[ by Charles Cameron — third and hopefully last in a series — and wouldn’t you know it, a cease fire is a delicate balancing act … ]
Erica Chenoweth is a leading proponent of nonviolence. In her post today on Political Violence @ a Glance, Israel and Hamas are Both Just Winging It, she suggests a form of mirroring or symmetry in Gaza at the strategic level:
I am struck by a basic assumption behind each of these arguments — that each side has a clear plan linked to an overall strategic goal. I am increasingly doubtful about this assumption. If anything, this conflict represents a classic tit-for-tat game — except that neither side seems exactly sure what ultimate goal it wishes to achieve, nor how to get there. As a result, both sides are gambling on improvisation — a gamble that will likely land both sides far away from their desired outcomes.
She spells out her ideas thus:
In Chuck Freilich’s excellent book, he argues that in fact, one of the great weaknesses of Israeli security strategy is that there is no coherent strategy. There are certainly commonly held
narratives and beliefs — like the inherent instability of the region, Israel’s constant vulnerability to existential threats, and the necessity of matching violent threats with equal or greater violence as a way to signal strength. There are also operational routines — that is to say, there are standard responses to particular contingencies. Unsurprisingly, these routines tend to be that if a rocket attack or some other act of violence occurs, Israeli security forces crack down harshly on the perpetrators (and, sometimes, on nonviolent dissidents or bystanders as well). Successes and failures are judged in terms of short-term tactical successes. Military leaders decide within minutes (or even seconds) whether an “operation” succeeded. But evaluating whether the operation’s short-term success leads to longer-term peace and stability is not part of the process at all. There is very little reflection, therefore, on whether actions like Operation Protective Edge ultimately make Israelis safer or not.
For Hamas’ part, the lack of strategic coherence owes to a few key factors. First, Hamas is not unitary. It does not control every rocket in the Gaza Strip, nor does it always exercise control over its operatives. When members (or former members) of Hamas commit horrific acts, it is not always the case that Hamas gave a top-down order to commit them. There are power struggles within the organization and plenty of rivalries with other groups such as Islamic Jihad. Second, many militants within Hamas have a goal (destruction of Israel) that the group could never achieve due to its exceedingly limited capacity. Therefore, Hamas is constantly settling for “process goals,” such as improving its relative prestige among competing rivals, gaining some standing among Palestinians in Gaza that it purports to defend, building sympathy among international observers, or raising funds from foreign sponsors. When Israel cracks down against Hamas in earnest, then, what we’re seeing is anything but Hamas adopting a coherent military strategy with any achievable goals. We’re seeing a group in crisis that only has hammers, and sees only nails.
Chemi Shalev over on Sully’s Dish quotes and summarizes Peter Beinart‘s Gaza myths and facts: what American Jewish leaders won’t tell you from Ha’aretz with approval, then attempts his own balance, writing:
None of this excuses Hamas’ war crimes, its rocket fire purposefully directed toward civilians,
its extreme theocratic essence and its rabid anti-Semitism. But it sure doesn’t excuse Israel’s
brutality and contempt and propaganda either.
Popes, and or that matter Patriarchs, Metropolitans, Archbishops, Bishops, Deacons and any stray tax-gatherers, prostitutes, fishermen — or for that matter, any rabbinic scholars undexpectedly blinded on their way to Damascus — all those, in short, who call themselves Christian — have a certain obligation to seek and mantain balance in trying circumstances — to be “in the world” but not “of it”…
And thus it is that the [Anglican] Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby — an ex-banker, by the way — has this to say:
For all sides to persist with their current strategy, be it threatening security by the indiscriminate firing of rockets at civilian areas or aerial bombing which increasingly fails to distinguish between combatants and non-combatants, is self-defeating. The bombing of civilian areas, and their use to shelter rocket launches, are both breaches of age old customs for the conduct of war. Further political impasse, acts of terror, economic blockades or sanctions and clashes over land and settlements, all increase the alienation of those affected. Populations condemned to hopelessness or living under fear will be violent. Such actions create more conflict, more deaths and will in the end lead to an even greater disaster than the one being faced today. The road to reconciliation is hard, but ultimately the only route to security. It is the responsibility of all leaders to protect the innocent, not only in the conduct of war but in setting the circumstances for a just and sustainable peace.
And so at last we come to the balance found by grieving mothers on both sides of the Gaza conflict:
Tsurit Sarig‘s son Guy was shot by a Palestinian sniper on the eve of Sukkot 1996. She writes:
The catastrophe in my own home, and what’s more the ones in your own, are the horrible outcome of those same feelings of anger and frustration which are so natural. But if they find their outlet in violent ways, they become the very ladder on which more and more angels of hatred, violence, murder and abuse come up (and down) on us. [ .. ] we understood that the two peoples, the Palestinians and the Israelis, are victims of the estrangement, the prejudices, the paralysing fear of the “other”. [ .. ] the pain on both sides
is the same pain, the yearning for a life of peace and happiness is the same and above all, that “it won’t end till we talk”.
Hanan Lubadeh lost her 15 year old son Mas’ud in 1989:
I’ve known Israeli bereaved mothers for many years. The mothers’ pain is similar, no matter if they are Israeli or Palestinian. It does not matter whether she is from Nablus, Shoafat, Rosh Pinah or Nof Ayalon. The pain is seared into us and will be with us forever. We must not give in to blind fury. We must understand that revenge will lead to more revenge and it is our responsibility to stop the cycle of violence. We must understand that there are people on the other side as well, beyond the wall of blindness and hatred and behind harsh words like enemy and vengeance.
That last balance — the balance in grief — is the one I’ll stay with, until such time as an equivalent balance in peace can be achieved.