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On the surface at least, it's pretty clear that Israel invaded the Gaza Strip on Thursday to destroy tunnels used by the militant group Hamas, which has fired thousands of rockets out of Gaza into Israel and which relies on those tunnels to access Israel and Egypt. But, surely, this won't destroy Hamas outright. The group will be able to dig more tunnels or will find other ways to resupply themselves. And Israel knows that — its stated objectives, notably, don't include ending Hamas's rule in Gaza. Meanwhile, more Israeli soldiers have died during the ground offensive than in any war since 2006. And many, many more Palestinians than Israelis have been killed. So what's the point of all this suffering? Why did Israel launch an invasion that will cost Israeli lives but likely only have a near-term impact on Hamas?
Answering that requires understanding how Israel thinks about military threats. For a long time, Israel has believed that it can't ever fully eliminate the threats to its survival: it can only manage them. That means using military power to deter attacks on Israel and, sometimes, going to war to punish and weaken enemies that Israel thinks pose a real threat.
This approach served Israel well for a time, or at least has worked enough to stave off total defeat. But the emphasis on managing problems over solving them can lead to short-term thinking, and it's not clear that the way this strategy has been applied to Hamas — euphemistically called "mowing the grass" — is really working. Here's a rundown of the past, present, and future of Israel's strategy, and how it helps explain the current Gaza offensive.
For most of Israel's existence, conventional Arab militaries, of countries such as Egypt and Syria, were its greatest threats. Think the three wars Israel fought against its Arab neighbors in 1948, 1967, and 1973.
During that period, Israel believed that Arab states wouldn't willingly accept Israel's continued existence, making an immediate peace deal impossible. Israel also knew it couldn't coerce its neighbors into signing a peace treaty by force. So the country developed an alternative approach to managing a threat it believed could not be immediately solved. Israel would have to live with a certain level of threat, it believed, but would use its military to occasionally weaken those threats and ensure they didn't ever reach truly existential proportions. The point of Israel's strategy was to ameliorate its security problems until a political solution to the threat from Arab states could be found.
"Israel's military doctrine has long been to cause damage to its enemies, without being able to take them over completely," Brent Sasley, a professor at the University of Texas at Arlington who studies Israeli politics, says. "Because it never could."
Israel applied this strategy to militant groups as well. "Israel has suffered from a terrorism problem since 1948," Daniel Byman, a professor at Georgetown, writes in an exhaustive study of Israeli counterterrorism's successes and failures. In Byman's assessment, Israel's approach to individual wars has "border[ed] on brilliant." Yet it "often blunders from crisis to crisis without a long-term plan for how to solve the problem once and for all." That's because, in Israeli strategic thought, many of these problems just can't be fully solved by military force.
The applies today. "Israelis see themselves as being under siege," Sasley says. "Hamas, like any of these other previous threats, needs to be managed. You can't defeat them completely. They need to be managed."
Obviously, Israel recognizes that the threats from groups like the Gaza-based militant group Hamas aren't the same as the Cold War-era threats it faced from Arab invasions. So it's developed a new version of its long-held threat management strategy, which is often called "mowing the grass." It's a pretty creepy term, as it implies that periodically killing people is the same as keeping your lawn groomed. But that's the basic analogy: Hamas, like grass, can't disappear, but it can be regularly cut down to size. And, like mowing the grass, it's implied that this is a routine that will be continued forever.
According to Efraim Inbar and Eitan Shamir, Israeli academics based at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, the basic difference between "mowing the grass" and Israel's old strategy is that the end-goal has changed. In the era of wars with Arab conventional armies, Israel hoped that eventually "a long and violent struggle, punctuated by decisive battlefield victories, could eventually lead Arab states to accept the notion of Israel's permanence." In other words, Israel believed that its threat-management strategy would eventually lead to peace, which in cases such as Egypt it did.
Israel does not believe the same thing today about applying this strategy to non-state militant groups. Israel sees Hamas and other militants as "implacable enemies, who want to destroy the Jewish state and there is very little Israel can do on the political front to mitigate this risk."
That thinking points to regular Israeli military assaults, like the Gaza invasion, designed to "cripple" Hamas' military capabilities such as its ability to launch rockets, without any regard to finding a political solution. Mowing the grass attacks are also, according to Inbar and Shamir, designed to make future wars less likely. The idea is that if Hamas is afraid of Israeli retaliation, it'll voluntarily reduce its rocket fire into Israel, thus requiring fewer "mowing the grass" attacks by the Israeli military.
Inbar and Shamir see this week's Gaza incursion as a textbook example of this strategy. Sasley sees things similarly. Israel, according to Sasley, wants "quiet." He believes that Israel would actually tolerate a number of rockets out of Gaza, so long as those rockets are not from Hamas, "they don't cause any damage, certainly don't kill any Israelis, and there's nothing else that requires a bigger response." Once that's happened, Israel will see — here's that stomach-churning metaphor again — the grass as cut down to an acceptable length (until it grows back, anyway).
Just for a moment, set aside whether "mowing the grass" is a morally acceptable strategy. Even on its own terms — enhancing Israeli security — does it work? Will the Gaza invasion actually make Israel more secure in the long-run?
That's far from clear. Israel's approach to Arab states worked, after a fashion, because it accomplished critical political ends. Some of Israel's greatest enemies, such as Egypt and Jordan, gave up on the quest to destroy Israel. They've even signed peace treaties with Israel, making the Jewish state far more secure than it was during the Cold War.
But there's no equivalent political endgame in mind here. Israel has no vision for how to "solve" the Hamas problem, which means rocket fire and periodic crises are inevitable for the foreseeable future. In both 2009 and 2012, Israel fought similar wars against Hamas, both designed to stop rocket fire out of Gaza. Yet here we are today.
"That horrible term, mowing the grass," Sasley says, is "a holding pattern. Israel doesn't have a national security strategy, it's never articulated one. That's the problem."
Hamas rocket fire isn't, in Sasley's view, an existential threat. What is, according to Sasley, is the country's continued inability to diplomatically resolve the dispute with the Palestinians. "The health of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state," he says, "can't survive the status quo" of Israeli occupation of the West Bank and blockade of Gaza.
According to Ariel Ilan Roth, executive director of the Israel Institute, mowing the grass makes Israel's Palestinian problem worse. The current Gaza invasion, he believes, helps Palestinians put international pressure on Israel to concede to more favorable terms:
Hamas has already won. It has shattered the necessary illusion for Israelis that a political stalemate with the Palestinians is cost-free for Israel. It has shown Israelis that, even if the Palestinians cannot kill them, they can extract a heavy psychological price. It has also raised the profile of the Palestinian cause and reinforced the perception that the Palestinians are weak victims standing against a powerful aggressor. Down the road, that feeling is sure to be translated into pressure on Israel, perhaps by politicians and certainly by social movements whose objective is to isolate Israel politically and damage it through economic boycotts.
Inbar and Shamir disagree. "Buying time is a legitimate goal," they write. "In the current strategic situation Hamas is isolated, making the rebuilding of its military assets a longer process. ... A war of attrition against Hamas is probably Israel's fate for the long term."
This debate won't be settled by the current round of fighting in Gaza. The only thing that's certain about the current round of fighting is that more people are going to die.
It's no secret that the discourse around Israel-Palestine inside the United States is typically a mess of screaming matches, miles-apart polarization, and total disagreement that extends even to the basic facts. There are many explanations; one of them is surely the extraordinarily narrow confines of the debate among leading American politicians. But there's also an especially pernicious kind of tribalism that pervades the Israel-Palestine debate within the US — one that turns issues of fact into tests that determine whether or not you're the right kind of person. It's about the least productive possible way to think about public policy, but, on Israel-Palestine, it's seemingly inescapable.
A wealth of experimental evidence demonstrates that political life makes everyone think worse. People tend to seek out information that proves their ideology to be Good and True, their enemies to be Bad and Wrong.
For instance, one famous study showed two groups of people identical write-ups of fake studies about the death penalty. People who believed the death penalty deterred crime uncritically accepted the research coming to that conclusion, but tried their best to poke holes in the study showing no deterrent effect. The reverse was true for those who didn't believe in death penalty deterrence. The point is that people weren't neutrally evaluating arguments. They're simply reasoning to the conclusion they want.
But it's so much worse on Israel-Palestine. There's a broad range of positions that one could have on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But everyone who works on the topic feels a lot of pressure to take on one of two basic tribal identities: pro-Israel or pro-Palestine. That's defined less by your position on policy than on your sympathies: whether you believe Israelis have wronged Palestinians more, or the other way around.
The pressure to pick sides is partly a result of the issue's incredibly high stakes. There's a metric ton of historical pain on both sides, and genuinely deep fear about the survival of both the Israeli and Palestinian people. The extraordinary significance of the conflict ossifies the camps: when the issue is so important and emotional, no one wants to give ground. Anything one says that helps one side's narrative is greeted warmly by its partisans, and denounced by its enemies. This creates a great deal of pressure to make one side your allies, and stick with them.
The research on partisan psychology has a good explanation of why this might be. A 2006 paper by Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels studied what happened when you asked Democrats and Republicans whether the deficit had gone down under Bill Clinton (it had, dramatically). Achen and Bartels found that better informed Republicans were more likely to get the question wrong than less-informed ones. A prior Bartels paper found that better-informed Democrats were likely to say inflation didn't decline when Reagan held office (it did). It looks like the more you know and care about a political topic, the more likely you are to try to ignore evidence that makes the other side look good.
Since American partisans tend to be so invested in the Israel-Palestine issue, you end up with a debate so tribal that even basic analytic issues become deeply, inextricably divisive.
Take, as an example, the long-ongoing debate in the US over "linkage." That's conflict-ese for the idea that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict makes other problems in the Middle East harder to solve. Linkage proponents say that the unresolved Israeli-Palestinian problem entrenches other Middle East problems, like violent Islamic extremism or the prevalence of dictatorship. Opponents say Israel-Palestine just isn't that big of a deal for other conflicts in the Middle East.
Logically, there's no reason why you have to accept linkage if you're critical of the Israeli occupation, or vice versa. Let's say you think Israel is in the right about basically everything in the conflict — Palestinians aren't partners for peace, the land is Jewish by right, the whole package. There's no reason, believing all of that, you couldn't recognize that many Arabs disagree. And that Arab frustration over the conflict contributes to bigger regional problems.
Conversely, it's entirely possible for someone who is highly critical of Israel to also reject linkage. Yet, when it comes to Israel-Palestine, Americans rarely if ever seem to hold such a set of viewpoints. Read through magazines and op-ed pages consumed by the Israel-Palestine debate, and it's obvious that linkage is a tribal issue. If you're "pro-Israel," then you almost never accept linkage. If you're "pro-Palestinian," then of course Israel's occupation is linked up with other Middle Eastern problems.
"The racist oppression and humiliation of Arabs in the Holy Land," former US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Chas Freeman says," is "at the root of regional instability." Ron Paul and Noam Chomsky argue that US support for Israel contributed to al-Qaeda's rise.
In the reverse, the conservative pro-Israel magazine Commentary frequently runs pieces disparaging linkage. They have titles like "Final Blow to anti-Israel Linkage Myths?" There are numerous other examples of pro-Israel writers denying linkage.
The ideological battle lines settle where they are, of course, because the public debate on linkage isn't a dispute about facts so much as a debate about blame. The question isn't whether the Israel-Palestine conflict has contributed to the growth of Islamist extremism; it's whether Israel is to "blame," in some small part, for 9/11. The point of the debate isn't to get to the truth of the matter. It's a quest in defense of your tribe's moral superiority.
Another example. Whenever a round of open warfare, like the fighting in Gaza we're currently seeing, breaks out, there's always over a dispute over who started it. Pro-Israel people blame Palestinians; pro-Palestinian people blame Israel. Of course, it's conceivably to say "Yes, Israel/Palestinians started the current round of fighting, but they were right to." But almost nobody ever does. That's because admitting your side fired the first shot is a subtle admission of moral culpability in many people's eyes. And your side, of course, is always right.
Adam Shatz, a well-respected left-wing journalist, has a wonderful piece on this issue in the most recent edition of The Nation. Shatz is a sharp critic of Israel, and he doesn't let up in this piece. "I have witnessed the occupation's horrors firsthand," he writes. "The subjugation of an entire people through a system of pervasive control and countless petty humiliations, always backed by the threat of violence; the confiscation not only of that people's land, but of its future."
