Enough: Time for a ceasefire

Seven days. Time for a ceasefire.

We are seven days into this Gaza fight. Reaction to Israel’s actions is polarized in all the predictable ways. Hard-line Israelis and their supporters focus solely on Hamas’s loathsome track record and ideology. Hard-line Palestinians and their supporters focus solely on the illegal settlements and the continuing humanitarian tragedy in Gaza, worsened by Israel’s blockade. No one seems to have changed their views in a long time.

My own closest tie is to Israel’s patriotic peace movement. These men and women recognize that ending the occupation and relieving the Palestinian plight is the best, indeed the only honorable route to a secure Israeli future. I am a dove.

And I am ambivalent about this Gaza conflict. How is a nation supposed to react when murderous fanatics lob missiles across its border? Israel’s initial attack caught Hamas flat-footed and skillfully dealt a punishing blow. The great majority of those killed were Hamas members. Hamas was weakened, its political isolation exposed. It’s clear that many Arab regimes happily left Hamas to its fate. Israeli deterrent was bolstered. This is not southern Lebanon. Israel has Hamas penned in on every side. Hamas missiles continue to fly, but they have not been able to inflict more than minor damage thus far. The IDF even has Hamas operatives’ cell phone numbers. They are running out of targets.

Yet all that was true days ago. I don’t understand what the continued fighting can accomplish. Israel will not uproot Hamas. It will not stop every rocket. Whatever rockets are destroyed, whatever soldiers are killed–these will be fairly readily replaced. 1.5 million Gazans will still be there, still suffering, still enraged. The longer this war continues, the stronger the pressure on Israel will grow. The more difficult things will become for moderate governments that have a common interest in curbing Islamic extremism. A ground operation poses many risks for Israelis and for Palestinians. This is a bad idea.

Israel is one errant bomb away from something worse. Some of these bombs may have already dropped. Hamas military leaders are fair game. Yet it is hard to justify flattening a building with a 1-ton bomb to kill one bad guy when this also killed his wives and many children. It is even harder to understand how anyone thought this action would serve a useful strategic purpose. Civilian casualties are bound to grow.

Not that the United States is in any position to complain. Remember when we were chasing after Saddam and his sons? As Fred Kaplan’s account below reminds us, we killed many people as we struck brutally and unsuccessfully bombing places where we thought Hussein might be?

In another high-profile strike, on April 7, a B-1B dropped four 2,000-pound JDAM bombs on a restaurant where Saddam and his two sons were believed to be meeting. Shortly afterward, Vice President Dick Cheney said, “I think we did get Saddam Hussein. He was seen being dug out of the rubble and wasn’t able to breathe.” Someone might have been dug out the rubble; 18 people were killed, but they did not include the Husseins.

A similar strike was intended to kill Lt. Gen. Ali Hassan al-Majid, aka “Chemical Ali.” He escaped, if he was ever there; 17 civilians were killed.

Right now, a true friend of Israel, a wise steward of American diplomacy, would help everyone climb down, to at-least a temporary ceasefire. Perhaps that should involve international monitors. Perhaps that should involve Europeans or Arab governments. From its current position of military ascendance, Israel can afford to take this step. They need help finding a workable endgame here.

One man has the credibility to make this argument, quietly and privately, but urgently, as a proven friend of Israel. That man is George W. Bush. If he’s still interested in being President, now is the time to do his job.

President Bush leaves his successor one hell of a challenge mediating this conflict. On each side, people interested in peace understandably wonder whether their counterparts across the line exist in sufficient numbers and strength to make reconciliation possible and safe. If President-elect Obama is to mediate this conflict, he must do a much better job in pursuing this task. Stopping the current turkey shoot, and preventing a deadly ground war, would be a useful way to start.

Author: Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack is Helen Ross Professor of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. He has served on three expert committees of the National Academies of Science. His recent research appears in such journals as Addiction, Journal of the American Medical Association, and American Journal of Public Health. He writes regularly on HIV prevention, crime and drug policy, health reform, and disability policy for American Prospect, tnr.com, and other news outlets. His essay, "Lessons from an Emergency Room Nightmare" was selected for the collection The Best American Medical Writing, 2009. He recently participated, with zero critical acclaim, in the University of Chicago's annual Latke-Hamentaschen debate.