By Barry Rubin
A major problem in debating about international issues nowadays is that it is so often hard or even impossible to respect our adversaries. It is quite possible to disagree with someone but to be impressed with their ability in constructing arguments, their grasp of logic and facts, their getting things partly right to the point that it makes you adjust your own thinking. Yet nowadays one is so often confronted with deliberate lies, huge factual errors, and just totally illogical claims.
When I am attacked for something I have written—which happens far more rarely than I expected, I am almost always shocked and genuinely perplexed at how very secondary points are chosen for vicious denunciation. The latest example is one sentence, out of a full article, in which I say that Hamas is worse than the Germans in World War Two because the Nazis did not use their people as involuntarily human shields and place ammunition dumps in residential buildings.
All they saw was a comparison of Hamas to Nazis with the former seeming to be worse. Knee- jerk reaction: exaggerated and hysterical propaganda. Of course, if you read Hamas’s literature or look at its web sites or watch its television programs in Arabic, that characterization—which would be exaggerated if applied, say, to the PLO whatever its shortcomings and extremism—seems quite apt.
Nevertheless, although I didn’t mention this in the article, there was a very specific reason for my making that point. I am writing a book on my family and their town during World War Two. I was reading an account by a Soviet army partisan about a military action in which his unit attacked a small town in eastern Poland. The Germans had taken over the Polish Catholic church and fortified it as a defense post.
The battle happened at night and there were no civilians in the building when the partisans attacked it. Still, for a moment I was taken aback because of my own democratic and moderate upbringing and education. After all, the Germans had massacred thousands of Jews in these villages. And I had just read how they had burnt down a Polish family’s home—with the family inside—because the peasant husband had given two partisans some water to drink that day. Yet to use a church as a military fort struck me as a bit shocking.
Then I reflected that this very day a mosque had been bombed by Israel’s air force after being identified as a Hamas weapons’ depot. I had previously written that Hamas wanted civilians to be casualties because this provided good media coverage and international sympathy. And it is notable that as Hamas goaded Israel into war it made no provision for shelters or civil defense for its own people.
Palestinian Media Watch has reprinted a speech made by Fathi Hamad, one of the top Hamas leaders, on the movement’s own Al-Aqsa television station from February 29, 2008. He stated:
“For the Palestinian people death became an industry, at which women excel and so do all people on this land: the elderly excel, the Jihad fighters excel, and the children excel. Accordingly [Palestinians] created a human shield of women, children, the elderly and the Jihad fighters against the Zionist bombing machine, as if they were saying to the Zionist enemy: “We desire death as you desire life.’”
How can one explain that the Nazis never behaved in such a way? This is actually an interesting question and one that tells us something very important about the contemporary world. German soldiers fought bravely and German civilians bore up under tremendous sacrifice mainly because they were patriotic. While their cause was unjust, they supported Hitler mainly out of a belief that Germany should be “over all,” as the old national anthem put it. They felt victimized by the victorious allies in World War One.
A secondary motive was in the more specific aspects of Nazi ideology: its view of the Germans as a master race, fighting a global battle with the Jewish enemy, and so on.
As nationalists, though, they had to love their country, at least in their own interpretation of it and excluding all the Jewish citizens of course. They wanted prosperity, happiness, and empowerment for the German people. Consequently, the German army and government viewed it as their duty to protect the people. And if they were the master race, all the more need to protect them.
And that is why—if they had ever thought of it—the Nazis would not have deliberately exposed their people to even more suffering by using them as human shields or stockpiling bombs and bullets in their residential buildings. However chauvinistic and inhumane extreme nationalism can be to others, by definition it has to believe itself to be serving those who it identifies as its followers, constituency, and even subjects.
Of course, Hitler led his people to disaster and in the end inflicted tremendous suffering on them. When they realized this fact, the great majority concluded that their ruler had failed them and surrendered or concluded that they had been wrong and the regime was a mistake.
