March 4, 2008 - There are lies, there are damn lies, and there are lies that kill.
And sometimes the deadliest lies gain power by exploiting little bits of truth.
Saree Makdisi is a professor of English literature at the University of California, Los Angeles, and a frequent writer on Palestinian issues. In a PBS NewsHour television interview he said that the Palestinian rocket strikes on cities in southern Israel are "illegal and immoral." That gives him some credibility. But then he went on to say:
It's important to be able to understand what they're coming from and what they're in response to.
The important thing is to understand where the rocket attacks are coming from and what needs to be done to stop them, which is to stop a 41-year-old illegal occupation.
The rocket attacks are in response to an ongoing situation. The situation is determined by the occupation. If the occupation stops, everything else will stop, as well.
In other words, the rocket attacks are immoral, but there is good reason for them. This is a clear contradiction. If there were a good and justifiable reason for the attacks, they would not be immoral. Makdisi wants to have it both ways.
Let us examine Makdisi's good reason for the rocket attacks against Israel. He says it's the "occupation." That is the Palestinian mantra used to excuse every Palestinian atrocity, and it has worked. But there's a problem: Gaza is no longer occupied. There are no more Israeli settlements in Gaza, and no Israelis live there anymore. This has been true for almost three years. Yet Makdisi insists that Gaza is "occupied."
Here is his reasoning:
[Hamas] is not actually in full control of Gaza. Gaza, according to international law, is still under Israeli occupation, because Israel controls the borders, the air space, territorial waters, and all access to Gaza, essentially.
These days "international law" seems to be whatever anyone says it is. "Occupation" still means to occupy, to have your people on the ground where others don't think they belong. As to the borders and territorial waters, it is not just Israel who has a say in what goes on there. The Egyptians also exercise quite a measure of control. In fact, when Palestinians in Gaza destroyed sections of the border with Egypt and many Palestinian civilians crossed over, Egyptian security forces came at them with clubs, tear gas, water cannons, and attack dogs. Then Egypt resealed the border.
So is Egypt occupying Gaza?
Makdisi's illogical exercise brings up another important question: Why the need to control the Palestinian border in the first place?
The answer is clear: because the Palestinians have a nasty tendency to smuggle weapons across the border, and to use those weapons. After they broke through the border with Egypt, they came back with Iranian missiles that they launched at the Israeli city of Ashkelon. (In case it needs repeating, Ashkelon is not a settlement. It is a major city on the Israeli coast.)
But what is Makdisi's solution? "End the occupation," by which he means stop controlling the border, since there are no more Israelis in Gaza. So now according to Makdisi, Egypt and Israel are occupying Gaza since they both control parts of Gaza's border, and this "occupation" should stop. Well, we already know what would happen if it stopped and there were no controls at all on the borders. Palestinians would be smuggling weapons in without restraint, and the rocket fire on Israel would escalate. This is what Makdisi wants Israel to allow.
And since, by Makdisi's logic Egypt is also occupying Gaza, it would be gentlemanly of him to direct at least some of his outrage towards Egypt. Why let Israel hog it all?
By the way, Makdisi should be very relieved to learn that today Israel opened its border to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza, including over 160 trucks containing medical supplies and equipment. Another country would have laid siege to Gaza. But unlike Hamas, Israel is not trying to make civilians suffer. Now will Hamas ease its aggressive policies in response? Would anyone like to risk a little money on it?
Makdisi begins with a kernel of truth and turns it into a deadly lie. Following his prescription would not produce peace but would guarantee a dramatic increase in the violence, leading to many more deaths on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides. This is what results from the premise that Israel is responsible for every single aspect of Palestinian life, no matter what the Palestinians do, no matter how many schools and hospitals they target, and the Palestinians are responsible for nothing.
Unfortunately, it does not end here. The Palestinian lie, which Makdisi represents and which the Palestinians have apparently successfully sold to most of the world, threatens Israel's existence and the stability of the entire region - which means the stability of the entire world.
