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Hack - 2012 November 19



SOPHIE MCNEILL

In a moment, we will bringing you the latest from Gaza. Julie Holman has been speaking to people from both sides of the conflict, inside Gaza itself, and two Israelis. But first I am going to bring you an interview that I did with Daniel Levy. He's the director of the Middle East Program at the European Council on Foreign Relations. He used to work as an advisor to the Israeli Prime Minister's Office and has been part of official delegations during peace talks with the Palestinians. 


I asked Daniel how significant President Obama's comments were today that it is preferable for the Israelis to avoid a ground invasion of Gaza. 


DANIEL LEVY

I think that message has probably been conveyed even more directly in private. But Sophie, it's important to understand that the Israeli Prime Minister himself may be talking the talk about a ground invasion, but he probably does not prefer that option. Because a ground invasion is incredibly risky. 

He knows that you can get stuck in a quagmire that is Gaza. It happened four years ago. He does not want commissions of inquiry, whether local or international at the UN as a result of this. And he's got an election campaign. 

And I think what he wants is to be able to end this relatively quickly and to be able to claim a win. 


SOPHIE MCNEILL

Do the Israelis need a ground invasion? They have so much air power and Gaza is pretty much holed in. Is it quite easy to wage a successful war on the Strip when you're just using navy tanks, sorry, navy ships from off the coast and F-16s from the sky. Do you even need to consider the possibility of a ground invasion. 


DANIEL LEVY

Well, exactly. I mean, what's important for people to be aware of is that Israel, even before this strike, has controlled Gaza's territorial waters, controls the air over Gaza, so, of course there are things that you can do on the ground. There's a precision of intervention. There's an extent of intervention that you can't always achieve by air. But the law of diminishing returns definitely applies to a ground invasion. Which is why I think that the Israeli talk of a ground invasion is more about psychological warfare, more trying to convince the other side to do what Israel is trying to push.

There is a problem though. Which is by initiating this, he's essentially bought a lottery ticket, as the Israeli Prime Minister. Because on either side, now, if there's a major loss of life - and there was a terrible civilian death toll on the Palestinian side on Sunday - if that continues then it will escalate further and Israel will find itself in a ground invasion with a terrible bloody price, with potentially significant regional spillover. 


SOPHIE MCNEILL

The Israelis keep saying that we've had no choice and that we've tried everything, but the rockets keep coming. Is that true? Have they tried everything. 


DANIEL LEVY

It would be fair to say that they haven't tried to stop occupying the Palestinians and to let them have their own state and full rights. Or to annex the Palestinians and say we'll all somehow share a democratic state. 


SOPHIE MCNEILL

Daniel, Hamas exercises a very strict authoritarian rule of Gaza and many Palestinians in Gaza don't support Hamas politically. Is the danger of an escalation like this that it will just strengthen Hamas' support and further radicalise Palestinians because they're so angry at the bombing that they've had over the last four days by Israel?


DANIEL LEVY

I think that's very likely to be the case, Sophie. Hamas does not control everything in Gaza. There are other factions who tend to launch more rockets than Hamas and who Hamas has to bring into line when it wants to calm things down. But I think the effect of the occupation is to strengthen more radical positions. The immediate effect of this, as you say, is that people tend to become more extreme on all sides.


SOPHIE MCNEILL

Daniel, you talk about Israel needing to dramatically change its tactics or it threatens its own existence. What do you mean by that?


DANIEL LEVY

 Israel lives in the Middle East and much as Israel has built walls between itself and its neighbours and fences, you cannot live in, as many have called it, a ghetto. You are going to ultimately have to be accepted in that region to live in peace in that region. Because if you're condemned to live by the sword, if you can never live in peace with your neighbours, then eventually your neighbours, especially when they number in the hundreds of millions and your numbers are very tiny, eventually they will catch up with you technologically in terms of their ability to wage war. So, in Israel, that thinks it can survive indefinitely only by waging war, is probably a very bad bet for the Jewish people. And that's why I think many people are increasingly concerned, who care about Israel, and they look at it and they say, how on earth does this end well? How on earth do you come out of this.


SOPHIE MCNEILL

And that was Daniel Levy, who used to work as an advisor to the former Israeli PM Ehud Barak. And he's been part of official delegations during peace talks with the Palestinians. 

Which aren't happening at the moment, clearly. In the last few days of fighting, eighty people have been killed. Yes, eighty! And nearly all of the dead are in Gaza. That includes nine members of the same family, five of them children, who were killed just a few hours ago in an Israeli air strike. 

On the Israeli side of the border, three people have been killed since the fighting started four days ago. There are rumours that a cease-fire could be in the cards, but many still worry that Israel's leadership continues to talk about the possibility of a ground invasion in Gaza. 


Hack's Julie Holman has been speaking to both sides.


