Operation "Summer Rain" and Gidon Levy’s latest column

July 2, 2006

I struggled about whether or not I should be writing about Israel. It’s completely overwhelming, besides the fact that I’m not living there anymore and therefore have less of a sense of what’s what. In the end, I decided to do it, and even if I have no new ideas to present, I have a whole series of links to really interesting and informative articles.

Haaretz’s Gidon Levy is amazing. He usually presents a hated and controversial position in Israel: that of the Palestinians. His column today is about why the IDF’s latest incursion into Gaza has nothing to do with the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier, why it’s completely illegal, and why it’s setting Israel back even further than before.

What’s incredible is that smart people really believe that the way to respond to terrorism or kidnapping is by using force, showing the Palestinians who’s really the boss. The most effective way of demonstrating that Hamas was a bad choice, apparently, is to bomb Gaza to pieces, leaving 175,000 Gaza residents without power or water, destroying bridges, and creating sonic booms to ensure sleepless nights. Amnesty International has called the “Summer Rain” attacks ‘war crimes.’ Levy takes a strong, controversial point: “A state that takes such steps is no longer distinguishable from a terror organization.” This was a point I thought about pretty often last year when I was in Israel, though hardly ever said it aloud.

What is it about Palestinian violence that makes it “terror” and what is it about the IDF’s “military actions” make them legitimate warfare? Many American Jews – the people with whom I spend the majority of my time – seem to have complete faith in the IDF. And here we have Levy arguing that the current re-occupation of Gaza has little to do with the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit:

Everything must be done to win Gilad Shalit’s release. What we are doing now in Gaza has nothing to do with freeing him. It is a widescale act of vengeance, the kind that the IDF and Shin Bet have wanted to conduct for some time, mostly motivated by the deep frustration that the army commanders feel about their impotence against the Qassams and the daring Palestinian guerilla raid. There’s a huge gap between the army unleashing its frustration and a clever and legitimate operation to free the kidnapped soldier.

Arguments about attacking civilians don’t hold water for me. When one country’s military carries on operations like “Summer Rain” (the name for this current incursion into Gaza), continues to paralyze movement in the West Bank, builds a wall that cuts Palestinian villages and farms in half, and allows settlers to terrorize Palestinians and prevent them from farming and walking to school, I have trouble differentiating who is the “terrorist” and who is not. For me, it’s not about who has a “legitimate” military and who does not. Who gets to decide what is legitimate? Usually it’s Western countries like the United States and frankly, from what I’ve heard recently about the behavior of “legitimate” US soldiers in Iraq (G.I.’s Investigated in Slayings of 4 and Rape in Iraq), I don’t know how much I want to use an American gauge to decide what is legitimate warfare and what is not. In our world, we measure military legitimacy in terms of who has power in the world and not in terms of the specific affects of a certain military power on another people. If it were the reverse, I believe we might have a different perspective on the conflict in Israel/Palestine.

The other reason why I don’t put my heart and soul behind the IDF has a lot to do with the things I heard and witnessed last year. When you look a soldier in the eye, you see that he is a mere 18 years old and knows almost nothing about the world and the larger context of his life. He knows the nationalist rhetoric that Israeli society has taught him. Unfortunately, that does not usually suffice in creating an army of compassionate soldiers. Therefore, I have a difficult time putting my full faith in an army or a police force that abuses Palestinian civilians, refuses to stop settlers vandalizing Palestinian property, and stands by while settlers attack human rights workers.

It is too easy to say “they hate us, why don’t they stop bombing us?” And now I feel like a broken record, because a little over a year ago I wrote a long, impassioned email on Israeli independence day about the importance of seeing violence and deaths and interruptions of daily life and damaging of livelihood on both sides of the story as no better or worse than the other. And I continue to hear American Jews and Israelis wonder aloud why Palestinians hate us so much, or even worse, “it’s not even worth trying. They’ll hate us no matter what.” To me, that nihilistic attitude is basically sentencing Israel as a Jewish state to destruction. If we have given up hope of creating two states, pretty soon the Palestinian population will surpass that of the Israelis and either we will really have an apartheid state or the Palestinians will simply take over and the land from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River will be Palestine. Military incursions should not be revenge for anything, and apparently we haven’t been told enough times that collective punishment is a war crime. If the disengagement from Gaza took us forward five steps, I believe that operation “Summer Rain” is bringing us backwards ten steps.


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