Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Battle of Gaza : Stirring New Dilemmas



by Raphael Israeli




When a country decides to go to battle , it is usually in order to resolve, once and for all, issues that she was unable to settle by diplomacy, reflecting on the old adage that war is the continuation of diplomacy. So, after years of regular shelling of Israeli villages from Gaza, and thousands of Palestinian bombs, shells and missiles which landed on its citizens and caused substantial  human, emotional and material damage,  did the Israeli government,  propelled by the upcoming elections in Israel, finally decide to venture into this long-awaited operation which the Israeli electorate widely supported.


            The operation, in addition to the immense human sacrifice its occasioned, mainly caused by the  Hamas strategy of using its own population as human shields,  without any regard for schools, hospitals and mosques, and assured that Israel  either would not  dare to assault those places, or they would bear the blame for attacking civilians and humanitarian and holy places, showed the ultimate primacy of “strategic “ considerations, over the human cost they entail. Backed by HIzbollah in Lebanon, which embraced the same tactics in 2006, and supported by Iran, which had  triggered both confrontations,  these Islamic  movements have in fact set themselves apart from  civilized conduct.


            The Gaza battle, far from  deciding the war and the further  management of the Islamo-Jewish, the Arab-Israeli and the Palestinian-Israeli rift, has on the contrary  complicated it by altering fundamentally  those basic equations which have hitherto been taken as permanent truisms: The  57- member Muslim world, which had always regarded the existence of Israel as an affront to it, has split into two rival parties in Gaza – the supposedly “moderate” who opposed the Hamas, due to the dangers it poses to their own regimes, and the vitriolically “extremist”, who would battle to the finish against Israel and much of the world;  the Arab world, as it is encompassed by the Arab League, has never been so divided and so chaotic, as reflected in the two parallel, and rivaling Arab Summits that took place in Kuwait and Doha;  the Palestinian front, has in fact two separate territories (the West Bank  and Gaza), and two separate governments (PLO and Hamas), rendering any negotiation with the Palestinians to seek any settlement, unfeasible.


Leading up to the Gaza Operation

The battle of Gaza did not grow in a vacuum, it is the fruit of the mindlessness of several  successive Israeli governments, beginning in 1993, who  foolishly, though innocently, believed that the Palestinians were ready for self-government, and that if they were accorded territory and economic development, peace would descent on earth. Both assumptions were proven erroneous, but the Israeli leaders who harnessed all their and their country’s future to that naïve assumption, were never decent enough to acknowledge in public their fatal mistakes and to move away from the  purview of the people which had elected them, but has awakened and changed course well before them, while they continue to lead him into the impasse, or  drifting uncontrollably into the abyss.


           The failure of the Oslo Accords (1993) has not only demonstrated that the Palestinians were as yet unprepared for agreement with Israel,  as evidenced by the Camp David  Conference of 2000  in which  they refused to sign the finality of the conflict even when Israel offered to withdraw for 97% of the territory; but that they are also unprepared for self-rule. They declared free elections in 2005, but when the Hamas was elected, they never accepted it in reality. When Hamas took over by force Gaza, it actually established its own hegemony there, against the wish of the President, Abu Mazen, whose rule, just like the rule of all other Arab dictators, lacks legitimacy, especially after his term of office expired officially (January 2009) and no new elections were set or agreed upon. In the meantime,  his rule in the West Bank, which in fact does not extend beyond Ramallah,  can be maintained only due to Israeli security  preponderance in the area which prevents the Hamas from taking over. In confrontations  between PLO and Hamas in Gaza, PLO people were murdered, jailed, humiliated and even thrown to their death from the high rise buildings in Gaza, recently built for slightly different purposes.

         After the failure of  the 2000- Camp David  Conference, but still entrenched  in the  illusions of Oslo, that by making further concessions to the Arabs, they might mellow and come to settlements with Israel, Israel adopted a series of unilateral withdrawals, first  from Lebanon (2000), which allowed the HIzbullah to build up in preparation for 2006, and then from Gaza (2005), which allowed the Hamas takeover and the creation or a forward Iranian base, sponsored by the victorious HIzbullah and under its guidance and tutorship. Oslo was a dead corpse by then, but those defeatist governments of Israel continued to claim that they were negotiating a settlement with the Palestinians. Which ones? Not those who held the effective rule in Gaza and showered on Israel 7000 missiles since  the latter erroneously and naively ceded territory to them, and  continued to deny to  Israel the right to exist and to terrorize its citizens;  but those who had no actual power, but continued nonetheless to demand that Jerusalem be divided, and that the Palestinians be accorded the right of return, namely to inundate Israel with enough Palestinians to drown it.


            The Israeli elections of February 10, 2009 broke that deadlock, as the attraction  of the right kept mounting among the electorate, and as the Egyptians, the Saudis and  the Jordanians, who had much to fear for their flimsy governments which lack legitimacy, were pushed into a coalition of convenience with the Israelis, in the face of the immense, and growing, popularity of Ahmadinajad and  Nasrallah in the Arab street in general.  But once the date was set for those elections, the main parties in power, who  fear the loss  of the reins thereof,  suddenly “remembered” that Hamas, which had been smuggling through tunnels and  accumulating illegal weapons, prohibited under the Oslo Accords, in whose name they were operating,  and shelling Israel without reprieve in the past few years, was threatening the Israeli public who could no more  accept the repeated, but vain,  promises of the Israeli government that it would move “soon”, and that the move had become “inevitable”. Never had  the terms of “soon” and “inevitable” been so hollow. Until election was announced.


