Cross-posted from the Colorado Progressive Jewish News.
Preface: This is the first of a series I hope to write on the current Israeli war on Gaza. There will be a follow-up piece specifically on U.S. policy. I also hope to be writing some stuff with dear friend and frequent collaborator, Imam Ibrahim Kazerooni.
Update: A few hours after I posted this a 12-hour ceasefire between Israel and the Gaza Palestinians was agreed to by both parties. Today is “El Quds” Day…the last Friday prayer of the Ramadan month of fasting. It might not mean much to North Americans and Europeans, but in the Muslim world, it is an important day. It means “Jerusalem Day”…and today the West Bank blew up in opposition and anger against the Israel war on Gaza, so much so that Mohammed Abbas and his Fatah group fear losing control of the situation, greatly complicating Israel’s position. It is also true, although essentially blacked out in the US, that the Secretary General of Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hassan Nasrallah, gave an important speech today in which he pledged support for the Gaza Palestinians. In the West Bank already at least seven have died, hundreds arrested. For Israel it now means that it is opposing Palestinians on two fronts, [possibly three] simultaneously – Gaza and the West Bank. It is more than likely that this deteriorating situation for Israel is behind the call for a 12-hour cease-fire. (Cheers, RJP.)
It goes on…now in its twentieth day…Israel’s punishing military offensive against Gaza. Although it might happen – these conflicts have ended abruptly in the past – at the moment there is no ceasefire in site. The asymmetrical blow-for-blow continues. As many have pointed out, it is not a war, but an Israeli premeditated killing spree of Palestinian civilians. Nor is this the first time. Each day the casualty numbers mount. The published statistics are at best only “guestimates” with the real figures being significantly higher. How many more Palestinian civilians will be pulled from the rubble in the months after the fighting stops? How many bodies will never be found?
At last count this morning (Sunday, July 27, 2014) more than a thousand Palestinians have been killed and thousands more wounded. Now massacres on the scale of Deir Yassin are being reported, as in Khuza’a, on Gaza’s border with Israel where civilians are being summarily executed. Essentially all of Gaza has become “a military target,” from boys playing soccer on the beach, the Palestinian families breaking their Ramadan fast in the evening. Gaza, its infrastructure already seriously damaged by the Israeli attacks of 2008 and 2012, looks like the Warsaw Ghetto after the uprising there was finally crushed – a smoldering heap; no infrastructure whatsoever left. If Israel has been “careful” it has been to destroy what is left of standing buildings, hospitals, schools, United Nations headquarters.
For its part Israel claims some 40 killed but the rocket fire from Gaza has added a new element into the equation: creating fear in Israel. The rockets themselves have done little physical damage, but they have created a new psychological tension in Israel. They appear to be mostly a homemade variety with some added booster capacity that permits them to fly deeper into Israeli territory. Several have landed close to Tel Aviv Airport and earlier in the fighting there were reports of rockets reaching Dimona, Israel’s nuclear weapon manufacturing plant.
The Obama Administration’s initiatives to achieve a ceasefire, crafted entirely in Israel, have produced no results, in large measure because neither Israel nor Washington is willing to talk to the Palestinians on the ground in Gaza involved in the fighting. John Kerry is coming off each day as a more pathetic and frustrated figure as he ferries back and forth between Israel and Egypt, occasionally talking to Mohammed Abbas in Ramallah who frankly, has virtually no influence over the events in Gaza. Very few voices are calling on Kerry – and the Israelis – to do the obvious: negotiate directly with the Gaza Palestinians for a ceasefire.
Regardless, if Israel “wins” this round militarily it has already lost politically and morally. This has become something of an Israeli tradition, winning militarily and losing politically and ethically and they are at it once again. Lebanon 1982, Lebanon 2006 (actually one can argue that in this case Israel did not even win militarily), Gaza 2008, 2012, all follow this pattern. For its current Gaza assault, Israel will pay dearly; this military offensive that had no strategic goal whatsoever other than to punish the population of Gaza and to “teach the Palestinians a lesson.” It is not in Israeli lives lost or the human suffering that I speak, but in its legitimacy as a nation in the international community. If the media in the United States has given the conflict its usual one-sided pro-Israeli slant, in the rest of the world, Israel’s name is “mud.”
