Israel Provoked This War
It's up to President Obama to stop it.
By HENRY SIEGMAN
July 22, 2014
There seems to be near-universal agreement in the United States with President Barack Obama's observation that Israel, like every other country, has the right and obligation to defend its citizens from threats directed at them from beyond its borders.
But this anodyne statement does not begin to address the political and moral issues raised by Israel's bombings and land invasion of Gaza: who violated the cease-fire agreement that was in place since November 2012 and whether Israel's civilian population could have been protected by nonviolent means that would not have placed Gaza's civilian population at risk. As of this writing, the number killed by the Israel Defense Forces has surpassed 600, the overwhelming majority of whom are noncombatants.
Israel's assault on Gaza, as pointed out  by analyst Nathan Thrall in the New York Times
, was not triggered by Hamas' rockets directed at Israel but by Israel's determination to bring down the Palestinian unity government that was formed in early June, even though that government was committed to honoring all of the conditions imposed by the international community for recognition of its legitimacy.
The notion that it was Israel, not Hamas, that violated a cease-fire agreement will undoubtedly offend a wide swath of Israel supporters. To point out that it is not the first time Israel has done so will offend them even more deeply. But it was Shmuel Zakai,  a retired brigadier general and former commander of the IDF's Gaza Division, and not "leftist" critics, who said about the Israel Gaza war of 2009 that during the six-month period of a truce then in place, Israel made a central error "by failing to take advantage of the calm to improve, rather than markedly worsen, the economic plight of the Palestinians in the [Gaza] Strip. ... You cannot just land blows, leave the Palestinians in Gaza in the economic distress they are in and expect Hamas just to sit around and do nothing."
This is true of the latest cease-fire as well. According to Thrall, Hamas is now seeking through violence what it should have obtained through a peaceful handover of responsibilities. "Israel is pursuing a return to the status quo ante, when Gaza had electricity for barely eight hours a day, water was undrinkable, sewage was dumped in the sea, fuel shortages caused sanitation plants to shut down and waste sometimes floated in the streets." It is not only Hamas supporters, but many Gazans, perhaps a majority, who believe it is worth paying a heavy price to change a disastrous status quo.
The answer to the second question -- whether a less lethal course was not available to protect Israel's civilian population -- is (unintentionally?) implicit in the formulation of President Barack Obama's defense of Israel's actions: namely, the right and obligation of all governments to protect their civilian populations from assaults from across their borders.
But where, exactly, are Israel's borders?
Henry Siegman is president of the U.S./Middle East Project. He served as senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and non-resident research professor at the School of Oriental and African Studies of the University of London, and is a former national director of the American Jewish Congress.