It is as much because of what the lie conceals as because of what it already has revealed. This is the deadly subtext: Hamas is taking a page from the playbook of its ally to the north, Hezbollah. Hezbollah has established a battery of rocket launching sites all along Israel's northern border, stocked with thousands of projectiles much more powerful than the Palestinian qassams. During the most recent Lebanon war Hezbollah devastated Israel's northern cities and inflicted serious damage as far as Haifa. For all of Israel's efforts during that war, and the pretense of the United Nations to do something about it, the threat is worse now than it was then. And while Hezbollah picks and chooses its times, and is no doubt waiting for an opportune moment to strike, Hamas is using some of those heavier weapons right now.
Since last Wednesday Palestinians have fired more than 200 rockets at Israel. These include at least 21 of the longer-range Katyusha-style rockets, which the Palestinians don't make themselves but smuggle from the outside. The use of these Katyushas is an ominous sign that Hamas is beginning to adopt the Hezbollah strategy.
"I have no doubt that the people who built Hezbollah’s military machine are now building the military machine of Hamas," said Israeli spokesman Mark Regev. He also noted that the longer-range rockets used by both Hezbollah and Hamas were made in Iran, and that Iran gives Hamas both training and logistical support. Hamas is also using another cynical but effective Hezbollah tactic: launching attacks from civilian areas and even storing weapons in people's homes. This presents Israel with the "Sophie's choice" of either risking harm to Palestinian civilians or allowing its own civilians to be murdered at will. The Palestinians bank on world sympathy to make this tactic work, and it has.
Is this comparison to Hezbollah simply Jewish paranoia? Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum announced that, like Hezbollah, Hamas had "gone from the stone to the rocket." He added: "What we learned from Hezbollah is that resistance is a choice that can work." The course seems clear: Hamas is pursuing a Hezbollah strategy in Gaza.
And so Regev noted that if Israel does not do something about it now, it will one day wake up to find much of its population within range of far more powerful Hamas rockets. And Hamas will not wait for a war in Lebanon to use them.
Hamas is openly and unapologetically sworn to Israel's destruction. Can anyone seriously imagine that supporting Hamas while it is building its military capability will promote the peace that we all (except Hamas) want? Yet that is exactly what people are doing. Condemning Israel for trying to protect its citizens supports Hamas. It sends the terrorists a message that the more they persist and wait it out, and the more Palestinian casualties, the better their chance of prevailing. What does Hamas care? Martyrdom is, after all, a blessing, even when imposed on people without their consent. With over 100 Palestinian dead, Hamas staged a victory celebration.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, showing no more sense than his predecessor, said "I condemn the disproportionate and excessive use of force that has killed and injured so many civilians, including children." Yes, the death of civilians on either side is damnable, but why not also condemn, in terms just as strong, the aggression by Hamas that led up to this? Why not condemn, in terms just as strong, the deaths and injuries of Israeli civilians? Why not condemn the evil practice by Hamas of deliberately putting Palestinian as well as Israeli civilians in harm's way?
If the world waits until Israel fights back before it issues its condemnations, then one thing is certain. Hamas will take it as encouragement, will build up its arsenal and use it, and before we know it there will be a Lebanon war in Gaza. It is the same old story: the terrorists attack, Israel tries to stop the attacks, international pressure forces Israel to withdraw, the terrorists celebrate and claim they have won, they launch an even more devastating attack and the whole dance repeats itself. Only each time it gets worse and the stakes become even higher. Even the United States is guilty of this insane approach to the problem. How often must this cycle repeat before people come to their senses?
Strong international pressure must be put on Hamas to stop its war against Israel's citizens. Then Israel will have no excuse to intervene in Gaza, nor will it want to. And then the peace talks can continue. I don't expect Ban Ki-Moon to love Israel. But if he and all those who think like him don't acquire a sense of proportion, the day will come when the entire region will erupt in flames, and the self-righteous moralizers will be asking, "How did it ever come to this?" "What could we have done?"
El-Kohdary, Taghreed and Isabel Kershner. "As Israelis Pull Out of Gaza, Hamas Celebrates Its Rocketry." New York Times, March 4, 2008.
Jerusalem Post Staff. "Israel Opens Crossings to Allow Humanitarian Aid into Gaza." Jerusalem Post, March 4, 2008.
Warner, Margaret, interviewer. "Israeli Attacks, Gaza Rocket Fire Strain Peace Efforts." NewsHour, PBS, March 3, 2008.
Peace with Realism