Friday, April 26, 2024

"Never Again for anyone" - Discussions about ending the Israel-Hamas War: Shulman, Fox, Alkhatib, Friedman, Ganz, Elbein

Here are some interesting and useful commentaries about the Israel-Hamas War, including some discussion about how it can be brought to an end

First, this article is recommended by Eric Loomis at Lawyers, Guns and Money -- at the New York Review of Books, professor David Shulman writes Israel: The Way Forward - If Israel is to survive, physically and spiritually, it needs to undergo, collectively, a sea change in its vision of reality and face some unpleasant though obvious facts:
...Israelis will have to face unpleasant though rather obvious facts:
-Palestinians are human beings, no different from the Jews or anyone else. (They have a rotten political system, but so do we.)
-They are not going anywhere.
-There are two national movements in the territory west of the Jordan River, with their own legitimate claims and bloody record of atrocities; the two populations are now equal in size, some seven million each.
-Israel cannot suppress Palestinian and other Arab resistance by force alone. (The foundational axiom of the Israeli polity has always been that only brute force works.)
-Survival depends on sharing the land between these two peoples.
-The settlement project in the West Bank has to end.
-The barbarian extremists on both sides, as if colluding together, will, given half a chance, kill us all.
-God, if there is a god, is unlikely to save us from ourselves.
None of these points is going to be easy for Israelis to swallow. I can attest that most people find it easier to sacrifice the lives of their spouses, siblings, and children in a futile cause than to change how they feel and how they understand the world.
We have wasted several blood-soaked decades on the obscene dream of annexing the territories and expelling the Palestinian population there. ....
There is only one way out of the current morass. As it happens, it’s a good way and, in theory, feasible if we had a minimally rational government capable of articulating a way forward for the people of Israel. What we now call the Biden plan would revolutionize Israel’s place in the Middle East and in the world at large; at the very least it would reverse the present murderous escalation. Its guiding idea is that Israel would become part of a regional system bound together by ties of normalization and full diplomatic relations between it and each of the moderate Sunni states, thus creating a bulwark against Iran and its proxies; the new configuration would necessarily include, indeed depend upon, some acceptable solution to the Palestinian thirst for freedom. That means a demilitarized Palestinian state and the dismantling of the occupation. In the absence of some such systemic solution, Israel will continue to fight recurrent, catastrophic wars. In the end, the state will be overwhelmed. That, in fact, is the Hamas plan, with Iranian backing. The Iranians think they can destroy Israel by 2040, if not earlier...
We will be lucky if this government doesn’t precipitate a full-scale war in Lebanon or beyond. So far it lacks any intelligible plan to end the fighting in Gaza and any political goal of some positive import. Even worse, from the start it has been playing into the hands of Hamas’s leader, Yahya Sinwar: first draw the Israeli army into Gaza, then turn it into sitting ducks in a guerrilla war that can continue indefinitely; let Israel kill enough Gazans and wreak enough destruction to turn international opinion against it, while Hamas hangs out safely in the tunnels it has created until the Israelis go away, with nothing to show for their sacrifices. Wars are won only when they have an attainable political goal.
Meanwhile, Israel is well on its way to becoming a pariah state. The wave of anti-Israel feeling that is engulfing large numbers of people in the Western world has emerged not merely from the Gaza war, with its unbearable civilian casualties and now mass starvation. What that wave reflects, more profoundly, is the justified disgust with the ongoing occupation, its seemingly eternal and ever more brutal continuation, and the policies of massive theft and apartheid that are its very essence....

Next, here are the texts from a couple of interesting but lengthy tweets by British academic and former soldier Andrew Fox. First, from April 7:
Currently doing psychology research on crowds and social media. Replies on here are *fascinating*. Two clearly defined crowds (or “engaged publics” in nerd-speak):
1) Israel can do no wrong;
2) Israel are indiscriminately slaughtering on purpose.