But radical Islamism is different. Its goal is not to exalt its people—Palestinians or Muslims, as such—but to implement God’s will. God is above the people. And the deity must be served no matter how many of the people, even Muslims, die or suffer. Thus we see the massive bloodshed in the Algerian civil war and the terrorist attacks against other Muslims in places like Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Even an anti-Israel demonstration in Iraq was hit by a suicide bomber recently.
Thus, there is this tireless emphasis on martyrdom, and people can be martyred even if they don’t choose that for themselves. What is startling—and like so many significant facts gone unnoticed in much of the world—is that Hamas never had any program for social development, quality education, improved health, or anything else but warfare for the Gaza Strip. Its only concern was to wage a war of extermination on Israel, no matter how much time and how many lives it cost.
In this same point, we have a very important clue for the international—albeit greatly exaggerated—reaction against Israel. Unable to comprehend that people would behave in this way, many Westerners assume that Hamas really wants a nice, peaceful state in which Palestinian children play happily. As is often said, doesn’t everyone want a good life of material prosperity and happiness for their kiddies?
Yet right at the start, on the success of the Iranian revolution almost thirty years ago, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini warned us that anyone who thought the Islamic revolution was about lowering the price of watermelons understood nothing.
And that is the problem with our adversaries in the Western debate. True, they hate us—meaning Israel or America or the West in general—and despite the very principles and institutions that have brought them freedom and a comfortable life. This is, of course, the basis for a political battle. What is truly disconcerting, however, is that they understand so very little about the world, common sense, logic, honest debate, the nature of democracy and dictatorship, and the nature of the real adversary against—irony of ironies—we are protecting them.
ALSO, here is the other report by Rubin that came in late last night, this all needs to be read in light of what has taken place over the last 24 hrs., and shows why Barry Rubin is the voice to be listening to, not Nordic journalists who believe Avi Shlaim and Benny Morris are the “best of the best” that Israeli historical scholarship has to offer. KGS
On the Ground in Gaza
By Barry Rubin
Tel Aviv, Israel
Israel didn’t want to attack the Gaza Strip from the ground or from the air. Hamas, which had long broken the ceasefire, canceled it altogether. Then it began large-scale attacks on Israel. This is a war of defense. And it is being conducted just 30 miles from here, Israel’s main city.
According to the just-released Israeli government statement on the offensive:
“The objective of this stage is to destroy the terrorist infrastructure of the Hamas in the area of operation, while taking control of some of rocket launching area used by the Hamas, in order to greatly reduce the quantity of rockets fired at Israel and Israeli civilians.
“The operation will…strike a direct and hard blow against the Hamas while increasing the deterrent strength of the Israel Defense Forces, in order to bring about an improved and more stable security situation for residents of southern Israel over the long term.”
Even as the 2006 war was continuing, the Israel Defense Force was evaluating the mistakes made in Lebanon—helicopters needed better short-range munitions, improved air-ground coordination, care in using tanks unsupported by infantry, and so on.
But contrary to the insistence of armchair strategists now, it would not be easy to seize control of all the Gaza Strip and govern it for an extended period of time. Hamas is not going to go away. International support for Israel is limited. Fatah and the Palestinian Authority will not react strongly to try to take Gaza back for itself. There are about one million people in the Gaza Strip and Hamas will make every attempt to ensure there are civilian casualties—and pretend there are even more.
So “total victory” is not easy, if it is even possible. The irony is that Israeli policy is based on the idea that there is no military solution to these issues. But since there is no diplomatic solution either, force must be used to protect Israel and its citizens.
It should be remembered that Israel withdrew completely from the Gaza Strip, dismantled all settlements, and wished the Palestinians good luck. The Palestinian Authority (PA) was not up to the challenge. It could and would not change its corrupt and incompetent ways. U.S. policy insisted that Hamas be allowed to run in the elections, even though it did not meet the standard of accepting the 1993 Israel-PLO agreement. Hamas won.
