Sunday, January 4, 2009

Siege of Gaza

After five months of a cease fire in which Hamas fired no rockets into Israel from Gaza, Israel invaded and killed 6 militants and then proclaimed that they didn’t think that constituted a breach of the cease fire. Since the Palestinian militants didn’t quite agree that their compatriots could be killed without repercussions, they resumed their crude rocket attacks. Crude because they have no way to accurately aim them and only cause damage when they are lucky.

This led to a tightening of the siege of Gaza by Israel; one that began when Hamas won Palestinian elections nearly two years ago. There were two good reasons why Hamas won: 1. Fatah was hopelessly corrupt whereas Hamas was noted for its honesty, efficiency and fairness, 2. Fatah’s attempts to negotiate a fair peace deal with Israel had achieved exactly nothing.

To Israel and the US, its strongest backer diplomatically and financially, democracy is only acceptable when the electorate chooses leaders to their liking, so they began to try to destroy Hamas. The thinking goes that the Palestinians will eventually vote in someone else more pliable to Israel’s demands if Israel makes their life difficult. The fact that repression and humiliation and siege have never succeeded in bending the Arabs to their will has never been a deterrent to Israel’s need to act tough and take revenge.

Now Israel is churning up a bloodbath ostensibly to defeat Hamas once and for all and concurrently turn the people against Hamas for causing all the death and destruction that’s being wreaked upon them. This sounds to me a lot like the war against Lebanon in 2006 where Israel was going to get its two captured soldiers back and Hezbollah was going to be crushed once and for all. The result? Hezbollah was strengthened and 1000 innocent Lebanese civilians were killed along with billions of dollars worth of civilian infrastructure destroyed. Once Israel launched a ground invasion, they began to lose soldiers so fast they turned tail and ran.

Israel is like a broken record; no matter how many times its violent reactions have not worked to bring the Palestinian people to their knees, it’s the only trick they have up their sleeve. A recent poll reported on BBC had 67% of Israelis supporting the attack on Gaza, but only 44% thinking it would do any good. In other words, nearly a quarter of Israelis are in favor of killing Palestinians and destroying infrastructure for no good reason: blood lust seems to be the only motivation. We have to do something, they say, but that never seems to include negotiating a fair peace.

The idea that Palestinian militants will cease their rocket fire into Israel because they see the great destruction wrought by Israel and feel sorry for what they have done is pure delusion and nonsense. The militants, along with every Islamic radical in the world, couldn’t be happier about Israel’s disproportionate reaction. Bin Laden is unquestionably thrilled, since he could ask for no better recruiting tool for his jihad. What more obvious way to display to the world Israel’s cruelty and ruthlessness?

We hear over and over again how Israel has a right to defend itself: very true, but the other side of the same coin is that every people has a right to resist military occupation, and do it by any means necessary. Israelis point to how they left Gaza to the Palestinians, but seem not to be aware that they control every access point on land, sea and air and as a matter of policy have been denying 1.5 million Gazans the essentials of life: food, medicine, fuel. Gazans regularly die from lack of medicine or from lack of fuel to provide electricity to life-necessary medical equipment. They also don’t have fuel to keep sewage treatment and water treatment plants functioning. Forty six percent of Gaza’s children are malnourished, stunting their physical and mental growth. Can you imagine anything much lower on the humanity scale than purposely denying adequate sustenance to innocent children?

Israel has boxed itself into a corner. They can’t bring themselves to make a fair peace deal because they can’t give up the idea of Jewish hegemony over historic Palestine. They adamantly refuse to consider compensation for Palestinian refugees while still demanding reparations for holocaust victims. As a nation they seem to lack a basic sense of fairness.

Israel is doing everything in its power to preclude the possibility of a two-state solution by continuing to expand the Jewish population of lands conquered from the Arabs in 1967; which by all standards is contrary to international law and morality. I happened to be in Israel in 1994 just as the Oslo Accords began to take effect. It was a time of heady optimism. There were then 125,000 Jews living on colonized land.

Digression: The term settlement is really not appropriate for what Israel is building in Palestine. The term congers up the image of a smallish number of people living on a frontier, whereas some West Bank “settlements” are lush, gleaming, modern cities of 30,000 people. It’s important to note that while the majority of Jewish settlers are religious zealots who are there to claim the land for Jews because God said it was theirs thousands of years ago, about 40% are economic migrants; that is, people who moved to the colonies because housing is subsidized by the state to encourage people to migrate there. Subsidized, I might add, by the US taxpayer, since Israel could not afford to be building there if not for the billions of aid given by America.

