Should We Go to War with Gaza?

Let me start out by saying: I supported Israel’s 2014 with Gaza. I did so with a heavy heart, but I believe that when missiles are being launched at civilians, a country has an obligation to stop those missiles, and war is a legitimate means of doing so if less violent options aren’t available. I believed that Israel’s war fell into that category.

Today, if Israel were to launch a war to stop flaming kites, I wouldn’t feel the same way. First of all, flaming kites are not missiles. Yes, they cause damage, and fire can kill. But I think that there’s a difference between organized terror groups launching military-grade weapons, and civilians launching home-made items that they’ve weaponized.

Of course, some kites have come from organized terror groups as well, but, unlike the missiles being launched by Hamas and Islamic Jihad in 2014, these kites are emblematic of a popular uprising. The border protests and kites have been carefully manipulated by Hamas in order to maximize civilian casualties, and thereby gain international sympathy. But both the protests and the kites started because Gaza’s people were fed up with the current situation, and angry at Israel about it. Of course, their situation is as much connected to Hamas’s corruption, Egypt’s border decisions, and funding cuts to UNRWA, the main employer in Gaza, as to Israel’s decision to control the flow of goods on the Gaza-Israel border, but it’s hard to have a rational conversation along the lines of, “We’re only partially responsible for the fact that you’re starving.”

That’s another thing that’s changed: The humanitarian situation in Gaza is worse than it was in 2014. The uprising in Gaza has been as much about economic problems as it’s been about nationalism; the desire to storm the border into Israel, and replace it with a Palestinian state, is also the desire to escape a place with a bad economy, and take over a place with a good one.

Israel could alleviate this part of the equation by increasing humanitarian aid to Gaza and increasing the flow of goods that can’t be used for weapons. It could engage in negotiations with Hamas. (Admittedly, there was a brief ceasefire with Hamas,  which seems to have faded.) But Israel has yet to talk seriously about helping the residents of Gaza. Instead, members of the Israeli government have proclaimed loudly for weeks that they will only give aid to Gaza when Hamas returns the bodies of two soldiers, as well as two (hopefully) living civilian captives. This means that Israel is prioritizing the lives and bodies of four Israelis over millions of Gazans. It means that Israel knows that aid would help the situation, and doing so wouldn’t endanger Israel -otherwise, the offer of aid wouldn’t be on the table -but instead, the government’s choosing to score cheap political points with it’s “tough guy” attitude.* Because Israel has a conscript army, Israelis take the return of military corpses very seriously; people feel that if Israel doesn’t get back one corpse, the next corpse it fails to obtain could be your son’s, or your sister’s. So appearing tough on this issue is a sound political strategy.

For weeks, top Israeli officials have been urging and threatening war with Gaza, even when doing so was against the advice of the Israeli military. Therefore, it’s hard to argue that their pro-war policy is an issue of military necessity. War with Gaza is a political necessity, despite being militarily ill-advised. The Israeli Right has crafted a political strategy of making Israelis feel threatened: It speaks all the time about our enemies, and promises to fight them. The problem with this is, that if you don’t look like you’re fighting, people will stop voting for you. The Israeli Right finds itself in the situation where, after stirring hysteria by overemphasizing the damage caused by the kites and the threat of Hamas, it now has to do something concrete to fight that threat, or it will lose voters. It can’t speak about aid, or about negotiations, because it has spent months telling Israelis that Gaza is the enemy. So it has one option left: war.

But how will war solve the problem? If, after the war, the people of Gaza are still starving, then they’ll still want to rise up; presumably, a war will only deepen their hatred of Israel. It’s only a matter of time until the kites -or something worse than kites -start up again.

Maybe it’s ok to go to war to buy some time, to ensure certain peace for your civilian population at the moment, even if carries the remote threat of worse violence down the road. But, since the kites are a popular phenomenon, Israel wouldn’t be going to war just against Hamas or Islamic Jihad. It would be going to war against the Gazan people. How much violence would it take to cower a civilian population into submission? Is that really a question we want to answer? Could we look ourselves in the eye, as a nation, and brag about the morality of the IDF’s code of combat after such a battle?

The IDF guidelines for fighting terror demand proportionality; it’s hard to imagine war as proportional to  burning kites. (It’s not hard to imagine war as proportional to military-grade rockets sent by terror organizations.) If war isn’t the only way to stop the kites, then the argument that collateral damage from such a war is justified because it’s the only way for Israel to defend its civilian citizens no longer applies, because it’s not the only way. If war wouldn’t actually stop the kites, then the argument doesn’t apply because the war isn’t actually defending Israeli civilians.

Israel’s south legitimately feels threatened by burning kites flying from the sky. However, it’s also threatened by years of economic neglect, and is one of the traditional Likud strongholds. Going to war against Gaza is a means of buying southern Israel’s loyalty, without engaging in meaningful economic reforms or other measures that might prove unpopular with other segments of the population. It also conveniently takes the focus off of Bibi Netanyahu’s corruption scandals.

As human beings, it’s natural to want to feel like we’re doing something, anything, to protect ourselves. One of the worst feelings is helplessness.  The kites feel dangerous, and there isn’t a clear way to fix the situation. War is a simple answer, and on a primal level, it feels good. It feels powerful. Bibi, Bennett, and Liberman offer the enticing illusion that there’s an easy solution within our grasp. Saying that we need a multi-pronged approach, that it’s a process, that it takes time – in other words, acknowledging reality – doesn’t feel as good. But we’re caught in a cycle: The government must constantly build more illusions to sustain the illusions it already created, forming a glass castle waiting to come crashing down.

This wouldn’t be relevant if the IDF leadership were recommending a war with Gaza as the only choice, or if the burning kites gave way to a barrage of rockets by organized terror groups such as that in 2014.

But, when the Israeli government seems increasingly determined to go to war despite  the IDF leadership’s recommendation not go to to war, we have an obligation, as Israeli citizens, to ask ourselves why.

Hamas also seems determined to push things towards war, presumably because it will help them gain new recruits,  provide international sympathy and foreign aid, and distract the Gazan people from Hama’s oppressive and corrupt regime.

So we when we ask, “Should we go to war with Gaza?” there are plenty of reasons not to assume that the answer is yes.

About the Author
Shayna Abramson, a part-Brazilian native Manhattanite, studied History and Jewish Studies at Johns Hopkins University before moving to Jerusalem. She has also spent some time studying Torah at the Drisha Institute in Manhattan, and has a passion for soccer and poetry. She is currently pursuing an M.A. in Political Science from Hebrew University, and is a rabbinic fellow at Beit Midrash Har'el.