Why did Israel attack Gaza?

I just read an interesting opinion piece (by UCLA professor Saree Makdisi) on what’s behind Israel’s attack on Gaza – in which 6,000 civilians were killed or injured, a third of them children. According to Makdisi:

Clearly, the aim of the bombardment of Gaza wasn’t to extirpate this population. But it was intended to pound them, and all other Palestinians, into submission, to make them give up their call for self-determination and justice. It was intended to extirpate them in a symbolic sense — a kind of politicide, to use the term coined by the Israeli sociologist Baruch Kimmerling.

Like it or not, Israel is doomed. Palestinian Muslims – both within and outside Israel’s borders – reproduce at a much higher rate than Jews (and even Christians). While Arabs now constitute less than 20% of Israel’s population, their higher birth rate means that they will become a majority in Israel between 2035 and 2048. Israel has failed to integrate its Palestinian citizens into the political and social life of the country and in many ways treats them as de facto second class citizens. That’s not surprising, given that Israel defines itself as a Jewish state, but it’s dangerous, because by further marginalizing its Palestinian population, it encourages it to self-identify more and more strongly with their repressed brethren in Gaza and Palestine.
If we assume that Israelis are not stupid (and I think there is no reason to assume that they are), then it has to be apparent to them that the real danger to the Israeli state is its growing Arab Muslim population and not the antics of Hamas. While, according to Israeli figures, about 35 people were killed in terrorist attacks in 2008 – only 4 or 5 of them died from Hamas’ mortars before the Israelis attacked Gaza. Only a handful more were injured. In other words, Israelis have more to fear from dog bites and lightning strikes than they do from Hamas rockets. So why go to war, and risk more Israelis dying, for the possibility of saving 5 lives a year?
Well, I think the only logical reason is that they want to intimidate the Palestinian population – both within and outside Israel – into submission. Really, this is not so different from the tactics used by the Argentinian junta and other repressive regimes throughout the world: take a few terrorist attacks as an excuse to terrorize the whole population. “First we’ll kill all the subversives. Then we’ll kill the collaborators. Then the sympathizers. Then the undecided. Finally, we’ll kill the indifferent” said a a high-ranking Argentine military man during the “dirty war”. Israel has taken the same tactic – only that it’s killing them all at once.
What the Israeli government is doing, is showing that it’d have no reservations about committing crimes against humanity if that, in any way whatsoever, behooves it. And that it will do so with complete impunity. Finally, it’s showing that the United States will stand by it, no matter how grave and disproportionate its actions are. Yes, it’s saying, Israel can do anything, including committing genocide (because that’s the silent threat which comes with killing & injuring hundreds of Palestinian civilians), without the world, and in particular the United States, batting an eye. And if they don’t bat it for the Palestinian population outside Israel’s borders, why would it care about the Palestinian population within its borders? It’s easy enough for the government to invent some threat from them to justify any repression – and nobody will care. So let them heed this message.

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