NEARLY everything you’ve been led to believe about Gaza is wrong. Below are a few essential points that seem to be missing from the conversation, much of which has taken place in the press, about Israel’s attack on the Gaza Strip.


THE GAZANS Most of the people living in Gaza are not there by choice. The majority of the 1.5 million people crammed into the roughly 140 square miles of the Gaza Strip belong to families that came from towns and villages outside Gaza like Ashkelon and Beersheba. They were driven to Gaza by the Israeli Army in 1948.
THE OCCUPATION The Gazans have lived under Israeli occupation since the Six-Day War in 1967. Israel is still widely considered to be an occupying power, even though it removed its troops and settlers from the strip in 2005. Israel still controls access to the area, imports and exports, and the movement of people in and out. Israel has control over Gaza’s air space and sea coast, and its forces enter the area at will. As the occupying power, Israel has the responsibility under the Fourth Geneva Convention to see to the welfare of the civilian population of the Gaza Strip.
THE BLOCKADE Israel’s blockade of the strip, with the support of the United States and the European Union, has grown increasingly stringent since Hamas won the Palestinian Legislative Council elections in January 2006. Fuel, electricity, imports, exports and the movement of people in and out of the Strip have been slowly choked off, leading to life-threatening problems of sanitation, health, water supply and transportation.
The blockade has subjected many to unemployment, penury and malnutrition. This amounts to the collective punishment — with the tacit support of the United States — of a civilian population for exercising its democratic rights.
THE CEASE-FIRE Lifting the blockade, along with a cessation of rocket fire, was one of the key terms of the June cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. This accord led to a reduction in rockets fired from Gaza from hundreds in May and June to a total of less than 20 in the subsequent four months (according to Israeli government figures). The cease-fire broke down when Israeli forces launched major air and ground attacks in early November; six Hamas operatives were reported killed.
WAR CRIMES The targeting of civilians, whether by Hamas or by Israel, is potentially a war crime. Every human life is precious. But the numbers speak for themselves: Nearly 700 Palestinians, most of them civilians, have been killed since the conflict broke out at the end of last year. In contrast, there have been around a dozen Israelis killed, many of them soldiers. Negotiation is a much more effective way to deal with rockets and other forms of violence. This might have been able to happen had Israel fulfilled the terms of the June cease-fire and lifted its blockade of the Gaza Strip.
This war on the people of Gaza isn’t really about rockets. Nor is it about “restoring Israel’s deterrence,” as the Israeli press might have you believe.
Rashid Khalidi, a professor of Arab studies at Columbia, is the author of the forthcoming “Sowing Crisis: The Cold War and American Dominance in the Middle East.”

* By RASHID KHALIDI (NYT,January 8, 2009)


The Gaza Boomerang
readers’ comments for New York Times, January 08, 2009
What we’re seeing in the Middle East is the Boomerang Syndrome. Extremists on each side sustain the other, and the Israeli assault in Gaza is likely to create more terrorists in the long run.

Israel continually forgets the most important lesson of their own history – and that of other conflicts:
Violence begets violence.

Each child bombed out of their own pitiful refugee home has a burning need for revenge. Each child who watches his parents and siblings being carried out of rubble in bits and pieces swears to spend their lives seeking revenge.

The Palestinians are a people Israel keeps trying to conquer, they are a people who Israel consistently views as an irritant who dare to want to keep their homeland.

No people can be expected to meekly step aside as their lands, homes, employment and families are taken from them. 99.99% of us would fight off invaders. That’s human nature. Why does Israel always expect the Palestinians not to fight for the return of their lives and homes?
— Katy, NYC

Your argument is marred by the implicit suggestion that 20 Israeli deaths do not justify a much larger number of Palestinian deaths. The unwritten but implied word missing from your text is the qualifier “only” to describe those 20 Israeli deaths. Go tell the families of those slain Israelis that their loved ones were one of “only” 20 Israeli deaths. Go and tell the children living in a zone that has been constantly under missile attack for the past 8 years that their fears are less real than the fears of Gaza children. I have heard countless stories of children in Sderot who will not leave their parents’ side even at age 15, or of bedwetting by children long out of diapers.