But the real target of Shatz' new essay, though, is something he calls "Palestine-centrism." Shatz detects a tendency among his fellow leftists to wrongly lay all of the region's problems at the doorstep of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (and of the United States). Tracing the problem back to eminent Palestinian-American scholar Edward Said and his book Orientalism, Shatz argues that the left too-often misidentifies Israel or Western interference as the root cause of regional problems:
As the regional balance of power has shifted and American dominance wanes, I have begun to worry that an all-consuming preoccupation with America and Israel leads progressive writers to become strangely incurious about the crimes for which the West can't be blamed and the developments, such as the politicization of sectarian identity, that are shaking the region far more profoundly than the Israeli-Palestinian arena. This paradigm also leads them to belittle, or simply to overlook, what academics call "agency": the fact that people act in this region, and are not merely acted upon by more powerful external forces. And it has increasingly been my sense that much of the work Said inspired fails to examine the lived experience of people in the region; it often relegates much of that experience to silence, as if it were unworthy of attention or politically inconvenient.
Enormously liberating when it was developed, the critique of Orientalism has often resulted in a set of taboos and restrictions that inhibit critical thinking. They pre-emptively tell us to stop noticing things that are right under our noses, particularly the profound cleavages in Middle Eastern societies — struggles over class and sect, the place of religion in politics, the relationship between men and women; struggles that are only partly related to their confrontation with the West and with Israel. Indeed, it is sometimes only in those moments of confrontation that these very divided societies achieve a fleeting sense of unity.
The theoretical intricacy of academic anti-Orientalism, its hermetic and sophisticated language, sometimes conceals an attempt to wish away the region's dizzying complexity in favor of the old, comforting logic of anti-colonial struggle. Anti-Orientalism will continue to provide a set of critical tools and a moral compass, so long as it is understood as a point of departure, not a destination. Like all old maps, it has begun to yellow. It no longer quite describes the region, the up-ender of all expectations, the destroyer of all missionary dreams.
You could imagine a conservative version of Shatz making a similar argument chiding overly zealous defenders of Israel for simplifying the conflict. What's so refreshing about this is that it cuts through the typical fights over narrative and factual intricacies that suffuse the Israel-Palestine conversation. Each side's narrative is all-consuming; either you accept the right set of facts or you are punished as a deviationist.
This disagreement includes basic facts. How many civilians have Israeli military operations killed? How fast are the Israeli and Palestinian populations growing? Did Israel believe an Egyptian attack was imminent when it launched the Six-Day War in 1967? How much does the Israeli occupation hurt the Palestinian economy? There's an acceptable set of answers for each question, depending on which ideological camp you fall into.
This makes productive debate on Israel-Palestine essentially impossible. No one agrees on a set of shared facts, because agreeing to give ground on a factual issue means compromising on your side's moral superiority or policy prescriptions. How can you agree that the Palestinian population is growing faster than Israel's, to take one example, if you're fundamentally unwilling to accept that there is tension between Israel's status as a Jewish state and as a democracy?
Now, this doesn't mean that we should collapse into false equivalence. Sometimes, one of the two sides' narratives is just right. My colleague Max Fisher's piece on the West Bank occupation's essential, fundamental wrongness is a clear example of calling out one side's dissembling for what it is.
But dispelling myths about the conflict should help solve it. As things stand, the broken Israel-Palestine discourse admits little in the way of helpful policy thinking. Meantime, the situation on the ground in Israel-Palestine gets worse, and no one in the US seems to have any idea what to do about it.
Multiple air carriers have suspended service to Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport, which is by far the largest airport in Israel and acts as the international hub for the entire country. The decisions have come in reaction to at least one rocket, presumably launched by Palestinian militants in Gaza, landing near the airport. A Delta flight from New York to Tel Aviv was diverted to Paris because of the incident.
Presumably, this is at least in part a reaction to Malaysian Airlines flight MH17, which on Thursday was shot down over eastern Ukraine, and concerns about the safety of flying over conflict zones.
As Ha'aretz journalist Chemi Shalev explains, this has implications beyond just interrupting travel plans, given Israelis' sensitivities to how they and the conflict are perceived abroad:
Decision of American airlines to suspend flights hurts tourism and is psychological blow for Israel, deepening peoples' sense of isolation— Chemi Shalev (@ChemiShalev) July 22, 2014
Even if you see the joke coming, it's still pretty good. Jon Stewart begins to introduce a segment on the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict but on saying the word "Israel" is immediately shouted down by overly zealous supporters of Israel (what we in the business call "pro-Israel trolls") who accuse him of unfair double-standards, being a self-hating Jew, and so on. He says the word "Hamas" and is mobbed again, now told he supports the murder of Palestinian children and is a Zionist pig.
Just to be clear: this is a zero-exaggeration, 100 percent accurate portrayal of what it is like to cover Israel-Palestine during times of conflict.
An article about Palestinian casualties from Israeli air strikes is met with outraged accusations that the author hates Israel and secretly wishes for the deaths of Israelis; an article about Israelis suffering under Palestinian rocket fire is met with outraged accusations that the author hates Palestinians and is complicit in their deaths. On any given day during periods of conflict, the New York Times is accused of both.
To be clear, that's not to whine about how covering Israel can be difficult — Western journalists are obviously just bystanders in the conflict, which causes actual real-world harm to Israelis and Palestinians far beyond the mild annoyance of getting yelled at by people. But there is a serious point to be made here: starting and having an actual, reasonable public conversation about the conflict is made next to impossible by this effect, to the point that non-partisans have fewer opportunities to learn about it, and that partisans have almost no opportunity to discover the shades of grey, or god forbid the humanity of people on the "other side."
Why is the Israel-Palestine conversation so uniquely polarized, and so angry? There are many reasons: decades of enmity, broken agreements, and violence only explain so much. Partly, it's the stakes, which go beyond even the risks of death. Both sides see their very nation, and thus their identity, at danger of being wiped out, and they're not wrong. Both sides see themselves as the entrenched, encircled, endangered minority.
Crucially, both sides also believe that the world could be on the cusp of imposing an outcome either to their favor or disfavor; this sense of an imminent and decisive judgment from the outside world compels partisans on both ends to litigate their worldview as aggressively as possible. The fact that the world has not yet come around to your preferred side's obvious righteousness and moral superiority just proves that the media is unfairly skewing against you. And that makes shouting down any public conversation less 100 percent compliant to your worldview not just justified, but a moral imperative. Given that the outside world does play an important role in mediating the Israel-Palestine conflict, the fact that public discourse around it is broken has real-world implications way beyond just making it annoying for people in the media like Jon Stewart.
The fighting between Israeli forces and Gaza-based Palestinian militant groups such as Hamas has killed at least 445 people up through Sunday, of whom 425 are Palestinian. That's according to a tally compiled by the New York Times, gathering from United Nations, Palestinian, and Israeli sources.
Here is the death toll charted out by day since this round of violence began on July 8, with Israeli and Palestinian deaths distinguished:
For the first ten days, the fighting was limited to Israeli air strikes on Gaza and Palestinian rockets fired into Israel. On July 18, Israeli ground forces invaded Gaza, for the first time since early 2009. You can see the death toll increase significantly after that, among Palestinians as well as Israelis.
Deaths from the fighting were overwhelmingly Palestinian before the July 18 ground invasion, which Israel says is to shut down Hamas's system of underground tunnels into Israel (and possibly also its tunnels into Egypt). Two United Nations agencies estimated, in the week before the ground invasion, that 70 to 77 percent of the 160 Palestinian deaths up to that point were civilians.
The previous Israeli ground invasion of Gaza, in 2009, ended with nine Israeli deaths and 1,398 Palestinian deaths, according to the Israeli peace organization B'Tselem. It lasted for 22 days.
We'll keep this chart updated throughout the fighting so check back.
The ongoing war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza is the worst round of Israeli-Palestinian violence in five years. Here's a quick two-minute video that tells you how we got here — and what this terrible conflict says about the prospects for real peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
Israeli officials often make the point, when violence flares between Israel and the Gaza-based militant group Hamas as it is now, that only Hamas deliberately targets civilians. Israeli forces, they note, only target militants, and they have procedures to reduce civilian deaths, for example with "roof knocking" or by simply calling the house they are about to bomb and warning the occupants that they should leave immediately.
This is true enough. But even when those procedures work at saving civilians from dying in an air strike, they can still cause terrible suffering. Here, to convey what it feels like to have the Israeli Defense Forces call your home and tell you it will be bombed in minutes, is a message from a Gazan passed along by Palestinian-American filmmaker Annemarie Jacir:
This note is a reminder that the toll of the ongoing Israel-Gaza violence, and of the larger Israel-Palestine conflict that has gone on for so long, goes well beyond fatality counts. Families are touched by the conflict in numerous ways, often not well expressed in statistics. The decisions a parent has to make in the moments between an IDF phone call and an IDF bomb, and the dread of displacement, are among them.
Any policy that reduces civilian casualties is a good thing, but that does not make the conflict anywhere near cost-free for the many Palestinian civilians who are deeply affected by it. Thousands of Palestinians have been displaced by the fighting so far, and with few safe places to go leaving home is often just the beginning.
The Gaza conflict didn't have to go this way. On July 15th, two days before Israel began its sure-to-be bloody ground invasion of Gaza, Egypt proposed a plan for an indefinite ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. Israel accepted it. Hamas' political leadership was considering it. But Hamas fighters kept firing rockets, which convinced the Israeli leadership that the cease fire wouldn't hold. Israel resumed military operations six hours later.
Why did the ceasefire fall apart and fighting resume? According to one journalist who's spent years covering Gaza, the answer partly has to do with Hamas' military branch, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades. He argued that they really believe — despite all evidence to the contrary — that they can defeat Israel through sheer force of arms. That makes Hamas more likely to choose war, even when it's (in rational terms) for both sides.
Shlomi Eldar, a well-respected Israeli reporter who has extensive first-hand experience with Hamas, argues in his new al-Monitor column that there's a clear divide between Hamas' political and military leadership. Hamas' political leaders "are not beholden to too many delusions," Eldar writes. "The reality and the balance of power between Gaza and Israel is clear to them." In other words, they get that Israel has a stronger military.
But the story is different for the Qassam Brigades, the militant wing, which the political wing can't always control. "Hamas militants have forgotten that across the Erez crossing [with Israel] there's a country with a larger, more sophisticated army, with capabilities that are beyond comparison with Gaza's."
It's not that the Hamas political wing opposes fighting Israel at all. Far from it. Rather, they've long supported an approach Eldar calls "controlled violence" — an idea that military struggle against Israel needs to coexist with political operations at home, and sometimes the needs of the political struggle dictate limiting military operations. "The military wing," Eldar concludes, "has ignored the concept," opting for direct combat against Israel whenever possible.
Why are the military and political wings so far apart? Eldar, in a fascinating passage, suggests its a matter of age and experience. The older political leadership knows Israel, and its strengths, better. The younger Qassam fighters don't have that experience and overestimate the feasibility of military force as a result:
In the past, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians worked in Israel, learned its language, got to know its culture and even formed ties of friendship with their Israeli employers. In the course of the second intifada and Hamas' rise to power, these ties have all been severed. The older generation found itself unemployed and without income and the youth found work with the militant wing of Hamas and the other organizations (Islamic Jihad as well as the popular resistance committees).
These young men, who have not once in their lives left the borders of the Gaza Strip and have never seen Israel, have been fed the stories of the wonders of the Palestinian rocket, which was developed in Gaza's workshops and can shake Israel. The stories of the glory of Hamas have been impressed well in the young recruits and the doctrine that has been so deeply etched in them has given them the feeling, or the delusion, that salvation could be gained through the rockets that have been developed in Gaza.
The major takeaway here is that it's impossible to understand the Hamas-Israel dynamics without looking at Hamas' internal politics. Hamas doesn't make decisions as a monolith. And while internal Hamas politics are more subtle than a stark military-political binary, there's an essential fault line there — one that seems to have played a big role in escalating the current crisis.
Anyway, Eldar's whole column is fascinating. You should read the whole thing.
President Obama's Friday press conference focused on the Malaysia Airlines flight shot down over Ukraine. But there was a short aside on Israel's ground incursion into Gaza, which began Thursday, including this really interesting paragraph at the end:
I also made clear that the United States and our friends and allies are deeply concerned about the risks of further escalation and the loss of more innocent life. And that's why we've indicated although we support military efforts by the Israelis to make sure that rockets are not being fired into their territory, we also have said that our understanding is the current military ground operations are designed to deal with the tunnels.
It's hard to read that, especially the last clause, as anything other than a subtle admonition to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to keep the ground operation limited. Here's why, and how it fits into the bigger picture of the Israel-Gaza fighting.
