“We win every battle, but we lose the war,” said Ami Ayalon, who once led the Israeli secret service. Ayalon spoke in the documentary “The Gatekeepers” about Israel’s strategy for the Palestinians, one that was highlighted by events over the last month in Israel and the West Bank.
The two-week-long search by Israeli officials for three kidnapped Israeli teenagers in the West Bank was the most aggressive in decades. The search for three teens, it turns out, required Israeli officials to blow up two houses, arrest nearly 400 people, and kill five civilians, one of whom was sixteen, the same age as the young Israeli hitchhikers.
Let us put aside for a moment the dizzying arguments about who owned, ought to own, or has a God-given right to this or that land-mass, and consider: Israel has a powerful army, a solid economy based on technology, a healthy parliamentary democracy, sufficient natural resources, and a highly effective advocacy base in the most powerful country in the world.
The Palestinians have no land, no military, no effective leaders, a dysfunctional economy, and no international identity of honor. The majority of them live as refugees worldwide, many without citizenship rights in their nations of residence. Those who live in the West Bank cannot travel from one city to another without being interrogated and searched. Gaza is one of the poorest, most densely populated patches of dirt in the world and has little opportunity to become anything better.
If the actions of the Israeli government during its search for three kidnapped Israeli teenagers were designed to show that they are “tough on terror,” then I wonder for whom this show was given.
The Guardian suggested that the kidnappings, though wrong, were a response to the fact that Palestinians no longer see any rhyme or reason, much less remedy, to the years-long Israeli imprisonment of many of their own:
Palestinian statistics suggest that there have been some 800,000 acts of detention and imprisonment of Palestinians (including multiple detentions) since 1967 – an extraordinary proportion of a relatively small population base of around 4 million people in the West Bank and Gaza today.
According to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, some 84 Palestinian minors and 19 women were killed by Israeli forces in the five years up to May 2014, compared with 10 Israeli civilians. Last year the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child estimated that 7,000 children, mainly aged from 12 to 17 but some as young as nine, have been arrested, interrogated and detained between 2002 and 2012 – an average of two per day.
Such statistics must suggest to the average Palestinian that prison time is less a consequence of criminality than a fact of life. Moreover, historical evidence questions the efficacy of such a strategy in maintaining power. Malcolm Gladwell used several examples to describe the “limits of power” in his book David and Goliath, but the gist is this: short of slaughtering every last man, woman, and child à la 1 Samuel, there is a point past which a “show of force” delegitimizes the force itself.
And yet the battles go on. Israel has been exchanging missile fire with Gaza for days, and, after a Hamas missile reached Jerusalem, told the BBC it is “ready for escalation.” Netanyahu ordered the Israeli military to call up the reserves and prepare for a full-scale attack on Gaza itself if the missiles do not stop, according to the Telegraph. No doubt Israel can prepare for the engagement militarily, but even the Israeli military questions whether said “escalation” will truly win the war.