Let’s not forget that for all the tragedy of war, one side of this argument did what the other side wanted: Israel withdrew from Gaza. All Israel wanted in return was quiet, but it never got that. It got hatred and violence in return. So while we can argue what should have been the appropriate response by Israel (and personally I agree that Israel’s response was not well thought out on many levels), we can not lose sight of the fact that but for the Hamas stance towards Israel, Palestinians in Gaza would not be burying their dead today.

If Scarsdale were under daily missile threat from White Plains, and “only” 20 Scarsdale residents had been killed by those attacks, would your opinion still hold?
— JK, Haifa, Israel


During the Cuban Missile Crisis, the United States established a blockade around Cuba. The intent was to prevent Russian missiles from getting to Cuba. America had very good reasons to dislike having nuclear armed weapons just minutes away from our population centers.

But suppose the United States had extended the blockade to prevent any food, medicine, electricity or fuel from entering Cuba. Suppose we controlled and limited any humanitarian aid that could get in. Imagine that no Cuban sugar or cigars were allowed to be exported and no equipment or supplies were allowed to be imported. Then imagine the blockade was also extended to prevent any people from entering or leaving Cuba without U.S. government approval. Finally, imagine that the United States government refused to allow any international observers to enter Cuba to report first hand on what might have been perpetrated on the Cuban people.

Now, do you think that after 45 years of this blockade, the Cuban people wouldn’t be justified in doing whatever they could to fight this oppression? If they could build a rocket that could reach Miami, do you think they wouldn’t use it? Do you really think such actions would be totally unjustified?

Many people thought that Cuba was a rogue state. Do you think the United States would have been justified in treating Cuba in the same way that Israel has been treating the Palestinians? The Israelis have been keeping up these pressures on the Palestinians for sixty years. A change is needed, but it is the Israelis who need to change.
— Steve, Japan

Any sympathy for Israel has now disappeared completely.
— Keith Tunstall, UK

I recently retired from the US Marine Corps, but I saw service in Iraq. I do know something of military matters that are relevant to the situation now in Gaza.

I am dismayed by the rhetoric from US politicians and pundits to the effect that “if the US were under rocket attack from Mexico or Canada, we would respond like the Israelis”. This a gross insult to US servicemen; I can assure you that we would NOT respond like the Israelis. In fact, US armed forces and adjunct civilians are under attack constantly in Iraq and Afghanistan by people who are much better armed, much better trained and far deadlier than Hamas (I’ll ignore for now that the politicians seem to be oblivious to this fact). Israel has indeed taken a small number of casualties from Hamas rocket fire (about 20 killed since 2001), but we have taken thousands of casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan, including many civilian personnel. Hundreds of American casualties have occurred due to indirect fire, often from mortars. This is particularly true in or near the Green Zone in Baghdad. This fire often originates from densely populated urban areas.

Americans do not, I repeat DO NOT, respond to that fire indiscriminately. When I say “indiscriminately”, I mean that even if we can precisely identify the source of the fire (which can be very difficult), we do not respond if we know we will cause civilian casualties. We always evaluate the threat to civilians before responding, and in an urban area the threat to civilians is extremely high. If US servicemen violate those rules of engagement and harm civilians, I assure you we do our best to investigate — and mete out punishment if warranted. There are differing opinions on the conflict in Iraq, but I am proud of the conduct of our servicemen there.

With that in mind, I find the conduct of the Israeli army in Gaza to be brutal and dishonorable, and it is insulting that they and others claim that the US military would behave in the same way. I know the Israelis are operating under difficult circumstances, but their claim that they follow similar rules of engagement rings hollow; I see little evidence for this claim given the huge number of civilian casualties they have caused from indirect fire.

