Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
24 July, 2014
Gaza and Israel: The Road to War, Paved By the West
By Nathan Thrall
Gaza and the Beirut Invasion Scenario
By Abdulrahman Al-Rashed
Who Will Stop These Child Killers?
By Aijaz Zaka Syed
Netanyahu Needs Hamas, And Here's Why
By Chris Doyle
A War In Search Of A Ceasefire Mediator
By Yossi Mekelberg
Why Israel’s Media Pressuring Won’t Work
By Diana Moukalled
Why Sisi Cannot Let Egypt’s Gaza Deal Fail
By Lina Khatib
Hamas, the First Palestinian Army
By Shlomi Eldar
In Israel, Social Media Threatens Sacred Duty
By Daniel Ben Simon
Turkey-Based NATO Radar's Israel Protection In Question
By Burak Bekdil
Israel’s Dangerous Ignorance of Its Own History
By Jonathan Power
Massacre In Gaza: Can International Law Provide Justice For Palestinians?
By Richard Falk
Gaza and Israel: The Road to War, Paved by the West
By Nathan Thrall
AS Hamas fires rockets at Israeli cities and Israel follows up its extensive airstrikes with a ground operation in the Gaza Strip, the most immediate cause of this latest war has been ignored: Israel and much of the international community placed a prohibitive set of obstacles in the way of the Palestinian “national consensus” government that was formed in early June.
That government was created largely because of Hamas’s desperation and isolation. The group’s alliance with Syria and Iran was in shambles. Its affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt became a liability after a July 2013 coup replaced an ally, President Mohamed Morsi, with a bitter adversary, Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Hamas’s coffers dried up as General Sisi closed the tunnels that had brought to Gaza the goods and tax revenues on which it depended.
Seeing a region swept by popular protests against leaders who couldn’t provide for their citizens’ basic needs, Hamas opted to give up official control of Gaza rather than risk being overthrown. Despite having won the last elections, in 2006, Hamas decided to transfer formal authority to the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah. That decision led to a reconciliation agreement between Hamas and the Palestine Liberation Organization, on terms set almost entirely by the P.L.O. chairman and Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas.
Israel immediately sought to undermine the reconciliation agreement by preventing Hamas leaders and Gaza residents from obtaining the two most essential benefits of the deal: the payment of salaries to 43,000 civil servants who worked for the Hamas government and continue to administer Gaza under the new one, and the easing of the suffocating border closures imposed by Israel and Egypt that bar most Gazans’ passage to the outside world.
Yet, in many ways, the reconciliation government could have served Israel’s interests. It offered Hamas’s political adversaries a foothold in Gaza; it was formed without a single Hamas member; it retained the same Ramallah-based prime minister, deputy prime ministers, finance minister and foreign minister; and, most important, it pledged to comply with the three conditions for Western aid long demanded by America and its European allies: nonviolence, adherence to past agreements and recognition of Israel.
Israel strongly opposed American recognition of the new government, however, and sought to isolate it internationally, seeing any small step toward Palestinian unity as a threat. Israel’s security establishment objects to the strengthening of West Bank-Gaza ties, lest Hamas raise its head in the West Bank. And Israelis who oppose a two-state solution understand that a unified Palestinian leadership is a prerequisite for any lasting peace.
Still, despite its opposition to the reconciliation agreement, Israel continued to transfer the tax revenues it collects on the Palestinian Authority’s behalf, and to work closely with the new government, especially on security cooperation.
But the key issues of paying Gaza’s civil servants and opening the border with Egypt were left to fester. The new government’s ostensible supporters, especially the United States and Europe, could have pushed Egypt to ease border restrictions, thereby demonstrating to Gazans that Hamas rule had been the cause of their isolation and impoverishment. But they did not.
Instead, after Hamas transferred authority to a government of pro-Western technocrats, life in Gaza became worse.
Qatar had offered to pay Gaza’s 43,000 civil servants, and America and Europe could have helped facilitate that. But Washington warned that American law prohibited any entity delivering payment to even one of those employees — many thousands of whom are not members of Hamas but all of whom are considered by American law to have received material support from a terrorist organization.
When a United Nations envoy offered to resolve this crisis by delivering the salaries through the United Nations, so as to exclude all parties from legal liability, the Obama administration did not assist. Instead, it stood by as Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, called for the envoy’s expulsion on the grounds that he was “trying to funnel money” to Hamas.
