Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Response to article by Thomas Friedman: Israel's Goals in Gaza?

Dear Mr. Friedman,

Thank you for your article (in New York Times dated 14 Jan 2008 and in Gulf News, Dubai, on 18 Jan 2008) about Israel's recent assault against Gaza. You have explained in clear terms what should be Israel's goals for such an attack and underscored the need to educate Hamas, a terrorist organisation by your definition, and creating a clear choice for Hamas: destroying Israel or building Gaza.

I regret to point out to you frankly, Mr. Friedman, that there is sheer hypocrisy and a clear lack of objectivity in the lines you wrote. The fundamental human values in all of us, let alone the basic journalism ethics you are supposed to be holding high (especially being a Pulitzer-prize winning columnist), require us to be truthful and honest in what we say or do. Even if you have had a short memory, you could have borne in mind the fact there was a democratically elected government in Gaza, led by the resistant movement, Hamas, for the past one and half years trying to build Gaza by all means. But, Israel was strangulating that tiny sect of land of 360 square kilometers with a population of 1.5 million (the most densely populated piece of earth on the planet) through crippling sanctions. Why? Because, Israel did not like Hamas! Is it what you call democracy? Is it what you call the American values of freedom and liberty? Weren't it the people of Gaza who chose Hamas as their rightful rulers. So, it was only right on Israel's part to let Hamas rule them and build Gaza. But, what Israel did was declaring Hamas as their enemy and creating hurdles in all its efforts to rule Gaza in a democratic way.

By destroying Israel, you might have meant the rocket attack by Hamas in southern Israel immediately after the expiry of the ceasefire. For a moment, let's forget about the reality of these "rockets," what they are made of, and the "ferocity" – or lack of it – of those rockets. Just reverse your memory to mid-November 2008 when an Israeli raid in Gaza killed at least six Palestinians whereas the retaliatory Hamas rocket attacks didn't even injure any one! (read about this in this website created by an Israeli peace organisation: What will you do if you are surrounded by an enemy with heavy weapons of mass destruction, who destroys your daily life, and denies you access to water, power, medicine and all those basic things of life? But, alas, there wasn't a single line in your lengthy article about these pathetic conditions the Gazans were in throughout the past one and half years!

You and your ilk call Hamas a terrorist organisation. But remember, who was this peace-loving, democratic, free Israel just before its creation in 1948? At that time, it was operating as some of the word's most dreaded terrorist gangs like Irgun, Haganah and Stern. Since then, they had been mercilessly butchering Palestinian people. (You can have a list of these massacres in this website: Some, five million people have been kicked out of Palestine to make way for Israel and the 'democratic' Israel still denies them the right of return. In the latest assault alone, Israel has killed more than 400 children and 200 women and destroyed some 20,000 homes! Of the total number of killed (1250 according to latest available figures), two thirds are civilians!

So, who is destroying whom? Who is building what? Correct me, if I'm wrong, Mr. Friedman!

Taj Aluva
January 14, 2009
Op-Ed Columnist
Israel's Goals in Gaza?
I have only one question about Israel's military operation in Gaza: What is the goal? Is it the education of Hamas or the eradication of Hamas? I hope that it's the education of Hamas. Let me explain why.
I was one of the few people who argued back in 2006 that Israel actually won the war in Lebanon started by Hezbollah. You need to study that war and its aftermath to understand Gaza and how it is part of a new strategic ballgame in the Arab-Israel arena, which will demand of the Obama team a new approach.
What Hezbollah did in 2006 — in launching an unprovoked war across the U.N.-recognized Israel-Lebanon border, after Israel had unilaterally withdrawn from Lebanon — was to both upend Israel's longstanding peace strategy and to unveil a new phase in the Hezbollah-Iran war strategy against Israel.
There have always been two camps in Israel when it comes to the logic of peace, notes Gidi Grinstein, president of the Israeli think tank, the Reut Institute: One camp says that all the problems Israel faces from the Palestinians or Lebanese emanate from occupying their territories. "Therefore, the fundamental problem is staying — and the fundamental remedy is leaving," says Grinstein.
The other camp argues that Israel's Arab foes are implacably hostile and leaving would only invite more hostility. Therefore, at least when it comes to the Palestinians, Israel needs to control their territories indefinitely. Since the mid-1990s, the first camp has dominated Israeli thinking. This led to the negotiated and unilateral withdrawals from the West Bank, Lebanon and Gaza.
Hezbollah's unprovoked attack from Lebanon into Israel in 2006 both undermined the argument that withdrawal led to security and presented Israel with a much more vexing military strategy aimed at neutralizing Israel's military superiority. Hezbollah created a very "flat" military network, built on small teams of guerrillas and mobile missile-batteries, deeply embedded in the local towns and villages.
And this Hezbollah force, rather than confronting Israel's Army head-on, focused on demoralizing Israeli civilians with rockets in their homes, challenging Israel to inflict massive civilian casualties in order to hit Hezbollah fighters and, when Israel did strike Hezbollah and also killed civilians, inflaming the Arab-Muslim street, making life very difficult for Arab or European leaders aligned with Israel.
Israel's counterstrategy was to use its Air Force to pummel Hezbollah and, while not directly targeting the Lebanese civilians with whom Hezbollah was intertwined, to inflict substantial property damage and collateral casualties on Lebanon at large. It was not pretty, but it was logical. Israel basically said that when dealing with a nonstate actor, Hezbollah, nested among civilians, the only long-term source of deterrence was to exact enough pain on the civilians — the families and employers of the militants — to restrain Hezbollah in the future.
Israel's military was not focused on the morning after the war in Lebanon — when Hezbollah declared victory and the Israeli press declared defeat. It was focused on the morning after the morning after, when all the real business happens in the Middle East. That's when Lebanese civilians, in anguish, said to Hezbollah: "What were you thinking? Look what destruction you have visited on your own community! For what? For whom?"
Here's what Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah's leader, said the morning after the morning after about his decision to start that war by abducting two Israeli soldiers on July 12, 2006: "We did not think, even 1 percent, that the capture would lead to a war at this time and of this magnitude. You ask me, if I had known on July 11 ... that the operation would lead to such a war, would I do it? I say no, absolutely not."
That was the education of Hezbollah. Has Israel seen its last conflict with Hezbollah? I doubt it. But Hezbollah, which has done nothing for Hamas, will think three times next time. That is probably all Israel can achieve with a nonstate actor.
In Gaza, I still can't tell if Israel is trying to eradicate Hamas or trying to "educate" Hamas, by inflicting a heavy death toll on Hamas militants and heavy pain on the Gaza population. If it is out to destroy Hamas, casualties will be horrific and the aftermath could be Somalia-like chaos. If it is out to educate Hamas, Israel may have achieved its aims. Now its focus, and the Obama team's focus, should be on creating a clear choice for Hamas for the world to see: Are you about destroying Israel or building Gaza?
But that requires diplomacy. Israel de facto recognizes Hamas's right to rule Gaza and to provide for the well-being and security of the people of Gaza — which was actually Hamas's original campaign message, not rocketing Israel. And, in return, Hamas has to signal a willingness to assume responsibility for a lasting cease-fire and to abandon efforts to change the strategic equation with Israel by deploying longer and longer range rockets. That's the only deal. Let's give it a try.