But Hamas invoked the radical Islamist policy of “one man, one vote, one time.” It staged a coup and kicked out its PA and Fatah rivals. Rather than focusing on economic development or even maintaining peace to build up its own power, Hamas pursued its strategy of permanent war against Israel. Children’s programs taught the kiddies that they should grow up to be suicide bombers and kill Jews. Hamas soldiers, or their junior allies, fired rockets and mortars at Israel. And of course Hamas staged a cross-border raid and kidnapped an Israeli soldier.
In spite of this, many in the West think Israel has some kind of choice in this matter, that diplomacy was an option, that Hamas could be reasoned with. Those people have clearly never heard a Hamas leader speak or read anything on the group’s Arabic-language websites. In a real sense, Hamas is more extreme than Usama bin Ladin, who periodically offers his enemy the chance to repent. Hamas’s goal is genocidal.
This has nothing to do with being dovish or hawkish, left or right. For those who are the biggest peaceniks—and this is true in Israel—know that Hamas must be defeated if Israel is ever to make peace with the PA. Even the PA knows it, and that’s what they say in private, no matter what they say in public.
The offensive is only going to last so long. It would be nice to believe that Hamas will be overthrown, less extreme Palestinians will take over, or Israel will just sit in the Gaza Strip for months or even years to come without any major problem. These are not real options.
Hamas wants nothing more than to be able to organize an underground to launch daily attacks on Israeli patrols going through the center of refugee camps. It should be remembered that, for better or worse, it was the Israeli military—not the politicians—who wanted to withdraw from the Gaza Strip for tactical reasons. It was easier to hold a defensive line in strength than to play into Hamas’s strong points by trying to control all the territory.
Clearly, this didn’t take into account the rockets but it is easy to think that if Israeli forces had been in the Gaza Strip every day since the withdrawal, Israeli casualties would have been a lot higher while Fatah and Hamas would be fighting side to side against Israel, and international diplomacy would have been far more hostile to Israel.
No one should have any illusions that this conflict is going to go away. The peace process era, 1993-2000, taught us that Iran, Syria, Hamas, Hizballah, and radical Islamist groups meant what they said. They will never accept peace with Israel. Israel will be involved in a struggle with these extremist groups for decades.
Yet that does not mean Israel cannot—and does not—prevail. It prevails by maintaining good lives for its citizens, developing its economy, and raising living standards, progressing in technology and science and medicine.
In this context, Israel will not listen to those many who counsel it to commit suicide, but it also has no illusions of a victory, of a war that will end all wars. And in a real sense that is Israel’s true strength: it is not naïve about either concessions or force. If you have realistic expectations, if you aren’t disappointed, then you never give up.
Often, nowadays, it seems as if all history is being rewritten when it comes to Israel. In World War Two, allied air forces carpet-bombed cities even though there were no military bases in civilian areas. In France alone, tens of thousands of civilians were killed by allied bombs that fell on their intended targets.
Even the Nazis didn’t put ammunition dumps in houses and use human shields. And up until now the blame for doing so would fall on those who deliberately and cynically sought to create civilian casualties in order to gain support for themselves
Up until now, a country whose neighbor fired across the border at its people and even staged cross-border raids had the right of self-defense.
Up until now, there has been a capability of understanding which group is inciting hatred, trying to turn children into robotic terrorists, calling for the extermination of another people, and committing aggression.
Many people, many journalists, many governments, and even many intellectuals still understand the most basic principles of right and wrong as well as of the real world. Unfortunately, too many don’t or at least don’t when Israel is the target.
Finally, it is of the greatest importance to understand that this is not an issue of Gaza or of Israel alone. The great issue of our era, of our remaining lifetimes, is the battle between radical Islamism—whether using the tactic of terrorism or not—and the rest of the world. To isolate this question as merely something about Israel is to misunderstand everything important about the world today.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley). To read and subscribe to MERIA and other GLORIA Center publications or to order books, visit http://www.gloriacenter.org/.