Mowing the lawn in Gaza

by H.B. Koplowitz

Israeli Defense Forces sometimes refer to their periodic incursions into Gaza as “mowing the lawn.” Comparing Palestinians to weeds may sound racist, but it also indicates that Israel’s goal is not genocide, or even victory, but to prune Hamas’ terrorist infrastructure. As Israel invades Gaza for the third time in six years, it’s easy to slip into moral equivalency myths — that both sides are equally to blame, both misbehave equally and both suffer equal consequences. But there are differences.

The latest cycle of violence between Israelis and Palestinians began June 12, when three Israeli teens were abducted and later found dead. Israeli security officials told The New York Times they believe the deaths were the result of a botched kidnapping by Hamas militants who wanted to grab hostages to trade for thousands of Palestinian prisoners “and promote the Hamas brand throughout the West Bank.” Although that claim has yet to be verified, Israel rounded up hundreds of Hamas activists and bulldozed the homes of some suspects.

Tensions escalated when Israeli settlers carried out an apparent revenge killing on a Palestinian teenager. Israel arrested three settlers for the murder, and the parents of the murdered Israeli teens condemned the revenge killing. But Palestinians protested the unequal way Israel handled both slayings, and then Israeli police pulled a Rodney King on the victim’s cousin, who happened to be from Florida and got caught up in the riots while visiting family.

The tit-for-tat murders occurred shortly after the breakdown of the latest round of peace talks refereed by US Secretary of State John Kerry, and the two main Palestinian factions, Hamas and Fatah, formed a so-called unity government. Fatah, which used to be headed by Yasser Arafat and controls the West Bank, is considered the more secular and moderate Palestinian faction, while Hamas, which controls Gaza, is deemed an Islamic terrorist group, mainly because of its penchant for suicide bombings and its refusal to recognize the state of Israel.

Fatah head Mahmoud Abbas condemned the kidnapping of the Israeli youths, but any hopes that calmer heads would prevail were dashed when Hamas upped the number of unguided missiles it’s been lobbing into Israel ever since the Jewish state unilaterally withdrew from Gaza in 2005. Israel responded with an aerial bombardment of Gaza and began mobilizing thousands of military reservists for a ground invasion. Before the invasion, only one Israeli had been killed, compared to more than 200 Palestinians, many of them women and children.

To avoid further bloodshed, Egypt tried to broker a cease-fire, and Israel stopped shelling. But Hamas rejected the cease-fire and continued launching rockets into Israel, which resumed its bombardment six hours later. Israel also accepted and Hamas rejected a second cease-fire of five hours to allow the UN to supply Gazans with humanitarian aid. Now Israel is mowing the lawn again, with its stated goal being to degrade Hamas’ estimated stockpile of 10,000 rockets and its network of border tunnels used to stage attacks in Israel. With tunnel entrances hidden in residential basements, and missiles stashed in schools and densely populated neighborhoods, more Palestinian civilians are sure to die in the crossfire.

If all this sounds sickeningly familiar, it’s because it is. What Israel is calling Operation Protective Edge was preceded by Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012, which was preceded by Operation Cast Lead in December 2008. In both the earlier operations, Israel invaded Gaza in response to increased missile attacks, and the Palestinians suffered a disproportionate amount of death and destruction. In the 2008 war, the box score was 1,400 Palestinians killed to 13 Israelis. But in the bizarre world of the Middle East, that is considered a victory for the Palestinians. While Israel lets Palestinians know where their bombs will drop, and urges them to seek refuge, Hamas encourages its own people to become human shields, knowing that will increase the body count and fuel world outrage against Israel.

As Shmuel Rosner noted in Slate, although horrific, these periodic, lopsided battles have become “boring, predictable and repetitive,” and there are signs that even the Palestinians are tired of Hamas’ suicidal strategy. The Jerusalem Post, among other media outlets, reported that during the early days of Israeli shelling, instead of taking to the streets to show their support for Hamas, many Gazans stayed inside to watch the World Cup on TV. Earlier, the newspaper conducted a poll that found Palestinian support for firing rockets from Gaza into Israel had dropped from 74 percent in December 2012 to 38 percent in April 2013.

It’s scurrilous to compare Hamas to the tea party, but one trait they share is a disdain for compromise. One compromise to destroying Israel or crushing the Palestinians is a two-state solution, which has been on the table since 1948. But the Arabs rejected it then and Hamas rejects it now, because they won’t accept Israel’s right to exist. After decades of lost battles, lost lands, occupation and economic hardships, more Palestinians, perhaps even Fatah, have begun to realize that Jews are also like weeds that aren’t going away, and that violence hasn’t worked out so well for them. But not Hamas, which clings to what has been called a culture of death that glorifies martyrdom and pervades Palestinian society, from the mosques to the schools and pop culture. As Hamas politician Fathi Hammad told Israelis in 2008, “We desire death like you desire life.”

Some Jews also reject a two-state solution and want to get rid of the Palestinians once and for all. But most Israelis recognize that unlike weeds, Palestinians are human beings with certain inalienable rights. They are more than willing to trade land for peace, if the Palestinians would just stop blowing things up.

© H.B. Koplowitz 7/18/14

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