters for the British administration. Ninety-one were killed and 46 were injured. One of the Irgun leaders was Menachim Begin, who later became the sixth prime minister of the new state of Israel.
Is there any hope at all? I have my doubts but at least some Israelis are speaking out.
“The deterioration is first and foremost a result of the illusion that…the Palestinians will accept everything that’s done to them and won’t respond, despite the rage and frustration and the worsening economic situation,” writes Yuval Diskin, the chief of Israel’s internal security agency, the Shin Bet, from 2005 to 2011, in a Facebook post.
Gideon Levy, a columnist with the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, puts it even more bluntly: “What exactly are 1.5 million people supposed to live on? Is there anyone who can explain why the blockade, even if partial, of Gaza continues? Can anyone explain why its future is never discussed? Did we think that all this would continue and Gaza would accept it submissively? Anyone who thought so was a victim of dangerous delusions, and now we are all paying the price.”