Israel’s Real-World Flame War

Can you imagine anything more surreal than following a war on Twitter? Imagine, fiddling with your phone on your lunch break, perusing actual hashtagged death threats from representatives of Hamas and the IDF—in between all-caps proclamations from Kanye West and “Shit My Dad Says.”

If you don’t care for Twitter, the IDF is also liveblogging its latest war on Gaza on Tumblr, Pinterest, and Facebook.

Maybe that’s just how people declare war these days. But something about the latest violence in Gaza—which is, by all accounts, utterly senseless—seems uniquely suited to the vapid virality that is the stock-in-trade of these social media platforms.

I have no idea why Palestinian militants continue to fire rockets into southern Israel, except perhaps that they lack the capacity to fire rockets at anything else. These rockets can only hit civilians, clearing away in the rubble a virtual red carpet for the IDF into Gaza. (“Who started it” is always a thorny question when all roads lead back to the Israeli occupation, but my colleague Phyllis Bennis notes that the exchanges of fire began when militants fired on Israeli military vehicles “inside the supposedly not-occupied Gaza Strip.” She adds, “Unlike the illegal Palestinian rockets fired against civilian targets inside Israel, using force to resist an illegal military force in the context of a belligerent military occupation is lawful under international law.”)

Whatever the case, with hundreds of rockets flying into civilian-populated regions of southern Israel, no one would begrudge the Israelis their right of self defense. While these rocket attacks are often little more than hapless gunplay, they do exact a human toll—three Israeli civilians were killed Thursday morning.

But that is where the clarity ends. Israel inaugurated its latest assault on Gaza by assassinating the very Hamas military leader with whom they had been negotiating a ceasefire, virtually guaranteeing that more violence would follow. When you’ve just killed your negotiating partner, after all, who’s going to take his place at the table?

The Israelis took great pains to show how targeted and carefully monitored their attack on Ahmed Jaabari was—the whole operation was essentially liveblogged and tweeted, and a video of the so-called “pinpoint strike” on Jaabari’s moving car was distributed to media only hours after it happened. Of course, if the IDF can exercise the appropriate care to liveblog a strike on a moving vehicle, then how to explain the fact that they are also firing on random houses and killing infants? At least 15 Palestinians—more than half of them civilians—have been killed as of this writing.

Next came reports of the pamphlets dropped over Gaza, warning residents to “take responsibility for yourselves and avoid being present in the vicinity of Hamas operatives and facilities.” The IDF Twitter account lauded this ostensible attempt “to minimize civilian casualties in Gaza.” Right. Don’t be near the wrong guy. In one of the most densely populated enclaves in the world.

Then came the reports that the Israeli Defense Minister was calling up 30,000 reservists for a potential ground invasion. And the reports that Israel could shut down all telecommunications in Gaza.

It would be a real shame to shut down the Internet in Gaza. Because this kind of meaningless flame war belongs on Twitter—not in the real world.