Israel says the central goal of its operation in Gaza is to destroy "terror tunnels" built by Hamas into Israel. That means tunnels under the Israel-Gaza border that could be used by Hamas or other Palestinian groups to sent gunmen or suicide bombers into Israel.
But there's a basic tension between Israel's tactical and strategic goals in Gaza. The broader aim, according to the prime minister's office, is to "to restore quiet and safety to Israelis for a long time to come, while significantly harming the infrastructure of Hamas and other terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip."
Tunnels into Israel aren't the predominant way that militants in Gaza attack Israel; rocket fire is. In infrastructure terms, Hamas' tunnels into Israel are way less important than its tunnels into Egypt, from which it supplies itself. So if Israel wants to achieve its stated strategic goals, it would need to expand its tactical goals well beyond tunnels into Israel. But Obama doesn't seem to want Israel to do that.
An operation to destroy tunnels into Israel would be way more limited than an operating aiming to cripple Hamas' entire military and resupply operation. The tunnels that go into Israel are near the border and limited in number, but Hamas' infrastructure is extensive and spread throughout the Strip.
What Obama seems to be implying with his statement on Friday is that any escalation beyond tunnels would unacceptably risk "the loss of more limited life." In other words: the US will tolerate or even support what Israel is doing right now, but the more that the ground operation expands into a broader, Gaza-wide, anti-Hamas campaign, the less comfortable America will be.
As far as diplomatic warnings go, this is a very oblique one. There's no threat of consequences or punishment for the Israeli government. Presumably, Obama said more in his private conversation with Netanyahu today than he did in a public conference. Still, in Israeli-American relations, even subtle signals carry big meanings. And Obama seems to be subtly, but surely, telling Netanyahu that America does not want to see an extended ground war in Gaza.
A common theory for why arriving at a peaceful settlement in Israel and Palestine is so difficult is that each violent provocation tends to promote hawks on the other side. That makes intuitive sense, but in the Israeli case at least, there's solid social science to back it up. According to new political science research, when Palestinian groups in Gaza launch rockets into Israel, Israeli popular support for right-wing parties spikes in affected areas, even though such attacks are rarely lethal.
In a forthcoming article in the American Political Science Review (which they summarize at The Monkey Cage here), Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya's Anna Getmansky and American University's Thomas Zeitzoff find that "the effect of being in the rockets’ range is an increase of 2 to 6 percentage points in the right-wing vote-share" in the affected areas. This effect isn't present for right-wing parties as a whole when they're in power. But Likud specifically, which is the largest conservative party and the head of the current governing coalition, gains 2 percentage points in the affected area regardless of whether or not it's in power. Likud is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's party.
Because the rockets' ranges have grown considerably over time, the importance of this effect has been growing. In 2003, only about 1 percent of Israel's population was in rocket attack range. By 2009, around 14 percent was:
The range has grown even more since then; a number have flown near Tel Aviv since the latest fighting began. Given that rocket strikes are frequent but most don't result in fatality of injury, Getmansky and Zeitzoff conclude that "experiencing an attack is not necessary to influence voting, and … voting could be also affected by the mere threat of being a target."
Prior research on the topic by economists at Hebrew University has suggested that Palestinian suicide terrorism increases support for right-wing parties. A 2008 paper by Claude Berrebi and Esteban Klor found that "the occurrence of a terror attack in a given locality within three months of the elections causes an increase of 1.35 percentage points on that locality’s support for the right bloc of political parties out of the two blocs vote."
However, a 2010 paper by Klor and Eric Gould complicates the research. It found that while suicide attacks increase support for right-wing parties, they also spur those parties to move to the left on the issue, and that the sum effect is to "move the Israeli electorate towards a more accommodating stance regarding the political objectives of the Palestinians." A big caveat is in order, though. That study tracked opinion and voting patterns from 1988 to 2006, which is an inauspicious year to conclude. That's before Hamas battled Fatah to take over Gaza in 2007, before the Israel-Gaza wars in late 2008-2009 and November 2012, and before the current conflict. While the moderating effect of attacks may have held up until 2014, it's hard to argue that attacks during Netanyahu's current premiership have lead him to soften his stance much.
Interestingly, the effect of Israeli violence — which has resulted in dramatically more casualties than Palestinian violence has over the course of the conflict — on Palestinian public opinion seems to be more subtle. There are some signs of a similar dynamic at work; in 2009, support for Hamas among Palestinians grew considerably following Israel's attack on Gaza in late 2008-2009, which produced huge numbers of Palestinian casualties. But a study by Klor, CUNY's David Jaeger, Tel Aviv University's Sami Miaari, and the Boston University's Daniele Paserman found that while "the average member of the Palestinian population holds more radical positions immediately after the occurrence of a Palestinian fatality in their district of residence … This effect is temporary and vanishes completely within 90 days. As a consequence, the overall effect of Palestinian fatalities is not statistically significant."
The researchers do find evidence that Palestinian views of the conflict are affected by the era in which they grew up; those who came of age during the First Intifada of the late 1980s, which saw largely non-violent Palestinian resistance violently put down by the Israeli military, hold less conciliatory views than those who came of age during the Oslo Peace Process of the mid-1990s, for example. But it's interesting that political backlash to attacks is easier to detect among Israelis than it is among Palestinians.
Almost everything about Israel and Palestine is controversial, but you actually don't hear much in the United States about the American government's direct involvement in the conflict. But after a number of years in which war-related spending pushed Iraq and Afghanistan to the top of the list, in the Fiscal Year 2015 foreign assistance request Israel is returning to its long-time state as America's #1 recipient of aid:
But this somewhat understates things, since many fewer people live in Israel than in Nigeria. In per capita terms, Israel's lead is positively enormous:
This is particularly striking because compared to those other countries, Israel is quite rich:
This all tells us something about the conflict, but also a lot about American foreign aid.
Even Egypt and Pakistan are not, in the grand scheme of things, particularly poor countries. It's just that American foreign aid mostly isn't economic assistance to needy people or needy countries. If it were, India would get more aid than Israel and Haiti would get more aid than Egypt.
Instead, the bulk of the money is spent on buying American military equipment, serving as a kind of indirect subsidy to the military-industrial complex. That's part of how a country like Israel that isn't objectively hard-up for money winds up getting more assistance than anyone else. Israel does have a healthy appetite for advanced military hardware, and it's considered a geopolitically reliable nation that can be trusted with it. So American foreign policy is committed to helping Israel maintain a qualitative military advantage vis-à-vis other Middle Eastern countries. Meanwhile, part of the Carter-era Camp David Accords is a guarantee of a lot of money to the Egyptian military to keep it favorably disposed to a pro-American foreign policy and détente with Israel.
Israel announced a ground offensive into Gaza on Thursday afternoon, which it has already commenced. It's a major escalation in the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. It's also the first major Israeli ground incursion into Gaza since the 2008-2009 war between Israel and Hamas. Here's what's happening and why Israel is doing it.
The Gaza Strip is one of two Palestinian territories; the other is the West Bank. Hamas, an Islamist political group, took control of Gaza in 2007, splitting the Palestinian leadership (Fatah, a more moderate party, controls the West Bank). Despite an Israeli blockade of Gaza that strictly limits the movement in or out of people or or vital goods, Hamas has remained in firm control of the Strip.
Israel and Hamas have clashed frequently since shortly after the group was founded in 1987, and the tension between them has escalated into outright war several times since 2007. The current crisis began with the kidnapping of three Israeli students in the West Bank on June 10th, who were found murdered. Israel blamed Hamas, and arrested a number of Hamas operatives. Israel also hit Gaza with airstrikes, and Palestinian militant groups fired rockets into Israel.
Later, a Palestinian boy in Jerusalem was murdered, allegedly by Israeli extremists retaliating for the murder of the students, and another Palestinian was beaten in Israeli custody. Palestinian anger at Israel increased considerably. There had been sporadic rocket fire from Gaza throughout the crisis, but Hamas launched a wave of 40 rockets on July 8th, for which it claimed responsibility for the first time since 2012. Then Israel launched more strikes in Gaza, as part of what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said was an effort to make Hamas "pay a heavy price."
By July 11th, 100 Palestinians had been killed in about 1000 Israeli airstrikes. Roughly 700 rockets had been fired by Palestinians, making this easily the most significant escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since the 2012 Gaza war. By July 14th, the total casualties had exceeded the 2012 conflict. Currently, at least 230 Palestinians and one Israeli have been killed.
Because of the Israeli blockade, Hamas maintains a network of tunnels designed to smuggle in military equipment and civilian goods. The tunnels generally cross to the Egyptian side of the border with Gaza, but on Thursday, Israel claims to have foiled a Hamas incursion into Israel through a tunnel that passed into Israel.
The move, which came after both sides agreed to a temporary UN-brokered cease fire, is the immediate justification for the ground incursion. "The prime minister and the defense minister have ordered the IDF to begin a ground operation in order to damage the underground terror tunnels constructed in Gaza leading into Israeli territory," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said in a statement. Israeli Defense Force sources say the primary goal will be to shut down the tunnels that allow Hamas entry to Israel in the eastern part of Gaza.
According to Netanyahu, the objectives of the incursion do go beyond shutting down the tunnels into Israel. The operation is designed, he says, "to restore quiet and safety to Israelis for a long time to come, while significantly harming the infrastructure of Hamas and other terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip."
It's possible this will expand to targeting the western tunnels into Egypt as well. Egypt's military government, no fans of Hamas, had earlier cracked down on the Gaza tunnels under its border, shutting down many of them. It also heavily restricts traffic through the Rafah crossing on the Egyptian border, the only above-ground route into Gaza Israel doesn't control one side of.
This makes Hamas more uniquely vulnerable to an offensive right now, as it's having trouble resupplying. One of the major reasons Israel was considering a ground offensive in Gaza before Thursday morning, according to a senior IDF official, was to shut down Hamas supply tunnels. It's possible that when Netanyahu says "infrastructure," he also means the supply tunnels.
Israel's last ground offensive in Gaza began on January 3rd, 2009, during the 2008-2009 Gaza war, which Israel calls operation Cast Lead. Like the current operation, the previous ground invasion was preceded by air strikes. It was also particularly bloody — the very tallest spike in the chart below is Israeli and Palestinian casualties during the two worst months of the conflict.
Some of that bloodiness, according to Georgetown University's Daniel Byman, was due to greater Israeli willingness to fire artillery and other imprecise weapons into densely populated areas during ground operations. "The contrast with previous operations is striking," Byman wrote in a 2011 book. "The IDF took great pride in not using artillery during the 2002 fighting in Jenin because of the risk to civilian casualties, but in Cast Lead they used artillery and otherwise were more willing to risk civilian lives."
The purpose of those risks in 2008-2009, according to Byman, was to avoid a repeat of its disastrous 2006 invasion of Lebanon, where the IDF stalled out against the vastly weaker Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. Whether IDF rules of engagement will be closer to Cast Lead or previous Israeli military operations remains to be seen.
Cast Lead failed to dislodge Hamas from Gaza. It did, however, successfully reduce rocket fire for a time. However, the rockets game back, and Israel bombed Gaza in 2012 again to try to put an end to rocket fire. And, yet, here we are again.
About an hour after Israeli ground forces entered Gaza, the first invasion of the Hamas-controlled territory since 2009, there is already one unconfirmed report of "dozens" of new deaths in the fighting.
That's from Israeli reporter Alon Ben-David of Israel's Channel 10, who tweeted in Hebrew that there had been "dozens of deaths" in the first hour of the operation, according to Palestinian sources.
Before today's Israeli incursion began, ten days of fighting between Israel and Gaza-based militants had already killed at least 235 Palestinians and one Israeli. That fighting has consisted of Israeli air strikes into Gaza and Palestinian rockets fired into Israel. Last week, when the death toll was about 130 Palestinians, two different UN agencies estimated that between 70 and 77 percent of those killed were civilians.
Israel's previous invasion of Gaza, in early 2009, was part of two months of brutal fighting that killed 13 Israelis and between about 1,100 and 1,400 Palestinians (counts differ).
It is not yet clear whether this Israeli invasion will go as far or be as sustained as 2009's; Israel says it is aiming just to destroy Hamas-run tunnels that connect the Gaza Strip to Israel and could be used for smuggling and to launch terrorist attacks against Israelis. Still, at any scale, it seems likely that a number of Palestinian civilians will be vulnerable to the violence.
