Framing Israel for the War

It was only a matter of time before the “blame Israel” brigades began to find their way to the mainstream press to assert that, all evidence to the contrary, it was Israel that started the current war in Gaza.

The first shot at framing Israel for the war was launched in the New York Times last week. Nathan Thrall from the International Crisis Group claimed that the “most immediate cause” of the war was being ignored.

According to Thrall, it was not the kidnapping of three Israeli teens or the daily barrages of rockets threatening millions of Israeli civilians that brought about this war. Rather, it was the fact that Israel refused to accept the Palestinian unity government that included Hamas.

Now, noted Israel critic Henry Siegman comes along to build on Thrall’s arguments in a new article in Politico. Lest anyone be confused about Seigman’s intentions, the title of the piece, Israel Provoked This War, serves as a succinct summary of what follows.

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Siegman contorts in every direction to blame Israel for the violence, even dragging in statements from Israelis about the 2009 clash between Israel and Hamas:

The notion that it was Israel, not Hamas, that violated a cease-fire agreement will undoubtedly offend a wide swath of Israel supporters. To point out that it is not the first time Israel has done so will offend them even more deeply. But it was Shmuel Zakai, a retired brigadier general and former commander of the IDF’s Gaza Division, and not “leftist” critics, who said about the Israel Gaza war of 2009 that during the six-month period of a truce then in place, Israel made a central error “by failing to take advantage of the calm to improve, rather than markedly worsen, the economic plight of the Palestinians in the [Gaza] Strip. … You cannot just land blows, leave the Palestinians in Gaza in the economic distress they are in and expect Hamas just to sit around and do nothing.”


This is true of the latest cease-fire as well. According to Thrall, Hamas is now seeking through violence what it should have obtained through a peaceful handover of responsibilities. “Israel is pursuing a return to the status quo ante, when Gaza had electricity for barely eight hours a day, water was undrinkable, sewage was dumped in the sea, fuel shortages caused sanitation plants to shut down and waste sometimes floated in the streets.” It is not only Hamas supporters, but many Gazans, perhaps a majority, who believe it is worth paying a heavy price to change a disastrous status quo.

Both Thrall and Siegman insist that Hamas was willing to live up to international conditions to renounce violence, recognize Israel, and accede to past agreements. But there is no basis for their supreme confidence in Hamas. In fact, there was no act of disarming and no statements of recognizing Israel.

Had Hamas been sincere in seeking “a peaceful handover of responsibilities,” they could have made a grand show of removing their missiles. It would have built confidence and forced Israel’s hand.

Instead, three Israeli teens were brutally murdered by Palestinians associated with Hamas. And after the shocking reprisal murder of an Arab boy in Israel, when Israel’s operations in the West Bank were coming to an end and public support was shifting away from an operation in Gaza, Hamas dramatically increased the number of rockets fired at Israel, forcing the IDF to take action.

But the kidnapping is barely mentioned in Siegman’s article and then only to claim that Benjamin Netanyahu was exploiting it “as a pretext to destroy what institutional political (as opposed to military) presence of Hamas remained in the West Bank.”

Through more than two weeks of fighting, the notion that Hamas was preparing for anything other than more violence is an indefensible position. But for people like Siegman, who have a long history of blaming Israel, it’s the only thing they see.

Close to the end of the piece, Siegman launches a litany of questions directed at Netanyahu, implying that the answers to those questions reveal who is really at fault. The usual accusations are all there –”why is he inciting against the Palestinian unity government? Why does he continue to expand illegal settlements in the West Bank?”

If only he could see clearly enough to ask some tough questions of Hamas in Gaza. He might find it shocking and enlightening.

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