The Gaza Operation and its Aftermath

Hamas, learning from the HIzbullah experience, turned Gaza into a civilian trap; its children, journalists, foreign workers and  innocent citizens into its shield; the foreign institutions, mosques, schools and hospitals into  arms depots;  Gaza’s underground into  a complex  web of tunnels which began or ended inside houses; and innocent looking  apartment buildings into deadly booby-traps. The tragic death of so many non-involved civilians and the destruction of so many non-military targets, did not emanate from  the will of the Israeli army to devastate them, but from the  necessity to put an end to that rain of missiles which were  launched from those houses. Israel  set out to destroy  depots of illegally smuggled in weapons, of ammunition and missiles, and the launching pads of the missiles, and if they happened to have been placed, purposely, by the Hamas ,  in mosques, schools or apartment buildings, then those were hit and destroyed.


           Many media reports tried to evaluate the relative guilt on both sides of the divide by measuring the  tragic amount of devastation, coming to the conclusion that since many more Palestinian casualties lost their lives and much more Palestinian real estate was demolished, that meant that Israel was more guilty, acted “out of proportion”, and was even accused of genocide. It was as if after the German blitz on London and Coventry, the British would be blamed for flattening the city of  Dresden on Vallentine Day, 1945, killing more “innocent” citizens” and destroying more  real estate than did the Germans to   Britain. To kill more does not make one a culprit, and to be killed more does not make one innocent. The judgment has to be made by the volume of fire and by the intention of its shooters. When the Hamas pointed those 7000 missiles to Israel, they were intended to fall in the center of cities and towns, and to kill whomever was hit. Most fell in the open, by chance or failure, not by design, and when their targets were hit, they found the citizens, who had been trained by frequent alerts, in the shelters which were built and prepared to protect them.  That made the minimum of casualties and of damages.


               In Gaza, all the millions were invested in weapons, not one penny for shelters, no provision was made to alert people or warn them. Hence the inordinate  disproportion between the parties, not the evil of the one and the innocent victimhood of the other. Quite the contrary, those who claim innocence were guilty of a-priori sacrificing their civilian population, and those who are accused of wanton destruction, took all the necessary  precautions and risks of battling from house to house, instead of simply razing entire areas by artillery and air-force without taking any risk. A reporter of  Al-Arabiya  was caught on tape as telling her editors on the telephone  from the rooftop of the foreign correspondents building in Gaza that she saw a missile fired from the lower levels of the building. But her station only reported the denial of the foreign correspondents association to the effect that their building was hit by design of the Israelis. The same went for the UNRWA building.


               On the inter Arab front, all Arab countries duly fulfilled their duty of siding  with Gaza and harshly criticizing Israel, though many of them  in fact supported the defeat of the Hamas. Even Egypt, who did the most to show understanding to the Israeli operation,  because if successful, the Hamas would threaten the regime of Cairo by linking directly, or by example, with the Muslim Brothers of which it is one wing,  in public reproached to Israel its “arrogance” and “aggression” against the Palestinians. European media, as usual,  were impressed by the  body count and the intensity of the devastation, and made no attempt to reason about the meaning of “disproportion”. Should have Israel  launched 7000 missiles blindly into Gaza, for the “proportion” to be redressed? Then there would be no Gaza  to lament  about anymore.


            On the Islamic front, which also , predictably,  blamed Israel without investigating the root of the crisis, Turkey, which has been in the last decade a close ally of Israel, joined the  noisy cacophony of blind condemnation of Israel, without even attempting to inject any sense of balance into the picture. Israelis were shocked about that “crisis” in the previously “friendly” relations. It was convenient for them to forget, that since the elections of 2002, Turkey had fallen in the hands of Islamists, and that even their more important alliance with the US has known strain since. The Erdogan- Gul government did not move to downgrade the relations with Israel only because of the military who would not permit it. But as this government gathers popularity and years, it has been gradually putting its own men at the help of the supreme command of the army, to make sure that what happened in 1998 to their predecessor Necmettin Erbakan, who was removed from power and his party de-legitimized,  should not recur to them. In the meantime, they get more and more intimate with Iran, Syria, the Palestinians, an alliance not likely to improve Israel’s standing in their eyes.


          On the international front,  and in spite of the last  minute “defection” of Condoleeza Rice at the Security Council, and the intense hypocrisy evinced by Bernard Kouchner and his colleagues at the UN and in Europe, Israel did get a backing by the US and Europe  to stand fast and to deny Hamas both a recognition and a possibility to rebuild its power, by imposing an embargo on weapons  to Gaza. But at the same time, since they put an emphasis on “Humanitarian aid” to the Palestinians, they understand that concrete and iron  which are sent to Gaza for restoration, can and will be channeled by Hamas to building  fortifications; food sent  to civil population, will be confiscated by the gunmen there for their own use, as they have already done; fuel will be deviated for making weapons and other military uses. And therefore, under pressure to respond to “humanitarian needs” of the Palestinians, Israel will end up, once again, handing the Hamas the tools to build or to facilitate the smuggling of more weapons which will be directed against her.


        There is  much hypocrisy around regarding this Hamas “crisis”. When Israeli cities and towns were shelled for years, no one bothered to protest or to call for a security council  discussion. Far more serious than the  Gaza crisis has been the disaster of Darfour. But since that regards an Arab country, no Arab or Muslim regime , not even  civilized Europe which has been channeling billions to the Palestinians for years without seeing any positive  outcome , have raised their voices. IF those moneys had been invested in settling Palestinian refugees, instead of handing  them over to corrupt leaderships, something may have been achieved. The  current inadequate treatment of the problem by Israel, the Arabs and the West  prods us to safely predict that very soon we shall all be in square one again.


Raphael Israeli

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.


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