Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Hamas and Israel

Finger pointing in the lethal conflict between Israel and Hamas is easy. Both parties are guilty of much.

Hamas lobs rockets at Israel. These weapons are so primitive that accurate aiming consists of simply choosing the general direction in which those launching the rocket want it to fly. The rocketeers cannot really control either the distance the rocket flies or its precise trajectory. Consequently, the rockets are more likely to hit civilian than military personnel or facilities. The rockets cause more fear than actual damage.

Hamas steadfastly declares that the state of Israel has no right to exist. This indefinitely perpetuates the enmity between Hamas and Israel.

Conversely, Israel routinely inflicts collective punishment on the people of Gaza. One form of this collective punishment is the destruction of dwellings in which a known or suspected Hamas member lives. Since most dwellings are large apartment complexes, the destruction of one unit almost invariably renders all of the building's residents homeless. Air strikes are similarly a form of collective punishment because, given the population density and the size of warheads for even precision guided munitions, collateral damage is almost impossible to avoid. These dynamics explain the apparent contradiction between the large number of Palestinians killed in the current attacks and Israeli assertions that they carefully target only known or suspected terrorists.

Israel has also imposed a longstanding blockade, limiting access to and from Gaza by sea, air, and land (except for the portion of Gaza that abuts Egypt). This has created an apartheid type of ghetto of approximately 149 square miles in which 2 million live (a population density of over 20 persons per acre). Israel prevents any material from entering Gaza that they deem useful in waging war. This includes weapons, construction supplies, and much else. The blockade not only isolates Gaza but also dramatically reduces its residents' quality of life.

Israel claims that it wants peace, yet continues to build new settlements on the West Bank, refuses to agree to the Palestinian government performing functions sovereign states view as normal prerogatives, e.g., conducting their own foreign affairs, providing for their own defense through their own armed forces, controlling their own borders, etc.

Prolonging the conflict with the Palestinians is not in Israel's interest. Every passing year brings Israel that much closer to the time when its Palestinian citizens will outnumber its Jewish citizens, forcing Israel to choose whether to be a secular democracy or a Jewish state in which non-Jews are officially second-class citizens. Tactics such as collective punishment and the current ground incursion into Gaza evoke global disdain and erode support for Israel.

Unfortunately, prolonging the conflict with Israel is in the perceived interests of both many Islamist extremists and Arabs. The Arab countries do not want to accept Palestinians displaced by Israel – displaced voluntarily or involuntarily – as immigrants, instead forcing the Palestinians to live in semi-permanent refugee camps in near squalor. This continues to stoke the fires of Palestinian anger and keeps animosity against Israel high, fueling ongoing terrorist activity.

After several generations living in refugee camps, growing numbers of Palestinians have less desire to return to the land that was theirs before the 1947 establishment of the modern state of Israel. Palestinian demands for "the right to return" are increasingly a figurative rallying cry rather than a literal goal. The Palestinians want a legitimate state; continuing Israeli encroachments from the building of new settlements and expansion of existing ones coupled with the steady construction of the wall to separate Israel from Palestinian areas make the goal of a Palestinian state seem ever more elusive.

The path to peace requires Palestinians developing hope for a better future that includes their own truly sovereign state. Only as the Palestinians exercise real responsibility for self-governance can Israel realistically hope that Palestinians will recognize that their peace and prosperity are inextricably linked to Israel's peace and prosperity. Israel cannot force the recognition of this linkage; it is something that the Palestinians must perceive for themselves.

The present spate of violence and killing between Hamas and Israel reinforces preexisting biases on both sides that make mutual peace and prosperity impossible. Those biases are that Israel wants to destroy Hamas and that Hamas wants to destroy Israel.


Anonymous said...

Fr. George----Thanks for your unbiased analysis of the Hamas-Israel Conflict in which fact few news media have reported.

George Clifford said...

Comment emailed to me by another Ethical Musings reader:

We do a good job of blaming Hamas while the Israelis are instigating a lot of reactions from them. It's interesting when the Israelis build in places that are disputed ,then bull doze them when they get caught.
Another no win situation until we stop supporting the Israelis.