Friday, January 2, 2009

David Grossman, Other Prominent Israeli Writers Call For Cease Fire

In calling upon Israel to "Fight Fire With A Cease Fire" for 48 hours, Israeli author David Grossman (left) draws upon the 2006 war in Lebanon and a realistic prognosis for the day after the current war:

Israel’s leaders know that, given the state of the Gaza Strip, it will be difficult to achieve a total, unambiguous military victory. Instead, we are more likely to return to the state of ambiguity we know so well from Lebanon. Israel will strike at Hamas and get struck, strike and get struck, get caught in tit-for-tat snares without achieving any real or vital aims. Despite our military strength, we will be unable to extricate ourselves, and will find that we have been carried away by a tide of destruction.

So let us stop. Hold our fire. Let us attempt to act against our usual reflexes. Against the deadly logic of military power and the dynamic of escalation. We can always start shooting again. The war will not run away, as Mr. Barak himself said two weeks ago. If we demonstrate that we can do this, we will not lose international support. We will gain even more if we invite the international and Arab communities to intervene and mediate.

... such a calculated cease-fire could lead Hamas to change its mode of response. It could offer the group an honorable way of extricating itself from its own trap.

And one more inevitable thought. Had we taken this approach in July of 2006, after Hezbollah kidnapped two of our soldiers — had we held our fire then, after our initial retaliatory strike in Lebanon and declared that we were waiting for a day or two to calm the situation and give mediation a chance — we would likely be in a better position today. That, too, is a lesson that Israel’s government should have learned from that war. In fact, it is the most important lesson we must learn.

Grossman's reflections on Lebanon are bound to be painful; two days after he called, along with Israeli authors Amos Oz and A.B. Yehoshua, for a cease fire there, he lost his son Uri to that war. Upon winning a prize for his writing, Grossman refused to shake the hand of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Oz and A.B. Yehoshua have also called for a cease fire in the Gaza war.

Israel, having rejected a cease fire, is not accepting the authors' advice. Nevertheless, Grossman's essay gives rise to questions that linger as the war continues. The only way to achieve total victory is to enter Gaza with ground troops, at a sharp rise in casualties among both soldiers and civilians. Israel would have to set as its goal the total destruction of Hamas in a long, difficult battle, something it has not set as an aim. But even that would not be enough. Gaza would be left in chaos and Israel would have to reoccupy the area–something it has stated, with good reason, that it does not want to do.

If the result of the current war is ambiguous, then the magnitude of the effort will be judged as not only disproportionate, but also futile–judgments that many Israelis had about the war in Lebanon. Writer Haim Watzman, in "No Happy Endings In Gaza," joins Grossman in cautioning against grandiose ambitions in favor of achievable aims. In doing so, he also draws upon lessons from Lebanon:

Israelis should be wary by now of national leaders who promise that this war, finally, will end Palestinian (or Hezbollah, or whatever) attacks on Israel. It’s unlikely to bring an end to Hamas rule in Gaza, as Tom Segev noted in yesterday’s Ha’aretz.

...A new modus vivendi needs to be created—one in which Israel permits food, medicine, and vital civilian supplies to enter Gaza in exchange for a Hamas commitment to stop using independent local militias as a proxy for attacking Israel. At the same time, both sides need to begin talking, directly or indirectly—and with the inclusion of the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank—to create long-range understandings and to work towards a diplomatic accommodation.

This almost certainly means that Hamas will continue to fire missiles on Sderot from time to time, and the Israel will continue to attack targets in the Gaza Strip. Neither side will be prepared to give up its military options until and if a permanent settlement is achieved. A managed, low-level conflict is a realistic, achievable, and worthwhile goal. If Israel sets its war aims higher, it will be operating under the same kind of delusion that has in the past led it into costly and embarrassing military fiascos.

It’s easy for both the military and civilian leaderships to get carried away. What seems like success and crisp, efficient military execution in the first part of an operation leads to the temptation to set higher goals and pursue the operation further. Let’s not let that happen this time around.

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