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Brooks, Stephens Get it Just Right

Getting to the bottom of what the war in Gaza is about

Liel Leibovitz
July 30, 2014
An Israeli artillery gun fires a 155mm shell towards targets from their position near Israel's border with the Gaza Strip on July 30, 2014. (Getty Images)
An Israeli artillery gun fires a 155mm shell towards targets from their position near Israel's border with the Gaza Strip on July 30, 2014. (Getty Images)

Thinking their way through the recent war in Gaza, even observers usually blessed with a keener eye seem to be succumbing to a foggy confusion over what we’re fighting for, who’s to blame, and what’s at stake. Prime examples are here and here. That’s why it was so refreshing to receive a double dose of superbly clear analysis yesterday morning in America’s two major newspapers.

Writing in The Wall Street Journal, the indispensible Bret Stephens gave his column just the right title: “Palestine makes you dumb.”

Pointing out a host of maddening inanities unnoticed by the western media—for example, the fact that Hamas is now reporting that 82 percent of the casualties in Gaza are civilians, suspiciously the exact same statistic the organization trotted out during its conflict with Israel in 2008-2009—Stephens gets right to the heart of the war’s raison d’etre:

Let’s get this one straight. Israel is culpable because (a) it won’t accept a Palestinian government that includes a terrorist organization sworn to the Jewish state’s destruction; (b) it won’t help that organization out of its financial jam; and (c) it won’t ease a quasi-blockade—jointly imposed with Egypt—on a territory whose central economic activity appears to be building rocket factories and pouring imported concrete into terrorist tunnels.

This is either bald moral idiocy or thinly veiled bigotry. It mistakes effect for cause, treats self-respect as arrogance and self-defense as aggression, and makes demands of the Jewish state that would be dismissed out of hand anywhere else. To argue the Palestinian side, in this war, is to make the case for barbarism. It is to erase, in the name of humanitarianism, the moral distinctions from which the concept of humanity arises.

Over at The New York Times, David Brooks riffed on the same theme. What we’re seeing unfurl in Gaza, he observes, isn’t just another round in an exhausting war between two perpetually sparring sides, but the manifestation of a regional conflict with far-reaching implications:

This whole conflict has the feel of a proxy war. Turkey and Qatar are backing Hamas in the hopes of getting the upper hand in their regional rivalry with Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The Egyptians and even the Saudis are surreptitiously backing or rooting for the Israelis, in hopes that the Israeli force will weaken Hamas.

It no longer makes sense to look at the Israeli-Palestinian contest as an independent struggle. It, like every conflict in the region, has to be seen as a piece of the larger 30 Years’ War. It would be nice if Israel could withdraw from Gaza and the West Bank and wall itself off from this war, but that’s not possible. No outsider can run or understand this complex historical process, but Israel, like the U.S., will be called upon to at least weaken some of the more radical players, like the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and Hamas.

In 1979, the Arab-Israeli dispute looked like a clash between civilizations, between a Western democracy and Middle Eastern autocracy. Now the Arab-Israeli dispute looks like a piece of a clash within Arab civilization, over its future.

Amen to that. And here’s to many more in the media getting their facts and their analyses just right.

Liel Leibovitz is editor-at-large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One. He is the editor of Zionism: The Tablet Guide.