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Nanjeanne

(4,915 posts)
Sun Nov 26, 2023, 01:31 PM Nov 2023

An extraordinary piece by Omer Bartov, one of the world's leading Holocaust historians. [View all]

[link:https://cgcinternational.co.in/the-hamas-attack-and-israels-war-in-gaza/|]. From Council For Global Cooperation.

It’s very long but for anyone interested in an excellent analysis by a great historian - it is an important read.

Like many other people in Israel and across the world, my first reaction to the attack on October 7 was of shock and horror. But that initial reaction was accompanied by rage, not only at the appalling massacre perpetrated by Hamas on women and children, the elderly and the handicapped, even babies, but also at those who could have prevented this act of violence, many that preceded it, and the brutal retaliation that has come in its wake.

Two months before the attack by Hamas, several colleagues and I launched a petition titled “The Elephant in the Room.” Signed by close to 3,000 people, many of them distinguished scholars, religious leaders, and public figures, the petition came in response to the protests in Israel against the attempted legal “overhaul” – a governmental coup intended to weaken the judiciary and strengthen the executive branch. The “elephant in the room,” we warned, was the occupation of millions of Palestinians, and the alleged legal reform was being pushed by an extreme right-wing settler faction whose goal was to annex the West Bank. Yet the impressive protest movement that had sprung up in Israel against the judicial coup had almost entirely refused to confront this question.


SNIP

Another analogy has been made between the Hamas attack of October 7, 2023, and the attack fifty years earlier by the Egyptian and Syrian armies on October 6, 1973, in which I served as a soldier. There are similarities and differences between these two events. In both cases Israel was caught unprepared because of a strategic “conception,” according to which it could easily handle military threats without the need for any political and territorial concessions. President Anwar Sadat of Egypt had been trying to persuade Israel to hand back the Sinai Peninsula, captured in 1967, in return for peace. But Israel’s policy, as Defense Minister Moshe Dayan infamously put it at the time, was that “it’s better to keep Sharm el-Sheikh [the southern tip of the peninsula] without peace, than to have peace without Sharm el-Sheikh.” This euphoria of power, born of the stunning victory in the Six Days War, cost the lives of 3,000 Israeli soldiers, some of whom were my classmates.

Similarly, before the Hamas attack of October 7, Israeli politicians and generals believed that they could “manage the conflict” with the Palestinians rather than try to resolve it. In Gaza, this would be accomplished by occasionally “mowing the grass,” that is, raining destruction from the air to keep Hamas in its place. Indeed, Netanyahu’s many administrations chose to maintain Hamas just strong enough, and keep the Palestinian authority in the West Bank weak and unpopular enough, so as to be able to argue that no political settlement with the Palestinians was possible; meanwhile settlements kept proliferating in the occupied territories, making any territorial compromise increasingly unfeasible.

In other words, in both cases, violence was the result of a political stalemate chosen by Israel in the belief of having overwhelming military superiority. The main difference between these two events is that in 1973 Israel was attacked by two major armies, complete with armor, artillery, and fighter planes, whereas this time it was attacked by insurgents armed only with light weapons and rockets. Unlike in 1973, Israel faces no existential threat from Hamas. But because of its inability to envision a political resolution to the conflict of the sort that it was forced to accept after 1973, it is dragging itself into a regional conflict that may have major ramifications both for its security and for its internal stability.


SNIP

For me, as a historian, it is important to put the current events in the correct historical context and to diagnose as best we can their deeper causes. A misdiagnosis of such causes, or a denial of them altogether, will only make things worse. It would appear that precisely because of this misdiagnosis or denial, Israel is currently balanced over a precipice, as an increasing number of well-informed commentators are warning (see for instance Thomas Friedman’s op-ed in the NYT). The potential for a regional, if not world-wide conflict, is growing. Making things worse is Israel’s forced displacement of over a million civilians—the majority of whom are Palestinian refugees of the 1948 Nakba and their descendants—from their homes in the northern part of Gaza to the southern part, even as the IDF is now reducing much of that northern part to rubble. By most accounts it has already killed ten times as many Palestinians, including numerous children (who make up 50% of the overall population there), as those murdered by Hamas. Most recently, displaced Gazans in the eastern part of the southern Strip have been ordered to move to its western part, adding even more to the congestion. This military policy is creating an untenable humanitarian crisis, which will only worsen over time. The population of Gaza has nowhere to go, and its infrastructure is being demolished.

