I just read a Facebook post that I want to share here. It is both extraordinarily informed and extremely wise–and I would say that even if it wasn’t written by my son Nathan, a freshman at Brandeis.
PROUD PARENT ALERT–Nathan’s comments were posted in their entirety on Andrew Sullivan’s The Daily Dish, probably the most trafficked political blog anywhere.
Some thoughts on Operation Pillar of Defense. I’m not going to address the justice or rightness of either side at this point. Suffice to say that Israel has a right to self-defense and that a rise in rocket fire from Gaza is something they should certainly be concerned about. Right now, I just want to talk about the effectiveness of the Operation, and its future ramifications.
To start with, we can assume that the goal of Pillar of Defense is not to cripple Hamas’s war-making ability through military means. Operation Cast Lead was a failure in this regard (as this crisis indicates), and the IDF is presumably not stupid enough to launch an attack with an unachievable goal. We can then assume that the goal is retributive–fire rockets at Israel and we’ll blow Gaza to hell. We can assume the message intended to be sent from this is that Israel is ‘teaching terrorists a lesson’, or terrifying them into submission. Considering the social media propaganda aspect of this, the message is quite likely meant to reassure Israeli citizens as much as it is meant to intimidate Palestinians.
However, the message that it sends in actuality is quite different. Israel is once again stating that it considers each Israeli life to be worth far more than a Palestinian’s. Israeli has a long history replying with overwhelming and disproportionate force to any attack. The toll from this war now stands at 15 Palestinians, 3 Israelis. And that gap is actually quite small, historically speaking. (Some statistics. 2009: 11 Israelis killed, 1034 Palestinians. 2010: 9 Is. killed, 82 Pal. killed. 2011: 11 Is. killed, 118 Pal. killed). Now, if these were, say, battlefield statistics, Israel would be praised for its brilliant strategy. They are not even unintentional but tragic collateral damage that occurred in the process of winning a victory. As we have seen, the military value of this attack on Gaza appears to be negligible. For many, that leaves only two possibilities–callousness or revenge.
Now, let us step back a moment and examine another instant in history. It is Algeria, 1955. The country has been ruled by the French for over a century, who consider it an integral part of their country. The northern parts of the nation have been heavily settled by French citizens, who live in what is for all intents and purposes an outpost of Europe. They live under French civil law, and are highly affluent and economically successful. The other 8 million Muslim Algerians live under Military law. Their economic situation is quite the opposite. By now, a pro-independence group called the National Liberation Front (FLN) is leading an insurrection. However, they have had little success in gaining either widespread support or military victory. To remedy this, they would put through a terrifying cold-blooded plan. On August 20th, FLN members enter the seaside town of Philippeville and proceed to massacre the inhabitants. Over a hundred people, mostly Europeans, were brutally tortured and killed. The victims included both babies and grandmothers.
Now, why did the FLN do this? Was it born from their insatiable lust for French blood? No. In fact, until then FLN standing orders had been to avoid killing Europeans. The PLN committed what would become known as the Philippevile Massacre because they knew it would goad the French into a specific action. And they were right. Over the following weeks, French soldiers, police, and settlers would kill hundreds of Algerians in retribution. The death toll might have been as high as 12,000, most who had nothing to do with the Massacre. This did more to boost the FLN cause than any propaganda poster or speech they could ever have made. It showed the Algerians that their lives meant nothing to the French authorities, that the life of a European was worth the lives of hundreds of Muslims. The FLN had successfully manipulated the (understandable) horror and outrage of the French into the keys to victory.
Now, obviously, the Philippevile Massacre was not morally or ethically justifiable.In fact, it’s pretty horrific. Similarly, firing rockets into civilian towns is disgusting and reprehensible. And in both cases, the urge to respond, to fight back in some way can be overwhelming. But there are few ways of uniting a population under a despotic or militant regime more successful than convincing them that it is their only hope for survival. Dropping a thousand bombs on Gaza for each rocket fired at the Negev might make Israeli citizens feel more secure, and IDF soldiers more useful, but all it does is provide another tool for Hamas to use to hold onto power. Sometimes, true strength is learning when not to shoot.