Saturday, January 03, 2009

A Gaza letter

So I wrote this letter. Different versions went out to different politicians. The one for was quite a bit different near the end. If I were writing to a Republican, I'd have to take out the references to Bush -- I would probably also not bother at all.

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[So-and-so, we're in your constituency.] We are writing to encourage you to join us in calling for an immediate end to the Israeli attacks on Gaza, and to join us in supporting a long-term renewal of constructive American involvement in the peace process.

We agree wholeheartedly that Israel has a right to self-defense. However the right to self-defense does not justify any response whatsoever, and we believe that the Israeli offensive is clearly causing excessive death and suffering among the civilian populace of Gaza. Furthermore, we believe that the current attacks are ultimately contrary to Israel's long-term security interests. This is not a matter of taking sides with Gaza against Israel, or with Israel against Gaza: it is in the interests of everyone concerned that the Israeli assault ends immediately

For the sake of the civilian populace of Gaza, it is imperative that the current attacks cease immediately, in order to prevent a humanitarian disaster in Gaza. Since Hamas gained control of the region in June 2007, Israel has placed an economic blockade around Gaza. The stated aim of the blockade was to halt rocket attacks, but this has not come about. Instead the blockade has served to cause shortages of food, fuel, and electricity. These problems have been greatly exacerbated by Israel's recent attacks. Hospitals and medical supplies are stretched thin, and sewage has begun running in the streets. The UN, the Red Cross, Oxfam, and other organizations are calling for an immediate truce, and demanding that Gaza get full access to humanitarian aid. (Please see references below.)

We believe that these attacks are both unjust on a moral level, and unwise on a pragmatic level. Convincing arguments for these points have been made, for example, in an article in the Economist and by former National Security Advisor Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski (please see references below). We will summarize the main points here.

Israel's attacks are unjust because they fail three crucial tests: they are not proportional to the threat posed by Hamas; Israel has not exhausted peaceful means of resolving its conflict with Hamas; and the attacks have no reasonable chance of ending the threat posed by Hamas.

First, the attacks are entirely disproportional to the threat posed by the rocket fire coming out of Gaza. According to the Economist, about a dozen Israelis had been killed by rocket attacks coming out of Gaza during the time period from Israel's withdrawal from Gaza in September 2005, up to the beginning of Israel's attacks on Gaza a few days ago. So that is about 12 Israeli deaths in over 3 years. Since the beginning of Israel's attacks, Hamas has fired rockets killing 4 more Israelis. Meanwhile, according to the UN, over 400 Gazans have been killed by Israeli attacks so far, and 25% of these are civilians. That is 100 Gazan civilians killed by Israeli attacks over the course of just a few days, compared to 4 Israeli civilians killed in the same time, and about a dozen in over three years prior. There is no comparison.

Second, Israel did not exhaust peaceful means of seeking an end to the conflict. One of Hamas' major demands has been that Israel drop this blockade. Israel has not tried in good faith to meet this demand in exchange for peace.

Third, the attacks cannot end the threat posed by Hamas. No Israeli military action has ever been able to end Palestinian terrorist activity, and there is no reason to suppose that the current military action will succeed where past military actions have failed. The attacks cannot be effective in achieving their stated goals. The civilians of Gaza are suffering and dying to no real purpose.

So that is the moral case against Israel's attacks. In addition, the attacks are unwise: they are contrary to the long-term interests of Israel, and contrary to America's interests in achieving peace in the region. Israel's attacks on Gaza are further radicalizing the population of Gaza, and the West Bank as well. Indeed, they are further radicalizing Arab and Muslim populations around the world. And this in turn is undermining popular support for those Arab leaders who have been most cooperative with Israel. Moderate Arab leaders like Fatah's Mahmoud Abbas and Egypt's Hosni Mubarak are partners which Israel and the peace process can scarcely do without, but in light of Israel's recent attacks the Arab masses are condemning them as collaborators. Meanwhile regimes unfriendly to Israel, such as Iran, are gaining in popular support and influence as a result of the attacks.

But if the attacks are so clearly immoral and unwise, why did they ever happen? There is reason to think that the decision to attack was motivated by domestic Israeli politics (see references below). There is an upcoming election in Israel. The hawkish rhetoric of Benjamin Netanyahu has become popular among Israeli voters, and this threatens to cost Israel's current leaders (Ehud Olmert, Ehud Barak, and Tzipi Livni) the election. This gives them excellent motivation to show some muscle in Gaza, in the hopes of convincing Israeli voters that their hawkish credentials are just as strong as Netanyahu's. So it is likely that the attacks are politically motivated.

This ought to sound all too familiar to us here in America. Israel's leaders are simply following the precedent set by the Bush administration: immoral, unwise, and politically motivated military ventures are precisely what we have seen coming out of the Bush White House. Indeed, as Dr. Brzezinski rightly points out, the Bush administration's failure to take a serious role in the peace process is largely to blame for the current tragedies on both sides of the Israel-Gaza border. As might be expected, the Bush administration has in effect condoned Israel's military actions against the people of Gaza.

[So-and-so], we hope and pray that President-elect Barack Obama will correct the errors of the Bush administration in this regard. But no matter how things change after Inauguration Day, we do not think that the civilian population of Gaza can afford to wait until then. So please join us in calling for an immediate end to Israel's attacks on Gaza. And please join us also in urging President-elect Obama to lead America towards a more reasonable, responsible, and constructive engagement in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians: a form of engagement which does not condone the deaths of innocent civilians and the further radicalization of Arab and Muslim populations, and which takes a serious interest in renewing the peace process.





[Oxfam] Gaza crisis: Crisis critical with supplies of food and fuel perilously low

[Red Cross] Gaza Strip: civilians at risk as attacks continue

[BBC] Gaza facing 'critical emergency'


[Economist] Gaza: the rights and wrongs

[MSNBC] Zbigniew Brzezinski interview


[BBC] Israel's mixed motives for strikes

[Chicago Tribune] Israel's politics in play as it hits Hamas,0,3825693.story

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