Well, perhaps “mobilize” is a bit of an exaggeration. Altogether about 20 peace activists (the usual suspects) gathered at Courthouse Square (our Hyde Park) last Tuesday November 20 to protest the assault on Gaza. The rally was organized by Mid-Missouri Peaceworks and the Mid-Missouri Fellowship of Reconciliation. I was in Cleveland visiting the mishpoche [clan in Yiddish], so couldn’t swell the numbers. Here’s a photo from the Missourian, one of our newspapers.
Our other newspaper, the Columbia Daily Tribune, agreed to publish my Op-Ed on the assault, opposite Charles Krauthammer’s opposing screed. You could probably write Krauthammer’s editorial almost verbatim by yourself without looking. Maybe mine, too, but just in case here’s my original text (published version modified slightly by the editor):
Another assault on Gaza
The 1.6 million people of Gaza live under permanent lockdown in a crammed open-air prison. A wide strip of the prison yard, encompassing about 40 percent of its farmland, is now a no-go “buffer” zone. To venture inside is to risk being shot by the Israeli prison guards. Fishermen who stray more than two or three miles offshore are attacked by naval vessels. Rations are limited, exports prohibited. Parole to join family in the West Bank or Israel itself is invariably denied, and furlough seldom granted even to visit a doctor outside the prison for grave illness. The inmates mount a feeble armed resistance, mostly primitive rockets lobbed into adjoining precincts of Israel. Under a thin veneer of “defense,” the jailers respond with continual small-scale and periodic larger-scale assaults on the prisoners collectively.
One of the latter assaults, Pillar of Cloud, ended November 21, killing 140 Gazans, 90 of them civilians, and injuring 1202 according to the UN; five Israelis, four of them civilians, were killed, and 219 injured. The much larger Cast Lead four years ago killed 1385 Gazans, including 318 children, and left 20,000 homeless. Some Israeli wits of high standing hilariously call this “mowing the lawn.”
Gaza is governed by Hamas, a militant Islamist party that won an absolute majority of the Palestinian Legislative Council in January 2006. Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party refused to cede control over the Palestinian Authority, however, and Hamas control has consequently been confined to Gaza. In the summer of 2007 Hamas thwarted a US- and Israel-backed attempted coup by Fatah. Hamas’s anti-Semitic charter is even worse than Israel’s increasingly hateful anti-Palestinian rhetoric. The rocket attacks it sponsors and permits are aimed at Israel’s civilians, so they’re just as much war crimes as Israel’s collective-punishment assaults even if they’re resistance rather than aggression, and kill vastly fewer people. They’re an intolerable burden on a million people who live within range in southern Israel.
If Israel were really interested in protecting its citizens, it would enter into a long-term agreement that ended its violent incursions and economic siege in return for an end to the rockets. Hamas has repeatedly pressed for such an agreement, and there’s every reason to believe it would adhere to one in its own self-interest. Ever since its election, and especially since the 2007 coup attempt, Hamas has focused on governing Gaza, not on the hopeless goal of expelling Jews from Palestine (as the Zionists did to 750,000 Palestinians in 1947–1949). It pays a heavy political price for the suffering of its own constituents every time the rockets bring on one of Israel’s large-scale assaults. But it pays an even heavier political price for allowing the economic siege and the unremitting “ordinary” incursions (Israel killed 78 Gazans this year before Pillar of Cloud began; Gazans killed 1 Israeli), to continue unanswered.
Like essentially all previous lulls (negotiated cease-fires) over the last seven years, the two-week lull preceding Pillar of Cloud was breached by Israeli violence: an incursion on November 8. Six days later Israel assassinated Ahmed al-Jabari, Hamas’s widely admired military commander—an intolerable provocation that predictably brought a rain of rockets down on southern Israel. Al-Jabari was hardly a man of peace, but he was someone with authority whom Israel has done business with in the past (including the release of Gilad Shalit), and could do business with again if its goal were bringing violence to an end.
But Israel isn’t interested in ending violence by negotiation. Numerous public statements by Defense Minister Ehud Barak and other officials have made clear that Israel aims to destroy Gaza’s capacity to mount rocket attacks. It wants the inmates to be even more defenseless than they already are. This is a hopeless quest. The rockets are too cheap, too easy to smuggle; the militants are too determined. It’s Hamas enforcement, not Israeli military action itself, that stops rockets. So the suffering will continue, both inside and outside the prison walls, until Israel finally admits the futility of its reliance on violence.
The U.S. is deeply complicit in this amok penal system, and in Israel’s systematic oppression and dispossession of Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. We abet it with at least $3 billion worth of weaponry every year. We shield Israel from accountability in the UN and elsewhere in the international arena. Are you OK with this? I’m not. A growing number of Americans aren’t, including many Jews. It’s long past time to enforce the Arms Export Control Act of 1976, which prohibits governments receiving U.S. weapons from using them for any purpose other than legitimate self-defense. No reasonable observer would classify the death and destruction just rained down on Gaza by American-made F-16 fighters and Apache helicopter gunships as self-defense. It was state-run savagery—ours as well as Israel’s.