Hamas is now seeking through violence what it couldn’t obtain through a peaceful handover of responsibilities. Israel is pursuing a return to the status quo ante, when Gaza had electricity for barely eight hours a day, water was undrinkable, sewage was dumped in the sea, fuel shortages caused sanitation plants to shut down and waste sometimes floated in the streets. Patients needing medical care couldn’t reach Egyptian hospitals, and Gazans paid $3,000 bribes for a chance to exit when Egypt chose to open the border crossing.
For many Gazans, and not just Hamas supporters, it’s worth risking more bombardment and now the ground incursion, for a chance to change that unacceptable status quo. A cease-fire that fails to resolve the salary crisis and open Gaza’s border with Egypt will not last. It is unsustainable for Gaza to remain cut off from the world and administered by employees working without pay. A more generous cease-fire, though politically difficult for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, would be more durable.
The current escalation in Gaza is a direct result of the choice by Israel and the West to obstruct the implementation of the April 2014 Palestinian reconciliation agreement. The road out of the crisis is a reversal of that policy.
Nathan Thrall is a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group covering Gaza, Israel, Jordan and the West Bank.
Gaza and the Beirut invasion scenario
By Abdulrahman al-Rashed
23 July 2014
A host of Israeli dailies have increasingly published calls for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to end the existence of Hamas, and not just suppress it. Those calling for a full scale invasion admit that the war will cost the Israelis a high price, but they say that the local public opinion is willing to accept those costs. Some see the battle as a rare opportunity, considering the Egyptians’ preoccupation with their own domestic affairs and their dispute with Hamas in general. Previously, Egypt played the role of the mediator and exerted pressure on the Israelis to prevent them from altering the status quo in Gaza. Late Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman used to open up tunnels, turn a blind eye to the smuggling of arms to Hamas and negotiate on behalf of Hamas leaders. The situation has changed a lot after Hamas sided with the Muslim Brotherhood against the government of Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi.
The most serious aspect of these calls for a complete invasion is uprooting Hamas from Gaza, like Israel did to the Palestinian Liberation Organization in 1982. Back then, Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon surprised the world when he sent his forces towards the Lebanese capital, Beirut, announcing he had one mission: eliminating Fatah and its leaders, mainly Yasser Arafat. He succeeded in eliminating the armed Palestinian presence in Israel’s surroundings, and Fatah’s leaders were exiled to Tunisia, Sudan and Yemen. Israel exiled Arafat from Lebanon to Tunisia and believed it had gotten rid of him. However, within the context of the Oslo Agreement, Arafat returned to Palestine itself, to Gaza and Ariha, along with tens of thousands of his fighters.
The Israelis are threatening a full invasion that aims to get rid of Hamas’ leaders and exile them, probably to Qatar and Iran in my view, within a context that leads towards totally lifting the siege. However, Israel knows that Hamas - despite its extremism and connection with hostile parties like Iran - may be the least dangerous to Israel when compared with salafist jihadist groups that may be linked to al-Qaeda. Over the past few years, Hamas has taken it upon itself to curb extremist powers in Gaza. It (Hamas) dared to destroy a mosque on top of their heads (the extremist groups) in Gaza, so who will play the role of the police that will control the front with Israel?
The miracle which this tragedy may achieve is reaching a political solution with Hamas itself - a solution that leads to lifting checkpoints and the boycott and to opening the port and allowing fishing, in addition to Hamas’ commitment to an agreement similar to that which the Palestinian Authority agreed on in the West Bank and to that which Hezbollah signed in southern Lebanon.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.
Who will stop these child killers?
By Aijaz Zaka Syed
23 July 2014
Editors face this dilemma in the newsroom almost on a daily basis. Every time there’s a slaughter of innocent which is like a daily occurrence these days, those in the news business face the predicament: To publish or not to publish?
I agree with many of my colleagues that some of these gory images of the carnage, this mindless bloodletting with bodies of children, youths in their prime and desperate men and women carrying their loved ones in their arms, are not most pleasant to look at the first thing in the morning.
In fact, given a choice that’s the last thing most of us would want to see when we pick up the newspaper in the morning.
We like to begin our day on a positive note, if we could help it. While we breakfast with our lovely families and see our pretty children get ready for the school, we are not really looking forward to such disturbing pictures of other people’s dead children.
Most journalists, media networks and their audiences around the world are understandably sick and tired of going on and on about the ‘Palestine problem.’ If many of them often suffer from what you would call the ‘coverage fatigue,’ you can’t really blame them.
