The below is a paraphrased response to a friend who expressed his frustration with what he felt was the undue attention paid to “details” during the latest confrontation between Israel and Hamas. In his view, the media placed too much emphasis on the precise nature of the damage Israel inflicted upon Gaza, instead of focusing on the big picture, which, according to him, was that Israel was just defending itself against those actively seeking its destruction.
This past year has brought another round of tragic violence between Israelis and Palestinians, as the Israeli army launched an air-based attack in Gaza in response to the steady barrage of rockets launched by Hamas into southern Israel. I understand the impatience you feel when many in the media obsess about the ‘proportionality’ of Israel’s response, as if war was a sport with an easily ascertainable score. And I agree that such myopia often obscures the major theme of the recent conflict: Israel’s right to protect itself against attack by Hamas, a terrorist organization whose founding document calls for the destruction of the Jewish state of Israel.
So let’s talk in broad strokes: the right of a sovereign nation to defend itself is unassailable. But perhaps as equally indisputable is the right of a distinct people to govern themselves.
Most of the world (with obvious exceptions for Iran, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and a few others) recognizes Israel’s legitimate right to self-preservation, and likewise the world generally recognizes Palestinians’ statehood claim. The trick is how to integrate those two generally accepted ideas-and to understand that Israel’s role in that process will have far-reaching implications for its own future. And that has everything to do with things like construction permits and tax withholding. Far from mundane technicalities, the recent measures taken by the government of Bibi Netanyahu serve to destroy any good faith on the part of Fatah. (The fact that these actions represent a ‘punishment’ for Fatah’s successful U.N. bid only underscores their significance.) The Netanyahu government is effectively signaling to Palestinians that backing Fatah is a dead-end street, at a time when Fatah is desperately trying to prove that its path of non-violence remains the best way forward. I think that’s why people are so intensely focused on the “details.”
I suspect that you might still argue that all of this maneuvering is irrelevant-that even if Israel handed back the West Bank and Gaza right after the 1967 war, empowered them economically and endorsed their statehood, that there would still be powerful Palestinian factions today who would fire rockets into Israel. Maybe. Maybe not. But so what? Israel would deal with them appropriately, as it did during the recent Gaza operation. In the meantime, there would be a viable Palestinian state with reasonable political and economic stability, and the majority of Palestinian people could decide for themselves whether that’s good enough.
In lieu of this alternate reality, I think all Israel can do going forward is affirm its right to exist, bomb those that bomb it, and try urgently to get the “small stuff” right.