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Gaza Temper Tantrums

One of the lessons I remember from the child-rearing “bible” I used when my children were little (Penelope Leach, for those who are interested) was to take the time to think before saying no to something your child wants – because the very worst thing you can do is say no, and then after your child has a temper tantrum, change your mind and give in. All this does is teach your child that they can get whatever they want by screaming and crying and throwing things. And for the sake of the argument, let’s add an older sibling, who has learned to ask nicely, but repeatedly gets turned down whereas her younger brother gets his way by throwing tantrums.

Let’s turn the analogy on our current situation. Hamas is often presented as only wanting one thing: to destroy Israel. But in fact Hamas wants any number of things. They want power – in other words, they want to weaken Fatah and establish themselves as the party of choice for the Palestinian people. They want to lift the remaining blockade on Gaza (and as I understand it the main issue is not getting stuff in, it’s getting produce out – because without access to international trade their economy has no possibility of flourishing). They want to open the border crossings so that people can travel in and out, and they want to cancel the 500 meter security zone that Israel has established inside the border – that takes away a significant piece of land from an already impossibly over-crowded strip.

You’ve probably worked out where I’m going with this. Hamas cannot get what it wants by asking nicely – as amply demonstrated by their older sibling, Fatah – who have renounced violence and want to negotiate, but Israel consistently ignores them. So Hamas uses the temper tantrum route – they fire missiles, or allow them to be fired by other groups; they shoot at soldiers on the border or try to kidnap them, at differing levels of intensity. They understand that eventually Israel will react – and may lash out – but at some point, Israel is forced to negotiate, and then Hamas can get a lot of what it wants: the respect of the Palestinian people, who see they get results where Fatah gets nothing, maybe a lifting of the blockade, perhaps some lightening of restrictions at the border crossings.

So rather than sit down and talk with the (relatively) well-behaved older sibling – which might teach the younger sibling a thing or two at the same time, Israel acts exactly as we shouldn’t: we refuse to talk except when Hamas misbehaves, and then, after the payment of huge and painful losses on both sides, we give them at least some of what they want.

The consequences seem clear to me: we are consistently teaching the Palestinian people that violence is the only way to get what they want; therefore whether Hamas takes over in the West Bank, or whether Fatah comes to the conclusion that violence is the only way, we can only expect more violence. The ceasefire – whether it comes in the next day or so or only after the terrible loss of human life involved in a ground operation – will not hold for long – and why should it, if we won’t negotiate in the meantime? And soon we will find ourselves dealing with another temper tantrum – except that the violent children we are raising may eventually be the end of us.

The only way to turn this to our advantage now would be to use the opportunity once a cease-fire has been established, to sit down and try to work out a comprehensive settlement.  If only Netanyahu had read Penelope Leach. But then, in my experience, men of that generation rarely did.


6 thoughts on “Gaza Temper Tantrums

  1. I think is a useful analogy to make the point that in spite of our (Israel’s) often declared desire for peace (and claims that “they” only undersand violence), we’ve actually often responded to violence (the 1973 war, to some extent the violence of the first intifada, the armed resistance from Hizbulla and others in Lebanon). But I’m a bit troubled by the aspect of the analogy that figures the Palestinians as children and Israel as the adult. I think that’s part of the way that the generals see the situation – thye keep using the language of punishment and hitting hard until “they” learn the lesson. But you’re right – we’re actually teaching them another lesson.

    Posted by Jon Simons | November 21, 2012, 9:55 am
  2. I agree both with your underlying point and with Jon’s reservations about the analogy.
    I also think it’s important to remember that there is a yet another, younger and wilder sibling out there by the name of Islamic Jihad. It’s troubled me over the past week how little analysis of this there has been in the Israeli media. Israelis tend to see Hamas as an absolute extreme. Like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Hamas is a broad church (broad mosque??) with a considerable “moderate” wing, both in domestic religious and social terms and also in terms of the approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

    Posted by Always On a Hill | November 21, 2012, 10:21 am
    • Israel often talks about eliminating Palestinian leadership – unfortunately, we always seem to end up eliminating the more moderate leadership and then being surprised (and appalled) when a more extreme leadership takes its place. I agree with you – we should be deeply concerned about the movements growing behind Hamas – and we have to join forces with the more moderate forces to isolate the extremists on both sides – and let’s not forget we have plenty of our own to worry about. In the meantime, the situation seems to be going from bad to worse – so I am filled with apprehension of what lies ahead for us all.

      Posted by jerusalempeaceseeker | November 21, 2012, 2:04 pm
  3. Your wonderfully pragmatic (and well composed) pieces deserve a wider audience. Can your blog, and the last, not be submitted for publication in London’s Times or the Jewish Chronicle, and into other countries too?

    Posted by David Moss | November 21, 2012, 11:58 pm

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