Israel's Assault on Gaza, December-January 2008-2009
Israel's Gaza "incursion"--the New York Times
announced its official euphemism ten days into the bombings and several days into the ground invasion--is designed to "weaken" Hamas. This confuses morale with materiel. The turnout of Goliath's vast war machine against its trapped David is as counterproductive as Israel's assault on Lebanon two years ago. It satisfies--for a while--Israelis and their western supporters, whose news depicts one side, Jewish suffering. But in contrast to this temporary balm is the long-lasting motivation the assault on Gaza provides to Palestinians and the increased sympathy toward them it arouses in Arabs through the Arab media coverage, which instead of highlighting Israeli funerals and mourning, depicts the much larger-scale Gazan suffering, the families wiped out, the destroyed schools and government buildings and infrastructure--not to mention the gashes in housing blocks in what is said to be the most densely populated strip of land on the planet.
The death and destruction in Gaza, and "surgical" elimination of Hamas enclaves, may provide temporary psychological comfort to Israelis. But what about the motivaton for more resistence that all this provides? Though more sophisticated and better protected than they were, Hamas rockets are few and weak. But they make Israelis feel continually vulnerable and afraid. How long is bombing and invading Gaza going to make Israelis feel safer? Only until Hamas, like Hezbollah before it, gets back up to strength again. The Palestinians are one of many modern examples of how powerful a small determined resistance is and how useless a massive effort to repress it can be--how much the repression re-motivates the resistors and recruits new members.
In practical terms Israel's action therefore seems both foolish and short-sighted. But its other aims are short-term anyway: to make candidates look "tough" before Israeli elections, to remind the Arab world in general how well-armed Israel is, to strike a pose of urgency and strength for the incoming President Obama. Supposing, as now appears, even Israelis lose their stomach for the killing, and Hamas comes out as Hezbollah did, as the acknowledged victor, despite material losses? What good will that do the reputation for toughness, the knowledge that Israel is over-armed, and the image of hysteria presented to Obama? The belligerency will only make it harder for a new US administration to take steps toward an Israeli-Palestinian settlement.
It takes an enormous ignorance to regard Israel as the victim. But people who don't know the facts can believe anything. Average American viewers of mainstream media coverage are unaware of context and background. Where does one begin? 1948? The Balfour Declaration of 1917? The Israeli right would have us go to Moses and Abraham. What is clear about the current situation of Israel and the Palestinians is that since 1967 when Egypt attempted to subdue Israel and suffered a humiliating defeat, with Israel occupying permanently large tracts of surrounding land, Israel has continually squeezed Palestinians into smaller and smaller bits of Israeli-occupied land and cut them off further and further from their livelihoods. Prominent spokesmen about this who might be expected to be unbiased are Jimmy Carter, whose Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid
depicts the Israeli Bantustans, and Bishop Desmond Tutu,who has pursued the same long-standing comparison between Israel's treatment of the Palestinians and white South Africa's treatment of blacks under the apartheid system and has said more than once that the Israel situation is worse than apartheid. It took a long time for boycott and divestment to take hold as international strategies against South Africa's apartheid government. It is taking even longer for the injustices in Israel to be recognized where such recognition is most necessary, in America, because of Israel's very special status as America's protege and client and number one aid recipient, and because of the familial connection American Jews have with the population of Israel and its increasingly ironic role as a homeland offered to Jews as compensation for the Nazi Holocaust.
While Israel was a western European creation, Hamas and Hezbollah are largely Israeli creations.* They grew up to fill the security and governance weaknesses of the Lebanese and Palestinian secular rule, but even more urgently as ways to resist Israel after its war with Lebanon in 1982 and the massacres of Palestinians that it allowed. This is the legacy of violence: it creates the seeds of resistance, and hence more violence. Both Hazbollah and Hamas have wanted to talk to Israel. But there are reasons why it suits Israel to exist on a continual war footing. For one thing, it justifies the ongoing oppression, not to say ethnic cleansing, of the Palestinians. For another, it motivates the US to keep Israel the most heavily armed country in the Middle East, by far the most over-armed nation for its size in the world.
Violence isn't the answer. Of course the only hope is negotiation of a two-state settlement, but the "incursion" only puts that further off than it was already. Immediately, the urgent need is for international pressure to open up supply lines into Gaza, to start to rebuild, to bring in aid and end the humanitarian crisis, and to have international observers on hand to see that it gets done. Once again, as with the attack on Lebanon, the US has let it happen. Obama's failure to comment is not encouraging.
*See Rama G. Khouri's "Why Hamas (and Hizbullah) Will Be Difficult to Defeat" in Middle East Online
Sir Gerald Kaufman, veteran Labor MP, addressed
the House of Commons January 15, 2009 on Israel's actions in Gaza, concluding of the Israelis responsible for the siege, "They are not simply war criminals; they are fools."
George Galloway also gave an equally passionate speech
in Parliament condemning Israel and Britain's support, tracing the ultimate responsibility for the Palestinian tragedy to the English government: "This started in this building when Arthur Balfour on behalf of one people promised a second people the land which belonged to a third people. We are the authors of this tragedy. Everything has [followed from] that declaration [of 1917]." He called for immediate action by the British government to block the further arming of Israel.