Gaza at War
By Israel Shamir http://www.payvand.com/news/09/jan/1032.html
Cold wintery evening in Tel Aviv, the evening of the ground invasion, a new step in the escalation of what may become a new big war. There were hundreds of demonstrators – many young people, a lot of families with children, all sorts of Israelis and Palestinians, under red banners calling to end the warfare in Gaza. In Jerusalem, deep fog all but covered the walls of the Old City.
But even deeper is the fog of war. It is too early to predict the future developments. We still do not know what the goals of the Israeli invasion are, and we do not know the strength of Palestinian resistance. Fighters decide the future now, not the pundits. The war may go on to confrontation with Iran; it may bring too long rule of Hosni Mubarak to an abrupt end, it may cause a new intifada, it may re-shape the Middle East.
First week of war did not bring much success to Israel. The attack began as a firestorm of fury, but its only “success” was a surprising bombing of a graduation ceremony at the Gaza police school with some three hundred casualties, mainly young graduates. Next time, they may bomb schools on September 1st with even "better" results. Besides, the Light-unto-Nations-people bombed the university and a few mosques, and killed a few babies as a late tribute to King Herod on the Innocent Martyrs Day. Certainly war crime, undoubtedly mass murder, but hardly the holocaust they promised.
The Israeli drag-queen of the Defence Minister Ehud Barak improved his ratings: 53 percent of Jews are satisfied with his performance (Gawd, they are easy to satisfy!) compared to just 34 percent about six months ago. “Polls now predict five additional Knesset seats for his Labor Party in the coming February general election. That's 40 Palestinian corpses per seat. No wonder Barak promises it's just the beginning: at this pace, it will take Labor just about two thousand additional corpses to go from rags to riches, from a dead political party to an absolute majority in parliament like in the good old days”, noted Ran ha-Cohen.
Barak’s roundish Pickwickesque figure has been marketed by his PR campaigners as Der Fuhrer (Ha-manhig) of his folk, “he is not nice, but he is a leader”. “He is not nice; he is murderer” – replied the demonstrators in Tel Aviv. Barak is quite unlikely fuhrer, with his feminine face, a perfect mate to the masculine butch Tsipi Livni who is being marketed as “another Fuhrer”. Our friend and Livni’s cousin Gilad Atzmon wrote of these gender-confused characters in charge of the Jewish state: “Both Livni and Barak have to provide the Israeli voter with some real exhibition of devastating carnage, so the Israelis can trust their leadership.”
Meanwhile they do not make much progress. Despite daily bombardments, the Gazans keep shooting back, improving their hits and their weapons, reaching as far as Beer Sheba. Moreover, they are not begging for unconditional ceasefire, and the Israeli wish-list of ceasefire conditions appear as hopeless as that they had vis-à-vis Hezbollah two years ago. The initiative remained firmly in the Hamas hands – until today.
The Gaza leadership made a daring if calculated risk when they refused to extend the lapsed ceasefire agreement unless the Jews lift the siege off the Strip and agree to observe it on the West Bank as well. These demands infuriated the petty fuhrers who were used to decide the questions of war and peace alone, and propelled them into action.
The Israeli government miscalculated: their action received justifiably hostile response all over the world. Some of the best pieces against Israeli aggression appeared in the Western mainstream: by Mark Steel and other writers of the Independent. With expected exception of President Bush’ administration, the West speaks and demonstrates against the invasion. For sure graffiti on a synagogue wall brings out more demonstrators than bombing of a mosque and killing of all worshippers, but still it is possible that the Jewish yoke over the Western public opinion may be broken in the result of this intervention. What is unexpected, is that Russian media, usually strongly pro-Jewish, speaks in one voice against Israeli aggression.
Now it is the time to demonstrate, to call for ostracism of Israel, for resignation of Mubarak, and it is the time to support the legitimate government of Gaza. Stay tuned.
Mark Steel: So what have the Palestinians got to complain about?http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/mark-steel/mark-steel-so-what-have-the-palestinians-got-to-complain-about-1218135.html
To portray this as a conflict between equals requires some imagination
Wednesday, 31 December 2008
When you read the statements from Israeli and US politicians, and try to match them with the pictures of devastation, there seems to be only one explanation. They must have one of those conditions, called something like "Visual Carnage Responsibility Back To Front Upside Down Massacre Disorder".
For example, Condoleezza Rice, having observed that more than 300 Gazans were dead, said: "We are deeply concerned about the escalating violence. We strongly condemn the attacks on Israel and hold Hamas responsible."
Someone should ask her to comment on teenage knife-crime, to see if she'd say: "I strongly condemn the people who've been stabbed, and until they abandon their practice of wandering around clutching their sides and bleeding, there is no hope for peace."
