Lisa Schirch | The right to self-defense is not a strategy for peace

From an Israeli perspective, the cost in international outrage and Palestinian civilian lives of the current attacks on Gaza is worth the price of crushing Hamas’s firepower. The goal is seductive, and Israel will likely succeed in slowing the development of rockets by Hamas in the short term. But just like Israel’s siege of Lebanon in 2006, the Israeli “shock and awe” military strategy in Gaza will not undermine Hamas’s leadership or bring long-term security.

Both Israel and Gaza have a right to defend themselves. But there is a difference between a right to defense and an effective strategy for ending the attacks and ongoing violence.

The key ingredients of Hamas’s rockets are not metal casings and bags of explosives brought through tunnels from Egypt, and then built and launched from Gazan garages.

Blasting Gazan infrastructure and killing members of Hamas do nothing to destroy the motivation that compels a young Palestinian boy to pick up a rock or strap explosives to his body.

The real recipe for Hamas’s rockets is an environment of desperation and humiliation spawned by a complicated brew of poverty and political impotence.

Gaza is a prison with 45 percent unemployment, the highest in the world according to the United Nations. Half the population is under 18 and a third of the population lives in refugee camps. Palestinians have little land and few rights. This fuel of despair and humiliation gives rise to new generations of extremists and an ambition for more sophisticated rockets.

The siege of Gaza could consolidate extremist leadership in the Palestinian territories in the same way Israel’s 2006 attacks on Lebanon strengthened Hizbullah. The attacks undermine the development of moderate leadership in Gaza and the West Bank as moderate leaders look impotent to their people in the face of Israel’s attacks.

Since only moderate leaders in Gaza are willing to look at a future of coexistence with Israel, one wonders with whom Israel expects to negotiate in the future. Israel’s military strategy will make security that much more difficult to achieve.

The same is also true for the prospects of more moderate leadership in Israel.

Hamas’s attacks make it more difficult for moderate Israeli politicians to negotiate for peace. Hamas’s rocket attacks ensure that Palestinians will remain isolated and cut off from international support.

The rockets prolong the Palestinian wait for a homeland and for their legitimate human rights.

Achieving both Israel’s goal of security and Hamas’s goals of land and human rights for Palestinians requires a better, smarter strategy. The recipe for peace and security comes not from one-sided plans. Rather, it requires equal attention and empathy from both sides.

The strategy starts with a new, more inclusive narrative of cause and effect. The predominant Israeli narrative vis-a-vis the current attack on Gaza starts with the inexcusable shower of Hamas rockets on Israeli homes and schools and resonates with a history of more than 2000 years of discrimination and fear. The predominant Palestinian narrative centers on the devastating loss of their land, homes and businesses to others, causing many to become refugees crowded into small, barren enclaves.

An effective strategy must acknowledge legitimate grievances present in the narratives on both sides. Both Palestinians and Israelis have a historical legacy in the region.

Both know what it is like to be a people without a land and share the passion to retain what they see as their land. Both feel victimized by the other.

A smarter strategy would be for Hamas to recognize Israel’s right to existence and safety and for Israel to recognize and address the economic and political fuel of desperation among Palestinians. Palestinians need a state, freedom of movement and international assistance to create jobs.

Public opinion polls show there are plenty of people on both sides who support these steps. It’s time the United States and the international community stood behind Israeli and Palestinian moderates, rather than allowing themselves to be distracted by the militants on both sides who search for an elusive military solution to this political and economic problem.

 

– Lisa Schirch is professor of peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University and director of the 3D Security Initiative. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

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