Far more interesting is the much smaller crowd 3, who are much harder to define. It’s a cross between critical analysis of Israeli strategy and tactics, and a kind of world-weary resignation.
As for me, I don’t associate with either 1) or 2) so I’m 3).
I think Israel has a right to defend itself, and that they didn’t have any option to take other the strategy they have.
I dislike Netanyahu/Ben Gvir intensely.
I reserve all judgment on war crimes because I don’t think social media counts as evidence unless you have access to targeting and Collateral Damage Estimates, or statements from the troops on the ground.
I condemn the borderline (or in some cases, actual) criminal idiocy some IDF troops have posted on social media.
I’ve read S Africa’s genocide submission and think it’s bullshit. I don’t believe figures pushed out by either side and try to triangulate between the two. I accept that collateral damage is part of war and whilst horrifying, it’s not illegal… IF it can be justified.
I despise Hamas and what they did on 7/10 and am glad they’re dying in their thousands.
I don’t think there’s any political solution here and all Israel is doing (and all they can do) is kick the can of violence further down the road.
Next, he writes a more detailed opinion tweet on April 25. I'm not sure I can agree with any of this, but maybe its a worthwhile perspective to share anyway:
My hunch is that part of the reason for Western protests about Gaza is a total failure to understand what urban war is, and what it looks like, and people are horrified to see it. Totally understandable. Now couple that to a powerful disinformation campaign that exploits those feelings of horror and tells them what they’re seeing and can’t comprehend (urban war) is something else (genocide).
As a commander in Afghanistan on my first two tours, which were before the “counterinsurgency” era, I saw my job as being to apply maximum violence to kill the enemy legally within rules of engagement. If I had a Harrier or an A-10 or an Apache to call on, I’d use that as a first option. If not, I’d use mortars or Javelin or machine guns if I had them. Only as a last resort would I commit my rifle sections.
That’s war. And that’s what Israel is fighting, on a far more brutal scale. Hamas and the surrounding Iranian proxies are an existential threat to Israel’s existence as a country. It’s that which people in the West fail to understand. We’re used to expeditionary wars of choice on the other side of the world. Israel has kibbutzim 5km from where their troops are fighting. The IDF in Gaza can look over their shoulders and see their home. It’s a totally different perspective on war from the one we in the West are used to.
Hamas have to be deleted as a fighting force for Israel to survive as a country with safe borders. To achieve that is the single most basic function of government. This isn’t a war Israel wants but it’s one they’ve been forced to fight. They’ve already taken double the fatalities the British did in Afghanistan and Iraq combined.
If they wanted to, they could stand off with jets, and hit Gaza City and Khan Younis and Rafah simultaneously and level the place - and legally. If it’s a military target and you can justify the collateral damage, the law of armed conflict says that’s legal. That Israel hasn’t done that tells you all you need to know about whether this is a genocide or not.
I don’t blame people for being sucked in by disinformation about Gaza. It’s been sophisticated and effective information warfare. I have no limits to my contempt for those who throw around “genocide” when they know perfectly well it isn’t. The most serious of crimes shouldn’t be debased like that, and shame on South Africa and their allies who have abused international law in this way.
War is horrifying, brutal, and extremely violent. Gaza isn’t a conventional counter-terror campaign. We saw on 7 October how well armed, organised and tactically aware Hamas are. They use human and humanitarian shields. They’ve forced Israel into the only appropriate response, and it’s the innocents in Gaza who suffer. That the numbers of innocents injured and killed is so low is a testament to the IDF using tactics that have incurred far higher IDF casualties than other options on the table.
“War is hell” is a cliche for a reason. But it’s nothing more than a war that we see in Gaza.
From Ahmed Fouad Alkhatib, born in Gaza City, now living in San Francisco, comes this tweet:
I support students’ freedom of speech and right to peaceful assembly; I reject police violence, excessive use of force, and attempts to trample on the First Amendment; censorship and suppression of free expression are inconsistent with American values and what makes our country so unique. It’s also inaccurate to say that all protesters are pro-Hamas or that all protests are inherently antisemitic. Many protesters have been peaceful and nonviolent despite the intense focus on the inflammatory and incendiary rhetoric and acts that are all over social media.
