Tag Archives: Strategy

Not one to comment

Temple Mount and Western Wall during Shabbat
Image via Wikipedia

I sometimes write here, and often post links on Facebook, in criticism of Israel’s government or military. I know what response to expect from most fellow Israelis. Very often, like the other day (when I posted this link), discussion almost immediately includes some old friend throwing in a personal attack on me, either in lieu of an actual argument or in addition to it.

This last attack on Facebook is a true classic; to summarize the gist of my friend’s argument: “you didn’t serve in the army so you can’t judge those who do; you haven’t experienced what they have”. This stuff gets me worked up, but rarely hurts me anymore. The comments are predictable and repetitive and repetitive, and every time I post, I quietly brace myself for them. Saying something bad about the IDF is spitting on a holy cow, as far as almost all Israelis are concerned, and criticism of the government is often taken as an attack on the existence of the state.


I haven’t always been this vocal. After I moved away (2007), for over a year I avoided reading any news from Israel and, even more, avoided making any comment on the situation there. At the time it seemed nothing ever changed, and reading about it would be painful and useless.

My attitude changed in a process of reflection. I thought a lot: about why I told the IDF I didn’t want to be a soldier1 and later left, about my attitude towards Israel, and about the way I expressed that attitude on the rare occasions that I did. It became clear to me that although I left for mostly childish and wrong reasons, the small part of me that left in protest was kind of right. Things in Israel actually are changing, for the worse, and the many people I love who live there are affected by it.

At the same time, I came to appreciate what an amazing country Israel is, and what a great place to live. I really don’t blame anyone who lives there for loving it so and refusing to let go. I want to live there again as well. Unfortunately, to really enjoy it to the fullest, one has to keep their eyes and ears selectively shut, and one had best check their concern for human rights and justice at the airport. There are government-issued narratives to soothe the conscience, for those who can swallow them.

Sadly, I’m really bad at those things. Continue reading Not one to comment


  1. As a result, they decided that I’m mentally unfit to serve due to lack of motivation, which seems like a reasonable assessment since I would have made an awful soldier. I then volunteered for civilian service and spent a year in the reception/recovery area of a large hospital’s main operating room complex. []

Mondoweiss: "Palestinian children betrayed by aid agencies"

Gazans left homeless following Israel's Cast L...

I must have gotten this link over Facebook or Twitter, but I can’t recall to whom credit is due. At any rate, I found it interesting, especially because it looks at an aspect of the conflict that is not often discussed but might be one of the most critical in the long run: the experience of Palestinian children.

I grew up aware of the conflict in a very different way from my contemporaries on the Palestinian side. The Mondoweiss post discusses, with many excerpts, a new report criticizing aid organizations’ failure to prevent injustice towards children and to protest Israel’s violations of international law regarding children and their well-being.

Israel routinely treats children as enemies. I think Israel should actually make it part of its security policy to make sure Palestinian children are treated well and protected, because they will grow up to be Palestinians adults who we have a strong interest in not being intensely despised by. I happen to believe that Israel has done genuine grievance to the Palestinians and much of their hate (which is often of the non-compromising raging racist variety) is due to legitimate gripes with what our government (and some of its citizens) have done in the past 63 years. But it seems many in Israel think the Palestinians just hate us for no good reason, and cannot be appeased. Either way, we should be doing our best to show them that we are human and humane, like we keep telling ourselves and the rest of the world. Instead we make their lives a living hell and increasingly allow ourselves to only be represented towards them by our army.

Even if we think that Eden Abergil and her ilk are a marginal phenomenon (Google her if you missed the controversy)– and it can’t be entirely marginal, as Breaking the Silence and others subsequently released more pictures of soldier’s celebrating prisoners and dead opponents — we have an interest in doing our best to minimize animosity towards us. And I find it very difficult to accept that my government is systematically splitting up families, arresting children, interrogating them until they confess, and making it practically impossible for them to lead a normal, healthy childhood. I won’t even mention the number of children Israel apparently killed in “Operation Cast Lead”. Many in Israel may blame the Palestinians’ leaders for it coming to this, but that’s besides the point, as those children will certainly grow up to blame Israel, and that should be prevented, even at great cost and effort.

