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Tel Aviv University
[Tel Aviv U, Education] Daniel Bar-Tal: "Hamas provides welfare, health and education to the Palestinian people"
 
 
 
 

The War in Gaza

Daniel Bar-Tal daniel@post.tau.ac.il
 
Open Letter
January 31, 2009

Dear Friends
This is probably one of the most difficult periods in my political life as
a Jew living in the State of Israel. The events of the war in Gaza hit hard
my foundations of hope that a peaceful conflict resolution between Israelis
and Palestinians can be achieved in the near future. Moreover, my trust in
humanity has been weakened seeing the ease with which human beings rally
for a war, exercise blind patriotism, express desire for vengeance,
delegitimize the opponent, and develop insensitivity to human life, denial
of responsibility, self-righteousness and moral entitlement. This is in
contrast to the great difficulty that human beings have in mobilization for
peace. We see over and over again that it takes many years and many efforts
to persuade people in the importance of peace, but it takes an extremely
short time to convince people in the need of war. It is even more difficult
to establish moral considerations.
I have been agonizing for weeks whether to write an open letter. I could
not bring myself to the paper and pencil or to the keyboard, feeling
despair and helplessness. But only a responsibility to voice another
opinion as an alternative to the officially presented views that are
supported by the great majority of the Israeli Jews brought me to write
this letter. It is important that you will know that there is a minority of
us, Jews in Israel, who care about moral considerations and opposed this
war.
 
 
 
What can I say when I know that about 1300 Palestinians killed, at least
half of them innocent civilians, including children, women, and old people,
over 4000 were injured, thousands of homes were destroyed and dozens of
thousands became homeless. Also on the Israeli side 13 Israelis were
killed, including 3 civilians, hundreds were wounded, and thousands had to
escape from the hundreds of rockets that were fired on Israel. I could
repeat the arguments of the Israeli government that through the years many
hundreds of rockets were fired on the Israeli land west of Gaza, including
populated settlements; that no government would allow that their citizens
will be hurt; that 'after eight years of restraint, Israel has decided to
act against the terror attacks coming from the Gaza Strip. Israeli
restraint was misinterpreted as weakness by Hamas and members of the
vertical axis of extremism led by Iran';…that 'Israel had given a mutual
agreement to preserve peace its final chance when it agreed to the Egyptian
brokered Period of Calm agreement in June 2008, whose terms were repeatedly
transgressed by Hamas'. It is just natural that those who sent the soldiers
to the war have to defend it and rationalize it. This is a human principle.

