Some aspects of contemporary world affairs never seem to change. The pattern of bloodletting between Israel and the various movements that purport to represent the Palestinians is one of those depressingly recurring events. And as the New Year approaches, they are at it again. In the end, nothing will change except that more people will suffer and die.
The latest round is in Gaza. Hamas, the terrorist/governing body of that part of Palestine, began lobbing rockets and mortars over the “Separation Fence” the Israelis had erected to prevent terrorist attacks from Gaza shortly after the latest ceasefire expired on December 18. Until yesterday, these rocket attacks had unnerved many Israelis but had killed no one (one Israeli has since been killed). The Hamas attacks are predictably pointless and ineffectual. So is the Israeli response.
The Israelis, of course, have responded with a massive aerial bombing assault on positions in Gaza they say are the sites of rocket attacks or the arsenals from which the rockets are dispensed. Predictably, the Israelis have killed far more Palestinians than Israeli fatalities: reports suggest over 280 Gazans killed and upwards of 600 wounded. Many of these casualties were Hamas security forces and personnel rresponsible for the rocket attacks. Many were not–no one knows for sure how many were innocent Gazan bystanders, but some surely were.
Meanwhile, the Israelis have announced a mobilization of the reserves, thus putting the country in a war footing and raising the prospect of an invasion of Gaza to put the bombing to an end once and for all. The Israeli government argues strong military action is the only antidote for Hamas attacks. The Bush administration agrees; most of the rest of the world does not. Once again, this is all very familiar.
Two things stand out at this point in this latest episode in the battle for the Holy Land. First, an overt conventional military action is the Israeli response to a problem; it will almost certainly fail to achieve its goal, will further embitter the Gazans, and will equally certainly prove counterproductive. By creating more Palestinian martyrs, opposition will be increased. The Israeli 2006 experience in South Lebanon was supposed to be the lesson Israel needed to figure this dynamic out; clearly the Israelis have shorter memories than even the United States does in trying to reprise Vietnam in Afghanistan. It all raises questions about the hypothesis that man is a learning animal.
The experience also raises a real question about the wall the Israelis have constructed to restrain Gazans from infiltrating Israel and carrying out terrorist attacks. That fence is obviously not high enough to stop mortars and rockets from flying over it. What is may do instead is inflame sentiments so that some kinds of attacks are more likely. This is of some consequence because the “success” of the Gaza barrier is the prime rationale for bullding a similar wall between Israel proper and the West Bank Palestinian territories. The Israelis might want to rethink that rationale; they almost certainly will not.
And so it goes. Hamas conducts terrorist attacks on Israel that serve no purpose other than to inflame Israeli hatred toward them. The Israelis respond with much bloodier counterattacks that end up serving no purpose other than further to inflame hatred against them. When this round is over, neither side will have gained anything, and innocents Israelis and Gazans will have died again. It’s kind of hard to feel much sympathy for anyone except the innocents caught in the crosshairs of the arguably harebrained on both sides.