Like most Israelis, I grew up hearing about the horrors experienced by children in the Holocaust. I can’t help but feel the same despair when I think about how every day, Palestinian children experience things that remind one, even if just a little, of what my paternal grandmother and her contemporaries in Europe went through. And this feeling of despair is compounded by the fact that the perpetrators, this time, are supposed to be representing me and my family — and the families of so many whose childhoods were obliterated by monstrous state violence not so long ago.

The place of children in this conflict is one of the most horrifying aspects of it — on both sides, but especially in those areas where children regularly experience violence and great injustice (which is mostly where the civilians are Palestinians). Peace, and, even more, normalization, will not be possible with generations who have a ruined childhood to hate us for. It’s the kind of thing a person can hardly ever get over, even if they try. I hope Israel’s governments will soon realize this and stop making it impossible to ever end this conflict.

Doing It Wrong: "Only Israel"

A friend posted this video to Facebook:       YouTube Link

(WARNING: Viewers who don’t strongly identify with the Israeli state may experience nausea!)

The music is quite good, but the words are more problematic. I couldn’t find the lyrics in English, but they can be found in German.

Back on Facebook, I commented on the video, and for a reason I don’t know yet and might never understand, my comment was deleted. Luckily, I saved a copy of it, so I decided to repost it here where people can respond to it freely: Continue reading Doing It Wrong: "Only Israel"

A war that cannot be won

Here are a few more articles about Gaza/Israel. Again, a common thread emerges – propoganda and the sheer unwinnability of this war.

First is Glenn Greenwald of Salon.com, criticizing Tom Friedman’s support of the war, which is backed by rationale that conforms perfectly to a text-book definition of terrorism – “politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant … targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience” (quoted by GG). Greenwald’s criticism is primarily of Friedman’s position, not of the war, but it provides some interesting insights. Salon.com: Tom Friedman offers a perfect definition of “terrorism”

Then comes Daniel Larison with a brief and insightful response. Eunomia (the American Conservative magazine): Wrong and Ineffective

Next, again on Salon.com, is Gary Kamiya with an angle comparing the war in Gaza with the 1982 war in Lebanon, and particularly the massacre of the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camp, as depicted in the award-winning new Israeli film “Waltz With Bashir” (which I really should go see already.) Salon.com: What “Waltz With Bashir” can teach us about Gaza

And finally Uri Avnery writes about the impossibility of defeating Hamas:

THE FAILURE to grasp the nature of Hamas has caused a failure to grasp the predictable results. Not only is Israel unable to win the war, Hamas cannot lose it.

Even if the Israeli army were to succeed in killing every Hamas fighter to the last man, even then Hamas would win. The Hamas fighters would be seen as the paragons of the Arab nation, the heroes of the Palestinian people, models for emulation by every youngster in the Arab world. The West Bank would fall into the hands of Hamas like a ripe fruit, Fatah would drown in a sea of contempt, the Arab regimes would be threatened with collapse.

I read his column on on-the-left-side.co.il, in Hebrew, but it can be found on his website (and the Gush Shalom website) in English as well. Uri Avnery: How Many Devisions?

The Thing about Gaza

There’s a reason why this conflict in/around Israel keeps dragging on and on and never gets decided by military force anymore.

You would think that an excellent fighting force like the IDF, one that has had unparalleled continuous experience fighting against terrorists, would have been able to produce outstanding results against terrorist organizations like Hamas and Hizbollah. Yet the more we fight, the more they fight back, and we are now faced with a threat (homemade missiles and other light artillery) that can only be stopped by invasion and occupation – walls can no longer reduce the threat – and yet our invasion has only made the threat worse.

