Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Gaza goes bananas

Lawrence Wright (the author of what was far and away the single best book about Al Qaeda, The Looming Tower) has a must read piece in the New Yorker this week about Gaza.

I think the more interesting part of the article is the beginning and end (the stuff about Israel's recent Gaza war is mostly familiar).

Gaza sounds like absolute hell. And Hamas seems to be only getting crazier. As a portrait of the Byzantine nature of life in Gaza right now, it's one of the best recent pieces I've yet read. It also includes the following quote:

'Mozini [one of the Palestinian negotiators with Israel] began reciting the names of Gazan prisoners who had received sentences of more than a thousand years [whom Mozini insisted be released]. Hassan Salameh, a Hamas operative, is serving forty-eight consecutive life sentences for recruiting suicide bombers. Walid Anjes helped plan the bombing at Moment and two other devastating attacks. He has twenty-six life sentences. Mozini mentioned a prisoner named Abdel Hadi Suleiman Ghneim: “He was riding in a bus. All he did was grab the steering wheel and take it over a cliff.” He laughed. “Sixteen people were dead and many wounded—even Ghneim was wounded!” Ghneim received a life sentence for every person who died on the bus. These punishments struck Mozini as ludicrous.'

This is the kind of thing that makes you think there is no hope whatsoever.

I mean, Palestinian officials are surprised that Israel would sentence terrorists who drive buses off cliffs to hundreds of years in prison? This is what gets them outraged? (Or, even worse, makes them laugh?)

If the Palestinians want to get outraged at Israel, Wright offers more than enough ammunition. The fact that 300 children were killed in the recent operation is enough for me.

This doesn't mean that Israel loses all moral credibility, obviously -- but it is also obvious that the Israelis were much more reckless than they are willing to concede in this January operation. Look, war is hell, and collateral damage is inevitable. But why was Israel shelling schools, for chrissake? I'm sure that part of the reason was faulty intelligence. And Israel would much rather conduct their war from the safety of a predator drone relying on what intelligence they have. But that's really no excuse. Israel has a responsibility to shield the Palestinian civilians -- and they've done a shitty job. If they are going to invade another country, Israeli soldiers need to assume some risk. They avoided it with horrible consequences.

Tzipi Livnit also has a memorable quote: "Israel is not a country upon which you fire missiles and it does not respond. It is a country that when you fire on its citizens it responds by going wild."

Quite frankly, I think Livnit is right. Israel should respond (aggressively) towards acts of terror against its civilians. That's not the issue. But not all Palestinians are terrorists -- and I'm not sure Israel has learned this lesson.

The only thing hopeful in this whole article is towards the end. Hamas sponsored a workshop entitled, "How to Talk to Israel" -- and the Palestinians were asking the kinds of questions I've always wished they asked. (I.e., that they should stop saying one thing amongst themselves -- that they'd like to destroy Israel -- and another thing to the rest of the world; that they should think through the consequences of indiscriminate acts of violence; that they have atrocious leadership problems.)

Let's hope they keep asking these questions -- but I don't see how you can finish reading this article and feel even a glimmer of optimism.