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Israel: The Big Question No One Wants to Answer

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It's war season again in the Holy Land. Having sat back and done little or nothing while Hamas saw fit to shoot rockets into the South of their country, the Jewish state began an offensive against the terrorist organization. As of this writing, 500 Palestinians are dead, maybe 100 of them civilians, and Israel is not wanting to discuss a truce.

As usual, the International community and the American Left (and the Jew-hating segments of the American Right) are up in arms, calling for restraint and dialogue instead of gunfire and bombs. Once upon a time, I would have been amongst those calling for restraint, and I suppose I still am. I don't want to see anyone dead or maimed any more than any other sane individual.

But there's a question that's been lurking around in my mind, lately: when IS Israel allowed to defend itself from outside attack?

If you listen to others, the answer seems to be "never," based on disgust at how the state got to be the size it is today, and how it treats the Palestinian people. But are those legitimate reasons to expect a government to stand back and do nothing when those it oppresses take up arms and kill civilians instead of seeking peaceful ways to get what they want?

I don't think they are. I think that a state has a right to defend its civilians from attack, no matter how onerous that state may be. If we'd let Myanmar or North Korea defend their own people, why should Israel be excoriated for doing the same?

If that sounds like a flip-flop on my part, it could very well be. But I'd like to think that it's more of an evolution, based on how things were before, and how they are now. Given the current circumstances and players involved, I don't know if there will ever be a better time for Israel to go into Palestine and do some long-overdue mopping up.

Remember when Sharon was in power, following 9/11, and Israel seemed to be slowly teetering into the abyss? It was almost like he was deliberately provoking his enemies into crossing that one, final line so they could justify an all-out assault. And given what a useless, flapping tent of a man the late Arafat was - a man none of the militant groups listened to - it always seemed like disaster for the region, and possibly the world, was just one bad day's carnage away.

Back then, I was amongst the ones calling for complete restraint, because I didn't see how we could trust either side to secure peace through non-violence in the face of retaliatory aggression, or know when to quit. And there was always the specter of a wider war looming, thanks to neo-con hawks in America who thought we should land troops at the east edge of Israel and start marching in all directions. If the blue touch paper went up, I didn't see it going out in my lifetime.

But the scene has long since shifted. Sharon's in a coma, and his successors aren't bloated cartoon idiots who might do the unthinkable at a moment's notice to keep Netanyahu from power. Arafat is dead and, as he warned us would happen, free elections in Palestine put a terrorist organization in power. Time and tide has led to the disenfranchisement of Hamas from legitimate power, but they control Gaza and do not listen to the Palestinian Authority about anything. And that's why we are in the situation we're in today.

Given that, why would it be so bad for a less spastic, more responsible Israeli government to enter Hamas' stronghold in Gaza and take them out?

Yes, people are going to die. That will happen whether this offensive takes place or not, though terrorist bombing and shelling. The worst possibility is that the killing will keep happening, year after year, until someone does something totally catastrophic and renders the area into an uninhabitable field of cinders. How many dead then?

What if civilian deaths are all that stand between where we are now, and an end to Hamas, the resurgence of Fatah, and a possible, final deal towards lasting, meaningful peace in that area? It's a horrid gamble, but can we really say that, if we were in the same position, we wouldn't roll those dice?

Maybe we would, maybe we wouldn't. But I don't think we're qualified to insist that we can't even ASK that question unless we know what it's like to know that a bomb or rocket might have your name on it for reasons that are largely out of your control.

Could you look someone who lost a family member to a terrorist attack in the eye and tell them that, no, their government shouldn't go do anything about it because of the daily suffering of the people whose self-appointed champions produced that attack? I couldn't. I wouldn't even dare to suggest such a thing.

But on the other hand, I can understand why people are so unwilling to see Israel get the upper hand against its foes. We are faced with a government whose founders were unequivocal in their disrespect and antipathy towards those who had the land just before them. And they still treat the descendents of those people with either lingering disdain or brutal "safety measures," depending on which party's in power. If we're willing to be totally honest we can't help but see our own faces in those Palestinian faces, and wonder how long we'd be complacent under similar circumstances.

That doesn't excuse terrorist actions against civilians, though. It never has. It never will.

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J. Edward Tremlett is a lot of things, currently. He's back in the states after a seven-year stint in Dubai, UAE. He's been published in such diverse places as The American Partisan, the International American, The End is Nigh, Pyramid Magazine (more...)

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