Oh Israel, why must you do it? Why must you make such an almighty balagan of these things? Hamas is out to provoke you and you are evidently in the market for provocation. Would it kill you to step back and find a way of resolving a crisis that doesn’t involve dead Palestinians and international censure? You could have dispersed the crowds without opening fire on them. You could have used non-lethal rounds. ‘T’nu L’Tzahal L’Natzeach’ is fair enough when you’re bombing Hamas installations but these were unarmed protestors.
If you haven’t spent the past few days with these thoughts rattling around your head, you are a stauncher Zionist than I am. And I once had to explain to a university professor why I kept referring to Jordan as ‘Eastern Eretz Yisrael’ in an essay. Israel can sometimes test your patience and your stomach. These are immediate reactions – raw and without nuance or context – but they are honest and the expression of them should not be seen as a betrayal. I will donate to lone soldiers as if there were no civilian deaths and lament civilian deaths as if there were no lone soldiers.
Those of us criticising Israel have to direct our rebukes to the correct target and, ultimately, that is not the IDF’s operational decision-making. It is easy to shake your head and prate ‘they could have done something else’. When threatened with invasion by an adjacent terrorist state then faced with tens of thousands of hostiles ranged on its boundaries, how does the IDF respond? Yes, there were unarmed protestors there on Monday; others, however, were armed and were there to riot, or worse.
When Palestinian terrorists have infiltrated Israel or the settlements in the past, they have murdered police officers, slaughtered soldiers, massacred families, kidnapped and slain teenage hitchhikers, gunned down security officers, axe-murdered a teenager, machine-gunned drivers in a traffic jam, executed diners in a cafe, blown up a bus, blown up a bus stop, shot a rabbi ten times in the head, butchered a feminist peace activist, killed worshippers at a synagogue, shot a pregnant woman at point-blank range, beheaded a three-month-old baby, and bludgeoned a 13-year-old girl as she slept in her bed. All of these attacks took place in the past decade; the list is far from exhaustive.
How would I have stopped these rioters doing the same, and en masse given their number? My answer is non-lethal rounds and increased troop presence at the boundary to prevent any illegal crossings. I can hear my friends in the IDF scoffing as they read this. Non-lethal rounds against a wall of hostiles? What world do you live in, achi? Not their world. I live in a world where Israel is expected to behave like Sweden while the Palestinians are allowed – encouraged – to act like a street gang. A world that has only ever been able to sympathise with dead Jews; living Jews, and especially Jews fighting to live, rub us up the wrong way. What other sovereign state would police an attack on its borders like a student demonstration? Israel was better equipped to manage Gaza violence when it was in Gaza but the international community pressured it to leave and it did and now Hamas is in charge. If we want rubber bullets and community policing – if we want Israel to patrol Gaza rioting as an internal security challenge – we are unwittingly advocating the return of the IDF.
Our anger at Israel’s tactical decisions need not require better suggestions but it’s telling that we don’t seem to have any. Where our frustration should be directed is at the easy status quo. Israel under the Likud has told itself it can ignore the Palestinian problem and it will go away. Difficult choices need not be made – Judea and Samaria or democracy? – and a strong army will keep them safe. The Palestinians believe demography will deliver victory. They are not just trying to cross over into Israel, they are convinced they can step back into 1948. Back then, the Arabs launched a war of annihilation against the newly reconstituted Jewish state – and lost. They have never come to terms with that defeat. On Monday, a strong army once again put Israel in the dock of international public opinion. It made an embattled Jewish outpost look like a bully and a brutaliser. That’s not the truth of Israel but it is a stubborn, widespread perception. Hamas got their prime-time bloodshed but the Palestinians got nothing.
The Israelis object that they have no partner for peace. Earlier this month, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas reiterated his view that Jews brought the Holocaust on themselves. This is progress since he previously wrote a book calling the Shoah a ‘fantastic lie’. Abbas is not wrongly labelled a Palestinian moderate. He is a Palestinian moderate. His is a case study in Western blindness to non-Western racism.
Israel has no partner for peace but sometimes peace only needs one side. The next Israeli government – this one is beyond help – has to take charge and formulate a unilateral plan. This could involve retention of the settlement blocs and a withdrawal of Israeli civilians from the rest of Area C, or something more imaginative like the ‘New State Solution’, which is beginning to gain serious attention. Whatever it chooses, Israel has to choose soon. It cannot afford many more days like Monday.