January 8, 2009
Will History Repeat Itself in Gaza?
Israel’s 13-day war in Gaza endeavors “to teach Hamas a lesson” and to defend southern Israel against its missiles. It’s highly unlikely the Israeli bombing and ground attack — which has resulted in nearly 700 dead, including 300 civilians — will achieve these objectives. Why? Because it has been tried before, and it failed.
In 2002, Israel undertook a campaign to assassinate Hamas leadership, which amounted to hundreds of individuals, according to Israeli defense forces. Among those assassinated was leading Hamas militant Raed Karmi on January 14, 2002. On July 24, Salah Shehada, a senior Hamas military leader, was killed by an air attack on a crowded apartment block in Gaza City. Those killed included 11 children. That same day, Hamas was expected to announce a unilateral cease-fire declaration.
Israel’s 2002 assassinations neither decreased the power of Hamas nor its popular support. Hamas went on to win a majority of seats in the Palestinian parliament in the 2006 elections. The ascendancy of Hamas, which does not recognize the right of Israel to exist, over the Fatah party made further progress toward a two-state solution a practical impossibility.
Will the present offensive in Gaza create even more support for Hamas, perhaps even on the West Bank? If Hamas makes further inroads outside of Gaza, thus weakening the ability of Palestinian President Abbas to negotiate with Israel, any possibility of an end to the 40-year occupation will be destroyed. A window of opportunity will close — the window that opened in 1988 when Yasser Arafat, a Fatah founder, affirmed Israel’s right to exist by accepting UN Security Council Resolution 242.
The likelihood of creating broader support for Hamas was increased with the bombing of a United Nations school in Gaza, where 40 people taking refuge were killed, including many women and children. This attack is bound to strengthen extremists throughout the region, as have all previous assaults. With uncritical and unmitigated U.S. financial, military, and political support for Israel, we — along with Israel — will be dragged deeper into an unnecessary war that will endanger the security of both nations.
Further complicating the situation is the fact that foreign journalists have been completely barred from entering Gaza. An article by Ethan Bronner in the New York Times describes how the journalistic blockade is affecting coverage of the war, including the 40 deaths at the UN school:
And so for an 11th day of Israel’s war in Gaza, the several hundred journalists here to cover it waited in clusters away from direct contact with any fighting or Palestinian suffering, but with full access to Israeli political and military commentators eager to show them around southern Israel, where Hamas rockets have been terrorizing civilians.
One can imagine the popular outcry if the United States had similarly denied journalists access to observe the military operations in either Afghanistan or Iraq.
The issue isn’t whether Israel has a right to defend its citizens against Hamas missiles — of course it does. The question is whether Israel recognizes the long-term consequences of its actions, which may well strengthen the presence of Hamas on the West Bank — just as its 2002 operation likely contributed to the Hamas victory in the 2006 elections.