A United Nations agency dedicated to helping Palestinians discovered 20 rockets hidden in one of its Gaza Strip schools on Wednesday, according to an alarmed press release from the agency. Palestinian militant groups such as Hamas dominate Gaza and use rockets as a tool to terrorize nearby Israelis.
"This is a flagrant violation of the inviolability of its premises under international law," said the release from the agency, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). "This incident, which is the first of its kind in Gaza, endangered civilians including staff and put at risk UNRWA's vital mission to assist and protect Palestine refugees in Gaza."
Israel has long accused Gaza-based Palestinian militant groups such as Hamas of using schools and other civilian buildings to store weapons and from which to launch rockets at Israel. Israel's argument has been that this demonstrates Hamas's disregard for Palestinian civilians, justifies Israeli air strikes on civilian buildings that are used in this way by Hamas, and shifts the blame for Palestinian civilian deaths off of Israel and onto Hamas.
Both Hamas's use of civilian Palestinian buildings and Israel's strikes against those buildings are highly controversial, and rightly so. It would be understating things pretty dramatically to say that this an aspect of the Israel-Hamas conflict where both sides are behaving badly. But that does not make them equivalent.
Only the people responsible can know for sure why Palestinian militants would use civilian buildings, but any real possibility is bad. Maybe militant groups use civilian buildings like this UN school simply because they don't mind the danger this creates for the Palestinians they claim to protect. Maybe it's because they are hoping that the rockets will be safer in a UN school because Israel won't want to bomb it, which means using Palestinians kids and teachers as human shields. An argument you hear from Hamas's harshest critics is that they are hoping Israel will target the schools, thus rallying people to their side.
None of these speaks well of militant groups or the effects of their rocket campaigns on Palestinian civilians. It is not a great secret that "resistance" campaigns by groups like Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad bring far greater harm to Palestinian civilians than they do anything resembling liberation, but this incident is a small glimpse of how, and of the effects of militant groups firing hundreds of rockets into Israel from densely populated neighborhoods in Gaza.
Here's the thing, though: while incidents like this force Israel to decide between bombing civilian structures or allowing Hamas to use those structures as rocket storage depots, it does not actually force Israel to choose to bomb civilian buildings. It is entirely within Israel's power to not bomb civilian buildings.
Israel has overwhelming military superiority in the conflict, and while that does not make Hamas rockets disappear or obviate their very real effects on Israeli civilians, Israel is strong enough to choose not to bomb a mosque and a center for the disabled in Gaza, as it did on July 12. It can choose not to bomb Gaza beaches frequented by civilians, as it did on Wednesday, killing four boys between the ages of 9 and 11.
There is no indication that Israel deliberately targets civilians, as Hamas does. But Israeli air strikes in Gaza, targeting Hamas and other militant groups that choose to embed themselves among civilians, kill an overwhelming number of Palestinian civilians. Last week, two UN agencies separately estimated that 70 to 77 percent of the Palestinian deaths have been civilians. Human Rights Watch on Wednesday accused Israel of "targeting apparent civilian structures and killing civilians in violation of the laws of war."
This is the one thing that both Hamas and Israel seem to share: a willingness to adopt military tactics that will put Palestinian civilians at direct risk and that contribute, however unintentionally, to the deaths of Palestinian civilians. Partisans in the Israel-Palestine conflict want to make that an argument over which "side" has greater moral culpability in the continued killings of Palestinian civilians. And there is validity to asking whether Hamas should so ensconce itself among civilians in a way that will invite attacks, just as there is validity to asking why Israel seems to show so little restraint in dropping bombs over Gaza neighborhoods. But even that argument over moral superiority ultimately treats those dying Palestinian families as pawns in the conflict, tokens to be counted for or against, their humanity and suffering so easily disregarded
Everyone has heard of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Everyone knows it's bad, that it's been going on for a long time, and that there is a lot of hatred on both sides.
But you may find yourself less clear on the hows and the whys of the conflict. Why, for example, did Israel begin invading the Palestinian territory of Gaza on Thursday, after 10 days of air strikes that killed at least 235 Palestinians, many of them civilians? Why is the militant Palestinian group Hamas firing rockets into civilian neighborhoods in Israel? How did this latest round of violence start in the first place — and why do they hate one another at all?
What follows are the most basic answers to your most basic questions. Giant, neon-lit disclaimer: these issues are complicated and contentious, and this is not an exhaustive or definitive account of Israel-Palestine's history or the conflict today. But it's a place to start.
That sounds like a very basic question but, in a sense, it's at the center of the conflict.
Israel is an officially Jewish country located in the Middle East. Palestine is a set of two physically separate, ethnically Arab and mostly Muslim territories alongside Israel: the West Bank, named for the western shore of the Jordan River, and Gaza. Those territories are not independent (more on this later). All together, Israel and the Palestinian territories are about as populous as Illinois and about half its size.
Officially, there is no internationally recognized line between Israel and Palestine; the borders are considered to be disputed, and have been for decades. So is the status of Palestine: some countries consider Palestine to be an independent state, while others (like the US) consider Palestine to be territories under Israeli occupation. Both Israelis and Palestinians have claims to the land going back centuries, but the present-day states are relatively new.
This is not, despite what you may have heard, primarily about religion. On the surface at least, it's very simple: the conflict is over who gets what land and how it is controlled. In execution, though, that gets into a lot of really thorny issues, like: Where are the borders? Can Palestinian refugees return to their former homes in present-day Israel? More on these later.
The decades-long process of resolving that conflict has created another, overlapping conflict: managing the very unpleasant Israeli-Palestinian coexistence, in which Israel has put the Palestinians under suffocating military occupation and Palestinian militant groups terrorize Israelis.
Those two dimensions of the conflict are made even worse by the long, bitter, violent history between these two peoples. It's not just that there is lots of resentment and distrust; Israelis and Palestinians have such widely divergent narratives of the last 70-plus years, of what has happened and why, that even reconciling their two realities is extremely difficult. All of this makes it easier for extremists, who oppose any compromise and want to destroy or subjugate the other site entirely, to control the conversation and derail the peace process.
The peace process, by the way, has been going on for decades, but it hasn't looked at all hopeful since the breakthrough 1993 and 1995 Oslo Accords produced a glimmer of hope that has since dissipated. The conflict has settled into a terrible cycle and peace looks less possible all the time.
Something you often hear is that "both sides" are to blame for perpetuating the conflict, and there's plenty of truth to that. There has always been and remains plenty of culpability to go around, plenty of individuals and groups on both sides that squandered peace and perpetuated conflict many times over. Still, perhaps the most essential truth of the Israel-Palestine conflict today is that the conflict predominantly matters for the human suffering it causes. And while Israelis certainly suffer deeply and in great numbers, the vast majority of the conflict's toll is incurred by Palestinian civilians. Just above, as one metric of that, are the Israeli and Palestinian conflict-related deaths every month since late 2000.
The conflict has been going on since the early 1900s, when the mostly-Arab, mostly-Muslim region was part of the Ottoman Empire and, starting in 1917, a "mandate" run by the British Empire. Hundreds of thousands of Jews were moving into the area, as part of a movement called Zionism among mostly European Jews to escape persecution and establish their own state in their ancestral homeland. (Later, large numbers of Middle Eastern Jews also moved to Israel, either to escape anti-Semitic violence or because they were forcibly expelled.)
Communal violence between Jews and Arabs in British Palestine began spiraling out of control. In 1947, the United Nations approved a plan to divide British Palestine into two mostly independent countries, one for Jews called Israel and one for Arabs called Palestine. Jerusalem, holy city for Jews and Muslims, was to be a special international zone.
The plan was never implemented. Arab leaders in the region saw it as European colonial theft and, in 1948, invaded to keep Palestine unified. The Israeli forces won the 1948 war, but they pushed well beyond the UN-designated borders to claim land that was to have been part of Palestine, including the western half of Jerusalem. They also uprooted and expelled entire Palestinian communities, creating about 700,000 refugees, whose descendants now number 7 million and are still considered refugees.
The 1948 war ended with Israel roughly controlling the territory that you will see marked on today's maps as "Israel"; everything except for the West Bank and Gaza, which is where most Palestinian fled to (many also ended up in refugee camps in neighboring countries) and are today considered the Palestinian territories. The borders between Israel and Palestine have been disputed and fought over ever since. So has the status of those Palestinian refugees and the status of Jerusalem.
That's the first major dimension of the conflict: reconciling the division that opened in 1948. The second began in 1967, when Israel put those two Palestinian territories under military occupation.
This is a hugely important part of the conflict today, especially for Palestinians.
Israel's military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza began in 1967. Up to that point, Gaza had been (more or less) controlled by Egypt and the West Bank by Jordan. But in 1967 there was another war between Israel and its Arab neighbors, during which Israel occupied the two Palestinian territories. (Israel also took control of Syria's Golan Heights, which it annexed in 1981, and Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, which it returned to Egypt in 1982.)
Israeli forces have occupied and controlled the West Bank ever since. It withdrew its occupying troops and settlers from Gaza in 2005, but maintains a full blockade of the territory, which has turned Gaza into what human rights organizations sometimes call an "open-air prison" and has pushed the unemployment rate up to 40 percent.
Israel says the occupation is necessary for security given its tiny size: to protect Israelis from Palestinian attacks and to provide a buffer from foreign invasions. But that does not explain the settlers.
Settlers are Israelis who move into the West Bank. They are widely considered to violate international law, which forbids an occupying force from moving its citizens into occupied territory. Many of the 500,000 settlers are just looking for cheap housing; most live within a few miles of the Israeli border, often in the around surrounding Jerusalem.
Others move deep into the West Bank to claim land for Jews, out of religious fervor and/or a desire to see more or all of the West Bank absorbed into Israel. While Israel officially forbids this and often evicts these settlers, many are still able to take root.
In the short term, settlers of all forms make life for Palestinians even more difficult, by forcing the Israeli government to guard them with walls or soldiers that further constrain Palestinians. In the long term, the settlers create what are sometimes called "facts on the ground": Israeli communities that blur the borders and expand land that Israel could claim for itself in any eventual peace deal.
The Israeli occupation of the West Bank is all-consuming for the Palestinians who live there, constrained by Israeli checkpoints and 20-foot walls, subject to an Israeli military justice system in which on average two children are arrested every day, stuck with an economy stifled by strict Israeli border control, and countless other indignities large and small.
Music breaks like this are usually an opportunity to step back and appreciate the aspects of a people and culture beyond the conflict that has put them in the news. And it's true that there is much more to Israelis and Palestinians than their conflict. But music has also been a really important medium by which Israelis and Palestinians deal with and think about the conflict. The degree to which the conflict has seeped into Israel-Palestinian music is a sign of how deeply and pervasively it effects Israelis and Palestinians.
Above, from the wealth of Palestinian hip-hop is the group DAM, whose name is both an acronym for Da Arabian MCs and the Arabic verb for "to last forever." The group has been around since the late 1990s and are from the Israeli city of Lod, Israeli citizens who are part of the country's Arab minority. The Arab Israeli experience, typically one of solidarity with Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza and a sense that Arab-Israelis are far from equal in the Jewish state, comes through in their music, which is highly political and deals with themes of disenfranchisement and dispossession in the great tradition of American hip-hop.
Christiane Amanpour interviewed DAM about their music last year. Above is their song "I Don't Have Freedom," full English lyrics of which are here, from their 2007 album Dedication. Sample line: "We've been like this more than 50 years / Living as prisoners behind the bars of paragraphs /Of agreements that change nothing."
Now here is a sample of Israel's wonderful jazz scene, one of the best in the world, from the bassist and band leader Avishai Cohen. Cohen is best known in the US for his celebrated 2006 instrumental album Continuo, but let's instead listen to the song "El Hatzipor" from 2009's Aurora.
The lyrics are from an 1892 poem of the same name, meaning "To the Bird," by the Ukrainian Jewish poet Hayim Nahman Bialik. The poem (translated here) expresses the hopeful yearning among early European Zionists like Bialik to escape persecution in Europe and find salvation in the holy land; that it still resonates among Israelis over 100 years later is a reminder of both the tremendous hopes invested in the dream of a Jewish state, and perhaps the sense that this dream is still not secure.
On the surface, this is just the latest round of fighting in 27 years of war between Israel and Hamas, a Palestinian militant group that formed in 1987 seeks Israel's destruction and is internationally recognized as a terrorist organization for its attacks targeting civilians — and which since 2006 has ruled Gaza. Israeli forces periodically attack Hamas and other militant groups in Gaza, typically with air strikes but in 2006 and 2009 with ground invasions.
