Between Goldstone and Gaza, what’s one more zero?

I’ve been reading through the part of the Goldstone Report treating the economic impact of Operation Cast Lead—a part that hasn’t gotten much attention. It’s largely a crib of a March 2009 report compiled by the Palestinian Federation of Industries, whose deputy general-secretary, Amr Hamad, was interviewed three separate times by the mission. The mission deemed both the report and Hamad’s testimony to be “reliable and credible.”

The most important sentence in this section of the Goldstone Report is this one: “Mr. Amr Hamad indicated that 324 factories had been destroyed during the Israeli military operations at a cost of 40,000 jobs” (paragraph 1005). I did a double-take when I read that: 40,000 would be astonishing in an economy like Gaza’s. This is what Hamad said in his testimony (June 28, Goldstone in the chair):

The industrial sector that was destroyed, for example, the 324 factories that were destroyed, that we[re] destroyed used to employ four-hundred thous-, uh, 40,000 workers. And these have lost their uh, jobs, uh, forever.

So that’s the source of the number. But if you return to the report of the Palestinian Federation of Industries, it puts the job losses at these 324 factories not at 40,000, but at 4,000. That’s an order-of-magnitude misrepresentation by Hamad of his own organization’s findings. The Goldstone Mission should have wondered at the figure, checked Hamad’s testimony against the Palestinian Federation of Industries report, detected the discrepancy, and gotten it right. But it didn’t. Perhaps the mission members, hearing the word “factories,” thought that 40,000 jobs sounded credible. In fact, more than a quarter (88) of these 324 “factories” employed five people or less, and over half (189) employed from five to twenty people (Federation report, p. 12). The vast majority of these “factories” should really be described as “workshops.” Only three employed a hundred or more people.

Of course, that 40,000-lost-jobs figure has made its way to numerous websites, and might eventually surface in an op-ed in a major newspaper. (That sort of thing has happened before.) So it would behoove the mission to issue a correction, and post a corrected version of its report. After all, this isn’t a matter of interpretation.

And as you ponder all those figures in the Goldstone Report, just keep in mind that it contains at least one order-of-magnitude error regarding a very basic statistic. The report isn’t just biased. It’s shoddy.

Gaza errors (or lies)

Henry Siegman, who must spend every waking hour hating Israel, has a piece in the London Review of Books, which is never complete without an Israel-bashing tirade. This one is called simply “Israel’s Lies.” Siegman spends a lot of time faulting Israel for the breakdown of the previous six-month cease-fire with Hamas, reached through Egyptian mediation in June 2008. In one passage, he accurately reports the quid pro quo of the cease-fire:

[The cease-fire] required both parties to refrain from violent action against the other. Hamas had to cease its rocket assaults and prevent the firing of rockets by other groups such as Islamic Jihad… and Israel had to put a stop to its targeted assassinations and military incursions.

Correct. But only a couple of paragraphs earlier, he set up the cease-fire as an entirely differently deal—and accused Israel of violating it:

Israel, not Hamas, violated the truce: Hamas undertook to stop firing rockets into Israel; in return, Israel was to ease its throttlehold on Gaza. In fact, during the truce, it tightened it further.

Therefore according to Siegman, Israel violated the cease-fire before Hamas fired a single rocket, by reneging on its supposed commitment to ease sanctions. Rashid Khalidi, writing in the New York Times, went even further: “Lifting the blockade,” he wrote, “along with a cessation of rocket fire, was one of the key terms of the June cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.” (My emphasis.)

None of this is true.

First of all, contra Khalidi, Israel did not agree to “lifting” of the “blockade,” only to easing it. At the time, the Economist reported the cease-fire thus (my emphasis):

The two sides agreed to start with three days of calm. If that holds, Israel will allow some construction materials and merchandise into Gaza, slightly easing an economic blockade that it has imposed since Hamas wrested control of the strip.

And Israel did just that: it slightly eased the sanctions on some construction materials and merchandise. Siegman falsely claims that Israel “tightened” its “throttlehold” on Gaza after the cease-fire, and that this is confirmed by “every neutral international observer and NGO.” Untrue. The numbers refuting him appear in the last PalTrade (Palestine Trade Center) report on the Gaza terminals, published on November 19, as part of its “Cargo Movement and Access Monitoring and Reporting Project.” The report says the following (my emphasis):

Following the announcement of the truce ‘hudna’ on June 19, 2008 and took effect on June 22, a slight improvement occurred in terms of terminals operation times, types of goods, and truckloads volume that [Israel] allowed to enter Gaza Strip.

This is exactly what Israel had agreed to permit. Here is the table from the PalTrade report, comparing average monthly imports before the Hamas coup (June 12, 2007), between the coup and the “truce,” and then after (i.e., during) the “truce” (through October 31). (If you can’t see the table below, click here).

As is obvious from this table, Israel did ease sanctions during the cease-fire. The average number of truckloads per month entering Gaza during the cease-fire rose by 50 percent over the period before the cease-fire, and Israel also allowed the import of some aggregates and cement, formerly prohibited. (No metal allowed, of course—it’s used to make rockets.) Israel did not allow more fuel, but the PalTrade report notes that fuel brought from Egypt through the tunnels “somewhat made up the deficit of fuel that entered through Nahal Oz entry point.” (For Israel’s own day-by-day, crossing-by-crossing account of what went into Gaza during the cease-fire, go here. This account also puts the increase of merchandise entering Gaza at 50 percent.)

