THE LEVANT – By Rabbi Bruce Warshal – I am writing this during a cease fire in the battle between Israel and Hamas. My deadline is one week before you read this column. Obviously, much can change in the interim; however, no matter the ultimate outcome, we must discuss charges made by both sides against the other: does Hamas use women and children as shields; does Israel indiscriminately attack Hamas without regard to the lives of those same women and children? There is room for blame on both sides (which I will discuss in my next column on August 20th). There is no moral purity here. As in life in general, ambiguity reigns.
But I believe that one issue is crystal clear: Netanyahu has claimed at great length on multiple American television news channels that Israel has a right to defend itself against Hamas rocket fire. This is an obvious truth, but the implication of this statement is not true. What he is saying is that these rockets initiated the battle. The facts belie this assertion. A closer look shows that Netanyahu and his coalition chose this fight and instigated the military action.
Let’s start from the beginning which was the horrific abduction and murder of three Israeli teenagers on the West Bank on June 12. Prior to this the Gaza border was quiescent. Israel would kill a Hamas operative in a “targeted killing” (otherwise known as an assassination) and Hamas would lob a few rockets in retaliation. No Israeli lives were lost. Hamas actually had a special unit whose job was to discourage Islamic Jihad and other more radicals from firing into Israel.
What follows is crucial to understanding the question of who started this war (and it is a “war” between a nation and an aspiring nation, not between illegitimate terrorists in black hats and Israel in white hats, if I may make an allusion to cowboy and Indian movies of my youth).
As he was abducted, one of the teenagers called the Israeli 911 number and said, “They kidnapped me” — then gunfire, two groans, more shots, and then singing in Arabic. The abandoned torched car with eight bullet holes and the boys’ DNA were found that evening. The police had no doubt that the boys were dead. (Thank you J.J. Goldberg and the Forward for bringing these facts to light.)
This information was not relayed to the families or the public by edict of the Netanyahu government. In one of the most cynical and morally diabolical political decisions, Netanyahu directed an 18-day search for the boys, hoping to find them alive. The grieving parents went on Israeli television begging for the lives of their children. They also journeyed to the U.N. at Geneva and made the same plea on international television. Prayer meetings were held throughout Israel seeking God’s help in finding the boys alive. Similar prayers were said in synagogues throughout the world, especially here in South Florida. All the while Netanyahu knew they were dead. May God forgive him for this cruel deception.
Immediately on June 12, Netanyahu declared that Hamas was responsible, even though he knew that if it were Hamas they would not have killed the youth but would have kidnapped them to use in a future swap for Arab prisoners held by Israel. Netanyahu declared that he had “unequivocal proof” that Hamas was guilty and that he would share this proof with the public soon. Of course, it has never been forthcoming. (Shades of Joseph McCarthy.) Today, the Israeli police have concluded that two firebrands from a Hebron clan committed the crime. They are yet to be apprehended.
As Netanyahu initiated the frenzy of concern for the boys’ lives, he began a sweep of the West Bank for anyone connected with Hamas: 2,218 locations were entered – homes, caves, Hamas charities, media outlets and at least three universities. 419 Palestinians were arrested including many who were released in the Shalit prisoner exchange (1,000 Palestinians for one Israeli soldier). The Israeli public had buyer’s remorse and Netanyahu used this ruse to re-incarcerate many of them. (Israel has up to 6,000 Palestinians imprisoned, most without adjudicated trials – its version of the Soviet Gulag or the American Guantanamo.)
Meanwhile, the frenzy was growing in Israel. Most Israelis were now convinced that Hamas was holding the boys. The parents and world Jewry continued to pray for their return. Only Netanyahu and the police knew the truth. Finally, 18 days later, on June 30, their bodies were recovered. Israel immediately pummeled a Hamas compound in southern Gaza with 34 bombs in the early morning of July 1, the day of their funerals.
The Times reported that “thousands of Israelis thronged to individual funeral services for the murdered teenagers… and then to their side-by-side burial, wrapped in Israeli flags, in the city of Modiin. Having become unifying national symbols, they were eulogized, like heroes and statesmen,” by Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres and the Israel’s chief rabbis. In Netanyahu’s eulogy he couldn’t resist blaming Hamas, thereby mixing his political agenda with the families’ grief as their children lay before them.
It was not until July 8 that the war totally broke out. Eventually Hamas responded to Netanyahu’s provocations as he no doubt hoped they would. Israel unleashed its military prowess (airplanes, attack helicopters, tanks, etc.) and Hamas retaliated with its arsenal of rockets. As of this writing Israel has attacked 3,209 targets in Gaza, killing almost 1200 Palestinians, most of them civilians, and Hamas has lobbed 2, 255 rockets killing 3 Israeli civilians and another 43 Israeli soldiers in combat. Many Israelis want the war to continue. The editor of one Israeli newspaper called on the government to send Gaza back to the Stone Age.
It is true that a country has a right to defend itself against rockets, but Hamas rockets did not start this war. It was orchestrated by Netanyahu. The rockets were a response to Israeli shelling and the eventual Israeli land incursion into Gaza.
Why would Netanyahu do this? His strategy is to keep the pot boiling to avoid a peace treaty that would create a Palestinian state. While talks continue ad nauseam settlers continue to gobble up the West Bank until a Greater Israel from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River is a fait accompli. Part of this plan includes what Israeli military leaders refer to as “mowing the grass.” This is the third incursion into Gaza in five years. The Times quoted the former military governor of Israel’s southern district: “This sort of maintenance needs to be carried out from time to time, perhaps even more often.”
An alarmed country, whipped to frenzy, will never approve a peace agreement. Just as important, this particular war will probably destroy the fragile Palestinian unity government and will fend off international approval of a Palestinian state. At least that’s Netanyahu’s strategy. Whether it will fly, time will tell.
For this to work for Netanyahu he has to convince the world that Hamas started this conflict with their rockets, and poor little Israel is merely trying to defend itself. It’s certainly working with the American Jewish community and the politicians who live in fear of the Israeli lobby. Whether the world (primarily Europe) will buy it is another question. Time will tell.
Rabbi Warshal is the Publisher Emeritus of the Jewish Journal and the author of the newly published “Provocative Columns: A Liberal Rabbi Reflects on Beliefs, Israel & American Politics, Volume II,” available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. He can be reached at: email@example.com