Tuesday, January 06, 2009
Unlike any other nation in history, Israel was founded after millions of its brethren, Jews, were butchered in mass genocide by another nation. No people have suffered 2000+ years of brutal persecution--including Pogroms, the Crusades, the Holocaust and Arab terrorism--like the Jews. And no nation besides Israel has on or within its borders enemies who publicly avow its absolute and violent destruction.
The mantra "Never Again" is something Jewish people live with every minute of every day, especially those living in Israel. Jews of every age, even those born after WW II, are haunted by images of concentration camps, ovens and mass graves. They remember how the world stood idly by and watched as six-million were slaughtered like animals. "Never Again" means that Jews would no longer be a passive partner in their own death. The existence of Israel in particular would come to symbolize strength and survival, and ensure that the enemy of the Jewish people would be dealt swift and decisive blows. Which is why Israel's invasion of Gaza is completely understandable and justifiable. Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni describes the conflict in the Gaza Strip as "the right of self-defense of a state."
The violence in Gaza is not borne out of a new found crisis. Rocket and missile attacks into Israeli border towns by Hamas, the terrorist group elected to power in Palestinian elections in January 2006, have been ongoing since 2001, increasing over 500% since that time. Hamas's mission is clear: its charter calls for the destruction of the State of Israel, to be replaced with a Palestinian Islamic state in the area that is now Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. There's no gray area here. Destruction. How do you negotiate with an enemy who will only accept wiping you off the face of the Earth?
Criticism of Israel's strikes into Gaza centers on proportionality. The debate is over how much retaliation is necessary and/or justified. To quote a very smart and concerned young college student I had the pleasure of meeting this week, "when you get shot in the foot, do you shoot them back in the head?" Yes, that's exactly what you do when your enemies have been trying to literally annihilate you for centuries. How exactly should Israel proportionately address this non-stop barrage of rockets into its country from a terrorist group hellbent on its destruction? How should Israel attempt to protect its people, long-term, if it merely acts defensively in a tit-for-tat manner, minimally answering each rocket with another rocket of its own? That would be a horribly naive response given history.
Colin Powell, a decorated war hero, four-star Army general, and former Secretary of State has outlined in what has informally been recognized as "The Powell Doctrine," that when a nation is engaging in war, it should harness every resource and tool to wage decisive military action against its enemy so as to minimize U.S. casualties and achieve a quick resolution to the conflict by overpowering the the weaker force into capitulation. That's precisely what Israel is attempting to do now in Gaza. Strike quick, strike hard and eliminate the enemy threat in an effort to secure its homeland. It's terribly unfortunate that civilians are getting killed, but I suppose that's the collateral damage when a cowardly enemy uses it's citizens as human shields. Israel is striking at Hamas's base of operations. But if that stronghold is centered in densely populated civilian neighborhoods, only Hamas can be blamed for the resulting casualties.
Let's keep in mind history. It is not the Israelis who blow up buses full of innocent people, detonate suicide bombs at restaurants and nightclubs, kill school children or throw old people off of cruise ships. To the contrary, no nation has made more concessions over the years to its arch enemies than Israel. It's given the Sinai back to Egypt, and returned parts of the Gaza Strip and West Bank to the Palestinians. It was also ready to make peace with Yassir Arafat and the PLO in a historic deal with then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak and President Bill Clinton at Camp David in 2000, a deal which would have created a Palestinian homeland with its capital in Jerusalem. A deal which Arafat was widely criticized for rejecting. But in order to achieve real peace, Israel needs a rational, committed statesman-like partner in the process. That partner is not Hamas.
The situation in the Middle East, in particular the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, has been volcanic since the Jewish state was founded 60 years ago. There's been periods of relative calm, followed by frequent violent and deadly eruptions, including many multi-nation wars. The current escalation is no exception. It is just another example of the cyclical tumult that faces this region of the world. Let's hope President-elect Barack Obama can enjoin the parties in a substantive negotiation process that can ultimately, and finally, lead to a lasting peace...if that's truly possible given the centuries-old emotional and cultural schisms that have plagued these nations like a disease. The question is, what will Obama's position be towards Israel and its desire and need to defend itself, and will he support this new action in Gaza...and if so, for how long? And if not, can Israel go it alone without the U.S. behind it? Interesting times ahead....