Map of Israel and Gaza
The war between Israel and Hamas, now into its fourth week, is unlike any war before. In the past, the mention of the word “Hamas” conjured up images of suicide bombers boarding Israeli buses and yelling “Allah Akbar.” Since 2006 Hamas has come a long way militarily. Its leadership must have ordered “War for Dummies” from Amazon. How else to explain that today Hamas has a solid chain of command, strategy, logistics – a semi-professional army that doesn’t run from the sound of Israel’s cannons.
There’s no denying Israel’s superior fire power. Let’s face it, Hamas has launched thousands of rockets into Israel, most of which were knocked out of the sky by “Iron Dome,” Israel’s defensive missile shield, or they fell in open spaces. In contrast, Israel killed hundreds of Hamas militants. Hundreds of buildings in Gaza were flattened by Israel’s air strikes and artillery. Thousands of civilians fled their homes. Hamas’s other weapon — tunnels that reach Israel’s border — are being destroyed one by one by Israel’s Combat Engineering Corps.
So, if everything’s going so well on the battlefield, why does it seem that Israel has lost?
The simple answer is that often war is not won on the battlefield, but off. Ariel Ilan Roth in the latest issue of “Foreign Affairs” cites an example. Egypt has lost during the October 1973 Yom Kippur War. Yet Egyptian President Sadat claimed correctly that his army was able to cross the Suez Canal and into the Sinai, inflict many casualties on the Israelis. This gave him bargaining power to negotiate peace with Israel in 1979. He ended up getting back his Sinai Peninsula. Mr. Roth talks about Hamas next. Hamas would love to kill as many Jews as possible. But their main target is to disrupt the “sense of normalcy” in Israel. Up until recently, most Israelis ignored Hamas and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Call it “conflict fatigue.” Israelis wanted to go about their lives, work, travel, and believe they’re no different from the residents of London and Paris. Hamas changed all that. A decade ago, crude Hamas missiles landed hundreds of yards or a few miles beyond the border. Today they reach Tel-Aviv and beyond. All of a sudden “there” has become “here.”
Israeli soldier discovers Hamas tunnel in Gaza
Dozens of underground Hamas tunnels add to the terror. Tunnels are not new to Gaza. Turns out, the Gazans had dug them more than 2400 years ago when they fought Alexander the Great. Alexander lay siege to Gaza for 100 days (!) before the city surrendered. Infuriated by the Gazans’ resolve, he ordered mass executions and a vengeful rampage (Gaza: A History, by Jean-Pierre Filiu).
That’s a win for Hamas. A win because Israel’s bubble of normalcy has been burst.
Rockets falling in Israel are not so much a military victory for Hamas as it is a psychological defeat for Israel. By engaging in war so many times, Israel has shown its cards: airstrikes to soften resistance followed by a ground assault. Much like a boxer in the ring, if a fighter (Israel) uses the left jab time and time again, the opponent (Hamas) will duck before taking the punch to the chin. In other words, what’s troubling me as an Israeli-American is that Israel’s deterrence is slowly eroding in the eyes of the Arabs. Like a pack of wild dogs, Arabs are willing to lose a few of their own, so long as they keep biting at Israel’s rear legs.
Hamas is willing to die so long as Israel will not live.
Tactically, Hamas is losing. Some of its Gaza neighborhoods lay in ruin. Strategically, they’re winning. Once the war planes return to base, once the dust and smoke settles, Israeli society will have paid a price. Already, cracks are beginning to show. An overwhelming support for the war still exists among most Israelis. Patriotism is at all-time high. Flags are unfurled, songs are sang, civilians volunteer to deliver food and supplies to the front line. But there are Israelis who question the war. They’re not as loud. A handful of celebrities who dared criticize the war’s goals were quickly silenced. War protesters in Tel Aviv assembled under the watchful eye of police guards. The vitriol, the hatred between right-wing and left-wing Jews has spilled into social media. Facebook is full of hate messages, one camp accusing the other of betrayal, of sliding down a slippery slope. A wedge between bothers is now evident.
Mark that one as another win Hamas.
This summer tourism to Israel is down 70%. Other than Evangelical tours to the Holy Land, other than Orthodox Jews from America and patriotic Jews from France — hotels rooms go begging for guests. Airlines around the world, fearing Hamas rocket attacks, cancelled flights into Israel for 48 hours. For two days, Israel felt under siege. Thousands of vacationing Israelis on the Turkish Riviera were unable to return home. Eventually, Israel airlifted them back home.