I detest misguided activism, any embrace of violent rhetoric, threats of violence, harassment, destruction of property, disorderly conduct, antisemitism, and ill/misinformed people speaking on behalf of the Palestinian people. I belittle and disrespect anyone who overtly and explicitly supports Hamas, Hezbollah, and other “resistance” groups that have directly and indirectly gotten thousands of their people killed and have destroyed their otherwise beautiful and promising nations. I reject the forced conformity within the pro-Palestine community and attempt to push out diverse, different, and opposing views who want to pursue other avenues for expressing their solidarity with the people of Gaza. I decry maximalist, zero-sum approaches and narratives that have failed the Palestinian people for over 75 years. I despise attempts to paint pragmatism and the pursuit of coexistence and peace as treacherous and cowardly. I oppose the idea that a free and prosperous Palestinian state cannot exist side by side with a secure Israel. I disagree with those who refuse to engage diverse Jewish audiences, including pro-Israel supporters and self-described Zionists, to establish common ground, build bridges, and break out of the entrenched narratives that refuse to acknowledge each other.
Nuance, balance, compassion, and recognition of mutual humanity are in short supply these days, making level-headed stances, commentary, and views more necessary than ever.
Next, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman with a column written while he is in the Middle East and, I presume, talking to his many contacts in Israel, Saudi Arabia and the region - Israel Has a Choice to Make: Rafah or Riyadh (gift link). 
Here is a long excerpt -- its the first time I have seen a reference to some kind of Arab peacekeeping force moving into Gaza after Israel Defense Forces leave:
U.S. diplomacy to end the Gaza war and forge a new relationship with Saudi Arabia has been converging in recent weeks into a single giant choice for Israel and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: What do you want more — Rafah or Riyadh?
Do you want to mount a full-scale invasion of Rafah to try to finish off Hamas — if that is even possible — without offering any Israeli exit strategy from Gaza or any political horizon for a two-state solution with non-Hamas-led Palestinians? If you go this route, it will only compound Israel’s global isolation and force a real breach with the Biden administration.
Or do you want normalization with Saudi Arabia, an Arab peacekeeping force for Gaza and a U.S.-led security alliance against Iran? This would come with a different price: a commitment from your government to work toward a Palestinian state with a reformed Palestinian Authority — but with the benefit of embedding Israel in the widest U.S.-Arab-Israeli defense coalition the Jewish state has ever enjoyed and the biggest bridge to the rest of the Muslim world Israel has ever been offered, while creating at least some hope that the conflict with the Palestinians will not be a “forever war."
This is one of the most fateful choices Israel has ever had to make. And what I find both disturbing and depressing is that there is no major Israeli leader today in the ruling coalition, the opposition or the military who is consistently helping Israelis understand that choice — a global pariah or a Middle East partner — or explaining why it should choose the second.
I appreciate how traumatized Israelis are by the vicious Hamas murders, rapes and kidnappings of Oct. 7. It is not surprising to me that many people there just want revenge, and their hearts have hardened to a degree that they can’t see or care about all of the civilians, including thousands of children, who have been killed in Gaza as Israel has plowed through to try to eliminate Hamas. All of this has been further hardened by Hamas’s refusal so far to release the remaining hostages.
But revenge is not a strategy...If Israel ends up with an indefinite occupation of both Gaza and the West Bank, it would be a toxic military, economic and moral overstretch that would delight Israel’s most dangerous foe, Iran, and repel all its allies in the West and the Arab world.
