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Some Incomplete Thoughts On Gaza

I'm still not sure what to think about Israel's operation in Gaza. I know that Israel lacks any good options right now. The hawks may be too blithe about the consequences of action, but the doves are too blithe about the consequences of inaction. And it will take a long time to know whether or not it succeeded. (Israel's 2006 invasion of Lebanon looked like a fiasco in the immediate aftermath, but it has apparently forced some peace on its northern border.) Right now I have trouble figuring out how Israel can achieve a reasonable objective with this action. The stated objective, to crush Hamas's ability to launch rockets from Gaza, seems unreachable. If the true objective was to show Palestinians that following Hamas's rejectionism will only immiserate them further, then the blockade of Gaza was already accomplishing that objective.

I do think, though, that much of the dovish criticism fundamentally misreads the situation. Here's the American Prospect's Ezra Klein:


The Israeli Narrative: After the temporary ceasefire ended 10 days ago, Hamas began launching rockets into Southern Israel. This echoed not only Hamas's actions before the ceasefire, but Hezbollah's actions in the weeks leading to the 2006 war. The rockets may have proven harmless, but they posed a continuing threat and were, under any standard, an act of war by the sovereign government of a neighboring territory. Israel's attack on Gaza was a response to this provocation.

The Palestinian Narrative: For the past year or so, following Hamas's victory in the Gaza elections, Israel has sealed the border to Gaza, cutting off both humanitarian aid and commercial traffic. In June, a coalition of eight international non-profits released a report demonstrating that conditions in Gaza were worse than at any point since 1967. 80 percent of the residents were now on food aid, more than 40 percent were unemployed, water and sewage systems were in collapse, and hospitals were suffering power shortages of up to 12 hours a day. The situation has only worsened. The U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) has been unable to get needed medical supplies into Gaza for more than a year because of Israel's blockade on border crossings. It is this enforced poverty and immiseration that Hamas's rocket fire was a response to.

The point is simple: You can argue, as Israel is arguing, that their air strikes are a response to Hamas's missiles. But to the Palestinians, Hamas's missiles were a response to the blockade (under international law, a blockade is indeed an act of war). Israel, of course, would argue that the blockade was a response to Hamas's past attacks. And Hamas would argue that past attacks were a response to Israel's unceasing oppression of the Palestinian people. And Israel would argue that...

Look, it's obviously true that both sides see the root of the conflict differently. But these two views just are not equally valid. Hamas has a problem with Israel because Hamas believes Israel has no right to exist. Israel has a problem with Hamas because Hamas believes Israel has no right to exist. If Hamas lay down all its weapons, Israel would lift its blockade. If Israel lay down all its weapons, Hamas would kill as many Israelis as it could. That fact doesn't justify any Israeli response to Hamas, but it is a necessary starting point for any analysis. If you can't grasp the asymmetric nature of the two greivances, then any reasoning that follows is going to come out crooked.

--Jonathan Chait