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Pride, Fury, Fire

December 28th, 2008by Gershom Gorenberg · 29 Comments · Politics and Policy

Gershom Gorenberg

Last week I received a press release from Physicians for Human Rights-Israel about a sharp increase in child burn victims in the Gaza Strip. This was before the Israeli air campaign began. After what’s happened in the last couple of days, PHR’s email now seems like a message from another historical era, a time so calm that it was a major concern that

In December alone, 16 Palestinians were hospitalized who were burned while trying to heat their homes. Most of the cases reported to the NGO were of children playing with fire, following attempts to light bonfires for heating and cooking and lighting candles in order to illuminate homes.”

The fires, that is, were the result of the siege of Gaza, which included fuel shortages and power outages. The head of the burn unit at Shifa Hospital in Gaza reported that his unit was collapsing under the strain. I can only guess that Dr. Nafed Abu Shaaban is having a much harder time this week.

Nonetheless, the problem of kids getting burned can help to understand why all of Gaza and southern Israel are in flames at the moment.

Israelis don’t see the effects of the siege in Gaza, or the way it was maintained during the six-month “calm.” Israeli journalists have a far easier time covering Mumbai than covering Gaza. What Israelis saw during the “calm” were Palestinian violations. Israel claimed that Hamas wasn’t keeping the agreement. That was true. It was also true that the Israeli government continued hoping, against all evidence, that the siege would provoke popular uprising against Hamas rule. Hamas regarded the calm as a failure in relieving siege conditions.

When the six months ended, Hamas decided that those Israelis would only understand force. To a man with a hammer, as the saying goes, everything looks like a nail – especially to an angry man. With a little careful thinking, anyone on the Hamas side could have figured out that no Israeli politician wanted to agree to reduce the siege in response to rocket fire. That would be giving in.

So brinkmanship led to both sides rushing over the brink into the abyss. Olmert, Livni, Barak and the collected generals apparently think that Hamas will agree to reduce violence as a result of the onslaught. A ten-second exercise in trying to imagine how Hamas leaders – or Gaza residents – see the situation leads to the opposite conclusion.

It is possible that the new offensive will shatter the Hamas government. In that case we’ll have a collapsed state in Gaza, where there is absolutely no one interested in stopping rocket fire. Will Israel occupy the Strip again then? Does our triumvurate think that NATO will want the job? Outside of showing that we have a bigger hammer, what will the operation accomplish?

Outside of the hammer, actually, Hamas did have some delicate tools in its tool chest. It could, for instance, have proposed indirect negotiations aimed at a two-state solution.That would have caught Israel’s leaders totally off guard, and undermined the political rationale for the siege. I guess that no one in the Gaza leadership considered this for 10 seconds.

Then again, before the “calm” ended, Israel could have passed the message that it was willing to recognize a Palestinian unity government and end the siege. Instead, our leaders continued to follow the policy that has failed since the Palestinian elections of 2006: Trying to undo the results via siege tactics.

The people with hammers, too proud to use anything but hammers, have now swung them at blasting caps. They will argue: We need to maintain a credible military option. They forget that a military option is not credible when it cannot produce the results you want (unless the only result you want is a body count). “What did you expect us to do?” they’ll say.

We expected you to think, to be smart enough to imagine how the other side would respond to your actions, to understand that they too are prisoners of  pride and fury.

Actually, we didn’t expect that. We only hoped.

The burn unit at Shifa, I’m sure, is overwhelmed.

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29 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Rachel Barenblat // Dec 28, 2008 at 9:07 pm

    Thank you for this post.

  • 2 David // Dec 28, 2008 at 9:26 pm

    How could Israel accept a government that includes a faction whose stated aim is the destruction of Israel? This is an information question.

