In the days and weeks and months and years after 9/11, when you questioned how the Bush Administration responded to the terrorist attacks by Al Qaeda, right-wing Republicans and liberal Democrats alike answered with a passive shrug. “Well,” they said, “we had to do something.”
Then you pressed about Bush’s specific responses—those somethings. Invading Afghanistan, which had nothing to do with 9/11. The USA-Patriot Act, which stripped away our rights and Congressmen didn’t bother to read. Guantánamo. Torture. Extraordinary rendition. Drones. Same reply: “We had to do something.”
Invading Iraq? Not that. Bush crossed his own line in the sand there.
Hamas’ violent incursion from the Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip into Israel—re-read the preceding prepositional phrase, for it encapsulates the insanity of the situation—was instantly described as Israel’s 9/11. Like the United States 22 years ago, Israel is not responding. It is reacting.
They (feel that they) have to do something. That (feeling) is understandable.
However, logic is supposed to kick in next. Israelis should ask themselves: Do they really have to do something?
Did we, following 9/11?
If so, if something must be done, there are many options. Must “doing something” include military force?
In 2007, at the height of the “war on terror,” Harvard convened a panel of experts in order to evaluate Bush’s post-9/11 actions. Participants were asked: “Are terrorists simply insane, barbaric, nihilistic, as others have theorized?” Obviously not. “Terrorists want three things, Harvard political science professor and terrorism specialist Louise Richardson said: “revenge, renown, and reaction.”
Richardson argued that “to assume that being tough on terrorism means being effective against it” is a mistake. Trying to defeat terrorists through military means, she said, allows them to achieve revenge, renown, and reaction—exactly what they want. “By declaring war on terrorism, we’re playing exactly into their hands. We’re conceding the very objective they are trying to achieve.” The war on terror killed nearly a million people and cost $8 trillion. What a waste! From Shanksville to Kabul to Baghdad to the Be’eri Kibbutz, neither terrorism as a tactic generally nor radical Islamist terrorism specifically has lost an inch of ground.
America’s number-one client state is repeating our error.
“There is a sense of helplessness, but we are all now trying to become proactive,” Aviram Meir, whose nephew was taken hostage by Hamas on October 7th, told an Israeli reporter. “We have to do something.”
A normal impulse.
A normal impulse that should be resisted.
“Human animals,” Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant called members of Hamas as he, rather animalistically himself, announced that he would cut off food and water to 2.3 million people, 99.9999% of whom had no involvement in the Hamas attacks. His choice of words, so dehumanizing and redundant, is ironic. Taking a pause to think before you respond to sensory input—the difference between acting and reacting—is not only a big evolutionary advantage that human beings have over other animals, but the essence of what it means to be a civilized person.
Gallant and other Israelis howling for quick vengeance ought to refer to the psychologist Viktor Frankl, best known for “Man’s Search for Meaning,” a classic book informed by three years at Auschwitz. “Between stimulus and response,” Frankl wrote, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
Gallant aside, even the animals we choose to keep near us have this trait. An animal suited for domestication, scientists say, does not panic when startled.
Hamas’ October 7th operation was meticulously researched and planned. It is not even slightly likely that Hamas leadership did not foresee the Israeli response that we are seeing: a brutal bombing campaign followed by a massive ground invasion determined to replace the Hamas government with a puppet regime. Rule one of strategy: when you find yourself following a predictable set of actions, your enemy is winning.
Perhaps Hamas, like the Iraqi resistance in Fallujah, has rigged Gaza with boobytraps. Maybe Sunni Hamas has a regional ex deus machina up its sleeve, like a game-changing promise from Shia Hezbollah open up a second front against Israel, and/or a commitment from Syria, which could point to Israeli bombing of its civilian airports as casi bellis. And/or Hamas is playing a long game, in which Israel’s Geneva Conventions-shattering bombings of schools and hospitals, targeting of Palestinian children and other forms of internationally-proscribed collective punishment erase the memory of the atrocities committed by Hamas and decisively turn the world against the Jewish state.
If I were sitting in an Israeli war room planning my nation’s next move, I’d be worried sick about these possibilities/probabilities.
I would argue: there’s no rush to invade Gaza. Vengeance is a dish best served cold or at least after time to think.
There are numerous other options.
Israel could turn the power back on, let food and water back in and beef up its lame security along its border with Gaza. It could treat the attacks as a police matter and demand that Hamas turn over suspects for prosecution. It could jumpstart negotiations to finalize a two-state solution, which everyone knows is the only viable long-term solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It could embrace the wisdom of Nelson Mandela, who understood that a cycle of violence would never end unless one side, the side in charge that happened to be the African National Congress after he was elected president, declared amnesty so the country could move past apartheid. And if it finally did—after careful consideration—decide to invade Gaza, it could so with full knowledge and understanding of what form of governance would follow Hamas.
Nothing is stupider than the blind urge to do something, anything, whatever, after an act of terror. Nothing leads to worse responses.
“We have to defend. We have to do something.” Those are the words of Maisa Khader, a 38-year-old chemist, in 2021. She was Palestinian, attending a pro-Hamas rally in Gaza. She was angry about Israel’s latest bombing blitz against the people of Gaza.
(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, co-hosts the left-vs-right DMZ America podcast with fellow cartoonist Scott Stantis. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)