The latest round of fighting was sparked when members of Hamas in the West Bank murdered three Israeli youths who were studying there on June 10. Though the Hamas members appear to have acted without approval from their leadership, which nonetheless praised the attack, Israel responded by arresting large numbers of Hamas personnel in the West Bank and with air strikes against the group in Gaza.
After some Israeli extremists murdered a Palestinian youth in Jerusalem and Israeli security forces cracked down on protests, compounding Palestinian outrage, Hamas and other Gaza groups launched dozens of rockets into Israel, which responded with many more air strikes. So far the fighting has killed one Israeli and 230 Palestinians; two UN agencies have separately estimated that 70-plus percent of the fatalities are civilians. On Thursday, July 17, Israeli ground forces invaded Gaza, which Israel says is to shut down tunnels that Hamas could use to cross into Israel.
That get backs to that essential truth about the conflict today: Palestinian civilians endure the brunt of it. While Israel targets militants and Hamas targets civilians, Israel's disproportionate military strength and its willingness to target militants based in dense urban communities means that Palestinians civilians are far more likely to be killed than any other group.
But those are just the surface reasons; there's a lot more going on here as well.
The simple version is that violence has become the status quo and that trying for peace is risky, so leaders on both ends seem to believe that managing the violence is preferable, while the Israeli and Palestinian publics show less and less interest in pressuring their leaders to take risks for peace.
Hamas's commitment to terrorism and to Israel's destruction lock Gazans into a conflict with Israel that can never be won and that produces little more than Palestinian civilian deaths. Israel's blockade on Gaza, which strangles economic life there and punishes civilians, helps produce a climate that is hospitable to extremism, and allows Hamas to nurture a belief that even if Hamas may never win, at least refusing to put down their weapons is a form of liberation.
Many Palestinians in Gaza naturally compare Hamas to Palestinian leaders in the West Bank, who have emphasized peace and compromise and negotiations — only to have been rewarded with an Israeli military occupation that shows no sign of ending and ever-expanding settlements. This is not to endorse that logic, but it is not difficult to see why some Palestinians might conclude that violent "resistance" is preferable.
That sense of Palestinian hopelessness and distrust in Israel and the peace process has been a major contributor to violence in recent years. In the early 2000s, there was also a lot of fighting between Israel and Palestinians in the West Bank. This was called the Second Intifada (uprising), and followed a less-violent Palestinian uprising against the occupation in the late 1980s. In the Second Intifada, which was the culmination of Palestinian frustration with the failure of the 1990s peace process, Palestinian militants adopted suicide bombings of Israeli buses and other forms of terror. Israel responded with a severe military crack-down. The fighting killed approximately 3,200 Palestinians and 1,100 Israelis.
It's not just Palestinians, though: many Israelis also increasingly distrust Palestinians and their leaders and see them as innately hostile to peace. In the parlance of Israel-Palestine, the expression for this attitude is, "We don't have a partner for peace." That feeling became especially deep after the Second Intifada; months of bus bombings and cafe bombings made many Israelis less supportive of peace efforts and more willing to accept or simply ignore the occupation's effects on Palestinians.
This sense of apathy has been further enabled by Israel's increasingly successful security programs, such as the Iron Dome system that shoots down Gazan rockets, which insulates many Israelis from the conflict and makes it easier to ignore. Public support for a peace deal that would grant Palestine independence, once high among Israelis, has dropped. Meanwhile, a fringe movement of right-wing Israeli extremists has become increasingly violent, particularly in the West Bank where many live as settlers, further pulling Israeli politics away from peace and thus allowing the conflict to drift.
There are three ways the conflict could end. Only one of them is both viable and peaceful — the two-state solution — but it is also extremely difficult, and the more time goes on the harder it gets.
One-state solution: The first is to erase the borders and put Israelis and Palestinians together into one equal, pluralistic state, called the "one-state solution." Very few people think this could be viable for the simple reason of demographics; Arabs would very soon outnumber Jews. After generations of feeling disenfranchised and persecuted by Israel, the Arab majority would almost certainly vote to dismantle everything that makes Israel a Jewish state. Israelis, after everything they've done to finally achieve a Jewish state after thousands of years of their own persecution, would never surrender that state and willingly become a minority among a population they see as hostile.
Destruction of one side: The second way this could end is with one side outright vanquishing the other, in what would certainly be a catastrophic abuse of human rights. This is the option preferred by extremists such as Hamas and far-right Israeli settlers. In the Palestinian extremist version, Israel is abolished and replaced with a single Palestinian state; Jews become a minority, most likely replacing today's conflict with an inverse conflict. In the Israeli extremist version, Israel annexes the West Bank and Gaza entirely, either turning Palestinians into second-class citizens in the manner of apartheid South Africa or expelling them en masse.
Two-state solution: The third option is for both Israelis and Palestinians to have their own independent states; that's called the "two-state solution" and it's advocated by most everyone as the only option that would create long-term peace. But it requires working out lots of details so thorny and difficult that it's not clear if it will, or can, happen. Eventually, the conflict will have dragged on for so long that this solution will become impossible.
The one-state solution is hard because there is no viable, realistic version that both sides would accept. In theory, the two-state solution is great. But it poses some very difficult questions. Here are the four big ones and why they're so tough to solve. To be clear, these aren't abstract concepts but real, heavily debated issues that have sunk peace talks before:
Jerusalem: Both sides claim Jerusalem as their capital; it's also a center of Jewish and Muslim (and Christian) holy sites that are literally located physically on top of one another, in the antiquity-era walled Old City that is not at all well shaped to be divided into two countries. Making the division even tougher, Israeli communities have been building up more and more in and around the city.
West Bank borders: There's no clear agreement on where precisely to draw the borders, which roughly follow the armistice line of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, especially since hundreds of thousands of Israeli settlers have built up suburban-style communities just on the Palestinian side of the line. This one is not actually impossible — Israel could give Palestine some land as part of "land swaps" in exchange for settler-occupied territory — but it's still hard. The more time goes on, the more settlements expand, the harder it becomes to create a viable Palestinian state.
Refugees: This one is really hard. There are, officially, seven million Palestinian refugees, who are designated as such because their descendants fled or were expelled from what is today Israel; places like Ramla and Jaffa. Palestinians frequently ask for what they call the "right of return": permission to return to their land and live with full rights. That sounds like a no-brainer, but Israel's objection is that if they absorb seven million Palestinian returnees, then Jews will become a minority, which for the reasons explained above Israelis will never accept. There are ideas to work around the problem, like financial restitution, but no agreement on them.
Security: This is another big one. For Palestinians, security needs are simple: a sovereign Palestinian state. For Israelis, it's a bit more complicated: Israelis fear that an independent Palestine could turn hostile and ally with other Middle East states to launch the sort of invasion Israel barely survived in 1973. Maybe more plausibly, Israelis worry that Hamas would take over an independent West Bank and use it to launch attacks on Israelis, as they've done with Gaza. Any compromise would likely involve Palestinians giving up some sovereignty, for example promising permanent de-militarization or allowing an international peacekeeping force, and after years of feeling heavily abused by strong-handed Israeli forces, Palestinians are not eager about the idea of Israel having veto power over their sovereignty and security.
Those are all very difficult problems. But here's the thing: time is running out. The more that the conflict drags on, the more difficult it will be to solve any of these issues, much less all of them. That will make it harder and harder for Israel to justify keeping Gaza under blockade and the West Bank under occupation; eventually it will have to unilaterally withdraw, which the current leadership opposes, or it will have to annex the territories and become either an apartheid-style state that denies full rights to those new Palestinian citizens or abandon its Jewish state.
Meanwhile, extremism and apathy and distrust are rising on both sides. The violence of the conflict is becoming status quo, a regularly recurring event that is replacing the peace process itself as the way by which the conflict advances. It is making things worse for Israelis and Palestinians alike all the time, and unless they can break from the hatred and violence long enough to make peace, that will continue.
The violence in Israel and Gaza has even come to impact American television, which had increasingly been turning to Israel as a location that could sub in for a generic Middle Eastern location in any one of the number of series set there in recent years.
FX's Tyrant has announced it will move production of the final two episodes of its first season from Tel Aviv to Turkey, while USA's upcoming miniseries Dig, a Da Vinci Code-style adventure set and filmed in Jerusalem, will wait to produce its further episodes until things hopefully quiet down. Gideon Raff, the creator of both series, said of the Dig hiatus at the Television Critics Association summer press tour: "Hopefully everything will calm down and we'll go back to working there, and if not, we'll sort it out."
It's worth noting here that Raff himself is Israeli. He's the creator of Hatufim, which brought him international recognition and was remade in the U.S. as Homeland. That series actually filmed a handful of episodes early in its second season that substituted Israel for Beirut, a move that provoked some ire when the show depicted Beirut as a largely violent city constantly in danger of falling into chaos.
The move to Turkey will mark Tyrant's third country in a 10-episode first season. The pilot was filmed in Morocco, but production of the series moved to Israel, where FX said it would be easier to build the sorts of soundstages and facilities an ongoing television series would need. (For more on the decision to swap Israel in for the fictional country of Abuddin, read this essential Hollywood Reporter piece on the show's troubled production history.)
Tyrant attracted a fair amount of criticism from both Muslim and Arab-American advocacy groups, as well as TV critics, for its seeming portrayal of a long string of Muslim and Arab stereotypes, but it's performed fairly well in the ratings. A renewal would have been likely in a few weeks, but if the series is unable to return to Israel, things become more complicated, as moving the show's base of production could prove too expensive for a series that's only a marginal performer.
It's no secret that the death tolls in the Israel-Palestine conflict are lopsided, with Palestinians far more likely to be killed than Israelis. But just how lopsided is driven home by looking at the month-to-month fatality statistics, which the Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem has been tracking since September 2000. Those numbers also tell some important stories about the conflict, how it's changed, and maybe where it's going.
Here are the monthly, conflict-related deaths of Israelis and Palestinians since September 2000:
You'll notice right away that the overwhelming majority of the deaths are Palestinian, and have been for the almost 14 years since B'Tselem began tracking. Overall, the group has recorded 8,166 conflict-related deaths, of which 7,065 are Palestinian and 1,101 Israeli. That means 87 percent of deaths have been Palestinian and only 13 percent Israeli. Put another way, for every 15 people killed in the conflict, 13 are Palestinian and two are Israeli. (Statistics for the past two months are from United Nations Office for the Coordinator of Humanitarian Affairs.)
That number is even more staggering when you consider that there are about twice as many Israelis as there are Palestinians. This means, very roughly, that a Palestinian person has been 15 times more likely to be killed by the conflict than an Israeli person. Of course the conflict impacts Palestinians and Israelis far beyond just conflict deaths, but these statistics help show how utterly disproportionate the conflict has become in its toll.
The disparity has widened dramatically over time. Since January 2005, when the conflict began to change dramatically, it has killed 4,006 people, of whom 168 have been Israeli and 3,838 Palestinian. That means that, since January 2005, only four percent of those killed have been Israeli, and 96 percent Palestinian. Since January 2005, in other words, the conflict has killed 23 Palestinians for every one Israeli it claims.
Still, even though Israelis are killed at a far lower rate than are Palestinians, that does not make Israeli deaths any less real or traumatic. Here are just the Israelis killed in the conflict:
This chart shows just the 1,101 Israeli deaths in the conflict since September 2000. Of those, 744 were civilians and 357 security forces, meaning that an Israeli killed in the conflict is much more likely to be a civilian than uniformed — a legacy of the bus bombings and other terrorist attacks frequent during the early 2000s. But the most striking thing about this chart may be how dramatically the rate of Israeli deaths has declined since the early 2000s, with many months passing with no deaths at all. Here are a few bigger-picture lessons from these two charts.
B'Tselem began tracking these numbers when the Second Intifada, or second mass Palestinian uprising against the Israeli occupation, began in September 2000. And you can see that reflected in the numbers of deaths of Israelis as well as Palestinians.
The Second Intifada included riots, large-scale clashes, bus bombings and other acts of terrorism against Israelis, Israeli targeted killings against Palestinians, and perhaps most costly of all large-scale Israeli military assaults. This is when Israeli deaths hit their peak, with 283 killed in a five-month run from February through June of 2002. Even then, though, Palestinian deaths were much higher, with 659 killed over that same period. This is the closest that Israeli and Palestinian deaths have gotten to symmetrical, and still more than twice as many Palestinians were killed than Israelis.
That is when Israel, fed up with the violence of the Second Intifada, responded in part by dramatically increasing the size and number of walls separating Israeli from Palestinian territory. Israel also withdrew its military and all settlers from Gaza, which is the smaller of the two Palestinian territories.