In justifying these actions, Israeli leaders and generals have made terrifying pronouncements. On October 7, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Gazans would pay a “huge price” for the attack by Hamas, and that the IDF would turn parts of Gaza’s densely populated urban centers “into rubble.” On Oct. 28, he added, citing Deuteronomy, “You must remember what Amalek did to you.” As many Israelis know, in revenge for the attack by Amalek, the Bible calls to “kill alike men and women, infants and sucklings.” Israeli President Yitzhak Herzog condemned all Palestinians in Gaza: “It is an entire nation out there that is responsible. It is not true this rhetoric about civilians not being aware, not involved. It’s absolutely not true.” Israeli Minister of Energy and Infrastructure Israel Katz similarly stated: “No electrical switch will be turned on, no water hydrant will be opened and no fuel truck will enter, until the abductees return home.” Member of Knesset Ariel Kallner wrote on social media on October 7: “Right now, one goal: Nakba! A Nakba that will overshadow the Nakba of ‘48. Nakba in Gaza and Nakba to anyone who dares to join!” No one in the government denounced that statement. Instead, on November 11, security cabinet member and Agriculture Minister Avi Dichter reiterated: “We are now rolling out the Gaza Nakba.”

Israel’s defense minister, Yoav Gallant, stated on October 9, “we are fighting human animals and we will act accordingly,” a statement indicating a dehumanization of people that has genocidal echoes. He later announced that he had “removed every restriction” on Israeli forces, and that “Gaza won’t return to what it was before. We will eliminate everything.” On October 10, the head of the Israeli army’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), Major General Ghassan Alian, addressed the population of Gaza in Arabic, stating: “Human animals must be treated as such. There will be no electricity and no water, there will only be destruction. You wanted hell, you will get hell.” The same day, Israeli army spokesperson Daniel Hagari announced that in the bombing campaign in Gaza, “the emphasis is on damage and not on accuracy.” Also on October 10, Major General Giora Eiland wrote in the mass circulation daily Yedioth Ahronoth: “The State of Israel has no choice but to turn Gaza into a place that is temporarily or permanently impossible to live in,” adding that “Creating a severe humanitarian crisis in Gaza is a necessary means to achieving the goal,” and that “Gaza will become a place where no human being can exist.”


SNIP

While it is desirable to remove Hamas from Gaza as the political and military hegemon, it is far from certain that Israel will be able to entirely “root it out,” described as the main goal of the war. Hamas is both a militant organization that uses terror against civilians for political ends, and a social organization that runs the entire infrastructure of Gaza, from schools to health services to sanitation to law enforcement. But even if Hamas is removed from Gaza as the PLO was removed from Beirut, there is no known plan by the Israeli government as to what would happen next. Who would take over? The Israelis do not want to take care of the territory and even if they try, as they did in the past, they will not be able to do so for long. Egypt does not want to have direct responsibility over the Strip. And the Palestinian Authority has been greatly weakened by Israel and will be seen as its agent if it is brought to Gaza. In brief, Israel seems to have no political plan and a very hazardous military one. It can only blame itself – not least Netanyahu, but also the military leadership – for having arrived at this point.

As the great Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz wrote almost two hundred years ago, war is the extension of politics by other means. War without clearly defined political goals will devolve into absolute war, which means a war of destruction and annihilation. In the case of Israel’s invasion of Gaza, a strict adherence by the IDF to the laws and customs of war as defined in the 1949 Geneva Conventions and subsequent protocols would have likely made military progress very difficult. That was not the chosen course, and available evidence indicates that the IDF is in serious breach of these agreements, of which Israel is a signatory. No wonder that it is encountering growing international censure and is rapidly losing support in the United States, a circumstance that is bound to be reflected eventually also in responses and actions by the American administration. The only way out of this conundrum is for Israel to clearly declare that it has a political end in mind: a peaceful resolution of the conflict with an appropriate and willing Palestinian leadership. Making such a statement would instantaneously transform the situation and open up the way for intermediate steps to be taken on the ground, the first of which would be a halt to the killing and a return of all surviving hostages.

Yet such a policy course by Israel appears highly unlikely now, especially under the current political leadership, which is just as extreme as it is incompetent. At this point, not least because of the heated rhetoric in Israel, even from quite a few left-wing commentators appalled by the massacre of October 7, it is crucial for moral pressure to be brought to bear on Israeli policymakers and the public to desist from ever more actions that are bound to result in war crimes, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, and even genocide.


SNIP

Despite the terrifying violence and the destructive intransigence of both sides and their supporters, the objective must be a peace settlement. There are equal numbers of Jews and Palestinians in the territory between the Jordan and the sea. Neither group is going away. They can either keep killing each other or find a way to live together. That must be the goal. All dreams of making the other side disappear or submit to being oppressed from one generation to another will only produce more violence and growing brutalization of both groups. The very assertion of a will to reach an agreement has the potential to transform the paradigm. The ongoing killing will only make it worse. No internal governmental coup, and no external political deal – such as relations with the Gulf states or peace with Saudi Arabia – will succeed in pushing the need for a political settlement between Palestinians and Israelis under the rug.

For now, all we can do it to plead with our own governments to use this moment of deep crisis and horrifying bloodshed as a lever to compel Israel to end its policy of occupation and oppression of another people and to seek creative solutions for coexistence, be it in two states, one state, or federative structure, that will ensure human dignity, equality, and liberty for all.


*Bolding mine.
I’ve picked out some sections. But for people interested in a deeper understanding from a perspective of a distinguished Professor of European History and a noted Holocaust scholar - it is worth reading the whole piece.



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