Friday, May 21, 2021

Biden's 'Sword of Damocles': Israel and Gaza. Is There No Way Out?

(NOTE: This is a evolving story). President Joe Biden is facing mounting pressure to withhold military and financial support from Israel until, at least, the situation in Gaza is resolved. The "Gang of Four" or "The Squad"--- Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), and Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), have all voiced their outrage at Israel and support for the Palestinians (including the actions of Hamas and its allies), along with a number of other Democrats such as Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) . Many also opposed the $735 million dollars weapons sale to Israel a week prior to the missile attacks on Israel.

However, not all Democrats are taking an anti-Israel stand. Rep. Elaine Luria (D-VA) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) are among several Democrats who've spoken up about Israel's right to exist and right to protect itself. At the same time, Ben Rhoades, a top foreign policy advisor for Obama, is urging Biden to reconsider our relationship with Israel in light of changing political and economic realities (such as the rise of China, the increasing influence of Iran and the resurrection of the Taliban in Afghanistan).

Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) has spoken in support of Israel, and has urged Biden to renew America's commitment to stand by the only democracy in the Middle East, and one of our staunchest allies. Senator Mitch McConnell, speaking on the Senate floor, harangued some of his fellow senators for their stance against Israel. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) spoke out in support of Democrat and New York mayoral candidate Andrew Yang's comments supporting Israel's right to defend itself, while coming under criticism from  fellow Democrats for "supporting genocide".

The conflict now unfolding in Israel is nothing new. It has existed since the moment of Israel's rebirth in 1946, after nearly 2000 years of Diaspora and a mere three years after the Holocaust. In fact, terrorist attacks began almost immediately after Great Britain, which controlled what was called "the Palestine Mandate" as it was known then, and the resettlement of Jews starting in 1946; many settling on self-sustaining farms called kibbutz's.  This lead to the formation of the para-military Palmach (along with the Haganah), the forerunner of the Israeli army.

Since 1948, Israel has fought eight wars, suffered the murder of its athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972, and hijackings (the most famous of which was Entebbe), faced numerous uprisings, and endured hundreds, if not thousands, of attacks on its civilian population by dozens of terrorist organizations; the majority of which sponsored by rogue states such as Libya, Iran, Egypt, and Syria; several of whom promising to "wipe Israel off the map". 

To date, over 3750 rockets, many of which containing construction grade rebar as shrapnel, have been launched at Israel by Hamas and its allies, with roughly 90% being intercepted thanks to it's "Iron Dome", which is comprised of a comprehensive system of interlocking missile batteries, artillery, radar, high energy lasers, supported by coastal "corvettes" ships (ironically, made in Germany) and air support (and likely, some satellite intelligence provided by a friendly nation or two).

But it's not good enough. Twelve people have been killed in Israel, including two children thus far. In Gaza, 232 individuals have died, of which 65 were children, 1900 were wounded, and over 58,000 displaced as a result of Israeli airstrikes. 

Although Israel has made peace with some of its former enemies, including Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Sudan, United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain, the violence continues, but why? And why Gaza? Why would a tiny strip of land along the northern Sinai, bordering with Egypt to the west and Israel to the east, want to take on the massive military might of Israel? Isn't this about Israel's right to exist? Doesn't Israel have "clean hands" in this fight? The short answer is no. 

Israel is not without a measure of guilt. It can't hide solely behind its claim of right to exist or self-defense.  Gaza is a defacto imprisoned state.  Because Hamas remains committed to destroying and engaging in terrorist tactics, Israel, along with Egypt, imposed a blockade around Gaza in 2007, which extends to a three miles limits into the Mediterranean, and covers all air traffic in and out.

As a result of the blockade, Gaza is essentially isolated.  Only the most basic supplies are reaching the people inside, and even that is tenuous. According to a report by the United Nations, 1/3 of critical drugs remain out of stock at any given time. 35% of Gaza's farmland and 85% of its territorial fishing waters are completely or partially inaccessible due to the blockade. 54% of the approximate 1.6 million people living in Gaza are classified as "food insecure" and 75% receive some form of international aid.

In addition, of the 1.6 million living in Gaza, nearly 50% are under 18 years of age. 38% live at or below the poverty level. 26% of the eligible workforce is unemployed, including 38% of the youth. 85% of the schools are force to operate on a double shift, in part due to the sporadic availability of electricity.

Most of the major infrastructure has either been destroyed, is damaged or in need of parts, and rendered inoperative by the lack of fuel and/or electricity. As a result, 90% of the water from the Gaza aquifer is undrinkable. Just under 212 million gallons (80 million liters) of raw sewage is dumped directly into the Mediterranean daily.

All requests for aid, be it housing, infrastructure, hospitals, schools---whatever---must be submitted to the Israeli and Egyptian governments for prior approval. Thus far, only a tiny portion has been approved.  As a result, much of what enters Gaza is smuggled in.

 In fact, Hamas has invested much of its resources into digging tunnels and acquiring weapons. Many of the tunnels are used for both smuggling badly needed supplies into Gaza as well as arms, while armed terrorists sneak into Israel. As a result, Israeli troops conduct daily seek and destroy missions. The Israeli military also claims that Hamas regularly uses civilians as cover for their military operations, which, in turn, serves, as anti-Israel propaganda.

Case in point, Israel routinely alerts civilians of incoming missile attacks or shelling 24 hours prior via air leaflet drops and megaphones.  While civilians are "allegedly" forced to remain in place, Hamas often moves its operations to another location (usually at the very last moment while firing off one finally volley to trigger the Israeli response). The result is dead civilians. Sadly, the use of civilians, especially women and children, as a shield has long been a tool of terrorists.