Besides its savagely cruel, viciously racist quality, this IDF attack on Gaza has virtually no strategic value for Israeli security whatsoever. Some elements in the U.S. peace movement have proposed that Israel’s strategic goal is to weaken the growing Palestinian unity between Hamas and Fatah in the aftermath of their having signed a unity statement. Perhaps, but that unity remains fragile and is far from being a threat to Israel militarily or politically. I am not convinced that this is the major impetus for the current Israeli military campaign.
Rather, the political impetus is much more vulgar, less strategic. It is coming from the decades-long growing political influence of the Israeli religious and political right-wing (the Lieberman faction). It is concentrated in the settlements who did not want to limit the revenge for the killing of three Israeli settlement youth to the kidnapping and burning alive of a Palestinian youth (sanctioned by a settlement rabbi). This is a “revenge attack” pure and simple, the political goal of weakening an already weakened Palestinian unity is a secondary factor. Zbigniew Brzezinski, former U.S. National Security Advisor under Carter, a hawk if there ever was one, understands this and has openly criticized Israel’s war on Gaza as a “major strategic error” on Netanyahu’s part.
Moshe Feiglin, a Knesset member from Netanyahu’s ruling Likud Party, publicly called for the expulsion of all Palestinians from Gaza and their replacement with Jewish settlers, about as sparkling a call for ethnic cleansing as can be imagined. Not to be outdone, Rabbi Dov Lior, spiritual guide of the illegal settlement Kiryat Arba took matters a step further. In an article from the Israeli press (Haaretz) the ultra-Orthodox rabbi issued a religious ruling permitting the total destruction of Gaza if Israel’s military leaders deem it necessary. I believe that is called genocide. Yes, these are coming from the far-right of Israel’s political spectrum, but that element is growing and its demented vision resonates with a growing number of Israelis.
It is getting increasingly difficult for Washington and Tel Aviv to put makeup on this increasingly rotting corpse that is Israeli policy towards the Palestinians. One cannot bomb the Palestinian civilian population into smithereens and expect the world to accept the lame pretext that Israeli actions are “defensive.” A local Denver Jewish supporter of Israel (who supports the Gaza Offensive) was quoted as boasting that “the world stands with Israel” at this moment. Yes and no, mostly no.
True enough, the AIPAC-bought and paid-for U.S. Congress, the Obama Administration and the mainstream U.S. media generally support the IDF, but other than that, Israel – along with the Obama Administration – stands isolated and condemned throughout the world. Spontaneous demonstrations against the Gaza offensive are mounting worldwide from Chicago to Calcutta. They are becoming angrier and more militant with each passing day. Israel’s moral authority has, once again, collapsed; it has, in the past and only with the greatest of difficulties – and much help from Washington – been able to partially resurrect its image as “the Middle East’s only democracy.”
Worse, imagine that the Gaza Palestinians had the nerve not to turn the other cheek and die like flies. Using the meager means at their disposal, they fight back and continue to do so. That their teensey-weensey military capability has been able to survive at all, and in fact, give the IDF a bit of a bloody nose, suggests a certain maturity in Palestinian military organization and tactics. If the Israelis with their highly polished war machine and ruthless targeting of the civilian population can do untold damage to Gaza, it is not without themselves taking more punishment than they are used to.
The casualty rates of 100 (or is it 200 or 300 by now?) to 1 (Palestinians to Israelis) is typical of other wars against Third World peoples…Vietnam, El Salvador, Iraq. The rationale is not novel: make the aspirations for liberation too painful, the price too high to pay so that the colonized and oppressed people will cry “uncle.” I asked a colleague of mine at the University of Denver, an expert on Southeast Asia, recently gone to greener (and less corporately controlled) pastures, if the casualty figure of 3.5 million Vietnamese killed (versus some 56,000 Americans) was accurate. He suggested that the losses sustained by the Vietnamese were probably higher, in the 4-4.5 million range.
How different is that from what the Israelis, using American-made weapons with a green light from Washington D.C. and the American mainstream media cheering them on, are inflicting today on the Palestinians?
If a strategic goal is lacking, the current Israeli onslaught does have a tactical goal: it is to force the Gaza Palestinians to accept a ceasefire which maintains the pre-fighting status quo. The Gaza Palestinians are insisting on a ceasefire that will end the political deadlock on their situation in Gaza…i.e., open the borders to the free flow of people and goods, end the situation in which Gaza is no more than an open air concentration camp blocked and blockaded on all sides.
