With the first anniversary of Israel’s war against civilians in Gaza upon us, a plethora of articles, analyses and comments about the past twelve months and its context have surfaced. All well and good, for it has placed Palestinians back in the news again and the publicity and exposure can only be beneficial. Although the right-wing’s usual suspects have sought to downplay the anniversary, enough light has been shed on it – including a damning report about the consequences of Israel’s aggression – to cancel that out. It would be easy to assume that the Israelis, with the Tzipi Livni arrest warrant fresh in their memory, would try to keep a low profile for the time being and at this particular time at least. But no, that’s not the Israeli way.
The Christmas Eve edition of the New York Times contained an interesting “Memo from Tel Aviv”, by Isabel Kershner. It’s interesting because Ms. Kershner hasn’t used “Jerusalem” instead of Tel Aviv; she probably lives in the latter but it goes against the usual run of things emanating from Israel which seek to reinforce the idea that Jerusalem, not Tel Aviv, is the capital city of the Zionist state.
It’s also interesting in the current anniversary context because the whole article is based on the premise that “The next round will be different”. According to Giora Eiland, a retired major general and former chief of Israel’s National Security Council, “The only way to be successful is to take much harsher action.” Eiland is referring, of course, to the next time Israel “probably” finds itself “fighting another, similar kind of war” against Hamas or Hizbullah. Ms. Kershner doesn’t name the two organisations; she calls them “Iranian-backed militant organizations… in Gaza and Lebanon”. Her intention is clear, as is that of the senior officials she quotes.
Ms. Kershner points out that this belligerence – she doesn’t use that term, of course – “has raised alarm among some critics in Israel, but so far it has stirred little public debate”, which shouldn’t surprise us. What should, though, is the fact that this “tougher stance” is being discussed openly; the UN’s Goldstone Report in September, the Failing Gaza… report by Amnesty et al just a couple of weeks ago and other human rights reports over the past twelve months have obviously done nothing to change the Israeli political and military attitude towards a peaceful solution to the conflict in the Holy Land. According to Isabel Kershner, “Gerald Steinberg, a political scientist at Bar Ilan University near Tel Aviv, said the Goldstone report was viewed in Israel as a ‘political threat that needs to be thwarted politically’, but there was no sign… that it had led to military restraint.”
Critics of the lack of any “restraint” by the Israeli military believe that “the intention to inflict immense damage and destruction… would inevitably lead to civilian deaths”. The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel has called for a public debate on the matter, believing that the current attitude and approach is “legally and politically dangerous and cast(s) a ‘moral stain’ on Israeli citizens”. At a conference in London in mid-December, Professor Norman Finkelstein quoted members of Breaking the Silence (Israel Army veterans) who said of the war in Gaza, “Israel used insane amounts of firepower”. The Goldstone Report said that Israel had “deliberately planned the attack [on Gaza] to punish, humiliate and terrorise a civilian population”. Thus, the evidence is overwhelming that civilian deaths not only occurred but also that they were incurred deliberately.
It is astonishing, therefore, that Israeli planners think a “tougher stance” is not only necessary next time but also desirable. It is even more astonishing that Western governments have not condemned the approach. The timing of Ms. Kershner’s article, when most civil servants and politicians will be at home for the Christmas holidays, was unfortunate, if not deliberate. It will be even more unfortunate if Israel gets away with such belligerence again. The time has come to say, once more, that enough is enough. And keep on saying it until the message gets through.