War puts everything on hold. Israel’s manufacturing is down. Agriculture is down. Scores of unfinished high-rise buildings in the south of Israel, and within range of Hamas rockets, remain idle and silent in the summer sun. Laborers, mostly Arabs, are unwilling or unable to come to work.
Another win for Hamas.
Israel’s is also taking it on the chin internationally. The images of dead children in Gaza cannot be erased. Norwegians, Swiss, British, Americans sitting in their living rooms don’t know or don’t care that Hamas started firing rockets at innocent Israeli civilians. A few ditches, holes in the ground, a burning gas station, a smashed balcony — all caused by Hamas rockets — are not as “sexy” and brutal as showing a dying Gaza child with a bloody teddy bear in his arms. Israel lost, again.
“The Lancet,” the worlds leading medical journal published a damning letter on Israel. Read by thousands of doctors worldwide, the journal accused Israel of indiscriminate killing in Gaza. The journal was and is regarded as antisemitic, but there’s no denying its influence. Israeli doctors attending future conventions in Europe and the U.S. will be heckled and booed. Some research institutions want to severe ties with Israel, pull back funding, ban attendance, boycott Israeli products.
One more win for Hamas.
Another casualty of the Gaza war are the relations between Israeli-Arabs and Jews in Israel. They’ve reached bottom in the last week. There’s so much animosity and hatred between Arabs and Jews in Jerusalem, it can’t be even measured in truckloads. Almost 40% of Jerusalem’s population is Palestinian. Daily, thousands come to West Jerusalem (Jewish) to work in hospitals, municipal services, hotels, construction. Mistrust is everywhere. Jews want Arabs to disappear off the face of the earth. Arabs want the same.
Gaza under Israeli fire-power
Two weeks ago, I took in my Toyota for servicing at a garage in Nazareth owned by Arabs. Months before, the mood was cheerful. Not this time. I was all business. The Arab receptionist behind the counter recognized me, tried to put on a smile, unsuccessfully. My “hello” was awkward too. The mechanics went about their work. There’s untold tension. I paid the invoice and left. I wasn’t in the mood for chitchat. They weren’t either. The scar is deep. It will take a long time to heal, if ever.
Another win for Hamas.
But don’t get me wrong. Hamas is a loser. Big time. A recent poll showed that more than half of the Gaza population don’t support Hamas; they want a cease-fire. But not their leader – Khaled Mashal. Last week Mashal was interviewed by Charlie Rose on America’s news program Face the Nation. Mashal’s stupidity knows no limits. Hamas will never defeat Israel. Here was his chance, on American TV, to say he’ll recognize Israel’s right to exist. If he agreed to lay down his rockets, if he abandoned his quest to destroy Israel, then he might have really won the war. In time, he could have gotten what he wanted: the end to Israel’s siege, the go ahead to build his own seaport and airport, to man the border crossings, to see his own people live better. He blew the chance. He’d rather continue to see his people die and his towns flattened.
I don’t pity him. Nor his people for having elected Hamas into power. People get the leader they deserve.
Arabs contribute little to science and the pursuit of knowledge. This wasn’t always so. In past centuries, the Arabs developed astronomy and algebra. The Arabs invented “zero.” Without the zero, we would have continued with the Roman gibberish of XLVXVIII. But Hamas and similar radical fundamentalists in Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya have chosen to inscribe “zero” on their flags: Zero-Tolerance, Zero-Achievements.
Israel is being grilled in the media, and at the U.N. Jew-bashing and Jew-hating is nothing new. Antisemitism has a long history and its reasons are beyond the scope of this post. Arabs slaughter each other by the hundreds of thousands, by chemical gas, torture. Theses tragic stories rarely grab the headlines. Add a Jew to the mix, and all hell breaks loose. Why this double-standard?
So, once this round of fighting and bloodletting is over, Israel and Hamas will still be in the boxing ring. Israel will claim a knockout. Hamas will claim it was a knockdown, nothing more. Both will be bloodied. They’ll go to their respective corners and rest. Until the next round.
Mr. Mashal, remove your gloves, extend your bare hand and negotiate a settlement with Israel. You win more by not doing war.
Israel would do well to speak to Hamas, directly or indirectly — even if they’re terrorists.
Remember, you make peace with your enemies, not your friends.
What do you think?
Maurice Labi is an Israeli-American who lived in Los Angeles for many years. In 2011 He returned to Northern Israel (Galilee) with his wife and twin teenage daughters. He is of two lands, of two cultures and he blogs about his experiences in Israel, particularly from Galilee where Jews and Arabs dwelled for centuries.
He has also written three novels: “Jupiter’s Stone,” “Into the Night,” and “American Moth” — available at Amazon.com
or at BN.com