Are there any lessons to draw from this?
I think so. It all depends on whether those involved want to learn from experience and history or to continue with an ostrich approach.
The main lesson is very simple but clear: there can be no military solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Israel’s attempts to destroy the Palestinians militarily are a failure; this will continue to be the case. Every war Israel fights against the Palestinians will be bloodier, the outcomes less predictable for Israel both politically and militarily. For all their military might, Israel’s use of extreme force to break the will of the Palestinian people has failed and will continue to fail. It is a dead-end. For all the destruction wreaked upon Gaza, the Palestinian cause, battered and suffering as it appears, will emerge stronger from the ashes of Gaza than before. The status of those Palestinians engaged in confronting the IDF militarily will soar, both among the Palestinian people and throughout the region. While I do not doubt the demented sincerity of Moshe Feiglin and Rabbi Dov Lir to ethnically clean and/or exterminate the Palestinian people in Gaza, such fascist calls – because that is what they are – would, if implemented, spell Israel’s doom as a nation. To repeat: this line of thinking is a dead-end.
From the Palestinian perspective, let us be clear. Used as a defensive shield against Israeli military might, their resort to armed struggle makes sense. Those who call on the Palestinians to pacifist solutions, however sincere, ought to have their heads examined. Who are you, sitting in faraway places, to lecture the Palestinians – or any other people – on what tactics they should employ to win their freedom and independence? Thou lectureth too much.
That said, it is quite clear that the Palestinian use of armed struggle, armed self-defense has its limits. It will not by itself, it cannot by itself, lead to the creation of an independent Palestinian state. Put another way, the Palestinians cannot achieve their political goals uniquely militarily any more than Israel can, not in the foreseeable future, nor in the long run (from what I can tell).
So if neither side can achieve their goals militarily and if both can hurt the other party to one degree or another – the Israelis inflicting human and material damage, the Palestinians more and more inflicting psychological damage and more military damage on the IDF than in the past – what are the options open to resolving the crisis?
This crisis can only be resolved politically, through negotiations. There will be no military solution. Period. Of course Israel – and its U.S. supporters – are attached at the hip with military solutions. Rather than understanding how their cause of assuring Israeli security has been damaged by the Gaza events, many of them are arguing a la Feiglin and Dor Lin for an even more savage use of force…if only the IDF had hit Gaza harder!…imagine.
I don’t know how to convince Israelis that such a line of thinking is a deadend, a road to nowhere and in the heat of battle the current polarization – the growth of ethnic hatred – will only intensify. But there are in Israel some people who are not as stupid and bigoted as Igor Lieberman and his fascist clique and they are beginning to have a more sober view of the situation. Too little too late? Perhaps.
I would like to put forth some suggestions, now in the heat of battle, to resolve the crisis, both short and long-term.
1. It must start off by an acknowledgement – already upheld by international law – that Israel is an occupying power and has conducted a military occupation of Palestinian territories (the West Bank, Gaza, E. Jerusalem) now since 1967. The Palestinians are a colonized and occupied people. Israel is a colonial power.
2. Any settlement of this round of fighting must have as its goal an end to the occupation.
3. Concerning the current situation, there needs to be direct contacts between the IDF and the Palestinian fighters on the ground in Gaza to arrange a ceasefire. Serious negotiations take place between the key adversaries; not cherry-picked opponents.
4. There needs to be an immediate end to the land, sea and air blockade of the Gaza Strip; Gazans need to build a decent port and airport. Negotiations would of course include limits on the transfer of weapons.
5. A process of mutual de-militarization of the border between Gaza and Israel, in stages, should be implemented.
6. Prisoner exchanges, promised in the past, should be honored. New ones should be implemented.
7. The Palestinian Unity Government should be recognized by the entire world (through the U.N), free elections should in no way be impeded and the results should be respected, regardless of the outcome.
8. All of these steps could, within a specific timeframe determined by the parties to be reasonable, lead to an overall negotiated settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and an end to the Occupation. The negotiations should be based on 47 years of United Nations Security Council and General Assembly resolutions.
As Uri Avnery, Israeli long distance runner for peace puts it: “Let’s put an end to the war once and for all.”