In particular, I am stunned at the Israeli explanation for the 30+ civilians killed at the UN school. The Israelis say they were responding to mortar fire from the school. Mortars are insidious because their high trajectory and lack of primary flash make it very difficult to trace the source of the fire; you have to have a spotter locate the crew. The Israelis claim that they traced the source of the fire precisely to the school; if so, they must have directly spotted the crew. Thus it is inconceivable that the Israelis did not know that the target was a crowded UN school, yet they chose to fire on the school anyhow. I say without hesitation that this is a criminal act. If the Israelis had said, “sorry, it was an accident”, that could indicate a targeting problem, confusion, or inferior training. But to openly admit that they responded reflexively to the Hamas fire without consideration for the inevitable civilian casualties is beyond the pale. The Israelis blame Hamas for firing from the school (although UN personnel on the ground dispute this), but choosing to fire directly at civilians is far worse; it is tantamount to murder. US servicemen do not behave that way in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we face much deadlier adversaries (Hamas mortar crews are apparently not very effective: I believe that all but one of the total Israeli combat fatalities have been from friendly fire). In the rare and unfortunate cases where US personnel have willingly targeted civilians, they have been court-martialed and punished.

The Israeli approach in Gaza strikes me as uncontrolled and vengeful. My objective analysis is that it has little tactical effectiveness; my opinion is that its main goal is to whip the entire Gaza population into submission. This is disturbingly similar to the Israelis’ conduct in Lebanon in 2006, so I feel obliged to say that the Israeli military displays a concerted pattern of disregard for civilian lives. I am not a politician, but in my opinion the US should take some sort of political action in this regard. If we continue to formally condone Israel’s dishonorable and brutal military conduct in Gaza, I fear there will eventually be dire consequences for our country.
— JDS, North Carolina


There is no more obnoxious concept flittered about than “proportionate response”. This is a concept that is only applied in one area in the international community, and that is towards Israel. Give me one other example of a country being dictated too what their response to bombs being lobbed over their border, in an attempt to kill and terrorize their citizens. The correct proportionate response to these actions is to kill anyone who is doing this, and kill anyone who possibly will be doing this in the future. If that proportionate response is successful, well then we don’t have to worry about citizens being terrorized or threatened in the future. What do you think I am missing here?
— Jeff Marbach, Boynton Beach, Fla.

I didn’t see the words “immediate cease fire” that I was looking for.

The Gaza Mr. Kristof visited is far different today. Here’s a reporter’s story from inside Gaza City:
AP Gaza reporter finds hometown in rubble:…
“My brother took a picture of the room where my boys, 2-year-old Hikmet and 6-month-old Ahmed, once slept. Their toys were broken, shrapnel had punched through the closet and the bedroom wall had collapsed. I don’t know if we will ever go back.

There are other pictures that haunt me. The Israeli army issued a video of the bombing of the Hamas-run government compound, which it posted on YouTube. In it, I also can see my home being destroyed, and I watch it obsessively.”

Stop worrying so much about Israel and start thinking about the humanitarian crisis and the destruction of Gaza’s infrastructure, utilities, farm land (tanks rolling over farm land makes me cringe).

Gazans are being crushed while American tv media is gushing over trivia.
— Agathena, Victoria BC Canada


I take exception to your statement that Israel was provoked. It is the Gazan who live in an open air prison and have been blockaded from air land and sea ever since they exercised their democratic rights and voted in a government led by Hamas. Let’s call a spade a spade.
— Arif, Karachi Pakistan


What a maddeningly simplistic analysis of the conflict! Mr. Kristof could just as well point out that U.S. support for Afghan resistance to the Soviet invasion “boomeranged” into al-Qaeda and that therefore the U.S. is itself responsible for 9/11. Maybe this would be true in a world of no rights and no wrongs but that is certainly not Mr. Kristof’s usual, and usually highly effective, worldview. I read two proposals in the essay – first, to “ease the siege in Gaza”, and secondly that Mr. Obama should “need[s] to join European leaders in calling for a new cease-fire on all sides”. The first would guarantee that Hamas would quintuple its import of arms and ammunition. The second would do no better than the first cease-fire, during which Hamas spent all its resources on armaments and none of its resources on schools, jobs, farms, greenhouses, or any aspects of civil society. Surely Mr. Kristof and the “European leaders” realize that whatever arrangements are made must guarantee no more rocket fire from Gaza and no more armaments into Gaza, or this entire nasty episode will just flare up again in the next few weeks, months, or years. That would truly be a boomerang. Believe me, sitting within rocket range in Be’er Sheva, this is not something I’m going to vote for.
— Mark Keil, Be’er Sheva, Israel


Israel can (and probably will) win a tactical military victory in Gaza. The relative calm that ensues will come with a terrible price – the certain loss of any moral position by Israel.