  • 3 Yisrael Medad // Dec 28, 2008 at 9:38 pm

    Well, since some of Israel’s bombings have hit major fuel depots (see: http://www.gettyimages.com/detail/84129863/AFP?axd=DetailPaging.Generic|1&axs=0|84129895%2c84129893%2c84129880%2c84129874%2c84129866%2c84129865%2c84129864%2c84129863%2c84129862%2c84129861%2c84129860%2c84129859%2c84129858%2c84129855%2c84129854%2c84129842%2c84129838%2c84129837%2c84129836%2c84129833%2c84129832%2c84129824%2c84129822%2c84129812%2c84129811%2c84129810%2c84129805%2c84129797%2c84129796%2c84129795%2c84129794%2c84129793%2c84129790%2c84129785%2c84129784%2c84129781%2c84129777%2c84129776%2c84129774%2c84129771%2c84129770%2c84129769%2c84129768%2c84129764%2c84129763%2c84129756%2c84129755%2c84129748%2c84129737%2c84129736%2c84129735%2c84129728%2c84129718%2c84129715%2c84129713%2c84129712%2c84129709%2c84129707%2c84129699%2c84129679|180) it would appear that there was fuel but Hamas was hurting its own people. So, whose side are you on: that of truth, relative as it si or falsehood?

  • 4 zzz yushaje // Dec 28, 2008 at 10:38 pm

    But didn’t Hamas agree a couple of months ago change their position on Israel and sad that they were willing to recognize Israel? It was reported enough that it showed up on social newssitea and google news

  • 5 civax // Dec 28, 2008 at 11:25 pm

    I’m not sure I completely agree with you, but I do accept you have a very valid point here.

    My home town is Ashkelon and I have experienced rockets, worry about my family and even had my high school hit.

    I agree you can talk calmly and rationally when you’re away from the fire, but when you are IN the fire, and you see your government do nothing to protect you for years, you just want them to realize we DO have a bigger hammer and as childish as it may sound, you better reason with us then have us hit you with that hammer.

    With all due respect, if Hamas would have came and wanted to discuss complete stop of all hostile actions, Israel would have never refused.

    But with statements calling for the total destruction of Israel, that wouldn’t be Hamas then, would it?

  • 6 A Peek into a Mind » Blog Archive » The Gaza war on Twitter // Dec 28, 2008 at 11:31 pm

    [...] A very calm look on the situation, basically blaming both sides. (got a valid point, gotta admit that.) [...]

  • 7 Sean Carmody // Dec 29, 2008 at 1:30 am

    A very thoughtful and thought-provoking piece, thank you. I can’t help thinking that additional factors affecting timing are upcoming elections in Israel and a lame duck President in the US. Mind you, even when Obama takes office it’s hard to see what assistance he can bring to such an intractable dispute.

  • 8 Steve // Dec 29, 2008 at 2:13 am

    This is your hero.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yTLJKpa_hDE

  • 9 Steve // Dec 29, 2008 at 8:49 am

    I believe that that rest of Israel is getting so tired of “the Self Hating Jew” phenomenon.

    Sedition isn’t seen as “cute” anymore.

  • 10 Thoughts on the last night of Hanukkah | Jewschool // Dec 29, 2008 at 9:40 am

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  • 11 Anders // Dec 29, 2008 at 2:08 pm

    Civax, you live in what was until recently al-Majdal. It was renamed Ashkelon only after the Palestinian population had been “persuaded” to leave during the war 1948. Just to give a background to why some of the people now living in Gaza might not like Israelis very much.

    Hamas did some overtures directly after the elections suggesting they might be ready to recognize Israel, but there were no response from the Israeli side. As a foreigner I must say I have seen few indications that Israeli governments really want too much peace. They want enough war to be able to continue to grab land on the West Bank, and to do that they need to be able to claim that they have no one to negotiate with. An Israeli government that really wanted peace would stop all settlements since these are an obstacle to peace as well as a violation of international law.

