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“That’ll larn’em!!” The Demented Logic of Violence


They have to learn! Such is the motto of the practitioners of violent corporal punishment. Such also seems to be at least part of the demented logic of much of the current violence in Palestine/Israel. Through the haze of bloodshot eyes, the retaliatory attacks are, at a certain primitive level, felt to be educational. But the attacks are also sometimes defended as being directed against military targets of a sort and not just against civilians – through the half-formulated idea that it might actually be possible to search every garage and laundry basket and find every last Qassam and every last spare part which can be made into a Qassam.

But does either of these ideas – reform of behavior through fear of more punishment or reduction to impotency by the confiscation or destruction of weapons – hold much promise of success? Not much, I argue.

Let us consider, first of all, the tactic aimed at reforming the behavior of the targeted population who, in this case, are ostensibly the launchers of those Qassam rockets which have been landing and exploding, somewhat erratically but with deadly intent, in Israel over the past few years. What is the appropriate strategy to get the rocket-launchers to stop launching rockets? In order to figure out how to get them to stop, perhaps we might as a first step profitably speculate on what may have motivated them to start in the first place.

For this task, I have the handicap of not having and not being likely ever to have the opportunity of interviewing anyone actually engaged in building and flying Qassams. I strongly suspect, however, that some if not most of them could easily have had relatives who were held up for hours and hours by Israeli security forces at what are euphemistically termed check-points on the way to the hospital. Some may have even personally lived through the exquisitely frustrating anguish of watching a spouse, a child or an elderly parent actually die before getting through to treatment that might have saved their life. Others may have children, nephews or nieces who were killed by a rocket aimed from an Israeli helicopter at one of the supposed Palestinian leaders of whatever persuasion, or they may have an aunt whose house was deliberately bull-dozed one day with the occupants still in it by an Israeli bull-dozer. Such may be the background of many of the Qassam-makers and Qassam-flyers.

Question: If this is the sort of motivation behind the activities of the Qassam-rocketeers, how likely is it that a massively punitive attack will have much of a deterrent effect? Answer: Not much. The echo to "That’ll larn’em they cain’t do that!" muttered in Hebrew is "That’ll larn’em they cain’t do that!" growled back in Arabic.

Or, let’s suppose that the attack on Gaza is not punitive but actually strategic. In this case, the objective could be imagined to be to stop the continuing rain of Qassams by finding every last garage and kitchen where they are being assembled. This is an entirely understandable wish but unfortunately not a very realistic goal. First of all, the law of diminishing returns makes it increasingly difficult to find the last of the Qassam factories. Secondly, the massive and violent search required to find even 90% of the Qassams can only have the effect of converting more and more individuals, survivors of decimated families, to the cause and challenge of figuring out how to import Qassam parts, put them together and keep on flying them defiantly into Israel. There is not much use getting rid of all of the Qassams while motivating more and more people to get into the business of making them. If WWII POWs could tunnel out of German prisoner-of-war camps under the eyes of their captors, a certain percentage of the million and half Palestinians in Gaza will find a way to persist in goading the dragon. This may seem irrational, on the part of those Palestinians. But the irrationality of the Qassam-flyers does not make Israeli policy any less doomed to failure. A crazy Hatfield doth not make a sane McCoy. And vice-versa.

Meanwhile, yet another strand of demented logic can occasionally be heard screaming from the battlements. This is the idea that all Hamas has to do is to make peace and stop firing rockets at Israel. Then Israel will make peace too and go back to being nice. Well, okay, but isn’t one of the Israeli strategies precisely to decapitate Hamas by specifically trying to kill its leaders, e.g. with rockets fired from helicopters? The problem here is that, if you decapitate the leadership, who then is going to make peace and then get the rank and file to stop firing rockets? Especially when another Israeli strategy has been to destroy police stations and administrative buildings? No administrative structure, no administration. Try some day to give orders using a dead microphone when you’re all alone in a bombed-out basement! In the absence of credible instructions from credible authority figures, individual fighters will go on fighting to the bitter end – like the Japanese soldiers on Pacific Islands who never received the information that WWII was over. (Some of them went on fighting until they were finally captured in the 1960s, some two decades after the Japanese emperor had capitulated. They hadn’t been informed.)

We may conclude that, against the enraged Palestinians, neither the strategy of instilling fear of future punishment, nor incursions for the purpose of confiscating rocket parts, nor the decapitation of the current leadership and destruction of administrative structures will ever work. The three remaining solutions are:

1. genuine negotiation with interlocutors recognizing each other as moral equals with legitimate feelings and needs,

2. 200,000 Blue Helmets sent to disarm the IDF, Hamas, Hezbollah, all police forces and anyone else with a firearm, a tank, a jet plane or any kind of rocket or explosive or …

3. genocide.

Do we have a choice?

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