The Gaza Flotilla and the Limits of Force
For 2,000 years, the Jews knew the force of force only in the form of lashes to their own backs. For several decades now, we have been able to wield force ourselves. Yet this power has, again and again, intoxicated us. Again and again we imagine that we can solve every problem we encounter with force. To a man with a big hammer, says the proverb, every problem looks like a nail.
In the period before the state was founded, a large portion of the Jewish population in Palestine did not understand the limits of force and thought that it could be used achieve any goal. Luckily, during Israel's early years, leaders like David Ben-Gurion and Levi Eshkol knew very well that force has its limits and were careful not to go beyond those boundaries. But, since the Six Day War in 1967, Israel has been fixated on military force. The mantra is: What can't be done by force can be done with even greater force.
Israel's siege of the Gaza Strip is one of the rank products of this view. It originates in the mistaken assumption that Hamas can be defeated by force of arms, or in more general terms, that the Palestinian problem can be crushed instead of solved.
"No idea has ever been defeated by force"
But Hamas is not just a terror organization. Hamas is an idea. A desperate and fanatical idea that grew out of the desolation and frustration of many Palestinians. No idea has ever been defeated by force – not by siege, not by bombardment, not by being flattened with tank treads, and not by marine commandos. To defeat an idea you have to offer a better idea, a more attractive and acceptable one.
The only way for Israel to edge out Hamas is for it to quickly reach an agreement with the Palestinians on the establishment of an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip as defined by the 1967 borders, with its capital in East Jerusalem. Israel has to sign a peace agreement with Mahmoud Abbas and his government and thus reduce the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to a conflict between Israel and the Gaza Strip.
That latter conflict can be resolved, in the end, only by negotiating with Hamas or, more reasonably, by the integration of Abbas's Fatah movement with Hamas. Even if Israel seizes a hundred more ships on their way to Gaza, even if Israel sends in troops to occupy the Gaza Strip a hundred more times, no matter how many times Israel deploys its military, police, and covert forces, it cannot solve the problem.
Permanent state of siege
The problem is that we are not alone in this land, and the Palestinians are not alone in this land. We are not alone in Jerusalem and the Palestinians are not alone in Jerusalem. Until we, Israelis and Palestinians, recognize the logical consequences of this simple fact, we will all live in a permanent state of siege – Gaza under an Israeli siege, Israel under an international and Arab siege.
I do not discount the importance of force. Military force is vital to Israel. Without it we would not be able to survive a single day. Woe to the country that discounts the efficacy of force. But we cannot allow ourselves to forget for even a moment that force is effective only as a preventative – to prevent the destruction and conquest of Israel, to protect our lives and freedom.
Every attempt to use force not as a preventative, not in self-defence, but instead as a means of smashing problems and squashing ideas, will lead to more disasters, just like the one we brought on ourselves in international waters, on the high seas, opposite Gaza's shores.
© Amos Oz 2010
Editor: Lewis Gropp/Qantara.de