Jan 2, 2009

World - Defeat of Hamas would be no victory

Daniel Barenboim

If Hamas is destroyed, a more radical group will replace it. Israel’s security depends on wiser action.

I have just three wishes for the coming year. The first is for the Israeli government to realise once and for all that the Middle East conflict cannot be solved by military means. The second is for Hamas to realise that its interests are not served by violence, and Israel is here to stay. And the third is for the world to acknowledge that this conflict is unlike any other in history. It is uniquely intricate and sensitive — a conflict between two peoples who are both deeply convinced of their right to live on the same very small piece of land. This is why neither diplomacy nor military action can resolve this conflict.

The developments of the last few days are extremely worrisome to me for reasons of humane and political nature. While it is self-evident that Israel has the right to defend itself, that it cannot and should not tolerate missile attacks on its citizens, its army’s relentless and brutal bombardment of Gaza has raised a few important questions in my mind.

The first question is if Israel’s government has the right to make all Palestinians culpable for the actions of Hamas. Is the entire population of Gaza to be held responsible for the sins of a terrorist organisation? We, the Jewish people, should know and feel even more acutely than other populations that the murder of innocent civilians is inhumane and unacceptable. The Israeli military has very weakly argued that the Gaza Strip is so overpopulated it is impossible to avoid civilian deaths during operations.

The feebleness of this argument leads to my next questions: if civilian deaths are unavoidable, what is the purpose of the bombardment? What, if any, is the logic behind the violence, and what does Israel hope to achieve through it? If the aim is to destroy Hamas then the most important question to ask is whether this is attainable. If not, then the whole attack is not only cruel, barbaric and reprehensible, it is senseless.

If, on the other hand, it really is possible to destroy Hamas through military operations, how does Israel envisage the reaction in Gaza once this has been accomplished? One and a half million Gaza residents will not suddenly go down on their knees in reverence for the power of the Israeli army. We must not forget that before Hamas was elected by the Palestinians, it was encouraged by Israel as a tactic to weaken Yasser Arafat. Israel’s recent history leads me to believe that if Hamas is bombed out of existence, another group will most certainly take its place, a group that would be more radical, more violent, and more full of hatred towards Israel.

Israel cannot afford a military defeat for fear of disappearing from the map, yet history has proved that every military victory has left Israel in a weaker political position because of the emergence of radical groups. I do not underestimate the difficulty of the decisions the Israeli government must make every day, nor do I underestimate the importance of Israel’s security. Nevertheless, I stand behind my conviction that the only truly viable plan for long-term security is to gain the acceptance of all our neighbours. I wish for a return in the year 2009 of the famous intelligence always ascribed to the Jews. I wish for a return of King Solomon’s wisdom to Israel’s decision-makers that they might use it to understand that Palestinians and Israelis have equal human rights.

Palestinian violence torments Israelis and does not serve the Palestinian cause; Israeli retaliation is inhuman, immoral, and does not guarantee security. The destinies of the two peoples are inextricably linked, obliging them to live side by side. They have to decide if they want to make of this a blessing or a curse.

(NOTE: Daniel Barenboim is a pianist and conductor, and a U.N. messenger of peace.)

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