A Different Take on Gaza/Israel
I skipped the rallies—the stand-with-Israel as well as the stop-the-bloodshed ones. I neglected to gift the planet with self-righteous bumper-sticker-style social media posts. I don’t want to expound upon pain or outrage, nor do I want to signal boost the day’s top atrocity.
Most of my posts and most of my fiction share the goal of starting conversations, and these conversations are well underway. So, what do I have to offer?
I can write what I haven’t seen yet: a post that doesn’t pretend to have all the answers but will raise a question I think the world should be pondering. Let’s start with the obvious: the calls for an immediate ceasefire are futile—it won’t happen. The invasion will. And the lead-up is morally ambiguous. We could all support an inevitable war that would save more people than it will kill. This isn’t that war. A more modest goal would be for the side launching the war to save more of their own people than will die in the war. Asking only this would contravene most moral codes, but I think we can all agree that if the war won’t even save lives on the side that’s going to win, the war is problematic, to say the least. It won’t. Ratcheting our goals down another step, then: can this war enable Israelis to live with a sense of security that allows them to get on with their lives and blithely ignore the Palestinian situation for, say, another decade, before we repeat the war cycle?
Gee, you might say, that’s aiming awfully low. Nevertheless, let’s consider what it would take to achieve even that goal. Israelis invade, massive killing, every known Hamas operative dead, all the tunnels destroyed, and the place bombed back into the Stone Age—blah, blah, blah—we’re almost there already. Assuming tens of thousands of Palestinians killed, there will still be >2 million Gazans left with nowhere to go other than Gaza because nobody will take them in. Who will rule the place?
Even Hamas says (in the 2017 update to their charter) that the PLO is the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. They also say they recognize the “national consensus” that would like to see a state of Palestine emerge in the West Bank and Gaza. Fatah went through a similar progression in their ideology in the early 1970s to the point where it declared that if they came to occupy a state, they would rule over it, which was a shift from the starting point of fighting until the entire area was “liberated.” It would seem that the logical person to whom to transfer control of Gaza would be Mahmoud Abbas. His unpopularity with his own people will be a challenge. The backing of the major Western and Western-aligned powers will help.
I am willing to say that these events might happen. No guarantees, but at least this isn’t impossible. Assuming this phenomenally “successful” conclusion to this war, what then?
There are nearly a half million settlers in the West Bank, a sizable number go on rampages in which Palestinians are killed, and two outright genocide-advocating fascist politicians currently sit in the Israeli government running interference for them. The Israeli army patrols the West Bank to keep settlers safe, and if some Palestinians are slaughtered before the army puts a stop to things, well, hey, that’s politics, right?
Any government with Netanyahu in it will refuse to evict any settlers from the West Bank. Even a government that put Netanyahu in jail couldn’t do it—they’d be too weak. Anger anyone, and a coalition government collapses.
Two million people crammed into a tiny strip of land without an economy that will support them also go along with this scenario. Will Abbas be a strong enough leader to offer some of them resettlement in the West Bank? Is he sufficiently competent to build cities that fast? He’s not Xi Jinping.
The Taba agreement, entered into by the remnants of the team that negotiated the Oslo Accords even though they were not in power and couldn’t implement it, envisioned a road between Gaza and the West Bank and putting the refugee resettlement question within the West Bank in the hands of Abbas. Would he pull these things off competently even if allowed to do so?
Realistically, I anticipate an international aid force coming into Gaza to rebuild upon the rubble, house as many as they can, lay down some water lines, rebuild hospitals, and fix some power plants. Then, they’ll get distracted by the next big world crisis and leave. Poverty and deprivation will resume. With half of the current population of Gaza under 18, 4-5 years from now, there will be a mass of angry young men in their early twenties ready to strike back.
Indeed, a return to the status quo ante is my prediction for what will happen. The West Bank will remain colonized, the people’s lives circumscribed by fences and checkpoints. Gaza will be a humanitarian disaster. Within a few years, the shelling will resume, and Israelis will be every bit as insecure as ever. Periodically, civilians will die.
So, no, this war will not achieve any improvements relative to the status quo ante for anyone in the region.
