The Reasons Behind the Rockets: Why Yossi Klein Halevi is Wrong about Hamas

An Iron Dome launcher fires an interceptor rocket in  Ashdod July 9, 2014. Photo by Reuters

An Iron Dome launcher fires an interceptor rocket in Ashdod July 9, 2014. Photo by Reuters

Jeff has a PSA: he will not be co-opted by some dubious Limey health-kick.

The thousands of rockets that plummeted into Israel this past summer must have had a grave psychological impact on the hearts and minds of Israeli citizens, even if their physical impact was somewhat more limited. Yossi Klein Halevi writes movingly of this psychological impact in his article “I Have Two Nightmares About a Palestinian State,” but he seriously misconstrues the psychology of Israel’s aggressors. Halevi’s piece, published in this past September’s New Republic, is profoundly reductive, even myopic, in its account of Hamas’ motivations in the latest Israel-Gaza conflict. His contention, that Hamas’ chief incentive was the breaking of Israel’s sprit, that “Hamas’ goal in this war isn’t military but psychological victory,” ignores the political and economic developments that fully explain why Hamas and Israel were driven to a new round of hostilities.

Halevi rightly points out that in “this last decade, Hamas has fired thousands of rockets at Israeli communities along the Gaza border,” but in 2013, the year following the last Israel-Hamas ceasefire in November 2012, fewer rockets were fired from Gaza than in any year since 2003. In other words, Hamas was upholding the ceasefire that ended Operation Pillar of Defense. The terms of the ceasefire ran roughly as follows: an end to attacks from Gaza in exchange for the same from Israel, plus a relaxation on border closings when it came to the transfer of people and goods. But, as Nathan Thrall reported in The London Review of Books, Israel did not hold up its end of the deal. The IDF infiltrated Gaza repeatedly, fired on Palestinian farmers and drove Palestinian fisherman away from the majority of Gaza’s waters. Nor did Israel relax its stranglehold on the border; imports and exports were limited and exit permits for Gazans wishing to travel were harder and harder to come by.

Meanwhile Hamas was becoming increasingly alienated abroad. Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood were ousted from power in Egypt, depriving Hamas of an important ally and effectively sealing off its access to yet another crucial trading partner. As Gaza’s situation became desperate—electricity and fuel shortages, aquifer contamination, sanitation plant closings—Hamas turned to Fatah and agreed to enter into a unity government. This involved a number of significant concessions for Hamas, including the party’s tacit support for a government committed to non-violence, past agreements and the recognition of Israel.

The rubble of a home destroyed by Israeli strikes in the Gaza Strip, Aug. 12, 2014.

The rubble of a home destroyed by Israeli strikes in the Gaza Strip, Aug. 12, 2014.

Then came the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers. Netanyahu and his administration linked the kidnapping to Hamas, despite the dissent of several Israeli security officials. Indeed, The Forward’s J.J. Goldberg has made a persuasive case “that the kidnapping was a Qawasmeh family production from start to finish,” that is, plotted and executed by a renegade Hebron-based clan—not operating under the aegis of Hamas. But Hamas or no (some say with Hamas as a pretext), Israel launched its largest West Bank operation against Hamas since the Second Intifada, arresting hundreds of operatives. The raid and arrests sparked widespread protests and rockets from Gaza militants unaffiliated with Hamas. Emboldened, Hamas began encouraging a third intifada, and when the rockets grew more frequent they realized they couldn’t very well be seen as policing the attacks and calling for an uprising at the same time. Then, when an Israeli retaliation resulted in the death of seven Hamas militants, Hamas began taking credit for the attacks. It wasn’t long before Operation Protective Edge was announced.

If we want to have any real sense of what gave rise to the latest Israel-Gaza clash we must see Hamas’ involvement as determined by the foregoing narrative. The rocket fire did not stem from a wish to sow fear and despair, or at least, not solely from that wish. It emerged out of intractable political, and economic isolation, isolation exacerbated in part by Israeli intransigence.

Halevi recounts, stirringly, how his wife tells him, in the throes of the Second Intifada, that she finally understands what her “rabbis meant when they warned me I was risking the lives of my future children by [converting and] becoming a Jew.” But the anecdote tends, once again, to reduce a highly complex political predicament to a simplistic ideological contest: there are the Jews and the anti-Semites, and after, all how do you negotiate with anti-Semites? Certainly occluding large swaths of history and ignoring the political and economic grievances in play cannot be the way.

– Daniel Schwartz

Photo of three Israeli teenagers who were abducted and murdered by a group of Palestinians. Tel Aviv's Rabin Square June 30, 2014. (Reuters/Nir Elias)

Photo of the three Israeli teenagers who were abducted and murdered by Palestinians shortly before Protective Edge. Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square June 30, 2014. (Reuters/Nir Elias)


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