The Dresden Model

Israeli generals say they are doing no more in Gaza than U.S. bombers did to German cities like Dresden in World War II. But that was not the finest hour of the allies. With the war almost over three waves of British and U.S. bombers obliterated one of the most esteemed ancient cites in Europe that had little, if anything, to do with the Nazi war effort and had no military value whatsoever. It was an act of vengeance mindless of humanity.

So, Israelis are saying perhaps more than they intend. Writing in Foreign Affairs magazine, U.S. military historian Robert Pape says the Israeli assault on Gaza is “one of the most heavy bombing campaigns in history, a massive collective punishment against civilians.” In densely packed Gaza, 17,000 people, including large numbers of children, have been killed to date with more to come since there’s no letup in the bombing. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu says it will continue until all Hamas is destroyed, a formidable task that may be limited by the extent of Israeli casualties of which we are unaware so far.

In a hospital in the southern city of Khan Younis veteran British surgeon Tom Potokar is doing his best to cope with the unending stream of wounded and dying, half of them children, that are brought to his care. Having worked in conflicts in Somalia, Syria, Afghanistan, and Yemen, he says this is the worst yet. So many casualties in so short a time.

Dr. Tom Potokar (The International Committee of the Red Cross)

The Independent reports that he is presently treating a burns patient whose wounds are septic since the dressing had not been changed for days. On the next bed lies a three-year old boy whose legs had been amputated the night before after an air strike. An eight-year-old boy’s brain is exposed since bombing damaged his skull. An eye has been removed from a teenage girl because every bone in her face has been smashed. Another badly burned child is screaming for his mother he doesn’t know is dead. There are not enough pain killers to relieve his suffering.

Israel is completely dependent on weaponry from the U.S. to continue the war. These include precision guided small diameter 250lb bombs and earth-shaking 2000lb bombs that seem to turn the ground liquid as they flatten everything below. It’s said the U.S. could stop the war on a dime if it cut off the weapon supply. But the Biden Administration has backed the Israelis to the hilt while urging more caution in bombing. One angry phone call from U.S. President Ronald Reagan halted Israel’s 1982 assault on Lebanon.

Palestinian children wounded in Israeli strikes at Shifa Hospital in Gaza City. (Ali Mahmoud/The AP)

The present conflict has given rise to unusual antisemitism around the world, including American college campuses. It has been denounced and college presidents have been rebuked or removed for apparent nonchalance about it. But the best way to stop antisemitism is to stop the slaughter in Gaza.

The Price of War

It’s estimated that half a million Iraqi children died from starvation and disease as a result of U.S. sanctions after the ‘91 Gulf War. Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, then in office, was asked if that price was worth it to try to topple Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. She replied famously or infamously, yes, it was worth the price. Children are expendable for the loftier aim – however misguided – of war.

The same question might be put to supporters of the current war in Gaza where the deaths of Gazans are at 15,000 and counting as Israeli forces move south after destroying the north. To what purpose? Partly revenge after the brutal October seven attack by Hamas, but also, as declared by many, to create a greater Israel with the expulsion of Palestinians. Out of sight, out of mind.

Palestinians search for casualties at the site of Israeli strikes on houses in Jabalia refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip, October 31, 2023.
(Anas al-Shareef | Reuters)

But not really. After the days of carnage so visible on tv the regional Arab world will be united in horror. The division between Arab countries hostile to Israel and those willing to reach an accommodation will be sealed, not to mention the Gazan refugees burning for revenge. As for the rest of the world, the attitude of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan is indicative. He resists U.S. efforts to make him less supportive of Hamas and less critical of Israel. He could well set an example Inasmuch as Hamas is a rallying cry as well as an armed marauder. One way or another it’s going to be around postwar.

Israel itself is hardly united on this war if unanimously appalled by Hamas. With his reputation as a peacemaker, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak told CNN that it was current prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu who initially built up Hamas as a foil to the Palestinian Authority, thereby dividing his enemies. Today he faces a monster of his own creation. Let the more pacific minded Israelis prevail.

In the fever of war its outcome is largely ignored. The conclusion of World War II is still being reexamined up to the present day. Understandably, Americans were filled with hatred of Nazis even to the point of letting their prisoners of war starve to death after they had surrendered. But then, quite suddenly, the U.S was confronted with an equal, if not more formidable foe in Stalinist Russia, which seized eastern Europe and was ready to move on the West. The Germans were quickly revived as allies in the struggle ahead. Why had we been so solicitous of the Stalinists in the war?

Ehud Barak at Pentagon (photo by Robert D. Ward)

Conservatives want to conserve family, tradition, pride of nation. But what about conserving lives on whom all these other values depend? First things first: lives. Conservative commentators on tv, clamoring for scalps, should be required to take a course in military history – say reading Julius Caesar who won wars with calculation not hate – before lecturing us on the air.

If the Gaza war is allowed to continue, the price will not be worth it. Sorry, Madam Albright.

Gaza Under Siege

How does such a small stretch of land like Gaza – 25 miles long, six miles wide – have such a giant set of problems? It’s unfortunately situated between Israel and the Mediterranean and therefore in the center of the everlasting Israeli-Arab conflict. It’s currently experiencing the worst bloodbath yet as Israeli bombs have so far killed over 13,000 people, including 6,000 children. It’s not just local since neighboring states and groups are poised for possible intervention, and even distant powers – the U.S. Russia, China – are keeping a wary, nervous eye on unfolding events.

The Palestinians were the first to strike. At dawn on October 7 2,000 militants from Hamas, which nominally governs Gaza, broke through Israeli border defenses and proceeded to attack three military installations, burning tanks and other vehicles, killing and capturing soldiers whom they dragged away as hostages along with many civilians whose presence in Gaza is unknown.

