Early this past Wednesday morning, after four days of Hamas launching rockets into Israel, I heard that the Israeli Defense Forces killed Ahmed Al-Jabari, a senior Hamas military chief who was responsible for an enormous escalation in rocket attacks since 2002. Soon after reading about the circumstances surrounding his assassination, I began to worry. Familiar terms like “surgical airstrike,” “increased rocket fire,” and “human shields” were brandished about, setting off alarms in my head. Could Israel be headed into another ‘Cast Lead’ operation?
Are my friends and family in Talpiot, Tel Aviv, Rehovot, Netanya and various locations throughout Israel safe?
I searched various news sites and logged into Facebook and Twitter to get a more detailed picture of what was happening. Israel conducted a series of airstrikes in Gaza, for the purposes of ‘taking out’ key figures in Hamas and disabling combatant facilities.
Of-course, this was not without collateral damage, as anywhere between four and eight Palestinian civilians lost their lives because of the strikes that day. But, it was not without cause either, as in this year alone, even before November 14th, Hamas’ Al-Qassam Brigades and other militant factions throughout Gaza had launched over 800 rockets into Israel, mostly targeting civilian areas.
I’d like to lay out some simple facts about what has happened since the initial strike, between Israel & the Palestinians (or more precisely, between the I.D.F. and Hamas in Gaza), and why. I will also offer some thoughts on where I think this chapter of the conflict (working title: "Operation Pillar of Defense") might be headed, especially in light of the potential ground invasion of Gaza that Netanyahu has hinted at (and the I.D.F seems to be gearing up for).
After the strikes took out Jabari, some 40 rockets were lobbed at Israel, targeting areas in the South like Beersheba. Israel’s Iron Dome defense system intercepted about a third of these rockets. Later that day, we learned from Israel’s Minister of Defense Ehud Barak and Prime Minister Netanyahu that Israel is intent on carrying out further strikes against Hamas targets in Gaza. Netanyahu said, “We couldn’t abide by the situation where our civilians are attacked regularly and deliberately by terrorists who hide behind their own populace. Today we send a clear message – we can strike back and we are ready to continue.” Barak further expounded upon the situation, “This is a prolonged operation, but our goals will be fulfilled. We will degrade Hamas’ capabilities and provide quiet for the South and restore our deterrent strength.”
This set the tone for the next two days, and up until this point, there has been a continuous exchange of fire power between Hamas, other militant Islamist factions (e.g. Islamic Jihad) and the I.D.F. Since the 14th, we have seen approximately 500 rockets launched into Israel, with Israel’s Iron Dome system intercepting about 180 of them. The rockets which successfully hit, have mostly affected the South of Israel, but due to Hamas’ recent acquisition of some longer range rockets, one touched down in Rishon Letzion, one in Tel Aviv, and one very close to Jerusalem, in the Gush Etzion region of the West Bank, which is home to several settlements. Eight Israeli soldiers and 65 civilians (including a child) have been injured, along with four civilian deaths. Furthermore, huge numbers of Israeli civilians have been spending much of their time in bomb shelters, with sirens sporadically going off in many towns and cities throughout the day and night.
The Palestinians have obviously been under duress as well, experiencing 150 civilian injuries and 25 casualties (though it is nearly impossible to ascertain how many of these were civilians and how many were combatants, we do know that at least three of them were children). The I.D.F. has claimed to have hit over 300 Hamas bases and weapons facilities as well, in one instance, damaging 20 civilian homes after bombing a known Hamas compound (for its part, the I.D.F. did drop thousands of leaflets over Gaza, warning civilians to stay away from known Hamas outposts and specific regions that would experience heavy fire). We know that Morsi’s administration in Egypt has sent a delegation (possibly including Morsi himself) to visit Gaza and that Tunisia is intent on sending a delegation as well.
More recently, Israel has instituted a military draft for upwards of 80,000 reservists, which hints at the very real possibility that there will be an Israeli ground invasion of Gaza, drastically intensifying the conflict and leading to many more deaths. While it’s clear
that Israel’s goal is to severely disable Hamas’ infrastructure and attack capabilities, we also know that a ground invasion dramatically increases the potential for civilian casualties and collateral damage in general, on both sides.
There has not only been a war on the ground though, there has been a war taking place between minds, a war of words, with both politicians and civilians involved. We’ve heard politicians in Britain and the United States come out strongly in support of Israel, while Turkey, Jordan, Egypt and Qatar have roundly condemned Israel’s operation in Gaza. Egypt’s Morsi and Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah have met, Obama has had discussions with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan Erdogan and Israeli President Shimon Peres, and all the usual players in the Middle East seem to be rearing their heads.
What concerns me is the element of propaganda, intrinsic to political discourse. While people are killing each other and every day Palestinians and Israelis fear for their lives, politicians have put their P.R. machines to work. A good example of this is the strangely humorous back and forth on Twitter between Hamas’ Al-Qassam Brigades and the Israeli Defense Forces. Civilian supporters and detractors on both sides of the table have taken to the web as well. There are hordes of people who have taken it upon themselves to wage their own personal battles against the side they think is most to blame for the conflict’s recent escalations.
As a liberal New York City Jew, I am well aware of how the Israel-Palestine issue can cause those on the more polarized sides of both the Right and Left to transform from otherwise even-tempered individuals into foaming-at-the mouth lunatics, spewing out indignant rhetoric with a callous disregard for context and the facts on the ground. This phenomenon only intensifies when Israeli-Palestinian violence escalates. Exploring the ‘Twitterverse’ and my Facebook feed, this became all the more apparent. I saw everything from “Go get ‘em Israel! Mow those terrorists down!” to “Those Zionist pigs! This is a massacre. Free Palestine!” I am dismayed. There were people characterizing Jews as murderous thieves and Muslims as mindless savages. Cries of “Death to Israel! Death to Jews!” and “Kill those Muzzie Terrorists!” are common as well. Those of us who are capable of independent thought know that this is not a football game, where we can cheer on one side over the other. This is one more instance of an ongoing, armed conflict which involves real people, like you and me and it can not be boiled down to political sloganeering and agit-prop.
With the serious possibility of a ground invasion looming and deaths mounting on both sides, now is not the time for slinging vicious, unfounded libel. We should not be feeding into the hands of our politicians’ P.R. machines and flinging verbal excrement at each
other, like zoo animals. Yes, I know, it’s so much easier to look at the situation in black and white. When you characterize Palestinians (or worse, Muslims) as terrorists and blood-thirsty barbarians, or characterize Israelis (or worse, Jews) as Nazi Illuminati killing machines, you’re only working to ensure that the conflict is never solved. You’re bolstering hatred on both sides, perpetuating lies and in essence, becoming what you hate.
What we have here is a conflict that reaches far back in time. Jewish Israelis and Palestinian Arabs both have long, storied histories in the region, and nothing can change this fact. Average Israelis and Palestinians do not want to be woken up in the night by screaming, explosions and death either. If more supporters of Israel and more supporters of Palestinians can start recognizing one another’s humanity, the validity of one another’s opinions, and the reality of one another’s experiences, we’ll sooner see more actual Palestinians and Israelis doing the same.