Both of these actions did a lot to remove Israelis from harm's way, which you can see reflected in the dramatic — and sustained — reduction in Israeli deaths. But they did not end the conflict, especially not for Palestinians, who continued to be killed in large numbers even after the Second Intifada felt like it had ended for most Israelis.
These two Israeli changes — installing more walls and withdrawing from Gaza — have also done their share to perpetuate the conflict. They drastically deepened the physical and metaphorical barriers between Israelis and Palestinians, further raising the pain of occupation for Palestinians and making it easier for Israelis to accept the conflict as status quo, and thus less likely to elect governments that will take risks for a long-term peace deal.
After the withdrawal from Gaza, the terrorist group Hamas took power there and has held it since, using the territory as a base for regular rocket attacks against Israel. While those rocket attacks do not in themselves cause nearly as many deaths as the violence of the Second Intifada, they are part of the conflict between Israel and Gaza-based militant Palestinian groups that occasionally flares up to cause massive numbers of Palestinian deaths, as is happening this week.
Since 2005, the conflict has settled into a new pattern: fewer Palestinian deaths during "calm" months with occasional spikes into catastrophic numbers of Palestinians killed.
These spikes, of which the chart shows four since 2005, are all times when Israeli forces attacked Gaza, where Israel was targeting Hamas and other militant groups but also ended up killing large numbers of Palestinians civilians. In mid-2006, form June through November, Israeli forces invaded Gaza as part of Operation Summer Rains, which was sparked by Palestinian rocket fire into Israel and by the kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was released five years later.
In late 2008 and early 2009, Israel again invaded Gaza as part of Operation Cast Lead, which caused only 13 Israeli deaths but ended with well over 1,000 Palestinians killed and devastated the Gaza Strip. Those two months were by far the deadliest for Palestinians since B'Tselem began tracking in 2000.
Israel launched extended bombing campaigns in Gaza in late 2012 and again this month, both of which have killed dozens of Palestinians. While Israeli strikes are targeting Hamas and other militant groups that are firing rockets into Israel, a local UN office estimated on Friday that 77 percent of people killed in Gaza up to that point were civilians, including 30 children. A separate UN agency estimated on Sunday that 70 percent of the killed were civilians, including 27 children.
You can see the pattern of the last several years clearly on the top chart: the conflict remains at a relatively low level until, every couple of years, it flares up with heavy Israeli strikes on Gaza that also cost a large number of Palestinian lives. This status quo, on net, clearly causes a large number of Palestinian lives. But it kills very few Israelis, which is a big part of why Israeli voters and leaders have appeared willing to accept it.
This Israeli strategy is sometimes described as "cutting the grass." In this thinking, Israel never really solves the conflict or even tries; it tolerates a level of violence from Gaza-based militant groups, but every few years bombs and maybe invades Gaza to weaken militants there and destroy their weapons – to cut the grass. It treats the Israel-Palestine conflict, at least as it pertains to Gaza, as something to be managed rather than solved.
It is important to stress that this strategy is not one that ever produces peace or that is designed to lead to a solution. It accepts a low level of Israeli deaths from rocket fire, and occasionally dozens or hundreds of Palestinian deaths from air strikes, as status quo.
Correction: This post initially reported erroneous fatality statistics. I had misread B'Tselem's data tables in a way that significantly under-counted Israeli deaths, as well as some Palestinian deaths. The charts and statistics in this post have been corrected to reflect the accurate count. I regret the error and thank Philip Klein of the Washington Examiner for pointing it out to me.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, discussing the escalating Israeli air strikes in Gaza and the rockets fired into Israel from Palestinian militant groups there, said at a press conference Friday that this latest violence shows why Israel cannot withdraw unilaterally from the West Bank as it did in 2005 from Gaza. While many have interpreted this as opposition to any two-state solution whatsoever, it reads to me as something a little different: a major Israeli requirement for any peace deal to work, and one that precludes Israel from ending its West Bank occupation without Palestinians agreeing to a deal that would satisfy that requirement.
"I think the Israeli people understand now what I always say: that there cannot be a situation, under any agreement, in which we relinquish security control of the territory west of the River Jordan," Netanyahu said in response to a reporter's question. That's according to a translation from Netanyahu's Hebrew by the Times of Israel's David Horovitz, who explains that the press event received little attention in the English-language press.
In other words, a lesson that Netanyahu has drawn from the seven years since Israel unilaterally withdrew all of its military occupation forces and settlers from Gaza is that they cannot do the same thing in the West Bank, because it would too badly compromise Israeli security. (Netanyahu opposed the 2005 Gaza withdrawal at the time.) Whether you agree with his analysis or not, and surely many will not, the point is that Israel's head of government has categorically ruled out any peace plan by which Israel unilaterally pulls up stakes and leaves the West Bank outright.
Some, including Horovitz, have interpreted this as meaning that Netanyahu opposes any two-state peace plan or independent Palestinian state at all. Michael Omer-Man of 972 Magazine writes, "It's official. Not that this should really surprise anyone, as long as Netanyahu is the Israeli prime minister the occupation is forever and there will be no sovereign Palestine." While Netanyahu has previously declared his support for a two-state solution, it was under heavy American pressure and there is widespread speculation that he was not sincere.
I'm not sure I share this analysis. There are valid and numerous reasons to doubt Netanyahu's commitment to reaching a two-state peace deal that would establish Palestine as an independent state, but this latest comment does not appear, to me anyway, to say that.
There are a number of two-state peace plans that simultaneously grant Palestine an independent state while also meeting Israeli security concerns. This would most likely require at least some infringements on Palestinian sovereignty over security matters, for example by allowing a long-term mutli-national peacekeeping force in the West Bank, and a number of Palestinians are skeptical of any such deal on those grounds.
The point, though, is that it is within the realm of possibility to simultaneously end the Israeli occupation of the West Bank while also meeting Netanyahu's apparent demand for some continued Israeli security control. However, it's only possible to do both as part of a negotiated peace deal agreed to by Israelis and Palestinians, since it would require Israeli and Palestinian cooperation over West Bank security issues. In other words, it is not possible to do this by Israel unilaterally withdrawing from its occupation of the West Bank, as it did from Gaza in 2005.
That, to me, is the big takeaway from Netanyahu's comments here: he has drawn, from the latest Gaza violence, the lesson that Israel can only end its occupation of the West Bank if there is a deal to grant Israel some continued role in West Bank security matters. That is not to endorse his logic, but to recognize the condition he is apparently setting on peace and what it means for the Israel-Palestine conflict.
After six days of Israeli air strikes on Gaza, part of a recent and still-spiraling escalation in the Israel-Palestine conflict, over 160 Palestinians have been reportedly killed. While Israeli strikes are targeting Hamas and other militant groups that are firing rockets into Israel, a local UN office estimated on Friday that 77 percent of people killed in Gaza up to that point were civilians, including 30 children. A separate UN agency estimated on Sunday that 70 percent of the killed were civilians, including 27 children.
What does it feel like to be in Gaza right now, under ever-looming threat of bombardment from above? Mohammed Suliman, a resident of Gaza City who identifies himself on his blog as a 22-year-old graduate student, has been tweeting, often poignantly, of the experience.
In bed. Drones buzzing dully. Everyone fell asleep. An F16 flies scarily before its noise fades into the distance. I anticipate a blast.— Mohammed Suliman (@imPalestine) July 10, 2014
I turn on the TV. I hear a doctor describe how one wounded child pleaded with him to stop treating him and treat his baby brother instead.— Mohammed Suliman (@imPalestine) July 11, 2014
Shahd, 9, was killed in an airstrike that targeted a municipality car. Her sister Salwa, 10, was critically injured. They were passing by.— Mohammed Suliman (@imPalestine) July 11, 2014
In a hospital room, dad cries in agony over the body of his baby son. Holding him in his hands, he tearfully cries: Wake up, I got you a toy— Mohammed Suliman (@imPalestine) July 11, 2014
I wake up. I hear warplanes fly. I turn on the radio. Patriotic songs are blaring. Death toll has risen. With a heavy heart, I send a prayer— Mohammed Suliman (@imPalestine) July 12, 2014
— Mohammed Suliman (@imPalestine) July 12, 2014
Yasser receives a call from IDF. Evacuate in ten minutes. He wasn't home though. His family was. Hysterically, he phoned home. No one picked
— Mohammed Suliman (@imPalestine) July 12, 2014
I hear two Palestinian missiles. I duck and raise my head again. Frantically, Israeli warships resume shelling. I throw myself on the ground— Mohammed Suliman (@imPalestine) July 12, 2014
Anas is a doctor. During Cast Lead, a missile hit his house killing his parents. He survived. Yesterday, a missile hit his house killing him— Mohammed Suliman (@imPalestine) July 12, 2014
I had a Linguistics professor, who always sounded critical of Hamas. His house was bombed today. He and his family escaped an imminent death— Mohammed Suliman (@imPalestine) July 12, 2014
I walk into the kitchen. The smell of explosives, of death, penetrates my entire flat. Warplanes fly overhead. I anticipate more blasts.— Mohammed Suliman (@imPalestine) July 13, 2014
I declared myself an excellent anticipator of coming blasts. Four terrifying blasts hit what seems to be the same target. Death is nearer.— Mohammed Suliman (@imPalestine) July 13, 2014
Petrified, my ears buzz and don't seem to recover. Leila's stomach starts hurting. Each blast sounds louder and more horrifying. Death nears— Mohammed Suliman (@imPalestine) July 13, 2014
I've lost my words. Bombs rein down on my area. Behind the dining table, Leila and I sit close to each other. Death is what we are tweeting.— Mohammed Suliman (@imPalestine) July 13, 2014
The Israeli strikes on Gaza are the most intensive since late 2012, which began with a air strike to kill a senior Hamas militant leader in Gaza. The worst round of fighting before that, in 2008, eventually escalated into an Israeli ground invasion of Gaza; it is not clear whether that will happen again now. This most recent round of violence began when members of Hamas, apparently acting independently from Hamas leadership, murdered three Israeli students in the West Bank, two of them children.
Suliman is also victim of one of the conflict's less overt but still pernicious effects: of driving people to themselves endorse the killing of innocent civilians on the "other side" while they lament the deaths of innocents on their own. This does not in the least soften the suffering in Gaza that Suliman well conveys, but it's a reminder of how the suffering can become self-perpetuating. It's also a reminder of how people become desensitized to, or outright reject, the suffering of certain civilians simply because they have the wrong nationality — a problem that persists on both sides of the Green Line.
Israelis have been living for years under the threat of rockets fired indiscriminately by Palestinian and Lebanese militant groups, particularly from Gaza-based terrorist groups such as Hamas. As in any conflict, the people affected by it find ways to cope and to integrate the reality of conflict into their lives. For Israelis, this often takes the form of humor.
To give you a sense for what that coping looks like, here's a 2012 cartoon teasing Israelis in Tel Aviv for their typical response to rocket attack warning sirens. It's by Israeli artist Tomi Zandshtein, who has generously given permission for it to be reproduced here (Tomi typically writes in Hebrew but you can read English translations of his work):
"Israelis, in general, tend to view these things with a mixture of nervousness and light heartedness," Zandshtein told me over email. "We get angry or scared by these things just as often as we laugh at them or act like they're no big deal. We'll run for cover (usually), but then we'll also go outside and look up at the sky looking for the little puff of cloud that marks the spot where the rocket was intercepted, then we'll take pictures of it and upload it on Facebook."
This tracks with what Israelis in Tel Aviv and other cosmopolitan coastal cities have told me about the experience of coping with rocket sirens. There's a small but popular sub-genre of Israeli rocket jokes. See, for example, this November 2012 video, "Shit Tel Avivians say during an attack" (turn on English subtitles by clicking CC in the bottom-right corner):
Zandshtein says he drew his cartoon in late 2012, when Hamas and other groups fired a number of rockets toward Tel Aviv in retaliation for Israeli air strikes in Gaza and rocket sirens sounded over normally peaceful Tel Aviv, as they have been again this week.
In southern Israel, near the Gaza border, rockets are far more common, the warning time much shorter, and their physical and psychological damage much deeper, with bomb shelters and evacuations and explosions a part of daily life.
"We don't have to deal with as many sirens here in Tel Aviv as the people who live closer to the Gaza strip who get fired at a lot more frequently and have a lot less time to get to the shelters," Zandshtein says. "Over here we have the privilege of looking at it as a strange, hopefully temporary experience."
