the only winner in gaza is Death

So Israel declared Victory over Hamas in Gaza; as if over 1000 dead, a large portion civilians, and scores more injured could ever constitute a victory. And Hamas, too, declared victory, for having survived. The propaganda points go to Hamas, because however unprincipled and immoral their rocket-attacks on Israeli civilians are, the sheer brutality and wanton disregard of civilian life makes Israel the villain.

Of course, there are the screamers who will lobby charges of anti-Semitism for daring to suggest that Israel is in the wrong. Still others will complain, forcefully, that this focus on the Palestinian dead and injured is an unfair trivialization of Israeli suffering. But the numbers speak for themselves: 13 Israeli dead. The whole notion that there was any justice in this offensive is a joke given how Gaza is strictly dependent on Israel in terms of getting supplies and managing the flow of people.

And supporters of Israel’s offensive, from Ehud Olmert down to some voices in The Front Page Online, have been quick to blur the distinction between civilian and Hamas fighter/terrorist/what-have-you. As the reasoning goes, Hamas is hiding among the civilians – perhaps even the civilians themselves – therefore anything is a legitimate target. I’m not sure the UN is impressed with this kind of logic.

As I think about all of this, I’m struck by how caught up we are in the notion of Israel’s so-called “right” to exist. But I’m not sure what the word “right” is supposed to mean. Right based on what? Some intrinsic quality in the land itself that a priori entails Israeli ownership? Right based on God’s will? The problem is that property is a legal construct, a contract. There is nothing embedded in the universe itself that says, clearly and empirically, that this land is your land and this land is my land. Thus the need for some sort of shared authority, like God. The trouble is, no one can agree on what God wants, let alone prove God’s existence. This goes for any country; none have a “right” to exist, since there is nothing on which to base that right.

If the paradigm of rights isn’t correct, then we are left with that of necessity, in the sense that everyone needs a home, some area set aside for them to put up their houses. It is pragmatic necessity that explains (but not necessarily justifies) the existence of any particular country, however much that leaves open the possibility that we could abolish nations and borders and simply focus on our own local areas and probably be better off.

With pragmatic necessity, we are left with a social contract, a consensus between individuals and peoples. And this is the dirty little secret: Israel was formed, not out of a political consensus or a strictly pragmatic necessity, but out of military force bolstered by claims to “rights” of ownership to land in Palestine. True, force is at the root of almost every country’s birth, but the 20th century, particularly the end of WWII, has now implanted in us the notion of fixed borders. Hence, the UN, the global wariness of any country’s attempts to redraw the map (cue China). This is the context that makes Israel’s formation so problematic. From the use of terrorist violence on both sides, to the repercussions of British rule, to the 1948 war triggered by Arabs and the 1967 pre-emptive war launched by Israel – Israel was created by violence, not politics, when the problem was inherently political in nature. Had Israel been violently formed prior to, say, WW1, when rival countries routinely used military force to wrest control of regions from one another, Israel’s birth would not be politically different from any other country’s.

Should Israel have waited for consensus before declaring independence? The argument against is Arabs would never have allowed the creation of a Jewish state. Perhaps true, perhaps not. Time has been known to change minds and soften hearts. The question is: is anything worth all this death and suffering? As a pacifist, I have to wonder why Ghandi’s example is never followed, with sustained non-violent campaigns of a resistance. But Irgun’s use of terrorist violence, at a time when Jews were not a powerful State, holds a disturbing mirror to Hamas today. The willingness to kill overshadows the necessity for political compromise. How long until people accept that an imperfect political solution is better than a perfect cycle of violence? It’s up to Israel, I think, to make the decisive first move, that first sacrifice from returning to 1967 borders and dismantling settlements, on account of being overwhelmingly more powerful than Palestinians ensconced in what has been described as a concentration camp. This latest offensive only added to Palestinian anger and desperation – the fuel to the engines of suicide-attacks – which does nothing to solve the problem.

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