...From the conversations I’ve been having here in Riyadh and in Washington, I’d describe Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s view of the Israeli invasion of Gaza today like this: Get out as soon as possible. All Israel is doing at this point is killing more and more civilians, turning Saudis who favored normalization with Israel against it, creating more recruits for Al Qaeda and ISIS, empowering Iran and its allies, fomenting instability and driving away much-needed foreign investment from this region. The idea of wiping out Hamas “once and for all” is a pipe dream, in the Saudi view. If Israel wants to continue to do special operations in Gaza to get the leadership, no problem. But no boots permanently on the ground. Please get to a full cease-fire and hostage release as soon as possible and focus instead on the U.S.-Saudi-Israeli-Palestinian security-normalization deal.
That is the other road that Israel could take right now — the one that no major Israeli opposition leader is arguing for as the top priority, but the one that the Biden administration and the Saudis, Egyptians, Jordanians, Bahrainis, Moroccans and Emiratis are rooting for. Its success is by no means a sure thing, but neither is the “total victory” that Netanyahu is promising.
This other road starts with Israel forgoing any total military invasion of Rafah, which is right up against the border with Egypt and is the main route through which humanitarian relief enters Gaza by trucks. The area is home to more than 200,000 permanent residents and now also more than one million refugees from northern Gaza. It is also where the last four most intact Hamas battalions are said to be dug in and, maybe, its leader Yahya Sinwar.
The Biden administration has been telling Netanyahu publicly that he must not engage in a full-scale invasion of Rafah without a credible plan to get those one million-plus civilians out of the way — and that Israel has yet to present such a plan. But privately they are being more blunt and telling Israel: No massive invasion of Rafah, period.
A senior U.S. official put it to me this way: “We are not saying to Israel just leave Hamas be. We are saying that we believe there is a more targeted way to go after the leadership, without leveling Rafah block by block.”
.....That is the other road that Israel could take right now — the one that no major Israeli opposition leader is arguing for as the top priority, but the one that the Biden administration and the Saudis, Egyptians, Jordanians, Bahrainis, Moroccans and Emiratis are rooting for. Its success is by no means a sure thing, but neither is the “total victory” that Netanyahu is promising.
This other road starts with Israel forgoing any total military invasion of Rafah...where the last four most intact Hamas battalions are said to be dug in and, maybe, its leader Yahya Sinwar.
...A senior U.S. official put it to me this way: “We are not saying to Israel just leave Hamas be. We are saying that we believe there is a more targeted way to go after the leadership, without leveling Rafah block by block.”
In return, the Saudis would curb Chinese investment inside Saudi Arabia as well as any military ties and build its next-generation defense systems entirely with U.S. weaponry, which would be a boon for American defense manufacturers and make the two armies entirely interoperable. The Saudis, with their abundant cheap energy and physical space, would like to host some of the massive data-processing centers required by U.S. tech companies to exploit artificial intelligence, at a time when domestic U.S. energy costs and physical space are becoming so scarce that new data centers are becoming harder and harder to build at home. Saudi Arabia would also normalize relations with Israel, provided that Netanyahu committed to work toward a two-state solution with an overhauled Palestinian Authority.
And last, the United States would bring together Israel, Saudi Arabia, other moderate Arab states and key European allies into a single, integrated security architecture to counter Iranian missile threats the way they did on an ad hoc basis when Iran attacked Israel on April 13 in retaliation for an Israeli strike on some senior Iranian military leaders suspected of running operations against Israel, who were meeting at an Iranian diplomatic compound in Syria. This coalition will not come together on any continued basis without Israel getting out of Gaza and committing to work toward Palestinian statehood. There is no way Arab states can be seen to be permanently protecting Israel from Iran if Israel is permanently occupying Gaza and the West Bank. U.S. and Saudi officials also know that without Israel in the deal, the U.S.-Saudi security components are not likely to ever get through Congress.
The Biden team wants to complete the U.S.-Saudi part of the deal so that it can act like the opposition party that Israel does not have right now and be able to say to Netanyahu: You can be remembered as the leader who presided over Israel’s worst military catastrophe on Oct. 7 or the leader who led Israel out of Gaza and opened the road to normalization between Israel and the most important Muslim state. Your choice. And it wants to offer this choice publicly so that every Israeli can see it.