  • 12 A blogger from Lebanon // Dec 29, 2008 at 4:10 pm

    “Israel claimed that Hamas wasn’t keeping the agreement. That was true. ”

    Actually, no, that is not true, as even the Israeli ambassador to the UN admitted. She said that the rocket fire had started in November. It was in November that ISRAEL assassinated Palestinians in cold blood in Gaza (not to mention the West Bank — but let’s leave the WB out of it for a moment) and continued its violations of the terms of the agreement by continuing the siege instead of opening all crossings unconditionally, so long as the rocket fire was stopped (which was the case — save for that one instance in which Israel claimed there had been a rocket attack and it turned out there was a false alarm, the sirens had gone off over something else, or maybe, just maybe, that was a deliberately-invoked siren, who knows). It was Israel that violated the ceasefire when it claimed it had discovered a tunnel — of which it presented absolutely no proof — and executed a number of Palestinians in cold blood, to which Hamas naturally, and justifiably, reacted with rocket fire, although I must say Hamas was very restrained in its rocket barrages even at that point. So no, it wasn’t Hamas who brought things to this point, it was Israel that chose to go down this road, and it is Israel that chose war, and it is Israel that will pay a bigger price, perhaps not in terms of lives lost or material damages sustained, and most probably not even in the short run, but in the long run, Israel actions harm Israel itself, and its prospects for continued existence, more than they do harm to Hamas or Palestinians more generally. And when the whole world realizes that the only solution to avert a war of global repercussions is to dismantle the terror state called Israel, Israelis will have only Israeli pride, folly, and thirst for blood to blame for their fate.

  • 13 War Without End » Boztopia.com // Dec 29, 2008 at 5:25 pm

    [...] becoming the very evil we despise? That by bombing Gaza, we’re bearding the lion in his den, goading him to strike back in fury and pain, not realizing that he may devour us as he [...]

  • 14 A tangential point, but // Dec 29, 2008 at 6:49 pm

    RE: Anders

    Not justifying anything else, but as a point of fact, the name Ashkelon is an ancient one…though the city then housed the enemies of the kingdom of Israel. Prophets then spoke of God destroying said enemies, with:

    Zechariah 9:4-5: “she herself shall be consumed by fire. Ashkelon shall see it and be frightened, Gaza shall tremble violently”

  • 15 aliyah06 // Dec 29, 2008 at 11:52 pm

    Lebanon, I think you will find no one in the world agrees with your assessment.

    The first Kassam rocket fell on Israel on April 16, 2001. The cross-border mortars were on-going throughout the Intifada. This is not something new.

    The missiles NEVER stopped this year, although there were far fewer of them in July, August, September and October–but there was never a real cease-fire. Hamas was already increasing its attacks prior to the November 12 incident–which was not a ‘massacre’ but an exchange of weapons fire by armed Palestinian and Israeli troops ocassioned by the Palestinians trying to place a bomb at the border fence, presumably to blow up Israelis.

    Prior to the end of the ‘truce’ Hamas revved up its attacks and by December was firing barrages of missiles not at military targets but deliberately into civilian towns, striking schools, nursery schools, playgrounds and other places were noncombatants are found.

    If you have any doubt about who started this conflict, go read the Hamas Charter which calls for the genocide of Jews, the eradication of any vestige of sovereignty or autonomy, and the imposition of Sharia law relegating non-Moslems to dhimmi status.

    Hamas is a walking, talking war-crime in action. Israel has tried embargo, truce, indirect diplomacy, limited military strikes — almost everything short of all out war.

    Hamas picked this fight for two reasons: the first is that “jihad” and never-ending war against the rest of the world, starting with the Jews, is their raison d’etre; the second is more pragmatic–they hope to force the election of a right-wing Israeli government in February that will move away from any normalization and peaceful solutions with the Palestinians, and bring about a new Intifada.

  • 16 A blogger from Lebanon // Dec 30, 2008 at 2:14 am

    “The first Kassam rocket fell on Israel on April 16, 2001. ”

    The occupation of Gaza began in1967. The first Qassam happened to be 34 years too late.

  • 17 A blogger from Lebanon // Dec 30, 2008 at 2:15 am

    As for the rest of your claims, nonsense. If you have any proofs to back up your claims, provide it. Merely saying that Hamas was planting this or that, or planning on planting this or that, just doesn’t cut it, I’m afraid.

  • 18 A blogger from Lebanon // Dec 30, 2008 at 2:49 am

    I do not need to look at Hamas’s charter. We have a real situation — as opposed to just words on paper — happening for the past 60 years, namely the zionists refusing at first the very existence of such a thing as a Palestinian people (imagine if Hamas had denied the existence of Jews) , and then refusing that the Palestinian people had any right to have their own state. This has been standard policy for the past 60 years, and continues to this day. So quit bringing me irrelevant “examples” to “prove” Hamas’s guilt. Hamas did not exist until 1987.

