By Ira Sharkansky
Letter from Israel 

Can Israel solve Hamas problem?


The short answer to the question heading this note is “No.”

There are too many Muslims in the world, having weight in international forums, with the U.S. and E.U. inclined to go along with them.

The ascendance of radicalism among Muslims makes any of their governments reluctant to challenge a hard line against Israel.

All that is true, but within those constraints, there is wiggle room for Israel and its friends.

Governments of Muslim countries routinely demand anti-Israel declarations in the U.N. and other bodies, and press governments of the U.S. and E.U to decry whatever Israel does. However, those same governments of Muslim countries do not deliver anything close to the financial support to Palestinians that they promise. Almost all of them have made life unpleasant for the Palestinian “refugees” living in their borders since 1948. Many Arabs and other Muslims (e.g., Iranians, Turks, Indonesians, Malaysians) are tired of the Palestinian claims of suffering. Yet Palestinian claims ring to some extent with the crowds that may riot against their governments. It’s easiest to sing in their chorus when it does not cost much.

Many if not most of those countries do business with Israel, but quietly. Elites come to Israel for medical care. Personnel from Israeli firms fly in private planes to airports that do not welcome El Al or other commercial flights from Israel. They move around, sleep and eat with security, sell and service what Israel has to offer, and fly home until the next visit. Israeli industries use addresses in some other country for such transactions, which have the approval of government authorities.

Americans and Europeans sign on to the hypocrisy of the Muslim claims for the sake of humane values and what is easiest. Who knows the seriousness of politicians who say time and again that Islam is a blessing rather than a problem? Media personalities, activists, and many of the common folk take them seriously and join the chorus. Most do not care, and many recognize nonsense when they hear it. Some may recognize the nonsense in what they say, but politics involves getting along

When the weak behave as barbarians, it is easy to excuse them as not yet ready for the clubs of the better class. What else to expect from them? 

There is also at least a bit of anti-Semitism in what we hear, now dressed as opposition to Israeli excess.

The best educated and most WASPish of upper caste Presbyterians are among those who have joined the barbarians with their intellectual contortions.

Israel is a strong country, as democratic as any, with a world-class defense establishment. But it is small, and cannot act like the U.S., Russia, Iran or North Korea, and still expect easy access to markets, including the exchange of science, medicine, technology, and culture with the better countries.

Politics involves the acceptance of insult as well as other criticism, and some loss of opportunity. It applies to countries as well as individuals, and more often to the weaker (individuals and countries) than the stronger.

Israel is stronger in many respects than North Korea and Iran, but does not wish to be as self-contained as those rogues.

Also involved in the explanation of Israel’s Palestinian problem are the nature of Jewish values and domestic Israeli opposition to anything that is overly forceful and bloody. (Some will be sneering at this point and upping the volume of their accusations about Israel’s genocide against the Palestinian people. We can put them in the category with the no nothings they support, and continue with the discussion.)

Jews do not like to kill. They take seriously the seventh commandment. Not all, to be sure. There is also the passage in Talmud, “If a man comes to kill you, rise early and kill him first.” (Tractate Berakoth, 58a). The IDF trains its soldiers to respect human life, to distinguish between combatants and civilians, and to reject orders that are blatantly illegal.

Among the pondering of commentators has been the pluses and minuses of an IDF ground operation, which can target more closely than air strikes to avoid Palestinian civilians, but will result in the deaths of soldiers.

Jews have been coping, rather than solving their problems, for at least 2,500 years. Whoever composed the various segments of Torah and other books of the Hebrew Bible described the coping of God, Moses, and lesser characters. The story of the Exodus and the books of Job and Ecclesiastes provide prominent examples. In modern times, cadres of Jewish psychiatrists, psychologists, and other care givers have explained to their patients how to deal with problems they cannot solve: chronic illness, difficult spouses and children, and other frustrations.

All of that may draw on the Jewish traits of being a small people alongside more powerful others, with a high degree of literacy and intellectual skills that provoke questioning, and tolerate argument on the way to decisions.

Israelis learned several wars ago that it is easier to live alongside their enemies than to destroy them.

A key source of frustration is the ascendance of Islamic radicalism. There is also the stubbornness of Palestinian nationalism, despite the naysayers who insist that they are not a people. They are far from united, but their narrative has legs. It has been reinforced by six decades of schooling and incitement. There is a great deal of distortion mixed in with bits of reality. No people’s historic narrative is free of myth and exaggeration.

Israel is not about to slaughter Palestinians or to raze most buildings of Gaza. Egypt will not accept responsibility for a flood of Palestinian refugees, or the administration of Gaza. Palestinians might pride themselves with the label of refugees, but they are also outcasts among fellow Muslims.

Israel is stuck with its neighbors by virtue of geography and politics (its own and others’). 

Hamas spokesmen are boasting about accomplishments that have not occurred, and threatening to continue the destruction of Israel for months.

The IDF has urged 100,000 or so Gazans living close to the border to move elsewhere.

Who can remember the names of all the military operations in Israel’s modern history? We can begin with 1967, 1973, or the first Lebanon war that began in 1982, the first Intifada that began in 1987 or the second Intifada that began in 2000.

Since the beginning of the Second Intifada there have been 20 named operations, up to and including Protective Edge.

In the last few days we’ve scurried to cover three times in Jerusalem, luxuriating in the 90 seconds between the sirens and the boom. In Sderot and other communities close to Gaza, there are many more incidents, and 15 seconds between the onset of the siren and the boom.

Varda was caught on the road in one instance, and came home excited about seeing the contrails of a missile interception.

The imbalance of casualties and destruction is profound, but does not appear to dent the certainty of Islamic extremists.

Among the loneliest of people are secular Muslims, and those who dare challenge the blather of the intense. 

This operation is likely to end in a week or so, and come back for a replay after who knows how many years or months. Gaza has no shortage of fanatics who oppose Hamas for not being sufficiently dedicated and aggressive.

Optimists are hoping for an outcome like that achieved from the Hezbollah of Lebanon as a result of a heavy bombardment in 2006. Since then, Hassan Nasrallah has sought to express his charisma from underground via television, with few appearances that expose him to what the IDF might do. Except for an occasional incident, Israel’s northern region has been quiet for eight years.

It is not desirable to destroy Hamas. A political vacuum is Gaza is likely to be filled by those even more extreme.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is busy elsewhere, no less naive than during his recent efforts here.

Kerry told Afghanistan on Friday its transition to a self-reliant state hung in the balance after a contested presidential election, urging officials to focus on investigating all fraud allegations to prove its legitimacy.

Both Boston and Chicago are also known for political shenanigans. John and Barack might do better closer to home.

Ira Sharkansky is a professor (Emeritus) of the Department of Political Science, Hebrew University of Jerusalem.


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