POLITICS JANUARY 9, 2009
Not being a military expert, I will abstain from judging whether the Israeli bombardments of Gaza could be better directed, less intense.
Not being able for decades to distinguish between the good dead and the evil dead or, like Camus used to say, between "suspect victims" and "privileged executioners," I'm also deeply disturbed by the images of the Palestinian children who have been killed.
This being said, and taking into account that certain media outlets have been carried away on the winds of folly once again--as is always the case when Israel is involved--I would like to remind everyone of certain facts:
1. No government in the world, no country other than the vilified Israel--dragged through the mud, demonized--would tolerate having thousands of shells falling on its cities year after year. The most remarkable thing in the affair, the true surprise, is not Israel's "brutality"; it is, to the letter, its restraint.
2. The fact that Hamas' Qassam and, now, its Grad missiles have caused so few deaths does not prove that they are artisanal, inoffensive, etc., but that the Israelis protect themselves, that they live burrowed in the caves of their buildings, under shelter: a nightmarish existence, suspended, with the sound of sirens and explosions. I have been to Sderot: I know.
3. The fact that, inversely, the Israeli shells create so many victims does not mean, as protesters have angrily proclaimed, that Israel is engaging in a deliberate "massacre," but that the leaders of Gaza have chosen the opposite attitude and are exposing their populations, relying on the old tactic of the "human shield." Which means that Hamas, like Hezbollah two years ago, is installing its command centers, its arms stockpiles, its bunkers, in the basements of buildings, of hospitals, of schools, of mosques. Efficient but repugnant.
4. There is a capital difference between the combatants that those who want to have a "correct" idea of the tragedy, and of the means to put an end to it, must acknowledge: The Palestinians open fire on cities, or in other words, on civilians (which is called, in international criminal law, a "war crime"); the Israelis target military objectives and cause, without aiming to, horrible civilian casualties (which is called, in the language of war, "collateral damage"--which, even though it is hideous, points to a real strategic and moral dissymmetry).
5. Because we must dot the I's, we will again recall a fact that, strangely, the French press has rarely reported and of which I know no precedent in any other war, or on the part of any other army: During the air offensive, the Israeli army systematically called residents of Gaza who live close to military targets and invited them to evacuate--an Israeli minister said 100,000 calls were made. That this does not alter the despair of families whose lives have been broken in the carnage, it is obvious, but this is not a detail totally deprived of meaning.
6. Finally, as for the famous complete blockade imposed on a starving people, who are lacking of everything in this "unprecedented" humanitarian crisis: Again, this is not factually correct. From the beginning of the ground offensive, the humanitarian convoys ceaselessly crossed the Kerem Shalom passage. According to The New York Times, on Dec. 31--in one single day--nearly 100 trucks carrying food supplies and medicine entered the territory. And I invoke, only to preserve the memory of it (for this goes without saying--but perhaps it would be better to actually say it …), the fact that Israeli hospitals continue, even as I write, to accept and care for wounded Palestinians every day.
Quickly, let's hope, the fighting will cease. And very quickly, let us also hope, the commentators will regain their wits. They will discover, on that day, that Israel has committed many errors over the course of many years (missed opportunities, a long denial of the Palestinian national demands, unilateralism), but that Palestinians' worst enemies are the extremist leaders who have never wanted peace, have never wanted a State and never conceived of one for their people other than as an instrument and as a hostage. (Consider the sinister image of Hamas supreme leader Khaled Meshal who, on Saturday, Dec. 27, when the scale of the greatly desired Israeli response was becoming clear, only knew to declare a return to suicide missions--and this during his comfortable exile, his cushy job in Damascus …)
From two choices, one. Either Hamas leaders re-establish the truce that they broke, and, while they're at it, declare null and void a charter founded on the pure rejection of the "Zionist Entity": In doing so, they will rejoin the vast party for compromise that has not ceased--God be praised--to make progress in the region, and peace will be established. Or they will only, obstinately, consider the suffering of Palestinian civilians in terms of its fueling of their annealed passions, their insane hate, nihilistic, beyond words. And if that is the case, it is not only the Israelis, but the Palestinians, who will need to be liberated from Hamas' somber shadow.
Bernard-Henri Levy's new book, Left in Dark Times: A Stand Against The New Barbarism, was published in September by Random House.