  • 19 aliyah06 // Dec 30, 2008 at 7:56 pm

    The occupation of Gaza in 1967 was a direct response to Arab League conventional warfare coupled with Egyptian-backed ‘assymetrical warfare’ wherein Egypt sent squads of ‘fedayeen’ over the border to kill Israelis in Israel.

    Yeah, by all means, don’t look at Hamas’s Charter–you might learn something.

    ““There is no such country as Palestine! Palestine is a term the Zionists invented. There is no Palestine in the Bible. Palestine is alien to us; it is the Zionists who introduced it.” A Zionist? No, this is a quote from Auni Bey Abdul-Hadi, an Arab leader, denying the existence of a Palestine or Palestinian people to the Peel Commission in 1936.

    “The Palestinian people does not exist. The creation of a Palestinian state is only a means for continuing our struggle against the state of Israel for our Arab unity. In reality today there is no difference between Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese. Only for political and tactical reasons do we speak today about the existence of a Palestinian people, since Arab national interests demand that we posit the existence of a distinct “Palestinian people” to oppose Zionism. ” These are the words of Zahir Muhsein, a leader in the PLO who said this to a Dutch newspaper in 1977.

    And in 2005, Mahmoud A-Zahhar, the leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, said the same thing: “In the past, there was no independent Palestinian state; there was no independent Jordanian state; and so on. There were regions called Iraq or Egypt, but they were all part of one country….Our main goal is to establish a great Islamic state, be it pan-Arabic or pan-Islamic. ” Presumably there will be no Palestine in the future, either, if this is the Arab plan.

    ….so you’ll understand our confusion if the Arabs of the region tell us there is no Palestine, and no Palestinian people–and then you chastise us for saying what your leaders said?

    HAMAS is simply the name of the Gaza franchise of the Moslem Brotherhood which has been around since the 1920s…don’t make it sound like it just sprang into being in 1987–it just rebranded itself in 1987, but it’s been around since 1928 (it’s Egyptian in origin).

  • 20 Melvin Schnell // Dec 30, 2008 at 8:16 pm

    If you play with fire, you get burned

  • 21 Yam Erez // Dec 30, 2008 at 10:25 pm

    Even Amira Hass conceded that Hamas might use a mosque here and there as a front for stockpiling arms or planning attacks on Israel (today, Haaretz). While the occupation is wrong and should be ended, Hamas is at least 50% responsible for this latest “episode” in the soap opera we call the Middle East. The IDF response to Kassams and Grads is just us paraphrasing George Bush’s famous admonition to the Hezbollah in the summer of 2006: “Guys, stop doin’ that s–t”.

  • 22 Jordan // Dec 31, 2008 at 8:14 pm

    There are facts and opinions and first we must strive to get facts correct
    - The occupation of Gaza did not start in 1967. It started in 1947 when Egypt in a war of aggression invaded and executed an illegal military occupation of Gaza for the next 20 years. The modern Palestinian “liberation” movement started in 1964 with the creation of the PLO by the Arab nations to continue a terrorist war in between the conventional state-state wars. The PLO charter explicitly called for the liberation of Palestinian lands that were then all of Israel while denying any sovereignty of 90% of the original League of Nations British Mandate of Palestine, made up of Jordan, the West Bank (illegally occupied by Jordan) and Gaza (occupied by Egypt). So in 1964, 100% of what will be one day be the State of Palestine was in Arab hands! The PLO and 1967 war was about destroying Israel, not the creation of a Arab-Palestinian state. The great Palestinian Liberation movement until the Oslo Accords had as its primary goal the destruction of Israel.

    2nd, Israel does recognize Palestine and Palestinians, as embodied in the Oslo accords, Camp David II and Taba negotiations and relations between the PA and the government of Israel. That Israel does not recongize Palestinans is not only falsem, but the oppostive of reality in which Hamas refuses to recognize the State of Israel and all of the Oslo Agreements, shake an Israeli hand or even sit in the same room as an Israeli for negotiations. Hamas, like Hezbolla is an absolutists rejectionist group like Al Qaeda.

