Why Did Israelis Support the Pointless Gaza War?

It’s hard to write against a war when people are fearful of rocket fire, worried about their relatives both at home and at the front, and mourning the dead. But the question must be asked.

Aeyal Gross
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A plastic fruit tree stands in the corner of a room of a building that the owner said was hit by an overnight Israeli air strike, Jabaliya, Gaza Strip, July 24, 2014.Credit: Reuters
Aeyal Gross

It’s hard to write against a war when people are fearful of rocket fire, worried about their relatives both at home and at the front, and mourning the dead. But the question must be asked: Why was there so much public support for a pointless war that could have been prevented, and that exacted a heavy price in human lives, both from us and from the Palestinians?

It’s especially hard to understand support for the war among those who aren’t supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – people who understand that he has thwarted every diplomatic opportunity, yet nevertheless accept the argument that “if they’re shooting at you, there’s no alternative.” This artificial separation between diplomatic moves and the war will lead to other unnecessary wars.

There are many things that could have been done. For instance, how is it possible to justify the years-long blockade of Gaza, which included elements that have no relationship to security, like the ban on importing chocolate and coriander (which continued until the botched raid on a Turkish-sponsored flotilla to Gaza in 2010)? Or the restrictions on civilian movement, which remain in place to this day?

People ask why there was no development in Gaza. The restrictions on exports prevented economic development, and when students from Gaza wanted to study in the West Bank, Israel forbade it. The usual response is that the blockade was a consequence of the Hamas government and the rocket fire on Israel, but does this justify imprisoning an entire nation? Israelis who were shocked when foreign airlines froze flights to Ben-Gurion Airport can’t understand how residents of the Gaza Strip have been living for years now?

Despite the Israeli illusion that the occupation had ended, the lives of Gaza residents remained dependent on the arbitrary policies of Israel’s government. At the same time, Israel continued to ignore peace initiatives like the Saudi proposal and golden opportunities like the Palestinian unity government. A weakened Hamas entered this government on terms set by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, thereby enabling us to conduct negotiations with a representative Palestinian government. Instead, Netanyahu used the unity government as an excuse to avoid negotiations, even though now he is negotiating with Hamas.

If you think that by refusing negotiations, continuing construction in the settlements and abusing Gaza residents Netanyahu caused the situation to deteriorate into war, it’s impossible to separate the diplomatic from the military. We were dragged into war because Netanyahu, contrary to the popular myth, did not display restraint and moderation.

At a certain point Israel found itself engaged in escalation, which experience shows produces no benefits but only harm. Nevertheless, at any given moment Netanyahu could and should have switched to the diplomatic track and called for beginning immediate negotiations with the Palestinian leadership of the unity government, under the auspices of the Saudi initiative and the Quartet, while completely freezing settlement construction and eliminating every aspect of the blockade of Gaza not related to security.

It’s also hard to understand the support for the war in light of experience, which shows that Israeli aggression neither deters nor reduces the rocket fire. The operation that was supposed to bring security to Israel’s citizens did the opposite: It brought more insecurity and more Israeli victims than all the years of rocket fire did. Just like in the past, the largest number of rockets was fired at Israel during the military operation.

Granted, when rockets are falling the instinct is to think there’s no choice and we must respond. But have we forgotten that from the moment Israel began operating in Gaza the rocket fire only intensified?

The war also proved the pointlessness of the blockade: We imprisoned Gaza’s residents, but we didn’t manage to stop the stockpiling of rockets or construction of the tunnels. The tunnels, which Israel knew about beforehand, were pulled out as a belated excuse for the war once it turned out that the fighting wasn’t stopping the rockets.

To all this must be added the severe harm done to civilians in Gaza. One day, we will ask how Israeli society accepted what was done in its name. The attacks on houses, on children at the beach and on entire neighborhoods went beyond any claim of attacking targets from which rockets were fired or where rockets were stored.

Firing rockets at Israeli civilians is a war crime, and Hamas brought disaster down upon both Israel and the Palestinians themselves. But the reports and pictures from Gaza, only a minority of which ever reached most Israelis, attest to many cases of extremely severe harm.

Gaza residents used the term “Russian roulette.” Any place could be bombed; there was no place to run. It’s necessary to watch the video clip of the attack on the market in Gaza City’s Shujaiyeh neighborhood, or see the statistics on entire families killed in their own homes, to understand that something terrible was done, and the threat posed by Hamas didn’t justify it. Gaza became the valley of death, and the claim that we don’t intend to harm civilians is devoid of meaning when judged by the results.

Why did a war that could have been prevented, that achieved nothing and that claimed many victims both in Israel and among civilians in Gaza win such sweeping support? Did the propaganda and the intimidation silence Israeli society, which has become insensitive to the suffering we cause the Palestinians, and even remains silent in the face of a preventable sacrifice of Israeli lives?

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