So, what can be done? The situation between Israel and the Palestinians is untenable. It amounts to nothing less than a mutual death grip on the other. Terrorism is the last tool of the weak. Israel is the regional powerhouse. The only democracy in the Middle East, and a reliable friend of America's. Egypt, on the other hand, participates in the blockade while largely turning a blind eye to the smuggling, especially of Humanitarian supplies, while trying to keep out weapons as much as possible.

Our near unconditional support of Israel has earned us a lot of enemies around the world, but especially in the Middle East. The rise of extreme Islam is a indirect result of our support and Israel's existence. It was one of the reasons for the cowardly 9/11 attack, as well as the attack on the USS Cole, on our embassies (mainly in Africa), and U.S. troops everywhere.

The pro-Israeli lobby is one the most powerful in Washington, which can call on tens of millions of Jews and Christian Evangelicals throughout the country at a moment's notice. That's a lot of voters. It's also one of the wealthiest lobbying groups with hundreds of millions of dollars in its coffers.

Meanwhile, in Europe, which was once a diehard supporter of Israel, is now faced with millions of newly arrived Muslims; a silent invasion of Europe which has proven to be successful largely due to the naiveté of European politicians (I won't call them "leaders"), especially Germany's Angela Merkel. At the same time, radical Islam is on the rise not just in the Middle East, but in Africa and Asia (even China isn't immune. It's facing increasing problems in its northwestern provinces among the Uyghurs).  

Israel regards its situation with Palestinians as an internal security issue, and as such, it's own private affair. Yet, the same argument could have been made with Nazi Germany and the Jews (as it was for a time). Israel seems to have learned a lot from the Nazis, especially when it came to the establishment of ghettos (most notably the Warsaw Ghetto), and now is facing its own uprising in Gaza.  

Unlike Nazi Germany, it's not as easy to hide or cover-up in today's around the clock media coverage. At the same time, violence on civilians, be they Palestinian or Israeli, is never acceptable (and by "violence" I mean killings as well as depriving people of the basic necessities such as food, water, and medicine. It matters little to the desperate if they die fast or slowly).

Israel and Egypt needs to end their total blockade of Gaza while insisting on new free and fair elections which excludes terrorists. The people of Gaza deserve the right to live in peace without either a Israeli or Arab gun pointed at their heads. Humanitarian aid must be the first thing allowed in along with parts to repair water, waste, and electrical installations, along with hospitals. Territorial fishing and farming rights need to be immediately restored. Terror can only thrive in hopelessness.

Meanwhile, Gaza must guarantee no further attacks on Israel. Whether they want to acknowledge Israel or not is irrelevant. That's a child's game.  It exists and will continue to exist. Period. However, it will not tolerate attacks, be it by missiles or cowards in the night with bombs or guns. That means it must end its dealing with terror states like Iran, Pakistan, and China.  It also means aggressively removing terrorist organizations like Hamas from Gaza.

Israel and Gaza must build a new relationship with each other. Trade would be a great start. It would not only build both economies, but create relationships. Both sides need to treat each other with respect. They don't have to like each other, but mutual respect doesn't require "liking" the other.  Gaza must also be free to choice its own political and economic destiny without interference from Israel or any other nation (so long as that choice doesn't include the ability to wage war or engage in terrorism). 

The U.S. must encourage peace in the region with more than words. The best way to do this is do cutback on selling Israel offensive weapons. Israel already has its own weapons industry which also happens to be one of the best in the world. To paraphrase the Bible, let's sell plowshares instead of swords. Let's provide Gaza with the same economic opportunities too.

We must also stop trying to "Americanize" other nations. We need to accept that not everyone wants to like us, or even deal with us.  We invaded Afghanistan to pursue those responsible for 9/11. We found and killed most of them, except the one most responsible, Osama bin Laden. He was being protected by a supposed ally, Pakistan. Nevertheless, "justice" was served. At that point we should have packed up and left. We didn't, and more people died or were injured.

We invaded Iraq a second time to remove Saddam Hussein. Why? He was a spent force. Nothing but a loudmouth bully. We could have keep him pinned in indefinitely, but we wanted to create a potential launching pad against Iran. Defeating Iraq's military was easy. So was grabbing its oil and gas production. Establishing a lasting peace has proven to be almost impossible. Same with Libya. There are other ways beside war to bring rouge nations or their leaders to heel.

Israel and Egypt can do better than try and cut off Gaza from the world. Meanwhile, Hamas is not the spokesperson for the Palestinians. If anyone was in this situation, it was the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. Meanwhile, the Israeli government needs to reel in these "settlers" who seek to kick families who just so happen to be Palestinian, off their land and out of their homes, citing their "right" to the land just because they're Jews, which is what started this round of violence in the first place.

Israel is a nation of laws. It has a duty to treat everyone---and I mean everyone---equally. Would they allow Palestinian settlers to remove a Jewish families because their family once lived there? Absolutely not. So why allow these Right Wing Jewish zealots to do it? Remember the quote from the great Jewish sage and rabbi, Hillel, "what is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole of the Torah. The rest is commentary".  Egypt and Jordan are friends with both Israel and the Palestinian people. Make use of that. They would be the perfect choice to negotiate a lasting peace between both parties.

Israel must decide if it's going to be a nation of laws and equality or a nation no different from Nazi Germany and it's warped concept of "Aryan Superiority". It cannot claim moral superiority while exercising immorality against any people, nor can Hamas claim victimhood while instigating terror or using its own people as hostages. The hatred and distrust may always remain, but the fighting and dying must stop once and for all. 


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