Time to re­ward mod­er­a­tion?

The Jewish Chronicle - - COMMENT - Han­nah We­is­feld

WHEN those close to us are in im­me­di­ate dan­ger, we ag­o­nise over each news up­date. But prox­im­ity to war, emo­tional or phys­i­cal, does not al­ways give us the best per­spec­tive. That is true for all par­ties in this or any con­flict. In the heat of the mo­ment, our de­sire to see calm re­stored means we do not chal­lenge the per­ceived wis­dom put be­fore us. Is­rael is at war, so ask no ques­tions. There is no choice.

The ques­tion is not whether Is­raeli civil­ians have a right to live free from rocket fire, which of course they do, nor whether rocket fire is jus­ti­fied: fir­ing rock­ets in­dis­crim­i­nately into civil­ian ar­eas con­sti­tutes a war crime. It is rather, whether “mow­ing the lawn” in Gaza ev­ery few years, as it has come to be known, in which count­less lives are lost, and civil­ian in­fra­struc­ture to­tally de­stroyed, will mean that what we all pre­sum­ably want — for the mod­er­ates to win out— will ac­tu­ally hap­pen. Put an­other way, can you bomb peo­ple into sup­port­ing peace?

The fact that we are back in Gaza, might sug­gest oth­er­wise. The IDF web­site states that the ob­jec­tive of 2008’s Cast Lead op­er­a­tion was to “de­stroy the ter­ror­ist in­fra­struc­ture of the Ha­mas… while tak­ing con­trol of some of its rocket launch­ing area…” That could have been writ­ten about this op­er­a­tion, Pil­lar of De­fence, and count­less others.

Many Pales­tini­ans do not see mod­er­a­tion win­ning at all. They see vi­o­lence bring­ing what they con­sti­tute as suc­cess, whereas non-vi­o­lence pro­duces few re­sults. Ha­mas kid­napped a soldier, and fired rock­ets from Gaza (ac­cord­ing to the Shabak, 276 were fired in 2004, the year be­fore dis­en­gage­ment), and in re­turn man­aged to re­move the set­tlers and bring home 1,000-plus pris­on­ers. Ab­bas took Pales­tinian state­hood to the UN and re­nounced vi­o­lence. He was pun­ished with more set­tle­ment build­ing and the with­hold­ing of tax rev­enue.

The an­swer can­not be to ig­nore the dan­ger Ha­mas poses. It is not a be­lea­guered na­tional move­ment, sim­ply de­fend­ing the Pales­tinian peo­ple, as some who op­pose Is­rael’s cur­rent mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion like to por­tray. It is a ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tion bent on de­struc­tion.

But some of its lead­er­ship can be en­gaged with, and when Is­rael wants to, it finds ways to ne­go­ti­ate with it, as is clear from the Gi­lad Shalit deal, and the much smaller skir­mishes that have taken place across the Is­rael-Gaza bor­der over the past few years, which have been quickly de-es­ca­lated.

Re­ward­ing mod­er­a­tion, cre­at­ing a day-to­day re­al­ity in which those who seek vi­o­lent means are marginalised by their own peo­ple, be­cause the peo­ple are gain­ing some­thing from peace, surely must be tried. Ha­mas as a mil­i­tary wing might be the en­emy of the state of Is­rael, but the peo­ple of Gaza are not. Im­prov­ing liv­ing con­di­tions and find­ing cre­ative, non-puni­tive ways, to main­tain a se­cure bor­der, might be a bet­ter way to dele­git­imise Ha­mas rule long-term. Even al­low­ing a na­tional unity govern­ment be­tween Ha­mas and Fatah to give it a go. Be­fore the lat­est round of vi­o­lence be­gan, a poll con­ducted in Gaza in June found that 57 per cent of Gazans thought that Ha­mas should ac­cept a uni­ty­gov­ern­ment rule that re­nounced vi­o­lence, and 73 per cent said pro­pos­als for non-vi­o­lent re­sis­tance should be adopted. If the Gazan pop­u­la­tion were to be polled to­day, 600 deaths later, I am not sure we would find these re­sults.

We are right to be ex­tremely con­cerned when, over the past week, chants of “Ha­mas, Ha­mas, Jews to the gas” have been heard in Europe. But that does not mean that the only mo­ti­va­tion for ques­tion­ing the cur­rent strat­egy of the Is­raeli govern­ment is an­ti­semitism. It is not wrong to ask ques­tions or chal­lenge per­ceived wis­dom, and do­ing so does not mean you do not stand with Is­rael within its hour of need. Surely none of us want to be back here again in two years’ time?

It is not wrong to ask ques­tions in this con­flict

Han­nah We­is­feld is direc­tor of Yachad

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