Israelis were astounded. How did ragged militants from Gaza pull this off? In fact, it had been planned for a long time in Gaza’s frustration at an Israeli blockade that has caused severe shortage of basic necessities, resulting in what is called, an “open-air prison.” Israel replied in kind, massively bombing northern Gaza, ordering Palestinians to move south and threatening to destroy Hamas to the last man.

Leading the Israeli assault is Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, who has built a career on reviling Arabs and leads a Likud Party that supports their removal from Israel altogether. He also backs the angry, armed settlers who continue to help themselves to Palestinian land on the West Bank. The war came to his political rescue since he faces severe charges of corruption like taking bribes from a Hollywood producer involved in sending U.S. nuclear secrets to Israel.

The bombing he ordered has been intense. There seems to be little left standing in northern Gaza as the war now moves south. Israelis have in particular targeted hospitals which they claim provide cover for Hamas command posts. With tanks and troops, they invaded Gaza’s largest hospital, al-Shifa, and found an opening in the ground that may lead to a network of tunnels beneath, though it has yet to be proved. There’s a question as to whether Israel would risk entering the well-fortified tunnels where battle hardened Hamas has an advantage.

A child runs in front of damaged buildings after airstrikes by Israel hit buildings in Gaza City.

The toll on children’s lives is staggering. In such a concentrated population every wayward bomb makes its mark, and there is no end to the strikes. A New York Times reporter on the scene describes desperate parents in search of missing children, children crying for parents they no longer see. Four-year-old Ahmad Shabat lies in a hospital bed with both legs amputated. Unaware, he keeps wanting to walk and asks for his mother and father who were killed along with several other family members by the same Israeli bomb. Doctors, overwhelmed with patients and lack of medicine, try to comfort him. A Red Cross worker at a Gaza shelter says children stay awake all night pleading “Please protect me. Please hide me. I don’t want to die.”

Netanyahu says Israelis don’t mean to kill civilians. That’s a casualty of war. But some stalwarts among his followers say killing children is permissible since they won’t be able to grow up to be terrorists.

Photos of this violence over the internet have led to pro-Palestinian demonstrations around the world and to a global spike in antisemitism. Neighboring Arab states and groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon are under pressure to intervene. Even great powers like the U.S., Russia and China have some involvement and could be drawn into this local maelstrom of destruction if it continues.

Wounded Palestinians wait for treatment at al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City following the al-Ahli Arab Hospital explosion.(ABED KHALED/AP)

What to do? There’s a simple overarching answer. Give the Palestinians what they have been promised over and over but then denied – a state of their own. This would not only end the turmoil between Israel and Palestine but also much reduce the terrorist attacks that are justified by unwavering U.S. support of Israeli policies. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman writes that first of all Netanyahu must be removed given that he is the worst leader in Israeli history, maybe in all Jewish history. Then Israel must establish a center-left, center-right national unity government that can cope with the war and hopefully spell finish to a conflict that has plagued the country and the region for over seventy years.  

An Israeli Major for Palestine

One night on patrol Major Nir Avishai Cohen saw two figures approaching the other side of the fence surrounding Gaza. The order was clear: shoot anyone attempting to climb the fence on the assumption he was a terrorist. A sniper fired. Two fell. One was killed, the other wounded. In terror, the surviving seventeen year old boy explained that he and a friend were going to look for work in Israel since none was available in destitute Gaza. That turned out to be the case.

This and similar incidents started Cohen thinking about the job he was assigned to do; namely, patrol in the occupied Palestinian territories. Why were they occupied and what sense did that make? He concluded that he was there largely to protect the Israeli settlers who thought they were Biblically entitled to the land where Palestinians live. Aside from injustice, this left Israel less secure where no border in fact exists and terrorists, if they choose, can easily cross. He writes in his book, Love Israel, Support Palestine, the settlers of Messianic bent are the main barrier to a peace treaty with the Palestinians.

Selfie of Nir Avishai Cohen posted on Facebook, October 9, 2023

Understandably, Cohen has been vilified with ample curses and death threats. In the military he’s tolerated as a skilled machine gunner who expresses his views as well as he shoots. He’s particularly concerned to reach a wider public, especially the young who have experienced only a hard right government for most of their lives. He says that as a man of the left, he wants to wake up Israeli’s rather somnolent left.

It would have been hard to predict this stance when as a small-town farm boy, he delighted in picking mangos. But there was also the lure of military life, and he prepared himself with long grueling runs. The enemy? Nowhere to be seen. He never visited the Arabs a mere twenty minutes away. “Giant invisible walls were built and nurtured between the Jews and the Arab settlements.”

Today, he writes, the Israeli government is stalling on a solution. But the status quo is not sustainable as the present disastrous war clearly shows. “There are two populations – Jewish and Arab -who Ivie in the same territory but have two different legal systems. The Jewish population is subject to Israeli law while the Arab population is subject to martial law.” This isn’t democracy, he writes, but apartheid.

Damage following an Israeli airstrike on the El-Remal aera in Gaza City on October 9, 2023. Photo by Naaman Omar\ apaimages

Cohen has tried his hand at politics with minimal success. His dream is the creation of a Jewish-Arab political party. A tentative move in that direction is a group he joined called “Breaking Silence,” which consists of former military men anxious to tell what they have learned about Palestinians in their service. The group has run up against what Cohen calls “a well-oiled incitement machine with a lot of money and media know-how that acted and continued to act against anyone who dares to go against Israel’s presence in the territories.” But they figure their service counts in their favor. Since they have risked their lives in defense of their country, they can hardly be accused of not loving it. So please listen to us.