  • 23 Nixon // Jan 1, 2009 at 12:00 am

    You say that Hamas should have “proposed negotiations”?? Are you serious?

    I cannot count the times Israeli polititians have OUTRIGHT REJECTED even the idea of talking with Hamas. Israel has even gone so far as to develop a set of mantras they repeat over and over in order to forever avoid negotiations with Hamas.

    “There is nobody to talk to”

    “Never negotiate with terrorists”

    “There are no such thing as ‘Palestinians’”

    To claim that Hamas should have knocked on a door that Israel has long since nailed shut and buried is a joke.

  • 24 The Siege Of Gaza | The F U Republiblog // Jan 1, 2009 at 4:42 am

    [...] religious barbarism and dismay at Israel’s apparent determination to commit slow suicide. Gershom Gorenberg captures the agony as well as anyone I’ve read: Israelis don’t see the effects of the siege [...]

  • 25 fiddler // Jan 1, 2009 at 1:39 pm

    Nixon, those mantras weren’t developed for Hamas, they were repeated ad nauseam for many years regarding the PLO, and guess what happened. With Oslo Israel succeeded to turn them – in the form of the PA – into its security contractor because Arafat was corrupt enough to value his own power and wealth over the welfare and liberty of his people. The moment he ceased to be useful he was dropped like a hot potato and the above mantras were dusted off once more.
    The anarchy that would break out in Gaza, were Hamas toppled, can’t be in Israel’s interest – it may well force a full military reoccupation. A resurgence of Fatah would undermine Israel’s divide-and-rule strategy of politically as well as physically isolating Gaza from the coveted West Bank.
    When Israel sees a chance to make Hamas focus primarily on staying in power and forget about resistance to the occupation you can bet your arse they’ll suddenly have someone to talk to.

  • 26 jean powers // Jan 2, 2009 at 10:35 pm

    Lets make Iran even stronger shall we?
    Keep bombing,thatll do the trick.
    And I think you may have finally found a way to bring the sunni and shia together at long last,no?
    Being right doesnt mean your being smart.

  • 27 Collateral damages « Best of Mankind´s blog - Mabuhay! // Jan 3, 2009 at 2:16 am

    [...] stoltheten/pride högre än människokärleken eller det sunda förnuftet? Hamasledaren Nizar Rayyan har [...]

  • 28 Fazal Majid // Jan 9, 2009 at 11:20 pm

    One point that is never emphasized enough is that the attacks on both sides are primarily motivated by electoral, not military considerations.

    Hamas claims Mahmoud Abbas’ term expires on Jan. 9, 2009 (something Fatah doesn’t agree with, but no matter), and Abbas has been threatening to call an early legislative election. By burnishing their nationalist credentials prior to an election, whether presidential or legislative, they hope to take over both branches and drive Fatah from power in the West Bank as they did in Gaza. Of course, the Fatah militia would not play ball and engage in vote-rigging first, then civil war later, but that’s another matter.

    The current Israeli Kadima-Labour coalition was running behind Bibi Netanyahu’s Likud in polls, hence their urgent need to demonstrate machismo prior to the February elections.

    The price for the cynicism of Israeli and Palestinian politicians continues to be paid in blood (mostly Palestinian, but Israeli as well). Both electorates conveniently oblige by rewarding that obscene political calculus in the polls, and the international community as well is conspicuous by its absence and cowardice.

  • 29 The Truth Herzl // Jan 13, 2009 at 12:52 am

    Gershom – Great piece. However what I wonder about of late is if Israelis are just burnt out by the lack of exciting leadership, the repetitive nature of fighting in the Middle East, and the hollow promises each generation that the kids won’t have to go into the army.

    Most of the people I speak to – especially fellow students at Ben Gurion University who have not been in class for two weeks – don’t even want to debate this war anymore. It’s just one more in a never ending line. In this type of mindset, critical thought and action are quite far away.

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