CLIP BEGINS

***Sound of bombs.***

JULIE HOLMAN

This is what it sounded like in Gaza for the last six days. These bombings have killed eighty Palestinians. Thirty-one died yesterday and there's been more than 700 injured. And it's keeping many of the 1.7 million citizens of Gaza awake all night. 


(Girl's voice)

Things are really really getting worse by every passing bombing.


JULIE HOLMAN

Rana Bekia is a 21-year-old student and blogger from Gaza. On a very scratchy phone line, with her phone battery about to die and no electricity to recharge, Rana told me she lives opposite the largest hospital in Gaza and that wounded people have been streaming in since the bombing began. 


(Girl's voice)

Life, as I said, is completely suspended. You can't sleep, you can't do anything. All you can do is just try to go on with you're doing, study, or do anything that might be able to distract you.


JULIE HOLMAN

Life in the Gaza Strip is much worse under the bombing raids. 


(Man's voice)

All my family, I have eight kids, and my wife and all of us stay in one home now.


JULIE HOLMAN

Rayed Al-atomneh is also from Gaza. He says no one in his family has been able to leave the house because it's too unsafe with the air strikes raining down. 


 (Man's voice)

If you come to Gaza, You see Gaza, it's like it's empty. I told you, it's not safe to go out and get food from outside.


JULIE HOLMAN

The Israelis are continuing their strike and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says they've attacked more than 1,000 targets. Through a translator, he says they're looking to ramp up their offensive. 


(Man's voice)

We are exacting a heavy price from Hamas and the terrorist organisations, and the Israel Defence Forces are preparing for a significant expansion of the operation. 


JULIE HOLMAN

The US President Barack Obama has warned Israel against a ground war, but he says Israel has the right to defend itself from the rockets that the militant group Hamas in Gaza is sending their way. 


BARACK OBAMA

There is no country on Earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders, so we are fully supportive of Israel's right to defend itself from missiles landing on people's homes. 


JULIE HOLMAN

His view is supported by Australia's Foreign Minister Bob Carr. 


BOB CARR

One must recognise that Israel, like any country in a position where rockets are raining down on civilian areas, has a right to defend itself. 


JULIE HOLMAN

Professor Stuart Rees is the chair of the Sydney Peace Foundation and was in Gaza a few months ago. 


STUART REES

Well, it's like going back in time. I mean a large part of the transport are donkey-driven carts. There is obvious poverty. The electricity supply is only intermittent, which means the sewage disposal could be equally intermittent. You're surrounded by battered and shattered buildings.


JULIE HOLMAN

He said the death toll of 80 dead Palestinians and three Israelis killed shows that Israel's response has been out of proportion with the threat it faces. 


STUART REES

The desire to punish the Gazans and to obliterate Hamas is what's behind the current violence. 


JULIE HOLMAN

And he believes there's no willingness from Western governments, or Israel, to recognise the difficulties faced by Gazan citizens. 


STUART REES

I was there in 2006, talked to Hamas officials. They didn't look to me like they had horns on. But if you cut people off constantly, if you demonise people constantly, then you give birth to extremism, you nurture extremism, and that's what we've done.


JULIE HOLMAN

Egyptian President Mohammad Morsi has met with the political leader of Hamas and is hosting peace talks with the United Nations to try to prevent the violence worsening. The Israelis are building up their military resources near the border, and they're not ruling our a ground offensive, which would mean Israeli soldiers going into Gaza. 


(Young man's voice)

Well, I hope the whole thing blows over in the next couple of days, if not sooner, and I don't have to go. I mean, I'd much rather spend my summer surfing, or whatever. But if duty calls, duty calls. 


JULIE HOLMAN

One of those soldiers could be Josh Dishon. The 23-year-old from Melbourne, who's also an Israeli citizen, has recently returned from compulsory military service with the Israeli Defence Forces. But he says, if his unit was called up, he'd be back to help. 


JOSH DISHON

These are some of my very best friends, that I've been through a lot with, and they're going into, you know, a very dangerous environment. And I don't feel right sitting here, you know, in summer, it's uni holidays, you know, going and sitting on the beach and going to parties and stuff, while they're out there risking their lives. 


JULIE HOLMAN

He says as well as a duty to his mates, he also feels a duty to protect Israel. 


JOSH DISHON

If Hamas had the capability to be more accurate and more deadly, they would. 100 percent. And there would be a much higher death toll on the Israeli side than there is now. In a sense, it's a kill or be killed. 


JULIE HOLMAN

How would you feel if you did go over there, if your unit was called up, and there was a ground war and you were sent in, with your orders be to neutralise the enemy and that might involve killing innocent people from Gaza. 


JOSH DISHON

I can't even explain how horrific and tragic and terrible the situation is, and the whole concept of war. At the same time, people's lives are on the line. It's a lot harder than a question like that.