Why do the Khalidi and Siegman errors (or lies, if made knowingly) matter now? If you believe Khalidi’s claim that the last cease-fire included “lifting the blockade,” you might say: why shouldn’t Israel agree to lift it in this one? Or if you believe Siegman’s claim that Israel tightened the sanctions at the crossings during the cease-fire, you might say: Israel shortchanged the Palestinians once, so the next deal on the crossings has to have international guarantees. But in both cases, you’d be relying on entirely bogus claims.

Israel has a compelling strategic reason to keep the sanctions in place. (I say sanctions and not blockade, because Israel doesn’t control the Egyptian-Gazan border, and so cannot impose a true blockade.) Israel’s sanctions are meant to squeeze the “resistance” out of the Hamas regime—and, if possible, to break its monopoly on power in Gaza. Unless these goals are met, at least in part, it’s lights-out for any peace process. And as long as sanctions don’t create extreme humanitarian crises—as opposed to hardships—they’re a perfectly legitimate tool. It was sanctions that ended apartheid in South Africa, kept Saddam from reconstituting his WMD programs, got Qadhafi to give up his WMD, and might (hope against hope) stop Iran’s nuclear program.

Hamas owes everything not to its feeble “resistance,” but to the tendency of the weak of will or mind to throw it lifelines. It’s now demanding that the sanctions be lifted, and the usual chorus is echoing the cynical claims of a tyrannical and terrorist regime that shows no mercy toward its opponents, Israeli or Palestinian. Supporters of peace shouldn’t acquiesce in another bailout of its worst enemy. It’s time to break the cycle, and make it clear beyond doubt that the Hamas bubble has burst. The way to do that is to keep the sanctions in place.

Did Hamas really win in Gaza?

Martin Kramer posted this comment in the thread “Did Hamas Really Win in Gaza?” at Middle East Strategy at Harvard (MESH).

One way to approach this question is to ask whether Hamas has achieved the objectives for which it escalated the crisis, by its refusal to extend the cease-fire. Musa Abu Marzuq, number two in the Damascus office, explained the primary Hamas objective in a very straightforward way: “The tahdiyeh had become ‘a ceasefire [in exchange for another] ceasefire,’ with no connection either to the crossings and [the goods] transported through them, or to the siege. Terminating it was [thus] a logical move.” So Hamas gambled, escalated, and now finds itself, once again, in a “cease-fire for a cease-fire.” Israel’s primary objective was to compel a cease-fire by means of deterrence alone, without opening the crossings, thus serving its long-term strategy of containing and undercutting Hamas. This it has achieved, so far.

When Israel launched its operation, Hamas announced a secondary objective: to inflict significant military casualties on the Israelis. For this purpose, it had built up a network of fortifications supposedly on the Lebanon model, which it promised to turn into a “graveyard” for Israeli forces. The military wing announced that “the Zionist enemy will see surprises and will regret carrying out such an operation and will pay a heavy price. Our militants are waiting with patience to confront the soldiers face to face.” This too never happened. The Hamas line quickly folded, its “fighters” shed their uniforms and melted into the civilian population. That Hamas failed to fight did surprise many Israeli soldiers, who had expected more. But there was no battle anywhere, and Israel suffered only 10 military fatalities, half of them from friendly fire. Hamas has taken to claiming that Israel has hidden its military casualties, and has thrown out various numbers—a rather precise measure of what it had hoped and failed to achieve.

There is something perverse in the notion that Hamas “won” by merely surviving. Robert Malley has said that “for Hamas, it was about showing that they could stay in place without giving way, and from this point of view it has achieved its main objective.” This was not its “main objective” by any stretch of the imagination. Rashid Khalidi has written that “like Hizbullah in Lebanon in 2006, all [Hamas] has to do in order to proclaim victory is remain standing.” But Hamas had a specific objective—lifting the “siege”—which was altogether different from the objective of Hezbollah. This objective Hamas manifestly failed to achieve. It also failed to achieve the secondary objective it shared with Hezbollah: inflicting Israeli military casualties. It defies logic to declare the mere survival of Hamas to be a triumph, given that Hamas openly declared a much larger objective, and Israel never made the military destruction of Hamas an objective.

War is only the pursuit of politics by other means, and anything could happen going forward. Israel could forfeit its war gains by inept diplomacy—something for which there is ample Israeli precedent. Hamas could parley its setback into a diplomatic gain—something for which there is ample Arab precedent. But I think there is little doubt that at the end of the war, Israel had achieved many of its stated objectives, and Hamas had not.

A final point, on the comparison of Hamas to Hezbollah. It is always a mistake to lump these two movements together. Hezbollah’s “Islamic Resistance” deserves the name. For years, it confronted Israel militarily in southern Lebanon, and fought battles of maneuver and assaulted Israel’s fortified lines. Its cadres received serious Iranian training, and while they didn’t win a straight fight with the IDF in 2006, they were battle-hardened, fought hard, and inflicted casualties. The “resistance” of Hamas has always been a fiction. Hamas’s so-called “military wing” developed in circumstances of occupation, and it specialized exclusively in the suicide belt and the Qassam rocket, both terrorist weapons which it directed almost exclusively at civilians. The videos of masked Hamas “fighters” in elaborate jihad-chic costumes, brandishing guns and jumping through hoops of fire, were cheap posturing. Hamas doesn’t have a cadre of battle-hardened fighters; one Israeli soldier aptly described those who did pop up in Gaza as “villagers with guns.”

If the “siege” of Gaza is significantly eased or lifted (which I still think is unlikely), it won’t be because Palestinian “resistance” forced Israel’s hand. It will be because Palestinian suffering has weighed on the conscience of others. That’s a very old story, and there’s nothing new or “heroic” about it. Those who’ve promised to liberate Jerusalem and Palestine by arms are (again) begging the world for sacks of flour.