However, the Israeli right wing would welcome this scenario because fear of worse allows them to remain in power. (And religious coercion and several other domestic issues, sure, but that’s getting too far afield for one post.) The monarchies and dictatorships of the Arab World need this to happen because if there is no sanctioned outlet for anger, fury will be unleashed against the ruling classes. (Remember the Palestinian flags at the FIFA games—the only allowed “protests”?) The oil companies would love this to happen because, hey, if all anger is turned against Iran, oil will keep flowing from Saudi Arabia.
And you, reader, can’t do jack shit about any of this. Your social media posts won’t change anything.
So, what can you do? (I’m assuming a non-Israeli, non-Palestinian audience here.)
1. Go read some books: history, political science, sociology. Understand the region. Once you have done your homework, go meet a diverse group of Palestinians and Israelis. Listen to them explain where they are coming from. Then, take time to synthesize your picture of their neck of the world. Stop Tweeting until you’ve done this.
2. Advocate for empathy and coexistence in all interpersonal relationships. Confront the bigots. Educate the ignorant. Help raise children who can transcend the cultural programming of hatred and distrust.
3. Act politically to influence American legislation and executive actions impacting the Middle East. The US is sending a crap-ton of money in that direction. This is your money; you paid the taxes. Hold politicians accountable—the money should accomplish what they claim it will. But,
4. Retain a sense of humility. There isn’t anything done by Israel or Hamas that Americans haven’t done worse at some point in their recent history.
Oh, but America would never attack civilians. Ask the people of Pakistan how much they liked being carpet-bombed. Ask if the massive military aid to their leader during the disastrous war that was ostensibly against Afghanistan made it okay that innocents were slaughtered. Hey, your tax dollars paid for it.
Well, America would never impose an embargo on people as a way of trying to discredit and destroy their leadership. Any Cubans in the audience?
But America would never employ mass rape as a weapon of war. Heard of the Battle of Okinawa?
But the American military would never intentionally and preferentially murder civilian women and children. Heard of the 2005 Haditha Massacre?
The US does not occupy any moral high ground. However, our money (your money, you who pay taxes) has bought influence with the major players (Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Abbas’s Palestinian National Authority). A rallying cry for Hamas’ attack and the major problem preventing any sort of progress toward addressing the rights and welfare of Palestinians is the radical Israeli settlers. So,
5. Confront American politicians with influence on foreign policy and ask them how they intend to talk the Israelis into reigning in settler violence.
This objective, paradoxically, may have been made easier by this otherwise awful situation. Israelis now blame the settlers and Netanyahu’s coddling of their worst elements for the failure of the Israeli army to prevent the attacks. So many soldiers were tied up with the settlers in the West Bank that troops were pulled away from Gaza. Ben Gvir/Smotrich only entered the cabinet because of the vagaries of coalition politics and Netanyahu’s need to stay in office to avoid prosecution for crimes he committed—most Israelis find them abhorrent.
As such, strong American pressure on Israel just might have an effect. However,
6. If you actually care about these issues as much as your Tweets would indicate, tell these politicians you are okay with Biden spending your tax dollars as long as it promotes peace and coexistence.
The Palestinian National Authority controlled terrorism at one point because the US paid to train police, professionalizing their force. As much as cops can be abusive, the rule of law was considerably better for all involved than chaos would have been. Rebuilding Gaza will take even more money.
Less obviously, combatting settler violence will also take American dollars. Most Jews living in the West Bank came not because of ideology but because housing was cheaper than in Israel proper, largely because of subsidies provided by the Israeli government. Many of these folks would have nowhere else to go unless someone buys them a house. Fewer settlers means fewer being radicalized means less violence. If Israel is ever to shut down the most violent settler enclaves, the sad truth is that paying to move the settlers will be a part of achieving this goal, and that will take money.
Even these admittedly minimalist objectives won’t be achieved by Tweets that misuse the words genocide, ethnic cleansing, or colonialism. Similarly, nothing is gained from Tweets that highlight the words democracy, self-defense, and ally. Performative tribalism just makes other people angry.
So, resist it. But don’t disengage. More thinking, less posturing, more small acts that could lead in the direction of peace and coexistence, please.
If you’d like to engage with my efforts to use fiction to jumpstart conversations on Middle East issues, check out my short story in the March/April issue of Dark Matter Magazine (free link).
The anthology of speculative fiction stories set in the Middle East that I co-edited is also worth a look.