Yes, it is unacceptable for Israel to become the morally pure martyr of the world. It has a right of self defense. But proportionality in response is not just the rule of 21st century international law, but it is also biblical (assuming that we are not talking of the wars of the conquest of Canaan, where extermination was the principle).

Apart for morality,as a matter of cold calculation it is easy to see that for every dead Hamas terrorist, the “collateral damage” recruits at least ten more. Tactical victory, probably. Strategic miscalculation, certainly.
— John G., NYC


Your analysis brings up some good points but has many holes. Yes, Extremes do not make peace as our friends at Daniel Pearl’s Foundation always remind us. Just look at what Israelis have done to Jerusalem, a previously magical place, now overrun and destroyed by a bunch of extreme Jews who need army protection for their provocations. At the same time the city is yearned by many extreme Hamas type Palestinians. It is another time bomb in this mess in the Middle East.
Speaking of Hamas, it’s Iran feeding tube is all Hate and that is what no military action by Israel can undo. No other regime has been more successful in constant manufacturing and systematic dissemination of Hate to the world since the Nazi’s.
Iran’s 30 year Islamic disaster also shows that extreme Islamist regimes, grow immediate and strong roots and turn themselves into mob supported movements, exactly like the Hamas’ mosque building model.
Palestinians have lost many chances over the years due to corrupt and criminal leaders to make Peace, dismantle their awful refugee camps, bring home their Best from Diaspora to rebuild and not elect and succumb to such Hate mongers like Hamas. But is too late now. Too much blood has been shed.
I differ with you on Mahmood Abbas. He is a joke with no charisma, power or agenda. A stupid nobody who looks and acts like a puppet of the events as they unfold. Of course Israel and the US have used him for many photo ups over the years, but made a huge mistake by not strengthening him when pulling out of Gaza in ’05 and creating a vacuum filled by Hamas.
I agree with Kelvinco of Boulder, that starvation, humiliation, and invasion of the Nation next door is not the best recipe for eventual peaceful coexistence, Again because systematic Hate mongering by the rulers, hardens all and Extremes boomerang. Israelis have no one to replace Hamas with in Gaza.
But it is too late for Peace as we like to see it. Because long term damage have been done by both sides to the spirit of Peace.
Sorry I have to remain a realist.
— Samir Albert Mano, Tehran, Iran


You claim that strengthening the Fateh government is “crucial,” but you also state that many Palestinians see that party as corrupt. What will it look like to the Palestinians if we try to prop up what they see as a corrupt government? They will see that yet again, the US is trying to establish a puppet government in a foreign country.

We will have to talk to the Islamists. They were democratically elected. The US cannot simply ignore the widespread popularity of Islamic political parties and movements, if we want to be diplomatically effective.
— anneret, New York City


In this war, every civilian casualty is another ugly red stain on the flag of Hamas.

The Israeli armed forces is almost certainly the most humane military in the world, warning the Palestinian civilians—their presumed enemy—through phone calls, through leaflets, with the indefinite threat that Hamas operatives, who work to kill Israeli civilians in the same building where Palestinian civilians sleep, eat, live, would be warned too.

And yet they still continue firing rockets into Israel—from apartment buildings, from mosques, from schools. They send Palestinian children to the top of Hamas-inhabited apartment buildings so that Israeli aircrafts would steer clear of killing noncombatants. They set off their missiles from places like the U.N. school, where dozens of congregating Palestinian civilians have been slain.

Blaming Israel for this massacre is preposterous. We need to isolate Hamas and pose them with two choices: a) Stop with the rockets, and we’ll have a ceasefire—or b) We’re going to teach you a lesson, and until you learn it we’re not going to stop.
— Gadi Cohen, Long Island