Trying to 'teach Hamas a lesson' is fundamentally wrong
By Tom Segev
Channel 1 television broadcast an interesting mix on Saturday morning: Its correspondents reported from Sderot and Ashkelon, but the pictures on the screen were from the Gaza Strip. Thus the broadcast, albeit unintentionally, sent the right message: A child in Sderot is the same as a child in Gaza, and anyone who harms either is evil.
But the assault on Gaza does not first and foremost demand moral condemnation - it demands a few historical reminders. Both the justification given for it and the chosen targets are a replay of the same basic assumptions that have proven wrong time after time. Yet Israel still pulls them out of its hat again and again, in one war after another.
Israel is striking at the Palestinians to "teach them a lesson." That is a basic assumption that has accompanied the Zionist enterprise since its inception: We are the representatives of progress and enlightenment, sophisticated rationality and morality, while the Arabs are a primitive, violent rabble, ignorant children who must be educated and taught wisdom - via, of course, the carrot-and-stick method, just as the drover does with his donkey.
The bombing of Gaza is also supposed to "liquidate the Hamas regime," in line with another assumption that has accompanied the Zionist movement since its inception: that it is possible to impose a "moderate" leadership on the Palestinians, one that will abandon their national aspirations.
As a corollary, Israel has also always believed that causing suffering to Palestinian civilians would make them rebel against their national leaders. This assumption has proven wrong over and over.
All of Israel's wars have been based on yet another assumption that has been with us from the start: that we are only defending ourselves. "Half a million Israelis are under fire," screamed the banner headline of Sunday's Yedioth Ahronoth - just as if the Gaza Strip had not been subjected to a lengthy siege that destroyed an entire generation's chances of living lives worth living.
It is admittedly impossible to live with daily missile fire, even if virtually no place in the world today enjoys a situation of zero terror. But Hamas is not a terrorist organization holding Gaza residents hostage: It is a religious nationalist movement, and a majority of Gaza residents believe in its path. One can certainly attack it, and with Knesset elections in the offing, this attack might even produce some kind of cease-fire. But there is another historical truth worth recalling in this context: Since the dawn of the Zionist presence in the Land of Israel, no military operation has ever advanced dialogue with the Palestinians.
Most dangerous of all is the cliche that there is no one to talk to. That has never been true. There are even ways to talk with Hamas, and Israel has something to offer the organization. Ending the siege of Gaza and allowing freedom of movement between Gaza and the West Bank could rehabilitate life in the Strip.
At the same time, it is worth dusting off the old plans prepared after the Six-Day War, under which thousands of families were to be relocated from Gaza to the West Bank. Those plans were never implemented because the West Bank was slated to be used for Jewish settlement. And that was the most damaging working assumption of all.