Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Israel's dilemma in Gaza


Since the cease-fire in Gaza, thousands of Palestinians have returned to their homes and have been interviewed about their reflections on the war.

Combined with previous surveys, the interviews suggest a dilemma for Israel. From the standpoint of deterrence, Israel has every reason to maintain its blockade of Gaza. But if it does, Palestinians' anger at militants over the war might be erased by their anger at Israel over the blockade.

It's useful to look at two scientific assessments of public opinion in Gaza prior to the war. The most recent is a mid-June poll commissioned by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. It found that 70 percent of Gazans thought Hamas "should maintain a cease-fire with Israel." Eighty-eight percent said the Palestinian Authority should "send officials and security officers to Gaza to take over the administration there." Fifty-seven percent said Hamas should accept a Palestinian government that recognizes Israel and renounces violence.

The second assessment, based on data from the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, found that support for Hamas, which had declined from 45 percent to 24 percent after its takeover of Gaza in 2006, increased to 40 percent after Israel blockaded the territory in 2007. "If anything, Hamas appears to be stronger and have a broader base of support in Gaza than before the blockade," two analysts concluded from the data. That's because Hamas' popularity "derives from Palestinian anger at Israeli policies."

Now let's look at the patterns in the interviews of the past few days.

1. Israel's assault has driven some people into the arms of Hamas. When your relatives are killed or your home is destroyed, the simplest conclusion is that whoever did it is bad, and you're for whoever's fighting them. One man points to his leveled house and asks, "Does Hamas have fighter jets? Can its rockets do this to a home?" A mother who lost her 11-year-old son laments, "I never supported Hamas a day in my life. My family had problems with them. They killed my nephew. But after what happened, I support them."

2. Israel's assault has hardened some young people to violence. A woman in Rafah tells the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, "You have raised here a generation full of anger and hate. Do you think this generation will be afraid after this war? After a missile chased them in the street? This is a generation that doesn't know what fear is."

3. Gazans see the war as a loss. Hamas calls it a victory, but many Gaza civilians say the opposite. "The Israelis have hit us really hard this time. They destroyed us," says one man. Many residents, surveying the death and damage, call this the most devastating of Gaza's recent wars. Some ridicule the rhetoric of militants. "We have defeated the occupation, thanks be to God," jokes a young man in Rafah.

4. Some people blame Hamas. One man whose house was leveled fumes, "This is what we got, from Hamas and the Israelis alike. Your house will be destroyed against your will, against your will you will die."

5. Also, anger at Hamas might be broader than is apparent. Few Gazans openly criticize the militants. But there's a curious undertone in some of the interviews. "I don't want to mention names of countries or movements, but each one of them is responsible," says one man. Another man says leaders of the resistance are good, but his wife quietly adds, "maybe."

6. Gazans will judge the war based on postwar concessions. As things stand, they see the war as a loss. But that calculation assumes the continuation of the blockade. "All the industries are dying, and there are no jobs for the young," laments a Gaza City man. "It's a kind of suffocation." If Hamas does manage to extract relief, its supporters will feel vindicated.

Taken together, these themes create an unfortunate set of incentives. If Israel relaxes its grip on Gaza's borders and gives the people of Gaza a sense that the war paid off, they'll be more likely to credit and support Hamas. From the standpoint of deterrence — the principle that has always driven Israel's thinking — that's a disaster. So Israel has every reason to concede nothing. Let Gazans absorb the pain. Maybe they'll turn on Hamas.

The best argument against this response, with respect to Israel's strategic interests, is that the cost of granting concessions is less than the cost of not granting them. Yes, if Gaza's borders are opened, its people will celebrate. Yes, they might applaud Hamas, and they might conclude that belligerence works. But if the borders aren't opened, the people might radicalize and explode.

© 2014 Slate

Israel's dilemma in Gaza 08/08/14 [Last modified: Friday, August 8, 2014 5:28pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Slate.

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Peter Budaj, Lightning lose to Devils in shootout; Nikita Kucherov scores

    Lightning Strikes

    NEWARK, N.J. — For Peter Budaj, Tuesday's season debut had a shaky start.

    The Lightning’s Vladislav Namestnikov, right, battles Damon Severson for the puck.
  2. Mother's testimony about toddler's death brings judge to tears


    TAMPA — Nayashia Williams woke up early on May 7, 2014, to the sound of her daughter calling for her. It was the last time the young mother's mornings would begin with a summons from Myla Presley, who couldn't yet climb over the mesh fencing around the playpen she used as a bed.

    Deandre Gilmore looks towards the gallery Tuesday in a Tampa courtroom. Gilmore is accused of killing the 19 month-old daughter of his girlfriend in 2014. He said the child fell while he was giving her a bath. [CHRIS URSO   |   Times]
  3. Speakers: Getting tough can't be only response to teen car thefts


    ST. PETERSBURG — Bob Dillinger remembers coming to Pinellas County as a legal intern in 1975. There were five major poverty zones in St. Petersburg.

    Wengay Newton, Florida House of Representatives (in front, in center), talks as a panelist to a packed room during a community forum on "Reclaiming our Youth: Is Juvenile Justice a Reality?" at the Dr. Carter G. Woodson Museum in St. Petersburg Wednesday evening (10/17/17). The event was presented by the Fred G. Minnis, Sr. Bar Association. Community leaders discussed the ongoing auto theft epidemic among Pinellas youth.
  4. Internal White House documents allege manufacturing decline increases abortions, infertility and spousal abuse


    White House officials working on trade policy were alarmed last month when a top adviser to President Donald Trump circulated a two-page document that alleged a weakened manufacturing sector leads to an increase in abortion, spousal abuse, divorce and infertility, two people familiar with the matter told the …

  5. Black entrepreneur says city stiffing him on project after he endorsed Rick Baker


    ST. PETERSBURG — A prominent African-American resident says his endorsement of mayoral candidate Rick Baker has led city officials to freeze him out of a major construction project along the historic "Deuces" stretch of 22nd Street S.