So let me end where I began: Israel’s long-term interests are in Riyadh, not Rafah. Of course, neither is a sure thing and both come with risks. And I know that it’s not so easy for Israelis to weigh them when so many global protesters these days are hammering Israel for its bad behavior in Gaza and giving Hamas a free pass. But that’s what leaders are for: to make the case that the road to Riyadh has a much bigger payoff at the end than the road to Rafah, which will be a dead end in every sense of the term.
I totally respect that Israelis are the ones who will have to live with the choice. I just want to make sure they know they have one.
Here is another interesting article that is too detailed and complex to clip, so I will just refer you to it -- at his substack Unpopular Front, John Ganz writes Go Back to...Morroco? where he responds to the "Go back to Poland" smear by updating us on the mixture of origins and immigration patterns and political leanings of the 6 7 million Jews who now live in Israel:
... Mizrahi means “Easterner” or “Oriental” in Hebrew and refers to Jews from Arab, Persian and Turkic lands. They were once also sometimes referred to as “Arab Jews.” Sephardim are the diaspora of Spanish and Portuguese Jews that were expelled during the Inquisition and found refuge around the Mediterranean: in Southern Europe, North Africa and the Levant. Ashkenazim are the Jews that settled in Central and Eastern Europe.
The fact that most of the Israeli population is of non-European descent—including a sizable population of Ethiopian Jews—somewhat complicates the picture given by some Western activists of Israel as a white supremacist settler-colonial state lording it over darker peoples....
Ganz also notes how "simmering resentment of Mizrahim over perceived Ashkenazi privilege and exploitation remains a key factor in Israeli politics".

Finally, at Defector, Asher Elbein writes an interesting piece called The Judgement of Magneto about the Jewish X-man character invented in the 1960s as a survivor of the death camps who evolved over the years as a hero and villain and hero again:
...Magneto can not just evolve, but repent. In the Jewish tradition, repentance is a long and difficult road, and one that offers no guarantees—not of comfort, and not of a return to a pleasant status quo with one’s sins absolved. It asks us instead to give up our illusions, our resentments, our stiff-necked devotion to our own self-determination. It asks us to accept both the reality of our sins and our capacity for good. It demands that we abandon our belief in easy miracles. There is only the walk; there is only the work.
“Throughout my life, I have repressed the rage in me until it exploded, or I have given it free reign over all decision,” Magneto says, confronting his old Kirby/Lee self on the road back to life. “But I cannot return to the world and return to the same path. I must change... So I acknowledge all that I have done. I admit all that I am. I own the shadow that is in me. And if this is the engine that drives me—let it drive me to a better world. A world for all who are hated and feared.”
For all who are hated and feared. “The true guarantee against ideologically-based extermination is not military power and sovereignty,” Evron wrote in 1980. That is, not in the building of more and higher walls, but in the “eradication of ideologies which remove any human group from the family of humanity.” Such a pursuit offers fewer opportunities to swagger and punish, and tickles no atavistic fancies. Yet it is, in its way, a far more grand and radical desire.
... at this moment, this is what a reborn Magneto has come to stand for—not the wary and vengeful paranoia of “Never Again,” but the greater aspiration of “Never Again” for anyone.
If to be a Jew of the diaspora is to be, in the Kirby/Lee/Claremont formulation, a mutant, then this is what we must remember. We are not immune to hatred and fear, and we are not the only ones subject to it. And we cannot be safe until we create that better world for everyone, together. It’s a hard road to such a world, and haunted. It might, perhaps, be an impossible one. The judgment of Magneto is that all of us have to walk it anyway.
It sounds to me like it will be difficult for Israel to walk this road, to reach the kind of decisions that Shulman and Friedman -- and Biden -- want them to make. But "Never Again for anyone" seems to me to be a goal worth stiving for.

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