The Israeli government suffers terribly from this confusion. They probably have adverts on Israeli television in which a man falls off a ladder and screams, "Eeeeugh", then a voice says, "Have you caused an accident at work in the last 12 months?" and the bloke who pushed him gets £3,000.
The gap between the might of Israel's F-16 bombers and Apache helicopters, and the Palestinians' catapulty thing is so ridiculous that to try and portray the situation as between two equal sides requires the imagination of a children's story writer.
The reporter on News at Ten said the rockets "may be ineffective, but they ARE symbolic." So they might not have weapons but they have got symbolism, the canny brutes.
It's no wonder the Israeli Air Force had to demolish a few housing estates, otherwise Hamas might have tried to mock Israel through a performance of expressive dance.
The rockets may be unable to to kill on the scale of the Israeli Air Force, said one spokesman, but they are "intended to kill".
Maybe he went on: "And we have evidence that Hamas supporters have dreams, and that in these dreams bad things happen to Israeli citizens, they burst, or turn into cactus, or run through Woolworths naked, so it's not important whether it can happen, what matters is that they WANT it to happen, so we blew up their university."
Or there's the outrage that Hamas has been supported by Iran. Well that's just breaking the rules. Because say what you will about the Israelis, they get no arms supplies or funding or political support from a country that's more powerful than them, they just go their own way and make all their weapons in an arts and crafts workshop in Jerusalem.
But mostly the Israelis justify themselves with a disappointing lack of imagination, such as the line that they had to destroy an ambulance because Hamas cynically put their weapons inside ambulances.
They should be more creative, and say Hamas were planning to aim the flashing blue light at Israeli epileptics in an attempt to make them go into a fit, get dizzy and wander off into Syria where they would be captured.
But they prefer a direct approach, such as the statement from Ofer Schmerling, an Israeli Civil Defence official who said on al-Jazeera, "I shall play music and celebrate what the Israeli Air Force is doing."
Maybe they could turn it into a huge nationalfestival, with decorations and mince pies and shops playing "I Wish We Could Bomb Gaza Every Day".
In a similar tone Dov Weisglas, Ariel Sharon's chief of staff, referred to the siege of Gaza that preceded this bombing, a siege in which the Israelis prevented the population from receiving essential supplies of food, medicine, electricity and water, by saying, "We put them on a diet."
It's the arrogance of the East End gangster, so it wouldn't be out of character if the Israeli Prime Minister's press conference began: "Oh dear or dear. It looks like those Palestinians have had a little, er, accident. All their buildings have been knocked down – they want to be more careful, hee hee."
And almost certainly one of the reasons this is happening now is because the government wants to appear hard as it wants to win an election. Maybe with typical Israeli frankness they'll show a party political broadcast in which Ehud Olmert says, "This is why I think you should vote for me", then shows film of Gaza and yells: "Wa-hey, that bloke in the corner is on FIRE."
And Condoleezza Rice and her colleagues, and the specially appointed Middle East Peace Envoy, could then all shake their heads and say: "Disgraceful. The way he's flapping around like that could cause someone to have a nasty accident."
Johann Hari: The true story behind this war is not the one Israel is telling
Monday, 29 December 2008http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/johann-hari/johann-hari-the-true-story-behind-this-war-is-not-the-one-israel-is-telling-1214981.html
The world isn't just watching the Israeli government commit a crime in Gaza; we are watching it self-harm. This morning, and tomorrow morning, and every morning until this punishment beating ends, the young people of the Gaza Strip are going to be more filled with hate, and more determined to fight back, with stones or suicide vests or rockets. Israeli leaders have convinced themselves that the harder you beat the Palestinians, the softer they will become. But when this is over, the rage against Israelis will have hardened, and the same old compromises will still be waiting by the roadside of history, untended and unmade.
To understand how frightening it is to be a Gazan this morning, you need to have stood in that small slab of concrete by the Mediterranean and smelled the claustrophobia. The Gaza Strip is smaller than the Isle of Wight but it is crammed with 1.5 million people who can never leave. They live out their lives on top of each other, jobless and hungry, in vast, sagging tower blocks. From the top floor, you can often see the borders of their world: the Mediterranean, and Israeli barbed wire. When bombs begin to fall – as they are doing now with more deadly force than at any time since 1967 – there is nowhere to hide.
There will now be a war over the story of this war. The Israeli government says, "We withdrew from Gaza in 2005 and in return we got Hamas and Qassam rockets being rained on our cities. Sixteen civilians have been murdered. How many more are we supposed to sacrifice?" It is a plausible narrative, and there are shards of truth in it, but it is also filled with holes. If we want to understand the reality and really stop the rockets, we need to rewind a few years and view the run-up to this war dispassionately.
