Gaza Q&A: Palestinians answer

Q: Martin Kramer spoke of Gaza’s “superfluous young men.” Is anyone in Gaza “superfluous”?

A: “I don’t mind if Gazans continue producing babies, but they will have to move somewhere else. They simply will not fit into their current geography—forgetting about feeding and employing them, too.” (Dr. Hassan Abu Libdeh, president, Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, 2000.)

Q: Okay… Well, if that’s the situation, wouldn’t it make sense for Gaza’s government to promote family planning?

A: “Unlike the West that practices family planning, we encourage having children for political reasons.” (Dr. Abd al-Aziz Rantisi, co-founder of Hamas in Gaza, 2003.)

Q: Political reasons? For couples having children?

A: “Marriage is the same as jihad. With marriage, you are producing another generation that believes in resistance.” (Muhammad Yousef, member of the Qassam Brigades in Gaza, the Hamas underground, 2008.)

Q: I hadn’t thought of that. So would you say the present Israeli sanctions are starving the “resistance” in the cradle?

A: “It’s not a humanitarian crisis. People aren’t starving.” (Khaled Abdel Shaafi, director, UN Development Program in Gaza, 2008.)

Q: But Kramer said that the present sanctions might be breaking Gaza’s runaway birth rate. If so, how?

A: “The percentage of married females in 1997 was 57.2% compared to 50.5% in 2007. This indicates a decrease in marriage rates in the Gaza Strip, which could be due to Israeli siege and the resulting economic impacts.” (Dr. Luay Shabaneh, president, Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, 2009.)

Q: Aha, that’s how. But Gaza’s still growing fast, so what’s the long-term solution?

A: “All the rural Jews in the southern district from Ashdod (Isdud) to Eilat (Umm Rashrash) are less in number than one refugee camp in Gaza. Their density is six persons per square kilometre while that of Gaza’s population—the owners of this very land—is 6,000 per square kilometre.” (Dr. Salman Abu Sitta, president, Palestine Land Society, 2007.)

Q: Yes, but… that land is in Israel proper. Are you saying that Gaza’s problem can’t be solved in Gaza’s pre-1967 borders?

A: “Hamas looks toward Palestine! All Palestine! The liberation of Gaza is only a step on the road to the complete and total liberation of all Palestine, with the help of God Almighty.” (Ismail Haniyeh, Gaza’s Hamas prime minister, 2009.)

Q: Thank you for your… candor.

Chas Freeman and preemptive cringe

Charles “Chas” Freeman, the former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia who is slated to become chair of the National Intelligence Council (NIC), is being praised by his supporters as a brilliantly “contrarian” analyst. But has anyone gone back to examine the analyses? Here is an example from June 2002:

I’m a very practical man, and my concern is simply this: that there are movements, like Hamas, like Hezbollah, that in recent decades have not done anything against the United States or Americans, even though the United States supports their enemy, Israel. By openly stating and taking action to make them—to declare that we are their enemy, we invite them to extend their operations in the United States or against Americans abroad. There’s an old adage which says you should pick your friends carefully. I would add: you should be even more careful when designating your enemies, lest they act in that manner.

So what has happened over the past seven years? The United States hasn’t budged on its designation of Hamas and Hezbollah as terrorist groups. (In September 2002, then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage even called Hezbollah “the A-team of terrorism” as compared to the B-team, Al Qaeda.) The United States has boycotted both organizations, and has insisted that others boycott them as well. Above all, it’s supported Israel to the hilt in two wars, in Lebanon in 2006 and Gaza in 2009, in which Israel pounded first Hezbollah and then Hamas for weeks with U.S.-supplied aircraft and ordnance. There’s little more the United States could have done, short of bombing Beirut and Gaza City itself, to demonstrate to Hezbollah and Hamas that they’re on America’s wrong side.

Yet here we are, nearly seven years later, and where is the wave of Hezbollah- and Hamas-sponsored international terror in and against the United States? It’s not materialized, for a host of reasons that were already clear back in 2002. Freeman’s warning was a classic example of preemptive cringe—in this case, shying away from merely naming an organization as terrorist for fear it might threaten you.

And this wasn’t the only time Freeman did it. In October that same year, as war with Iraq loomed, he raised the specter of Saddam attacking the United States. This came in response to a cost-benefit analysis of war made by the strategist Anthony Cordesman. Warning that Saddam “would will use every weapon in his arsenal” if attacked, Freeman asked:

Is Saddam so stupid and autistic that he hasn’t noticed that for several years the United States has been declaring our intention to come and get him—especially this president? And if he has noticed, do you think it’s out of the realm of possibility that he has prepositioned retaliation against the United States here in the United States? Inspectors can find and eliminate nuclear programs because they’re bulky, consume a lot of power and the like, and maybe they can do the same with chemical programs, but biological programs can be cooked up in the basement of relatively small houses. So I just wonder again, as we look at the possible benefits—and Tony [Cordesman] has made an eloquent case that, great as the risks are, the benefits are substantial, and waiting increases the risks—do we have a risk that we might experience an attack on our own homeland by unconventional means from this regime as it goes down?

“The problem with this argument is several-fold,” replied Cordesman gently. “First, it means Iraq has to be very confident that its intelligence operations are clever and subtle. But I have never been impressed by the cleverness and subtlety of Iraqi intelligence.” In any case, he added, “the threat of such risks also isn’t a valid argument against going to war,” since “presumably they can make the threat more sophisticated over time”—i.e., an Iraqi terror threat was an argument for U.S. action, not against it.

Of course, Saddam went down without launching an unconventional attack from a basement in America.

All this wouldn’t raise an eyebrow had Freeman warned us in advance of the possibility of a 9/11-style attack coming out of Saudi Arabia—and remember, he’d been U.S. ambassador to that country when the threat began to coalesce. Some “contrarians” did warn, but he didn’t, and he isn’t even credible in explaining the attacks after the fact. (Example: “What 9/11 showed is that if we bomb people, they bomb back.”)

So I don’t see anything realistic about Freeman’s sort of “realism,” and if this is what constitutes “contrarian” thought—conjuring up threats to intimidate ourselves—then we’ll only have dropped preemptive action in favor of preemptive cringe. Washington is teeming with real realists—rigorous thinkers who are independent of foreign billionaires and relatively free of that psychological scarring that induces an obsession with Israel. Is Chas Freeman the best this administration can do?

Update: Terrorism expert Thomas Joscelyn points out that Hezbollah did attack Americans more recently than Freeman allowed in his 2002 quote—to wit, the Khobar bombings, done by the Saudi Hezbollah in 1996 (here is the 2001 indictment). He asks how Freeman—supposed authority on all things Saudi—managed not to know that. It’s an excellent question. Joscelyn also reminds us that Hezbollah has had a hand in attacks on American forces in Iraq. True, but this is not what Freeman had in mind when he warned against designation of Hezbollah. There were no American forces in Iraq yet, so he was cringing over something different: an attack on the homeland or international terrorism against Americans. They haven’t happened.

Pointer: See my previous post on Freeman and 9/11.

Update, late afternoon, March 10: “Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair announced today that Ambassador Charles W. Freeman Jr. has requested that his selection to be Chairman of the National Intelligence Council not proceed. Director Blair accepted Ambassador Freeman’s decision with regret.”

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.