10 January 2009

Stupider & Stupider

A.D. Freudenheim, The Editor

It’s Saturday evening and as I catch up on the news from today … I start to wish I hadn’t bothered. The New York Times headline reads (in part) “Israel Warns of More Extensive Attacks,” while an analysis from DEBKAfile explains that Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal put the kibosh on ceasefire talks.

If you’re reading this and have any ambiguity about my view on this idiotic quasi-war, see my piece “Dueling E-mails” from last week. Since then, a few different items have popped up in news reports, and I want to address four of them here.

1. According to several news reports (see Reuters, Voice of America), Cardinal Renato Martino, an aide to the Pope, called Gaza “...a big concentration camp.”

Hmmm. Martino’s description requires more nuance than he surely provided. If, by “concentration camp,” he meant a place like Auschwitz-Birkenau—where people were systematically murdered—he is clearly wrong. However one wishes to characterize Israel’s actions (e.g., stupid, cruel, inhumane, dangerous, unlikely-to-help-in-any-realistic-long-term-way), Palestinians in Gaza are not being systematically murdered as were the Jews, Roma-Sinty, homosexuals, etc., at Auschwitz.

If, on the other hand, Martino meant a concentration camp like Sachsenhausen—an internment camp, where people were deprived of basic human rights (food, medicine, freedom of movement), and where political prisoners and others did die on a smaller scale—then he is probably right.

Why am I even focusing on this? Because as much as I condemn Israel’s actions in this instance, rhetoric that is inaccurate and disproportionate to the situation is as harmful to both sides as any real military action. Accusing the Israelis of exterminating Palestinians simply is not true—however terrible the situation is and however many people have died. Such language becomes a propagandistic version of pornography, especially when attached to graphic images, and ultimately it undermines the Palestinian cause.

2. In Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal, Natan Sharansky published an interesting opinion piece titled “How the U.N. Perpetuates the 'Refugee' Problem”; it is very much worth reading and should be free even for non-subscribers.

Towards the end, however, Sharansky’s argument collapses in two sentences: “Whether this war will bring about lasting change, or just provide another breather before the next battle, depends to a very large degree on the Free World. A successful Israeli campaign—in which Hamas is eliminated as the controlling force in Gaza—will bring an unprecedented opportunity for Western leaders to change the rules of the game when it comes to Palestinian civilians.”

The problem? Simple. No matter what Israel does, Hamas cannot be eliminated as the controlling force in Gaza, not militarily, not in any meaningful, long-term way. Hamas’ success is based on an ideology, and that ideology is bolstered by external circumstances that appear to make it’s view of the world seem real, accurate, and engaging to a specific group of people. And just like with any other ideology (e.g., neo-Nazism, or even Zionism) it cannot be eliminated through brute force. In fact, often brute force provides the compelling raison d’etre needed to sustain an ideology that might otherwise collapse.

3. To this same point: on Monday, The New York Times ran an article that quoted a Hamas leader named Mahmoud Zahar as saying “The Israeli enemy in its aggression has written its next chapter in the world, which will have no place for them. They shelled everyone in Gaza. They shelled children and hospitals and mosques, and in doing so, they gave us legitimacy to strike them in the same way.”

This idiocy—on the part of Hamas, and on the part of Israel—is an unsatisfactory repetition of eye-for-an-eye kind of justice. The only people well-served by this are those with the most outrageous ideologies.

4. Read Leonard Fein’s piece in The Forward, “‘There Is No Alternative’ Is No Answer.”

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