It’s an extremely frustrating situation, but actually, it should come as no surprise. In the words of Martin van Creveld (a professor at Hebrew University, Jerusalem), referring, a couple of years back, to the USA’s difficulties in Iraq:

“In other words, he who fights against the weak – and the rag-tag Iraqi militias are very weak indeed – and loses, loses. He who fights against the weak and wins also loses. To kill an opponent who is much weaker than yourself is unnecessary and therefore cruel; to let that opponent kill you is unnecessary and therefore foolish. As Vietnam and countless other cases prove, no armed force, however rich, however powerful, however advanced, however well motivated is immune to this dilemma. The end result is always disintegration and defeat…That is why the present adventure will almost certainly end as the previous one (Vietnam) did. Namely, with the last U.S. troops fleeing the country while hanging on to their helicopters’ skids.”1

(emphasis mine)

This is the thing about Gaza. This is why when I see those QassamCount status messages on Facebook, I think they’re kind of ridiculous… It’s not that there’s anything okay or excusable about firing missiles into a sovereign state’s civilian population – what Hamas is doing is abominable and a war crime – but when you compare it to the enormous level of destruction the IDF is causing in its retaliation in the Strip it seems rather pointless to point out Hamas’s offenses. Let me repeat this: what Hamas are doing is awful and demands a response from Israel. But when Israel’s response kills in days far more people than the Hamas could kill in years, it’s rather insignificant that Israel has a justified reason to be fighting, or that Israel doesn’t intentionally kill innocent people. By fighting with full force against an immeasurably weaker enemy, the IDF loses. It becomes a bully. No number of pictures showing Israeli soldiers’ kindness can reverse the effect of the sheer numbers. In weeks, we have killed hundreds and wounded thousands, in retaliation for attacks that over eight years have killed precisely 14 civilians.2

No matter what way you look at it, this is a strategic mistake. You do not engage in a conflict where it is impossible to emerge victorious. If Hamas thought we would not retaliate, it would indeed not engage us in conflict, because the only way we can possibly lose is to engage in combat with a force so weak that any victory against it would be a defeat. It is a paradox, but one we simply have to deal with if we ever want to see an end to the bloodshed.

More: Yossi Gurvitz has an interesting post related to this issue (albeit on a somewhat different note) [Hebrew].

UPDATE January 11

I originally posted this two days ago on Facebook. I’ve since made a couple of small corrections and improvements. The note on Facebook sparked an interesting discussion, and I’d like to add a bit about the importance of international support. Neither Israel nor Gaza can survive without international support. Israel has historically enjoyed such support from very strong allies, support which slips away the more we say “**** you” to the world and follow our own moral standards to the exclusion of all else. And the more Hamas is seen as the victim, the more other states and NGOs will help them – and the more Hamas is helped by others, the harder it will be to defeat them.

International support is so important to both Israel and Gaza because they are otherwise isolated. Israel has the Mediterranean on one side, and Arab countries on all other sides – countries which have all, at times, been at war with Israel. And Gaza has Israel on two sides, and Egypt on the other – and as this war has made evident, Egypt is no friend of Hamas. That Gaza is not self-sufficient is, I hope, sufficiently obvious. But that Israel needs the international community seems to escape the grasp of many Israelis. Israel may be a major arms manufacturer, but it still buys some military equipment from other countries, often at a special price reserved for close allies (as has often been with the United States.) And Israel needs countries to export to (arms as well as many other things) – a commodity that can become scarce if opinions turn radically against it. And Israel also needs tourists, once a major source of income, made less and less frequent by the escalation of conflict since the dawn of the second Intifada. But perhaps more than all these, Israel needs someone watching its back on the international level. The United States’ staunch support of Israel has surely prevented many plots against Israel from seeing the light of day, for fear of retaliation from Uncle Sam.

Is this conflict truly harming Israel’s international support? Well, it could. In Germany, it has always been taboo to speak out critically of Israel, because of the difficult past and the nature of Israeli-Germany diplomatic relations. And yet last night a friend of mine here said that for the first time, he’s seen the German media portray Israel as the bad guy in this conflict. Germany has still sided with Israel, officially, but a shift against Israel in public opinion is not a good thing, and those who say “who cares what the world thinks” might want to reconsider just how much they don’t care.


  1. van Creveld quote taken from John Robb’s Global Guerrillas blog. []
  2. Figure taken from ITIC report, via QassamCount.com. The figure refers to civilian casualties preceding Operation Cast Lead. []