Commentary Magazine


Why They Fight

One of the remarkable aspects of the current conflict in Gaza is the contrast between the way the fighting is viewed by the people of Israel and the way in which it is framed by international opinion.

The view of much of the rest of the world was neatly summed up in an editorial in the Guardian earlier this week, describing Israel as “a country which now gives every appearance of having turned its back on global opinion.”

While the Guardian thinks it’s a shame that Jews in Europe may be targeted for hate because of Israel’s actions, the fate of Israeli Jews who have been subjected to rocket fire and terrorist attacks from Palestinians whose chief ambition is to eradicate the Jewish State is a topic in which they lack interest.

Instead, the newspaper demands that Britain’s Foreign Secretary David Miliband call in Israel’s ambassador to London for a dressing down about the “illegal” nature of the Gaza counter-offensive, which the Guardian feels “could well merit future investigation as possible war crimes.”

Their hope is that the prospect of a new administration in Washington will force Israel to stand down: “All the signs are that the Obama administration is not going to be sympathetic to a future of failed blockades or the intransigent refusal to talk to Israel’s enemies.”

And what has Israel been doing the past 15 years since Oslo, during which time it allowed the PLO to take over the territories and then unilaterally withdrew from Gaza?

The Guardian concludes by warning the Israelis that if they don’t quit, Europe will soon embrace harsher tactics to force them to stop defending themselves:

That is why the talk elsewhere is now of boycotts, of arms embargos, of revoking trade agreements, withholding financial support and cancelling export credit guarantees. These are not all appealing options, nor should they be yet necessary. But a country which truly rejects the collective concerns of the international community leaves its friends, never mind its enemies, running out of road.

Such sentiments were also reflected in another piece published across the pond in Boston on that same day. In the Boston Globe, columnist H.D.S. Greenway laments American support for Israel’s attempts to hold Hamas responsible for its actions, which he, too, considers a possible war crime.

Greenway is puzzled by the unwillingness of Israelis to consider themselves to be in the wrong. He even quotes Israeli President Shimon Peres, who is not exactly a right-winger, as being unwilling to look at the situation from the other fellow’s point of view.

I heard Israel’s president, Shimon Peres, on the radio asking, ‘Why do they do this?’ If Hamas cared about its people, it wouldn’t attack us, he said.

No doubt Hamas is stubborn, even unreasonable, but Peres well remembers that in the long history of his own people there have been times, from Masada to Warsaw, when stubborn men deemed it better to resist against hopeless odds rather than accept subjugation.

Just as some people have viciously attempted to compare Israel with the Nazis, Greenway is prepared to consider the Islamist fanatics of Hamas to be the moral equivalent of the Zealots on Masada or the embattled and doomed Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto. Such comparisons are obscene. The Roman objective was to eradicate any vestige of Jewish sovereignty. The Nazi goal was simply to kill every Jew in the world. The Israelis just want the Palestinians in Gaza to stop shooting missiles over the border at them.

So why do the Israelis continue to persist in their effort when so many others elsewhere don’t understand them? The Jerusalem Post’s Elliot Jager put it quite succinctly when he was asked by the New York Times’ Ethan Bronner why Israelis “really believe that everybody is wrong and they alone are right?”

“This is a just war and we don’t feel guilty when civilians we don’t intend to hurt get hurt, because we feel Hamas uses these civilians as human shields,” said Elliot Jager, editorial page editor of The Jerusalem Post, who happened to answer his phone for an interview while in Ashkelon, an Israeli city about 10 miles from Gaza, standing in front of a house that had been hit two hours earlier by a Hamas rocket.

“We do feel bad about it, but we don’t feel guilty,” Mr. Jager added. “The most ethical moral imperative is for Israel to prevail in this conflict over an immoral Islamist philosophy. It is a zero sum conflict. That is what is not understood outside this country.”

Another example of how Israelis answer Bronner’s question is in the New Republic today. There, Yossi Klein Halevi gives us a close-up look at a squad of Israeli reservists about to be deployed into Gaza.

Though many of them, including the commander, wonder about whether the offensive should continue, they have no doubt about whether their country is in the right. Some have reported for duty even though they had the option of staying home.

Halevi explains:

Israel has known excruciating moments of self-doubt, even during war, but this isn’t one of them. Many Israelis feel anguished about Gaza’s suffering, but few feel apologetic. And Israelis have no patience for those critics unable to separate sympathy for Gaza’s victims with political conclusions that only strengthen the jihadists most responsible for Gaza’s suffering. Israel’s left-wing Meretz party has managed, as of this writing, to bring all of 1,000 demonstrators into the streets. And even Meretz supported the first week’s air offensive. One reason for the consensus is the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005. At that time, Israeli leaders reassured skeptics that, if terrorists attacked over the international border, the IDF would have the moral legitimacy to return to Gaza. After thousands of missiles have fallen over the last three years, the IDF has belatedly done just that. The left knows its credibility is being tested: If Israel can’t defend Beersheva and Ashdod from the 1967 border with Gaza, it won’t be able to defend Tel Aviv and Jerusalem from the 1967 border with the West Bank. And, if Israel is unable to stop the missiles from Gaza, there will be very little public support for further withdrawals.

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