"Although," he adds, "I have a friend who lives close to the Gaza strip, and she says that she has a massive collection of rocket jokes from her friends there." I have been told this as well by Israelis who live near Gaza, although everyone also seems to know someone who was injured or maimed by a rocket. Zandshtein says a friend lost his eye in an attack while visiting southern Israel.
When I asked Zandshtein if he thought that joking about the rockets was a coping mechanism for Israelis or just humor for the sake of humor, he answered, "It's a little of both. The sirens, and hearing random explosions through the day are all scary things, and there's a lot of nervousness in the air, but at the same time, the missile interception system keeps us feeling relatively safe."
These exchanges of Palestinian rockets and Israeli air strikes are experienced very differently, of course, in Gaza itself. It does not obviate the suffering of Israelis to note that many more innocent Palestinians are killed by Israeli air strikes than Israelis are by Palestinian rockets. Gazans do not have warning sirens to alert them or American-funded missile-defense systems to protect them or, typically, bomb shelters strong enough to shield their families. None of this eases Israeli suffering one iota, nor does in any way soften or excuse Hamas and other terrorist groups from firing at Israeli civilians, but it is worth pausing to remember.
Zandshtein made clear that making light of the rockets was not the same as making light of the conflict itself, or of the real suffering it causes innocent civilians on both sides of the Green Line.
"I find it very important to make the difference between a government and it's citizens," he says. "Whether you agree or disagree with anything the people in charge of Israel or Gaza do, at the end of the day both sides have many people who'd rather not have anything to do with it, and are just going about their lives, trying to make the best of any situation, I do that by drawing comics about it."
NBC News reporter Ayman Mohyeldin is in Gaza, where three days of Israeli air strikes have killed over 100 Palestinians. Gaza-based militant groups, including the terrorist group Hamas, which rules over the territory, have been firing hundreds of rockets into Israel.
Mohyeldin posted this video showing what it was like to cross into Gaza from the Israeli-controlled checkpoint at Erez. Since 2006, when Gazans elected Hamas into power, Israel has put the territory under military bloackade and sharply restricted border crossings, driving up unemployment and the prices of basic goods there.
Even just this three-minute video of crossing at Erez, which Mohyeldin says is "like coming out of a maximum security prison," conveys the Gazans' experience of being locked-in by the blockade — and unable to evade the ever-recurring tit-for-tat violence of Palestinian rockets out and Israeli air strikes in.
"You can understand why some human rights activists call Gaza the world's largest outdoor prison," Mohyeldin says, pushing his equipment through the long, fenced-in walkway out of Erez.
"One of the major complaints and frustrations among many people is that this is a form of collective punishment," he says of the blockade, which includes the Egyptian government blocking off Gaza's border with Egypt. "You have 1.7 million people in this territory now being bombarded, with really no way out."
Reading the Israeli press, you get a sense of profound national reckoning. After members of Hamas murdered three Israeli students in the West Bank, which inspired national outrage, a group of Israelis burned a 16 year old Palestinian alive — allegedly in retaliation. Israelis have dealt with Jewish terrorism before, but the national revulsion at the murder makes this time feel different. "This is a wake-up call," Shlomo Avineri, one of Israel's most respected political scientists, told the New York Times. "A line has been crossed ... this is absolute evil."
While anti-Arab racism is not rising among Israelis as a whole, according to research by Haifa University, what has happened is that, since the violence of the Second Intifada, Israelis have become much less eager to challenge anti-Palestinian racism on the Israeli far-right - they've become, in other words, more tolerant of intolerance. This has allowed far-right anti-Arab movements to fester, even as they've remained small minorities within Israeli society. The horrific murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir was, for many Israelis, a wake-up call - an indication of just how ugly these movements had become.
But, for many Palestinians in the West Bank, the murder was shocking but the existence of an increasingly violent Israeli far-right was not. They've been burdened for years with the violence of a different sort of anti-Arab movement, but one that has grown in the same climate of mainstream Israeli indifference: "price tag" attacks by fundamentalist settlers. And while the murder of Khdeir was an isolated but grisly act, the price tag attacks have been less deadly but far more frequent, with 400 in 2011 alone. As Israelis wake up to one form of anti-Arab violence, the far-right soccer-hooligan nationalism of La Familia that killed Khdeir in Jerusalem, they may also want to look to the other Israeli anti-Arab movement wreaking havoc just across the Green Line.
Right-wing extremists have been a significant force in Israeli politics. The openly racist Kach Party won a seat in the Knesset in 1984, and was polling even higher in the 1988 elections before being banned from participating. Baruch Goldstein, a significant Kach member, killed 29 worshippers at a mosque in the Cave of the Patriarch in the West Bank city of Hebron. Jewish radical Yigal Amir assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, while the minister was in the midst of a major push for a peace deal.
The murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir is of a piece with the ultra-violent Goldstein and Amir tradition. However, the sort of settler violence that has been on the rise is usually lower profile: burning down Palestinian property, scrawling graffiti on mosques, or physical assaults on Arabs that stop short of deadly force.
These so-called "price tag" attacks have been getting worse in recent years. According to the UN, settler attacks on Palestinians doubled (from 200 to over 400 per year) between 2009 and 2011.
These attacks are more than just random anti-Arab abuse. Price tag attacks "target Palestinians, pro-peace Israelis, and Israeli soldiers alike for supposedly anti-settlement measures taken by the Israeli government," Georgetown's Daniel Byman and the Brookings Institution's Natan Sachs wrote in a 2012 report on the violence. To make the point truly obvious, the attackers often scrawl the Hebrew word for "price tag" on the wall near attacks.
In a follow-up interview, Sachs said these attacks "have certainly got worse in the past two years." Though no complete data on price tag attacks exist for 2014 yet, the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth reports that the problem has gotten acutely worse over the course of the past several months, with the rate of attacks rising.
Price tag vigilantes now enjoy a "whole system of support for the perpetrators, from Rabbis who give their blessings to friends who help the perpetrators cover their tracks," according to Noam Sheizaf, editor of Israeli magazine +972.
But where does this particular kind of anti-Arab violence come from? And why has it gotten so much worse in the past few years?
The price tag attacks are, in a sense, an unintended product of Israel's 2005 withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. When Israel pulled its ground presence out of the Palestinian territory, it also removed about 8,500 settlers. This convinced a radical fringe of the settlement movement that it could no longer trust the government; that to preserve their homes, they needed to take action into their own hands.
"Price Tag actions do not only target Palestinians, but also (and in an almost similar frequency) IDF commanders and equipment," Hillel Ben Sasson, director of projects at the Jerusalem-based Molad think tank, told me. "The goals of attacks on the IDF are to put a price tag on evicting settlements and demolishing illegal construction in them by putting pressure on government authorities and officials to think more than twice before interfering with settler business."
The desired endpoint of this is the demolition of the two-state solution, which would grant separate states to Israelis and Palestinians. For an independent Palestine to be viable, a significant number of the Israeli settlers in the West Bank would have to leave (some settler communities along the Israeli border would likely be allowed to stay as part of a land-swap). If the settlers can convince the Israeli government and public that uprooting enough of the roughly 500,000 West Bank settlers will be more trouble than it's worth, they will have practically ended any chance for a viable Palestinians state.
"To stave off another disengagement of any kind," Byman and Sachs write, settlers "resolved to retaliate against any attempt by the Israeli government to crack down on the movement — hence the birth of the 'price tag' attacks."
There's been little pressure from the Israeli public to anything about this because mainstream Israeli has becoming increasingly numb to Arab concerns. Since all of the violence targeted at Israeli civilians during the Second Intifada, Israeli attitudes toward Palestinian suffering have hardened. "The brutality of the Second Intifada," according to Sachs, made Israelis "extremely impatient with the argument that they need to think about the justice and the human needs of a society that supports these actions. It negatively affected "the degree to which they're tolerant of hate speech."
"The fringe has chosen a strategy of ongoing, low-level violence that's convenient for Israeli society to write off as a nuisance," Dahlia Scheindlin, an Israeli public opinion analyst, explains. Israelis "say that it's not really comparable to what the Palestinians do."
The lack of public anger contributed to lax Israeli enforcement, allowing price tag to escalate with impunity. Data compiled by Yesh Din, a group that monitors settler violence, shows that "between 2005 and 2013 just 8.5 percent of investigation files ended in the indictment of Israelis suspected of harming Palestinians and their property."
What's more, the July 2013 report found that "no meaningful action has been taken to correct the situation and improve the quality of investigations." Sachs believes there"there has been a concerted effort by the Shin Bet [Israeli FBI equivalent] and the police" to address price tag in 2014. However, he allows, "it's not been as forceful as one would like."
Instead, Israelis are increasingly uninterested in aggressively challenge the minority who are outright racists — be they soccer hooligans like La Familia or violent price tag settlers. There's just not a lot of willingness to get out and demand that the government do something about these groups in the name of Palestinian rights. And without any enforcement, the price taggers have had a free hand to escalate as much as they'd like.
"Price Tag is a very political crime," Sheizaf, the journalist, says. "It aims to cause a public effect" — convincing the Israeli public that a withdrawal from the West Bank would cost more than it's worth.
The public's critical role is why the Abu Khdeir murder, and the subsequent fighting throughout Israel and Gaza it sparked, is such a watershed moment. The violence has brought an enormous amount of public attention to the question of anti-Arab violence in Israel — attention for good and ill.
Start with the good: mainstream Israeli society was horrified by the murder. Even the hardline settler parties condemned it in absolutely uncertain terms. "What happened with Muhammed Abu Khdeir," according to Scheindlin, "throws off people's narratives [about price tag]. I know a lot of people on the right are having a spiritual crisis."
It's not clear whether this existential shock will prompt an Israeli backlash against price tag violence, or whether any such backlash would lead to more robust enforcement against the movement.
But there's a dark side to this story.
After the bodies of the three murdered Israeli boys were found, an Israeli Facebook page called "People of Israel Demand Revenge" had received 35,000 likes before being taken down. A mob of 100 Jews attacked three Arabs on the streets of Jerusalem, part of a wave of "revenge" attacks against Arabs for the killings.
Both Sachs and Sheizaf worry that social media could strengthen price tag. The easier it is for extremists to find and radicalize one another, the stronger extremist groups get. The ongoing fighting in Gaza could intensify that effect. Palestinian rockets and Israeli deaths or injuries could make Israeli fringes more receptive to the hardline anti-Palestinian message.
So this may be an inflection point for price tag. We'll find out soon enough.
An Israeli peace conference held in Tel Aviv by the left-leaning newspaper Ha'aretz, established to put "peace [with Palestinians] at the top of the national agenda" and "to end the occupation and the settlement project," was abruptly halted on Tuesday when the audience had to evacuate due to incoming rockets launched by Palestinian groups.
It was a coincidence, yes; the rockets are barely accurate enough to be aimed at a single city, let along a single building holding an Israel-Palestine peace conference, and no one was hurt. But it is a moment of profoundly tragic symbolism, exceptional even in a conflict that produces many such moments, that a Palestinian militant group with the desire of ending the Israeli occupation would fire rockets at Israeli civilians who had themselves gathered with the express purpose of ending the occupation.
Observers of the Israel-Palestine conflict often say that the violence committed by both sides is self-defeating, but rarely is this so demonstrably and immediately true as with today's evacuation of the Ha'aretz peace conference.
The conference itself is part of a larger effort by the Israeli political left to overcome Israeli apathy toward the conflict and build political momentum for peace; that movement is squeezed between Israel's political right and militant Palestinian groups, both of which in action and rhetoric tend to polarize Israelis and Palestinians against one another and against even the idea of compromise. It's often said that there is not enough "political space" for the Israeli pro-peace left, and while typically that is meant metaphorically today it was true physically as well.
While Hamas and other Palestinian groups have launched a number of rockets from the Gaza Strip into Israel over the past week, they almost never reach all the way to Tel Aviv, Israel's largest city and a cosmopolitan haven rarely touched by the conflict. The rocket siren sounded over the city for the first time since 2012, when Gaza groups fired hundreds of rockets into Israel as Israeli forces bombarded the Palestinian territory. The rockets appear to have landed harmlessly and the conference attendees eventually returned to the hall. The incident ended bloodlessly, but it was a perfect symbol of the conflict's tragic absurdity and endless cycle of self-perpetuation.
As I have written repeatedly, Israel's continued military occupation of the Palestinian territories remains by far the most significant driver of the conflict and the greatest single cause of the conflict's many daily torments. However, today's rocket attacks, and their symbolic and literal damage to grassroots Israeli efforts to end the occupation and find peace, are a reminder that militant Palestinian groups absolutely contribute to the conflict and its perpetuation as well.
