US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Cornered in Gaza

By Kevin Clarke | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

Here's a neat summary on Israel's predicament now that it has moved into Gaza from Time magazine and Rabbi Lerner's proposal from Tikkun.

Nicholas Kristof from the New York Times apparently has been reading this blog (I kid, I think), and here's Roger Cohen's powerful "Dominion of the Dead."

Headlines like this "Gaza children found with mothers' corpses" offer jolting glimpses into the dreadful reality of this urban combat.

In justifying the incursion and attempting to rationalize its murderous impact on Gaza citizens, internet commentators have noted that other civilian populations in the past have been treated brutally because of the actions of their government and note Nagasaki, Hiroshima, Tokyo, Berlin, and Dresden as examples, following a "total war" argument that basically runs since the Palestinians elected Hamas they share responsibility for Hamas and essentially now are getting what they deserve. This argument seems pathologically indifferent to the suffering of others. The 135 (more now certainly) children killed so far didn't vote for anybody. I certainly agree it is historical fact that noncombatants often pay a heavy price for the actions of their leaders. I don't agree that this is a historical precedent worth emulating if humankind seriously presumes anything like progress toward more civilization and not more barbarity.

Israeli defenders complain that the sanctity of Israeli life has been diminished in the outcry over the death toll in Gaza and they have a point. How many Israeli deaths, after all, should have to be counted up before this response assumes the ineffable proportionality so frequently promoted? The IDF is responding to a rocket campaign which is intended to accomplish little more than murder an unlucky civilian and has accomplished that 20 times. All the same the numbers do make a difference in how the conflict is perceived certainly, now with more than 700 deaths (many more hidden in bombed out buidlings) and apparently as many as 350 noncombatants among them. It is the IDF which is beginning to be perceived as cruel and barbaric even as its spokespeople assert that the IDF does everything to avoid killing civilians and Hamas essentially targets them. The distinction is probably not too meaningful to the families of the deceased.

With great power comes great responsibility (OK, I stole that). The Israelis may be justified, in other words (though obviously I believe that remains legalistically and morally arguable), that doesn't mean they are wise to take advantage of their vast military superiority and wade through the Gazan civilian population. I agree that proportionality makes no sense in this context: what I am proposing is the massively disproportionate response of not meeting one crime with another.

Here's the conundrum: even as the above is true, what's also true is that it is ridiculous to expect any government to placidly accept rocket fire over the heads of their citizens and that there is a potential that not responding in some manner will only encourage more accurate and longer ranging rocket development in the near future.

So what to do? Nicholas Kristof takes a few stabs at that in deploying what-Israel-should-have-done hindsight: bomb the tunnels and neutralize clearly identifiable Hamas targets and hope that reason may one day prevail. I know that such a limited strategy would have probably proved unsatisfactory to the family of the next person killed by a Hamas rocket in Israel, but that's also probably going to be true after this incursion winds down, too, and the rockets take to the air again.

I think the problem is the duality of everyone's thinking: What is Israel to do? Bomb or not bomb, as if those were the only two options before it/us to combat terrorism emanating from Gaza. (This argument can be applied to our war on terror's overreliance on force in combating terrorism, as well.)

Hamas presents a problem in exploring some of those alternatives to the dualist dilemma. It is essentially pointless to negotiate with an entity that has sworn your absolute destruction. What would you talk about?

I think smarter players would have found a way to waltz around Hamas. What might have happened if instead of the clampdown that occurred after Hamas was elected, the U.S. and Israel had ignored the government and intensified their relations with Gaza-based NGOs, seeing to it that these agencies became empowered to improve sanitary/nutrition/economic situation in Gaza. Then secular NGOs might have received the credit for improving living conditions. Currently Hamas, in its triple role of militant/government/social service provider is just about the only entity responding to conditions there, building further loyalty among the people. If we had found some viable mechanism for meaningful engagement in Gazan society or created ones as necessary, maybe extremism would have been tempered in Gaza instead of inflamed by the strip's deplorable conditions. (Vatican spokesperson Cardinal Renato Martino started his own war of words yesterday by calling Gaza an "open air concentration camp.")

How to end this conflict? Some ideas:

1.) The borders have to be scrupulously monitored by multinational teams themselves monitored by representatives from all sides, but they have to be open to allow Gaza some economic and humanitarian breathing room.

2.) Because of the terrible conditions there and the unlikelihood because of same for a viable economy/social order to ever emerge, Gaza has to be drained of at least 500,000 people who should be resettled elsewhere. Where? Obviously Arab nations should be pressured to help create permanent communities for people willing to be resettled, but I also think the U.S. could set an example by establishing a special quota for Palestinian refugee-refugees. And, are you sitting down? I think Israel should allow a token number to return to their home villages within its current borders. This is a shock and awe that might better combat extremism than a new century of military debauchery.

3.) Israel should acknowledge the dislocation that occurred because of previous conflicts and make some proposal for a compensation formula of some sort to the refugee generations gathered in Gaza.

We are very far from these proposals which admittedly offer a whole raft of difficult logistic, economic, and security problems to overcome. And no one seems in the mood to talk about them in the near future.

Peace is a process, not an event. Pacifist strategies for resolving conflict require diligence and patience and constant attention. Because they are much harder to execute and frankly they go against our rather retribution-wired natures, we humans being haven't shown a willingness to deploy them when a rocket or a tank shell is so much easier to fire off.

It would have taken decades to unwind the animus here; now we can expect it to take a few decades more. I don't think the region has that kind of time to kill.