Missing the Point – Military versus police action in the war between Israel and Hamas.

In anything resembling or even just aspiring to be a civilized world – which we’re still struggling to achieve – there are only two reasons to kill someone.  One is self-defense.  The other is that you’re nuts, whatever the cause of one’s particular insanity, however permanent or temporary.

So, “soldiers” of Hamas have attacked Israel killing approximately 1,400 civilians, and kidnapping 250 or so others.  Doing our best to put aside the horrific, depraved specifics of the killings, were these attackers nuts or acting in self-defense?  It doesn’t make any difference, does it?  Not really.

From Israel’s point of view, all that matters is that Hamas has pledged to kill Jews – everywhere, worldwide – and irradicate the nation of Israel.  Maybe Hamas perceives this genocide, which is their oft-stated objective as their legitimate means of dealing with an existential threat, but their rationale isn’t important.  For Israel, the October 7 attack by Hamas was the last straw.  The atrocities Hamas has done says a lot about who they are personally, but also about their strategy.  It’s not their first attack against Israel.  Far from it, but this time they may have written a check they can’t cash.

Predictably, Israel responded in precisely the way Hamas wanted them to by attacking Gaza militarily, killing thousands of innocent Palestinians in the process – Palestinians behind whom Hamas terrorists have been hiding.  The result is that Israel has now given Arab states an excuse to take a strong anti-Israel position – with which they are all too comfortable – conveniently ignoring who attacked who to start this mess.  The long-term indifference of these countries with respect to terrorism festering within their ranks makes them complicit and a continuing source of the problem.

In the rest of the world, even Israel’s closest Western allies, the United States included, are urging restraint.  In the topsy-turvy world of international politics, Israel, the victim of October 7, not Hamas so much, has become everyone’s problem.

Unfortunately, Israel – and, not incidentally, the United States as well – finds itself in a no-win situation.  On one hand, not stopping Hamas once and for all isn’t an option.  It is, after all, a primary function of government to protect its constituency.

At the same time, the enemy in this case is not a regular army.  A military solution may be understandably convenient, but collateral damage to the civilian population and to the economy and physical structure of Gaza is so very high and out of proportion to the damage Hamas has done.

o many onlookers, the Israelis seem to be reacting out of rage more than common sense.  They seem to be killing because they can, not because it’s their only or most appropriate option.  That Hamas is hiding among innocents is true, but not an excuse for reckless annihilation no matter how pissed off you may be.

And so, it occurs to me that the far from simple, but morally and politically desirable solution, is for the Israelis to effect a radical change in their strategy.

Instead of viewing a permanent end to Hamas as a military objective, view it as a police action.  Hamas is not a country per se.  They’re not even a popular faction that has been legitimately elected to govern the people of Gaza.  They are, for all intents and purposes, a gang of thugs.

Notwithstanding their stated motivations, they are terrorists in violation of a long list of international laws and civil norms.  They are criminals, their terrorist behavior having justifiably made them wanted, dead or alive, to be held accountable for what they have done.

Instead of bombing Gaza…  Instead of killing thousands of innocents with the hope of taking out a much smaller number of Hamas leaders and militants, the Israelis should occupy Gaza and hunt Hamas down as they would stifle any other criminal conspiracy.

1.Formally annex Gaza, the political future of which will not be achieved until the Hamas situation is fully and permanently resolved. Admittedly, it’s a process that will take years.

2. Yes, I am suggesting that Gaza become a formal province of Israel, albeit with limited rights for the time being.  The Israelis may not like the idea of what amounts to potential “statehood” for a community populated primarily by ordinary, non-militant Palestinians, but it makes sense for a lot of reasons.  Nor will the Palestinians of Gaza be too thrilled with the idea either, for now.  The reality is, that they’ll have to earn their way back to legitimate self-government by proactively helping Israel resolve the threat of Hamas terrorism.

3. Immediately cease all bombing, all overflying of military aircraft, and remove all tanks and artillery.

4. Notwithstanding the killing of even a single or thousands of innocent people, it doesn’t make sense to level the place.  When you’re done, to what will the people of Gaza have to come home?  Where will they live and work?  With what infrastructure?  …And to whom do you, Israel, think these people will turn for help?

5.  Seal off all major highways, rail, water, and air travel, monitoring and approving all personal and commercial travel traffic coming and going.

6. Establish a provisional government, depending heavily upon on non-Hamas Palestinian officials and former government employees. The primary and urgent objective of this government will be the rebuilding and expansion of the Gaza economy and personal freedoms to the maximum extent possible.

7. The benefits for the regular people of Gaza of an Israeli rather than Hamas government have got to be real and readily apparent.

8. Make the economy of Gaza work for the Palestinian people.  Give them an increasingly vested interest in Gaza’s success as a peaceful player in the greater Israeli and Middle Eastern markets.  Help them realize the very tangible advantages of peace, tolerance, and cooperation over militancy and chaos.

9. Encourage international support and trade, albeit closely monitored.

10. Shut down and destroy all Hamas tunnels. The military would do this.  This is a massive job fraught with danger, but then so is going block to block, door to door in a military action.

11. Implement a highly visible civilian police force – staffed by Israeli military personnel on special assignment – throughout the city and other locations, armed, but only as police, without an obvious military presence.

12. Be sure to hire Gaza people who need jobs to begin to rebuild the city as quickly as possible. Start with the hospitals and schools.

13. Restore cellular and Internet services, provided free to all civilian Gaza residents until their homes and businesses are rebuilt. Universal communications and transparency are essential to the success of this effort.

14. Electronically surveil streets and plazas for signs of threats by Hamas.

15. Use unarmed drones for surveillance only.

16. Are we talking about a “police state”?   Not really.  More like a well-policed metropolitan area dealing with an ongoing infestation of serious criminal activity.

17. Conduct a detailed census.

18. Invite and encourage UN monitoring, including by Arab nations in particular.

Is this dangerous work?  Absolutely.  Will Israeli man/womanpower requirements be substantial?  Sure.  More Israelis fighting for their country will be lost, but tens of thousands of Palestinian civilian lives will be spared – and the greater community will one day soon be safer for everyone on both sides of the conflict.  …So, you think it sounds too good to be true?  Ask yourself what obliterating the place is accomplishing.

Not incidentally, there will be extensive world political and financial support because a police initiative, instead of military action makes more sense – and is the more intelligent, the good, and right thing to do.

Understandably, the people and government of Israel have had it.  That human emotion and politics press for a hurried resolution.  But they need to be smarter than that.  The Israeli government needs to exercise, and even learn to appreciate the power of patience, particularly in the face of frustration.  The goal of ending Hamas is still a valid one.  It’s just an objective that is accomplished more efficiently over time through a more humane and wiser initiative.