It was not the first moment of political symbolism at the Ha'aretz Peace Conference. Naftali Bennett, an increasingly popular far-right Israeli politician who became economic minister last year, was shouted off the stage by conference attendees who called him "fascist" and "murderer;" he says someone punched him in the back as he left the hall. At another panel, Arab-Israeli journalist Sayed Keshua walked off stage after settler leader Yisrael Harel made racist comments against Arabs. And so on.
Meanwhile, in Gaza, the effects of Israeli violence were less symbolically resonant but far costlier: 15 Palestinians were killed and 92 injured in air strikes today. This latest round of violence is continuing to escalate with no clear end in sight.
On Monday night, between 5 and 12 people were killed in Israeli airstrikes in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, from which Hamas has been firing rockets into Israel. Israeli's cabinet authorized the military to call up 40,000 reservists, and Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon said that "we are preparing for a battle against Hamas which will not end within a few days." Tensions between Israel and the Palestinian militant group were already at a high point, but now there's a real chance of the first full-blown war between the two sides since 2012. Meanwhile, Palestinian protests in the West Bank are growing, and a number have ended in violent clashes with Israeli security forces.
Why is this happening? It all started with the killings of four young boys, three Israelis in the first incident and one Palestinian in the second. The fallout of these murders has devolved into a crisis that's challenging some of the most important features of Israeli and Palestinian society.
About a month ago, three teenage Israeli students — Eyal Yifrah, Gilad Shaar, and Naftali Frenkel — disappeared in the West Bank, where they were studying at a yeshiva. Israel conducted a massive manhunt for them in the West Bank, on the basis of intelligence that they were kidnapped by Palestinian militants. Thousands of Israeli soldiers swept the Palestinian territory, arresting hundreds of Palestinians and shutting down Palestinian movement in wide areas.
The boys were found, dead in apparent gunshot executions, last Monday. The leading suspects are Hamas members, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insists that the entire group bears responsibility, though Hamas itself denies any role in planning or carrying out the killing. Israel responded with a limited bombing campaign in Gaza. Palestinian militant groups (though, notably, not Hamas) in Gaza fired rockets into Israel.
That could have potentially been the end of the fighting — were it not for the murder of Muhammed Abu Khdeir. Israeli authorities found the 16 year old Palestinian boy's body last Wednesday, apparently burned to death. Police arrested 6 Israelis over the weekend for Khdeir's murder, and told reporters that the killing was "nationalistic." In simpler terms, that it was a revenge killings by Jewish extremists for the murders of the three Israeli boys. Buzzfeed's Sheera Frenkel reports that the alleged perpetrators were part of a racist Israeli soccer gang, La Familia. It followed a string of violence against Palestinians by settlers and other Israelis, within a climate of anti-Palestinian sentiment and some inflammatory statements by right-wing Israeli politicians.
A few days later, Tariq Abu Khdeir, Muhammed's 15-year-old Palestinian-American cousin, was brutally beaten while detained by Israeli police after a Palestinian demonstration in East Jerusalem. Footage of his assault made it to YouTube.
Palestinians are furious about the Khdeir boys, about the bombings in Gaza, and about the clamp-down on the West Bank during the search for the murdered Israelis. There were riots in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and some Israeli Arab towns. On Monday, Hamas fired rockets into Israel, for which it claimed responsibility for the first time since 2012. Then, Monday night, Israel launched more strikes in Gaza, as part of what Netanyahu said was an effort to make Hamas "pay a heavy price." The conflict is continuing to escalate with no clear end in sight.
So that's how we got here. Here are three major things that might happen next.
First, there's a real possibility of a third intifada, or popular Palestinian uprising against Israel. A number of Palestinian militant groups are calling for a violent uprising, and one reporter on the ground in East Jerusalem called the clash between rioting Palestinians and Israeli police the worst "since the second Intifada," which claimed thousands of lives in the early 2000s. If the rioting, rocket fire, and Israeli air strikes beget more violence from both sides, an all-out war between Israel, Hamas, and other Palestinian groups is a not implausible possibility.
Second, the Palestinian unity deal may be falling apart. Since 2006, the Palestinian leadership has been split between Hamas in Gaza and Fatah, a more moderate group, which controls the West Bank. In April, Hamas and Fatah agreed to join a interim government and hold Palestinian elections in both territories. However, this crisis is sharply dividing these two groups. While Hamas has openly fought with Israel, Fatah has stayed out of the fighting and tried to urge calm. The two groups have been furious with each other throughout the current crisis, are split further by Fatah's reliance on Israel in the West Bank, and are behaving like separate governments. The longer this fighting goes on, the more likely it is that the split becomes formal.
Finally, the treatment of the Khdeir boys has sparked a public debate inside Israel about the direction that Israeli society is being taken by the continued occupation of the Palestinian territories. Most Israelis reacted with shock at Khdeir's murder, which the Israeli government formally condemned. The Israeli left, which has been politically weak for some time, has argued that these murders are a natural outgrowth of Israel's military occupation of the West Bank and even its self-definition as a Jewish state. But while this episode has brought renewed attention to the consequences of the Israeli occupation, so too has it brought widespread Israeli outrage over the murders of the yeshiva students; anger and polarization are rising on both sides, and will likely continue to rise along with the violence.
Yuval Diskin, the chief of Israel's internal security agency the Shin Bet from 2005 to 2011, has posted a withering criticism of the Israeli government and its handling of the recent violence on his public Facebook page. He squarely blames Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government for the recent crisis, which began with the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli students in the West Bank and has spiraled into much wider violence, including the murder of a 16-year-old Palestinian by Israeli extremists.
Diskin, who has frequently criticized Israel's occupation of the West Bank and its role in the Palestinian conflict since retiring, writes that Israel's treatment of Palestinians is primarily responsible for the worsening violence. Here is the core of Diskin's argument, translated from Hebrew by the Jewish Daily Forward's J.J. Goldberg. (Unsurprisingly, he lavishes praise on the Shin Bet, but the rest is worth reading.) You can read Goldberg's full translation of Diskin's post here.
Dear friends: Take a few moments to read the following words and share them with others. I see the severe and rapid deterioration of the security situation in the territories, Jerusalem and the Triangle and I'm not surprised. Don't be confused for a moment. This is the result of the policy conducted by the current government, whose essence is: Let's frighten the public over everything that's happening around us in the Middle East, let's prove that there's no Palestinian partner, let's build more and more settlements and create a reality that can't be changed, let's continue not dealing with the severe problems of the Arab sector in Israel, let's continue not solving the severe social gaps in Israeli society.
This illusion worked wonderfully as long as the security establishment was able to provide impressive calm on the security front over the last few years as a result of the high-quality, dedicated work of the people of the Shin Bet, the IDF and the Israel Police as well as the Palestinians whose significant contribution to the relative calm in the West Bank should not be taken lightly.
However, the rapid deterioration we're experiencing in the security situation did not come because of the vile murder of Naftali, Eyal and Gil-Ad, may their memories be blessed.
The deterioration is first and foremost a result of the illusion that the government's inaction on every front can actually freeze the situation in place, the illusion that "price tag" is simply a few slogans on the wall and not pure racism, the illusion that everything can be solved with a little more force, the illusion that the Palestinians will accept everything that's done in the West Bank and won't respond despite the rage and frustration and the worsening economic situation, the illusion that the international community won't impose sanctions on us, that the Arab citizens of Israel won't take to the streets at the end of the day because of the lack of care for their problems, and that the Israeli public will continue submissively to accept the government's helplessness in dealing with the social gaps that its policies have created and are worsening, while corruption continues to poison everything good, and so on and so on.
Diskin was featured in the award-winning 2012 documentary "The Gatekeepers," which interviewed all the living former heads of the Shin Bet. While Israeli security chiefs are not exactly left-wing peaceniks, they and many members of the country's security establishment have long warned that the occupation is unsustainable and wrong, is a threat to Israel itself, and have placed the blame on Israeli political failures.
Twenty days after three Israeli high school students were kidnapped in the West Bank merely for being there, two days after they were found murdered in an apparent execution by Hamas members, and one day after Israelis gathered nationally to mourn the deaths, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies on Israel's political right appear to have extracted what they wanted from the crisis.
And that has been disastrous for Palestinian civilians, who are suffering what, by every indication, appears to be collective punishment by the Israeli government for the actions of a few rogue militants.
Netanyahu's government is launching attacks against Hamas, which Netanyahu insists is collectively responsible for a kidnapping that appears to have been conducted by rogue members. This makes it far more likely that full-on conflict will resume between Israel and Hamas, a dynamic that Netanyahu seems to prefer, because it favors Israel's overwhelming military strength and marginalizes Hamas politically. The last round of Israel-Hamas violence, in November 2012, killed dozens of civilians, almost all of them Palestinian.
The Israeli campaign is also driving a wedge between Hamas and the more moderate, West Bank-based Fatah. In April, the two groups joined in support of the first Palestinian unity government since 2007, but the Israeli response to the kidnappings risks splitting them again. This is a success for Netanyahu, who opposes Hamas's involvement in Palestinian politics, whether it moderates the group or not, and wants to break it away from Fatah. If the groups splinter, this will also have the effect of making peace talks far more difficult. Israel has said for years that a peace deal is impossible without a unified Palestinian government.
The greatest immediate effect of the Israeli response, though, is humanitarian, rather than political. Palestinians across the West Bank and Gaza have suffered Israeli responses that have certainly felt like collective punishment, including mass arrests and military raids across the West Bank. These responses have killed at least five Palestinians, led 400 to be arrested, and disrupted the lives and work of many others. Hundreds of Palestinians who live in the West Bank and work in Israel were prevented from crossing over. On Tuesday, Israel launched dozens of air strikes in Gaza that it said were retaliation against Hamas for 18 rockets launched into southern Israel. But given Netanyahu's recent insistence that he will dismantle Hamas in retaliation, it seems unlikely the rockets were the primary instigation. As always, Gazan civilians will feel the brunt of the violence.
Part of what makes this so troubling is that Israeli tactics in the Israel-Palestine conflict have recurrently veered into actions that certainly appear to have the effect, and very possibly the intent, of collective punishment of Palestinians. Perhaps the most famous ongoing example of this is the Israeli blockade of the Gaza strip, imposed shortly after Hamas won legislative elections there. Israel says the blockade is necessary to limit rocket attacks, but it has the effect of causing widespread poverty and unemployment.
Now, with Israel's kidnapping response, Netanyahu himself has fed into the perception of collective punishment. His heavy-handed rhetoric most recently blamed all of Hamas and the Palestinian Authority for the kidnappings, before it was clear who had actually committed them. Similarly, Israeli Housing Minister Uri Ariel argued that Israel should retaliate by expanding settlement construction in the West Bank — an act that only makes sense as "retaliation" if you blame, and seek to punish, all Palestinians for the actions of a few.
Collective punishment is designated as a war crime by the Geneva Conventions, which regulate warfare under international law. It's also deeply harmful to the Israel-Palestine peace process, polarizing Palestinian political groups and civilians against Israel. It also polarizes Israelis against Palestinians. Israeli government rhetoric and actions implicitly blaming wide swathes of Palestinians for the kidnapping have coincided with incidents of Israeli mob violence against Palestinians, including what appears to be the abduction and murder of an Arab teenager.
This does nothing, of course, to excuse or soften the kidnappings and murders that sparked the crisis, which appear to have been committed by rogue Hamas members. They belong to a group with a record of opposing and undermining Hamas's ceasefires and negotiations with Israel.
Hamas is not so much a victim here, though. There is an important and valid case to be made that Hamas leaders, or at least some members of its armed wing, do bear some responsibility for the teenagers' deaths. The group has previously encouraged and funded kidnapping Israeli civilians as a tactic. Hamas is labeled a terrorist group by the U.S. and E.U. for good reason, after all. But that does not mean that the group is directly responsible for this kidnapping. More to the point, Hamas joined in a Palestinian unity government in April, which would seem to at least potentially shift its incentives a bit away from militancy and toward cooperation.
In any case, the Hamas political leaders based in Gaza seem unlikely to have participated in a kidnapping in the West Bank committed by rogue Hamas militants, so it's not clear that air strikes on Hamas political leaders in Gaza are an appropriate or justified response. Whatever you think of Israel's political leaders, they're intelligent enough to see the distinctions here. It's hard to conclude that the air strikes are anything other than either blunt collective punishment or an attempt to damage Hamas's political position. What the strikes are not doing, though, is deterring future kidnappings of Israeli students or punishing the suspected culprits of this one.
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