This past week marked the anniversary of Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli incursion into Gaza last year. Here are two ways of looking at it. One says it marked a turning point in the moral vision of Israeli society. The other says it was successful in reducing terrorism and saving Israeli lives.
The first one comes in an essay by human-rights lawyer Michael Sfard. It’s published on Coteret, a progressive Israeli blog, mostly press round-up in translation, that reports regularly on things you wish you didn’t have to know. The second is a year-end report released December 30 by the Shin Bet security service on the dramatic decline in Palestinian terror attacks in the past year, as summarized in Maariv. (The original is in Hebrew only — I’ve translated the numbers.) At the end is a link to a strong analysis describing the trade-off between protecting Israeli lives from terrorism, on one hand, and building the trust necessary to move toward peace.
Here are a few key excerpts from the Michael Sfard essay on Coteret:
Looking back, Operation Cast Lead was a turning point in the way Israeli society expresses its values. There, in besieged Gaza Strip, we exposed ourselves to a crystal-clear, shameless, and unmasked truth that we had thus far avoided by using repression and self-deceit methods that became more complex and clever with every war and operation we waged. Like that macho man who grew tired of pretending he was politically correct and angrily yelled at his wife to go back to the kitchen, we came out of the closet. We are who we are and we are proud of it!
For three weeks, during Operation Cast Lead, we sent fighter jets to drop bombs on one of the world’s most densely populated areas. We aimed our guns at clearly civilian targets. We used [white?]phosphorous bombs. We deliberately and systematically demolished thousands of private houses and public buildings, and all the while we maintained a tight siege on the Gaza Strip, preventing civilians who wanted to from fleeing the war zone. We did not erect a temporary refugee camp for them. We did not create a humanitarian no-mans’-land corridor for them. We did not spare hospitals, food repositories, or even UN aid agencies’ buildings. At the same time, we did not express fake regret. We did not argue we made tragic mistakes…
Operation Cast Lead was our second war of independence. In the first, we freed ourselves of 2,000 years of living under and being oppressed by foreign regimes. In the second, we broke the shackles of Jewish morality and heritage that were shoved down our throats for years. We liberated ourselves of the ancient Jewish ban against killing the innocent with the evil, from the self-evident lessons and inevitable insights we should have reached of the our collective experience as a downtrodden nation that was denied its own civil rights, that was silenced, knocked down, downgraded, and treated as subhuman. Yes, we violated some of those rules in the past, but we did not even reveal that to ourselves.
Now, on the other hand, here are the key points in the Shin Bet report, as reported by Ofer Buchbut in Maariv:
The General Security Service [i.e. Shin Bet - jjg] published a year-end report yesterday on terrorism, which showed “a significant decline in the scope of Palestinian terrorism.”
- 15 Israelis were killed in Palestinian attacks, nine of them during Cast Lead itself, versus 36 during 2008.
- 234 Israelis were wounded in Palestinian attacks, 185 of them during Cast Lead, versus 679 in 2008.
- 455 rockets were fired at Israel, 406 of them during Cast Lead, versus 2,048 rockets in 2008, a drop of almost 75%.
- No suicide attacks inside Israel in 2009. This is the first year since 1992 during which there were no Palestinian suicide attacks.