Late yesterday afternoon (in Istanbul), while doing my evening shop in a supermarket a beep came from i-phone. It was an update from Yedioth Ahronot, informing me that Israel had set off on Operation Pillar of Defense against the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. I sighed, grabbed enough food to make dinner, and within minutes had returned home to see the developments.
Twitterization of the Conflict
Well, my fears were immediately confirmed. First, turning on the BBC, news was coming in of a massive Israeli onslaught, which began with the targeted assassination of Hamas military leader, Ahmad al-Jabari. However, as a relatively new twitter user, I knew this would provide me with good sources to see how this struggle was playing out. In English, Hebrew, Arabic, and Turkish, I scanned the tweets, one by one. One tweet was from Gaza announcing bombs going off, another Gazan mentioned that rockets had just been fired at Israel; within minutes, an Israeli tweeted that sirens had just gone off in Beer Sheva. In other words, I was watching the war from my home in Istanbul, succumbed by the feeling that I was there. Definitely, a post-modern reality. Not surprisingly, I later learned that the Israeli army first announced the beginning of the operation via their twitter account.
I myself began to tweet in different languages. In Turkish I tweeted one thing, in Hebrew another, and English something different (need to add Arabic fonts!), trying to speak to different communities. It turned out to be a frustrating exercise since I know if I was in Israel I would have been out in the street demonstrating, shouting out in a full voice: no to escalation, no to war! Yes, by tweeting I was actually addressing a group, who I could not see. In a street demonstration, I can capture the eyes of thousands, it is real-time, with real reactions of people, some clapping and others cursing. In fact, almost four years ago, I was in Israel during Operation Cast Lead and we did that: together Jews and Palestinians, we took to the streets.
The Escalation and the Upcoming Israeli Elections
Yes, it has been four years since the last Israeli-Palestinian war in Gaza. Sadly, neither social media, nor people protesting, have succeeded in finding some way to convince both Israelis and Palestinians to give up arms and find a solution. This latest escalation is typical. It began last week as skirmish on the Gaza-Israel border between Hamas and the Israeli army, leading to Israeli reprisal and Hamas shooting rockets into Israel’s southern cities. Which side was “first” is not important. By targeting Jabari, Israel knew that this was a declaration of war, and rather than continuing the negotiations for a cease-fire, they escalated.
What is worrying is the timing of the escalation. With the Israeli elections just a little over two months away, many analysts are accusing Israeli PM Netanyahu as using the onslaught to convince the Israeli people of his ability to manage a major operation, especially since he has made it clear that he believes Israel should target Iran, in the event they are close to obtaining nuclear arms. For his Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, who now leads the small Atsmaut (Independence) Party, after defecting from Labor, a successful operation might actually give his party enough votes to cross the threshold to enter parliament.
Well, we can speculate all we want, and I am sure that there was not a scenario where Netanyahu and Barak sat down and said to one another, “time to start a war.”; however, how could this not be in the back of their minds. In any case, Netanyahu must be quite confident of the operation's success since dragging in Israel to a major conflict could also lead to him losing elections. With Israel being militarily superior, this scenario seems unlikely.*
I will conclude by saying then, yes, Israel has a right to defend itself, just like the Palestinians have a right to defend themselves. However, what might be at stake here is actually the Israeli democracy itself. The truth be known, the recent escalation could have been diverted, which leads us to the simple but loaded question:
In a democracy, doesn't the launching of such an operation before an election counter the essence of a democratic system? I would say yes, and therefore argue that the timing of this operation is not only an attack on Gaza, but also on democracy and the future essence of the Israeli state.
*Israeli superiority is also related to changes in regional politics, which I will address in an upcoming blog.