The discussion of ‘who did what to whom, when’ about the current shooting war between Israel and Gaza misses the point. Whether or not Hamas fired its rockets first or whether Israel justifiably killed the senior Hamas military commander, Ahmed al-Jabari, is beside the point. So is the question of whether Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu ordered the attacks to strengthen his position in the coming Israeli elections. So is the question of whether or not Hamas has fallen more deeply under the control of Iran, which seeks to take some of the publicity away from its ally, Bashar al-Assad’s continuing killing of his own people.
To get to the point requires a different way of thinking about Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. To do that, you need to go back to the 1983 remarks by then Israeli Defense Forces Chief of Staff Raphael Eitan. He remarked that “When we have settled the land, all the Arabs will be able to do about it will be to scurry around like drugged cockroaches in a bottle.”
Well, since 1983 and actually beginning immediately after the end of the 1967 War during which Israel conquered the Jordanian army and took over the West Bank and Gaza, Israel has expanded its settlements, particularly on the West Bank.
The number of Jewish settlers in the West Bank has now reached 350,000 and has doubled in the last 12 years primarily under the premierships of Ariel Sharon and Bibi Netanyahu. The number of Jewish settlers in and around former East Jerusalem is now 300,000.
Most importantly, there is no evidence that Israel under a Netanyahu government would give up the West Bank under any circumstances. Worse, for the prospects of peace, Netanyahu has formed an electoral coalition with Avigdor Lieberman, the head of Yisrael Beiteinu, a political party whose electoral base is made up of immigrants from the former USSR. (Full disclosure: My father was born in Kishinev, then part of Romania. Lieberman was born in the same city, by then, part of the Soviet Union. The connection stops there.)
During the last Israeli onslaught on Gaza, in 2009, Lieberman argued that Israel “must continue to fight Hamas just like the United States did with the Japanese in World War II. Then, too, occupation of the country was unnecessary.” Since it was the atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki that made the occupation of Japan unnecessary, many wondered just what Lieberman was proposing for Gaza. What is certain is that Lieberman represents the hardliners of the far right.
But what about Gaza? Under Sharon, in 2005, Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza. What more could those Gazans ask for? Well, there are several factors worth remembering. For one, the Israelis actually removed settlers from 21 different settlements in Gaza and then destroyed every aspect of each settlement. Bibi Netanyahu was Finance Minister in the Sharon Cabinet and resigned in protest of the withdrawal, even though Israel public opinion polls showed 60 percent of Israelis in favor of the withdrawal.
But the withdrawal was done in the most appalling manner. Sharon refused to discuss his forthcoming action with the Palestinian National Authority. The Israelis left with no coordination with the Palestinians or with Hamas, no preparation for them to build a reasonably competent civil administration. After the withdrawal and to this day, Israel controls Gaza’s land and maritime and airspace borders through tight travel restrictions.
In other words, in both Gaza and the West Bank, the Israelis have achieved Raphael Eitan’s goal of keeping the Palestinians bottled up like cockroaches. Periodically, they strike out, in desperate rage at the apparent endless occupation, now in its 45th year. And, periodically, in response, the Israelis seek to administer such painful punishment that the Palestinians will revert back to their passive and ‘drugged’ state.
That is what’s happening in Gaza now.