A thought on Gaza

I haven’t said very much here of a direct nature about Gaza. That’s partly because I know less about Gaza than I do about the West Bank, and partly because I think there’s less to say about what’s been happening lately in Gaza than what’s been happening for awhile in the West Bank. But abstracting from questions of detail, I think there’s something to say, so I might as well say it. If I’m missing something, and being uncharitable to Hamas, someone can explain that to me, but as things stand, I don’t see any reasons for charity toward them.

I was having a conversation about Gaza the other day with my father and one of my cousins. My father and I are Pakistani-American; my cousin is Pakistani. All three of us have a great deal of sympathy for the cause of Palestinian rights, but none of us has any sympathy for Hamas. We’re all fairly argumentative people, but we quickly came to the following consensus about events in Gaza:

1. It makes no sense for Hamas to be officially at war with Israel and then to complain when Israel blockades Gaza. (And sophistry of this variety doesn’t help.)

2. It makes no sense for Hamas to attack Israel and not expect to be attacked in return.

3. It makes no sense for Hamas to attack Israel’s civilians and then complain to the world about its own civilian casualties at Israeli hands. (On the whole, I agree with the Israeli position that Hamas is using its civilian population as innocent shields, but this is a complex issue that requires separate treatment.)

4. Displays of pro-Hamas sympathy of the kind described in this article should elicit our criticism and rejection, not excuses or encouragement.

5. Finally, there’s a good analogy to be made between what Hamas is doing in Gaza and what the Pakistani Taliban is doing in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and the tribal agencies in Pakistan. There’s also a good analogy to be made between what the Israeli government has been forced to do in Gaza and what the Pakistani government has been forced to do in Pakistan’s northwest. The preceding analogies are driven by the sad fact that there’s a good analogy to be made between Hamas and the Taliban.

By the way, the consensus view of the three of us—including my Pakistani cousin, who lives in Pakistan—was that military action (ideally in the form of drone strikes) is the only way to deal with, i.e., defeat, the Pakistani Taliban. I’d like to think that Hamas is somewhat more reasonable than the Pakistani Taliban, and can come to a more reasonable settlement with Israel than the Taliban has mustered with Pakistan. But I wouldn’t bet on it. (Incidentally, could I have written the preceding sentence in Taliban- or Hamas-controlled territory without inviting the Islamic police to arrest me for suborning a violation of sharia? “Betting,” after all, is a paradigmatically unIslamic activity, and as its charter makes clear, Hamas believes that Palestine is to be ruled as an Islamic waqf under sharia. Thanks, but no thanks.)

We didn’t happen to discuss this, but like it or not, there’s a bit of an analogy to be made between Israel and Pakistan. The one is a Jewish state that aspires to be the moral equivalent of a secular republic while insisting, quixotically, on retaining its Jewish character. The other is an Islamic state that aspires to be the moral equivalent of a secular republic while insisting, quixotically, on retaining its Islamic character. Neither state professes to see any contradiction in doing so. Each state found it expedient a few decades back to support the enemy of its enemy—Hamas against Fatah in the case of Israel, and the proto-Taliban mujahidin against the USSR and India in the case of Pakistan. Both now find themselves on the receiving end of the depredations of the theocratic monsters they themselves helped create. Maybe one lesson here is that in the long-run, it doesn’t pay to outsmart oneself like that.

There’s a lesson here for the United States, as well. An interventionist foreign policy has a tendency to induce its practitioners to promote their “interests” abroad by supporting the enemies of their enemies, in the hope that doing so will induce one enemy to destroy the other and enable a kind of defense-in-depth-on-the-cheap. Such policies seem clever until the enemies of one’s enemies become one’s plain old enemies (often in alliance with yesteryear’s enemies, on the premise that those erstwhile enemies can now be treated as friends because they’re the enemies of one’s current enemies). At that point, of course, the policies come to seem irrationally self-defeating. One possible lesson is to stop intervening everywhere, and stop insisting on a conception of one’s  “interests” that requires a defense in depth. Perhaps a non-interventionist policy that seems fairly clever in the here and now might, with the passage of time, retain its aura of cleverness in the future, and save us from a lot of trouble.

PS., For good non-mainstream coverage of the Israel/Palestine dispute, I’d recommend Ibishblog, the blog of Hussein Ibish, a Senior Fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine. I don’t always agree with what he has to say (he probably wouldn’t entirely agree with what I’ve just said above), but this article and this one say things that you might not have expected to hear from a partisan of the Palestinian cause, and aren’t likely to hear in the mainstream press.

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