But these arguments do not tell the whole story. Even if we take the
Israeli arguments without the background and complexity, they cannot
account for the scope of civilian losses and the destruction on the
Palestinian side. The brutality and scope of the Israeli actions testify to
deeper roots that are founded in the darker side of human beings. They
express the wish to erase the feeling of failure in the Second Lebanese War
during the summer of 2006; they reflect a deep sense of collective
victimhood because of the continuous firing of rockets on civilian
settlements in the south by the Hamas military organ-- this sense of
victimhood led to the urge to revenge in order to punish for the harm done
and prevent further firing. In addition, they are derived from the
continuous dehumanization of the Hamas organization. Finally, they are
based on the conviction that Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005,
allowing Palestinians to live their lives and they instead engage in
terror.
But, the reality is much more complex than the narrative perpetuated by
the Israeli political and military establishments, which successfully
constructed the beliefs of the Jewish public in Israel. This is a kind of
irony because one of the objectives of the war was to carve the
consciousness of the Palestinians so they will recognize the harm that
Hamas is causing to the Palestinian cause and Palestinian life. This
objective was not achieved and instead the war strengthened the hatred and
mistrust of both sides towards each other, reinforced the support of
hawkish opinions on both sides, and as a result, the peaceful process is
further greatly damaged. Moreover, it is hard to detect any meaningful
political gains of Israel in the balance of this war. We are back to the
same lines that were before the war ---with terrible losses and
destruction.
The psychological analysis of the situation illustrates the selective,
biasing and distorting transmission and dissemination of information by the
Israeli channels of communication. It does not mean that the alternative
information does not exist in Israel but very few are interested in knowing
what is really happening. Thus, most of the Israeli Jews do not know what
Israel perpetrated through the decades of occupying Gaza; most of the
Israeli Jews do not know that originally Hamas was founded by the Israeli
authorities to provide an alternative to the national movement of PLO; most
of the Israeli Jews do not know that Hamas is a religious–fundamental
movement that also provides welfare, health and educational services to the
Palestinian people; most of the Israeli Jews do not know that Hamas was
elected democratically (with the insistence of USA) to lead the government
of the Palestinian authority because of Fatah corruption, and mostly
because of the fruitless negotiations with Israel which did not provide any
political solution of the conflict; most of the Israeli Jews do not know
that the policy of the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon about ‘No
Palestinian Partner’ led to unilateral disengagement from Gaza without
negotiation with the Palestinian Authority. This act was done in order to
delegitimize Palestinian Authority and in attempt to keep control over the
West Bank. Moreover, the disengagement did not free Gaza but turned it into
one big prison. Israel controls the entrances to Gaza and controls every
aspect of human life in Gaza. It decided to change the support of Gazans in
Hamas by carrying out a siege that allowed minimal living and brought Gaza
to economic disaster. Israeli Jews know that even after disengagement,
Hamas continues to fire rockets on the Israeli civil settlements but few
know that during 2005– 2008, hundreds of Palestinians were killed by the
Israeli forces. Few know that the tunnels were built mainly to smuggle
civil goods that could not be brought to Gaza and not only weapons as the
great majority believe. Few know that there is a relationship between
Israeli violence and Palestinian violence, preferring to see the latter as
irrational, fanatic, and immoral while the former as defensive, moral and
well justified.
Few of the Israeli Jews recognize that Israel during two years had at
least two alternative strategies to prevent further escalation; either to
talk with Hamas which is possible and negotiate long-term cease-fire, or
take decisive actions of peace (for example, to ease conditions of life of
the Palestinians by removing many of the checkpoints and to remove illegal
settlements as required by the Israeli promise to U.S.) vis a vis
President Abbas and the Palestinian Authority to show the Palestinians that
process yields tangible fruits that lead to prosperity and security. Even
when we shift to the period before the war, most of the Israeli Jews do not
know that it was possible to negotiate continuation of the cease fire with
Hamas and do not remember that it was Israel who broke the ceasefire of
November 4, 2008, killing 6 Palestinians. Hamas is not my cup of tea as it
is a fundamentalist religious organization that practices also terrorism,
but it is a social movement with wide support in the Palestinian society
because it provides an alternative to humiliated Palestinian national
identity. This movement is not homogenous and it is possible to hear in it
different voices including ones that support negotiation with Israel and
acceptance of the two state solution.
All these omissions are not surprising in view of the fact that the
involved sides in conflict have been deeply embedded in the culture of
conflict. They systematically try to construct the views of society members
in a direction of presenting own society as being moral, just, peace
loving, or moderate and the rival as being immoral, intransigent, violent,
irrational, or extreme. In addition each side views itself as the victim of
this conflict. This process goes on for decades. Only during few years
during Rabin time it looked as the peace process is gaining momentum. But
since the year 2000, when the Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak decided on
the policy of 'no partner', the peace process is dying. It is true that
Palestinians have their share in the failure of the Oslo process. But the
tremendous asymmetry of power puts the responsibility for the continuation
of the conflict mostly on the Israeli side. It is Israel that has almost
all the cards to solve the conflict; it occupies the land, holds Eastern
Jerusalem, controls the life of the Palestinians, controls the resources of
the West Bank, expands constantly the Jewish settlements on the West Bank,
exercises preventive and punishing violent acts according to own will and
has (at least had until now) almost unconditional backing of the
superpower.
The contours of the potential settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict are more or less clear: If it will happen, it will be in
accordance to Clinton proposal, Taba understandings, Geneva agreement, and
Arab league proposal: Israel will have to return to 1967 borders with some
swaps of land in order to hold the most populated clusters of Jewish
settlements just beyond the green line of 1967, Jerusalem will be divided,
most of the Jewish settlements inside the territories will be dismantled,
and the refuges problem will have to be solved via common agreement with
their compensation and settlement mostly in the future Palestinian state.
The present Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert outlined openly these
principles to the Israeli public but did not take any concrete steps to
implement them. Israeli public, while recognizing the need in two state
solution (because of the demographic fear), objects to the outlined
principles. The majority of the Israeli Jews object to divide Jerusalem, to
withdraw to 1967 borders and to dismantle most of the Jewish settlements
the West Bank. In fact I must admit that I do not see any Israeli
government evacuating about 60,000 Jewish settlers from the West Bank.
Israeli Jewish public after the destruction of the peace camp in 2000 is
moving steadily towards hawkish-nationalistic views. The present war
provided additional blow to the peace camp. It is almost certainly that the
next Israeli government will be very hawkish after the February 10
elections.
 
 
 The rest will be written in the history books. …. The war did not erupt
spontaneously but was well prepared, including its scope, the type of
weapons to be used, and so on. Also it was consciously decided to use a
disproportional might in order to save lives of Israeli soldiers and to
teach the Palestinians a lesson. The results of the war are tragic for both
nations. It provided unequivocal evidence to each side that the other side
is evil and immoral. Now few of us here and there can only evaluate the
tragedy, explain the events and pray for a miracle from outside forces that
will come and save us from the worst human instincts.
Sincerely Daniel Bar-Tal

 
 
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Your Responses
    1.  Your morality is a travesty of all
     From , Sent in 16-02-2009
    2.  wow - this guy needs to be quickly
     From , Sent in 16-02-2009
    3.  Dear Mr. Bar-Tal,
     From , Sent in 19-02-2009
    4.  Dear Judith
     From , Sent in 19-02-2009
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