One frequent critique of the current Israeli assault on Gaza is that violence will not achieve its goals, and therefore the assault is, in the end, a counterproductive strategy. This view is wrong, and a misunderstanding of what is happening.
A few months after unarmed palestinian teenagers were shot in the back by israeli snipers, israeli teenagers were kidnapped and killed. In response, a palestinian teenager was burned alive, and so things go. In the midst of this tragedy the Israeli government decided that the adequate response was to shell Gaza with violent amounts of explosives. The current body count stands close to 200 [update: now over 300], with the UN suggesting that close to 80% are civilians. Rockets from the occupied territory have also been fired at the towns of the occupying power – no injuries reported at this point. [update: 4 injuries, 1 kill]
Those who’ve abandoned reason (and compassion for that matter), see justification for the killing of hundreds of civilians. After all, the rockets must be stopped and Hamas works embedded in civilians. This distorted view of the world neglects to consider two things: First, violent action in self defense is only acceptable if peaceful means have been tested. This is obviously not the case. The number one step the occupying power should take, if it wants to end violent resistance, is to end the occupation and blockade – none of this on the agenda. Second, even if we accepted a right to violent action against the resistance, we certainly should not accept that civilian casualties are a natural consequence. If we take it for granted that the armed resistance mingles with civilians, how does it follow that violent actions that kill civilians are permitted? If the police of some state bombed a house where a wanted person was, knowing that there were civilians inside, and killed them all, would anyone accept these actions? If the police dropped leaflets warning the civilians, would that make it acceptable for the police to then bomb them to death? This is preposterous to most of us. Or, for the likes of Tony Blair, “inevitable in these situations”.
On the other hand, those who hold some grasp of the facts, mostly complain that Israel’s violent actions will not achieve anything useful, because they will only create more resentment which harms prospects for peace. This is a grave misunderstanding of Israel’s goals. The state’s priority is not peace with the palestinians under the rule of international law. One has to ask what is more likely: that top military and government planners do not know what they are doing, or that their goals and objectives are different from what we and the media ascribe to them? The mowing down of hundreds of palestinian civilians would indeed be a terrible way of achieving a stable and peaceful solution to the conflict. Yet there is absolutely no evidence that Israel intends to end the occupation and have peace under the terms the international community supports: this is simply not the goal. The goals are: to divert attention from the pressure that was mounting around the existing “peace talks” (flawed as they were), to destroy the unity government between Hamas and Fatah, and to renew legitimacy for military and violent strategies in Palestine. These, the real goals of the military operation, are steadily being achieved.
In the meantime the EU and the US, the main arms suppliers to Israel, either support or tacitly approve the current assault. Amnesty international has called for an arms embargo (on both sides), but none of the arms dealers is interested in peace or ending the valuable revenue stream. And so the killing of civilians will continue, and the main objectives of the assault will be met.