The Israeli government did indeed withdraw from the Gaza Strip in 2005 – in order to be able to intensify control of the West Bank. Ariel Sharon's senior adviser, Dov Weisglass, was unequivocal about this, explaining: "The disengagement [from Gaza] is actually formaldehyde. It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so that there will not be a political process with the Palestinians... this whole package that is called the Palestinian state has been removed from our agenda indefinitely."
Ordinary Palestinians were horrified by this, and by the fetid corruption of their own Fatah leaders, so they voted for Hamas. It certainly wouldn't have been my choice – an Islamist party is antithetical to all my convictions - but we have to be honest. It was a free and democratic election, and it was not a rejection of a two-state solution. The most detailed polling of Palestinians, by the University of Maryland, found that 72 per cent want a two-state solution on the 1967 borders, while fewer than 20 per cent want to reclaim the whole of historic Palestine. So, partly in response to this pressure, Hamas offered Israel a long, long ceasefire and a de facto acceptance of two states, if only Israel would return to its legal borders.
Rather than seize this opportunity and test Hamas's sincerity, the Israeli government reacted by punishing the entire civilian population. It announced that it was blockading the Gaza Strip in order to "pressure" its people to reverse the democratic process. The Israelis surrounded the Strip and refused to let anyone or anything out. They let in a small trickle of food, fuel and medicine – but not enough for survival. Weisglass quipped that the Gazans were being "put on a diet". According to Oxfam, only 137 trucks of food were allowed into Gaza last month to feed 1.5 million people. The United Nations says poverty has reached an "unprecedented level." When I was last in besieged Gaza, I saw hospitals turning away the sick because their machinery and medicine was running out. I met hungry children stumbling around the streets, scavenging for food.
It was in this context – under a collective punishment designed to topple a democracy – that some forces within Gaza did something immoral: they fired Qassam rockets indiscriminately at Israeli cities. These rockets have killed 16 Israeli citizens. This is abhorrent: targeting civilians is always murder. But it is hypocritical for the Israeli government to claim now to speak out for the safety of civilians when it has been terrorising civilians as a matter of state policy.
The American and European governments are responding with a lop-sidedness that ignores these realities. They say that Israel cannot be expected to negotiate while under rocket fire, but they demand that the Palestinians do so under siege in Gaza and violent military occupation in the West Bank.
Before it falls down the memory hole, we should remember that last week, Hamas offered a ceasefire in return for basic and achievable compromises. Don't take my word for it. According to the Israeli press, Yuval Diskin, the current head of the Israeli security service Shin Bet, "told the Israeli cabinet [on 23 December] that Hamas is interested in continuing the truce, but wants to improve its terms." Diskin explained that Hamas was requesting two things: an end to the blockade, and an Israeli ceasefire on the West Bank. The cabinet – high with election fever and eager to appear tough – rejected these terms.
The core of the situation has been starkly laid out by Ephraim Halevy, the former head of Mossad. He says that while Hamas militants – like much of the Israeli right-wing – dream of driving their opponents away, "they have recognised this ideological goal is not attainable and will not be in the foreseeable future." Instead, "they are ready and willing to see the establishment of a Palestinian state in the temporary borders of 1967." They are aware that this means they "will have to adopt a path that could lead them far from their original goals" – and towards a long-term peace based on compromise.
The rejectionists on both sides – from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran to Bibi Netanyahu of Israel – would then be marginalised. It is the only path that could yet end in peace but it is the Israeli government that refuses to choose it. Halevy explains: "Israel, for reasons of its own, did not want to turn the ceasefire into the start of a diplomatic process with Hamas."
Why would Israel act this way? The Israeli government wants peace, but only one imposed on its own terms, based on the acceptance of defeat by the Palestinians. It means the Israelis can keep the slabs of the West Bank on "their" side of the wall. It means they keep the largest settlements and control the water supply. And it means a divided Palestine, with responsibility for Gaza hived off to Egypt, and the broken-up West Bank standing alone. Negotiations threaten this vision: they would require Israel to give up more than it wants to. But an imposed peace will be no peace at all: it will not stop the rockets or the rage. For real safety, Israel will have to talk to the people it is blockading and bombing today, and compromise with them.
The sound of Gaza burning should be drowned out by the words of the Israeli writer Larry Derfner. He says: "Israel's war with Gaza has to be the most one-sided on earth... If the point is to end it, or at least begin to end it, the ball is not in Hamas's court – it is in ours."