Between the time the Accords were signed in 1994 and 2000, when Israel made its final offer - one which was so unbalanced and unfair the Palestinians couldn’t possibly accept - the settler population had nearly doubled to 225,000. If the Jewish state actually wanted to make an honest peace deal, that’s the last thing they would’ve done. Now, only eight years on, that population is approaching 500,000. Once again a trampling of the potential for peace. Once again practically precluding a two state solution for Palestine/Israel.

The Arab population of the area is now about equal to the Jewish population, yet Israel cannot bring itself to give only 22% of the land to the Palestinians. Every day the Jewish population of the West Bank increases. The wall that Israel is ostensibly building for self-protection often encroaches on Arab land and is essentially confiscating another 6% of Palestinian territory.

The Jews of the West Bank – ok, a small minority – also delight in making life hell for neighboring Palestinians. B’Tselem, an Israeli peace group, has been trying to document abusive settler actions by handing out video cameras to Palestinians. One of the first videos to appear on Youtube showed three masked Jews clubbing a fifty-year-old Arab woman. Not long back I came across a picture on the net of a six-year-old Palestinian boy from Hebron beaten bloody by Jewish thugs. Only six-years-old yet he must pay the price for living on land coveted by crazed fundamentalist Jews. Hebron is the one place in the West Bank where Jews live among Arabs. There about 600 Jews, protected by about the same number of Israeli soldiers, live in the middle of 170,000 Arabs.

Not saying the Palestinians don’t do everything in their power to harm Israelis in their midst, but they at least have just cause on their side. To repeat: Every people has the right to oppose military occupation.

What exactly so riles Israel about Hamas that would lead the Jewish state to collectively punish 1.5 million Gazans? For one, they were supposed to renounce violence. Coming from Israel, one of the most violent countries in the world, a macabre joke. The occupied should be non-violent while the occupier invades, imprisons and murders at will? Nevertheless Hamas did propose a long term truce, which Israel rejected out of hand.

They were supposed to accept previous agreements. Every agreement Israel has made with the Palestinians has required it to cease settlement building, so to ask Hamas to accept accords which Israel has regularly broken is disingenuous.

Finally, the most complex problem is the insistence that Hamas recognize Israel’s right to exist. Hamas has stated its goal of destroying the Jewish state, however they are not talking about destroying the Jewish people, only the state. In an interview with a Hamas spokesman I heard on BBC (something I can’t imagine you’d ever hear on American media) he made that point clear by saying they recognized that the Jews of Palestine were there to stay. Just in practical terms, they have to know that removing the Jews would be impossible.

On the point of destroying Israel as it’s currently organized I wholeheartedly agree: There’s no room in the 21st century for a sectarian state where one group is singled out for special privilege and all others are relegated to second class citizenship. That would not be considered acceptable in any other place in the world.

Since Israel has made a two-state solution to the conflict impossible the only alternative is a single, strictly secular state with separate Jewish and Arab components where all citizens are treated equally and all have the right to live everywhere.

That is the pattern that was imposed on Bosnia after the conflict there and the pattern used by Belgium for a long time. Whatever good the state of Israel has done in the past for the Jewish people, it has long past worn out its raison d’etre.

Today it is a black mark on the name of the Jews, a thorn in the side of all Muslims and an embarrassment to all civilized nations.

There is no need for Jews to have a separate state that removes them from the progressive mainstream of humanity. Jews are valued and productive citizens in many countries around the world. With the exception of rare incidents, mostly provoked by the actions of Israel, Jews are safe from harm everywhere they live outside of Israel itself. Prejudice may be alive but only in small isolated and inconsequential pockets; discrimination is a relic of the past.

Israel, through its unbridled arrogance and disregard for simple truths of humanity, has made a fair and equitable two-state solution impossible. A one state solution is now the only alternative.

Not that I think that is any more likely than the goal of two states, but it’s really the only equitable, 21st century way to make a fair deal for everyone and needs to brought into the discussion.


Anonymous said...

Well written stan,beats the conventional media stance hands down.

YMedad said...

No rockets into Israel in th epast six months?

Well, first, let's see what happened until then: here and here and here. how's that for facts? your opinions, notwithstanding

Stan Kahn said...

I said Hamas hadn't fired any, there are other groups doing same. According to YMedad's references about forty were fired in the first five months of the cease-fire until Israel broke it by killing 6 Palestinians on Nov 4 (not mentioned in the official Israeli govt site). According to other references provided about 30 Palestinians per month were killed in the West bank.