How long can you go on publishing the same sad, depressing pictures and woefully familiar stories? As a colleague said the other day: “What’s new about the Palestinians getting killed? They’ve been dying for the past 60-65 years, my friend!”
One of my bosses chided me for running the report about a family of 14 Palestinians — four of them children — getting killed in an Israeli raid on the front page. “We should have had some positive local stories on Page 1,” he emphasized.
I couldn’t argue with him because, as they say, the boss is always right — even when he isn’t.
I couldn’t tell him that there is not a more local story than this one. This is our own story, whoever we are and wherever we live. This is the story of the good versus evil and the truth versus falsehood.
This is our own struggle for justice, freedom and dignity. After all, what is it that the Palestinians are fighting for? They have been struggling for basics like liberty and right to live a life of dignity in their own country, in the land that they inherited from their ancestors.
These are things that you and I have always taken for granted. We take them for granted because we didn’t have to fight for them, cradle to the grave. We inherited these rights thanks to our good fortune of being born in a free country.
Why are the Palestinians dying all over again? They are dying because they want to live in dignity. They refuse to submit themselves to the tyranny and the disgrace of occupation.
Like you and me, they want nothing from life but to live in peace, security and dignity — in the comfort of their homes, with their loved ones. Like us, they want their children to get the best of education and grow up to enjoy a life better than their own.
But do they have a choice? They have to suffer the most ruthless and vile occupation regime the world has ever known because the world looks the other way. The blessed international community that leader writers and pundits keep telling us about is too powerless and self-serving to act.
What can the world community do anyway when the United Nations has even dispensed with the pretense of passing resolutions perfunctorily appealing the Israelis and Palestinians to “exercise restraint?”
Yes. In the hypocritical court of international justice both the oppressor and the oppressed are equal. But how are the victims supposed to exercise restraint? By not being in the way? But does it really matter?
In any case, what has the civilized world and its vaunted institutions dedicated to peace done so far to stop the world’s longest-running ethnic cleansing campaign?
Ban Ki-moon, the UN chief, has finally stirred out of his slumber after more than two weeks and more than 500 Palestinian casualties. And what’s the point of crying over the Western and US indifference. Has it made any difference? Ever?
But do we in the media have a choice? If this conflict has gone on for nearly 70 years now and the Palestinians continue to die like flies, should we stop reporting about it?
Should the media stop doing its job of telling the truth as it is for fear of offending the fine sensibilities of our sensitive readers? If we do not speak out against this ceaseless genocidal campaign against a helpless and defenseless people, who will? Especially if the Middle East media doesn’t take a stand on the issue, who will?
Just look at the obscenity of this conflict. More than 90 percent of the victims of this genocidal campaign, apparently to save Palestinians from ‘Hamas terrorism,’ have been civilians and an overwhelming number of them women and children.
After unleashing their craven terror on a besieged, helpless people, the brave Israelis are now running around pleading with their ever dependable friends in Egypt and elsewhere for a truce.
What has Israel achieved? What is its game? Who would dare raise these ques tions?
News agencies dutifully and dispassionately point out in a foot note that this round of the ‘hostilities between the Israelis and Palestinians’ has been the deadliest since Israel’s last invasion of Gaza.
That’s it. The media is done with its duty. So has the world, after issuing its regulation appeals for peace and cessation of hostilities. Yes, hostilities. Cheated out of their entire country and locked away in the choking prison that is Gaza, Palestinians are guilty of ‘hostilities.’ They are guilty of still existing.
Perhaps it’s futile to blame the world community. It has understandably grown weary of this endless bloodshed in the holy land.
But the killing machine that is Israel never stops. It continues to kill — kill and kill...until the Palestinians give up what little remains of their ancient land — or give up their right to live.
Those four children wiped out while playing on the Gaza beach would never know what their crime was. Ten-year old Nour Al-Najedy looks like an angel as she sleeps in peace, shrouded in white. She was killed when Israel hit Rafah refugee camp. Nearly the whole family was wiped out.
Twelve-year old Abdul Rahman Al-Batish hasn’t stopped crying since he lost his father and 17 other family members in the bombing of an apartment. “They think we are worth nothing. They are killers, and one day I will avenge my father,” ITV’s Middle East Correspondent reports him as saying. A photograph of Abdul Rahman, his shoulders slumped against a car, shows the moment when he discovered his father was among the dead. His pain-wrenched face has become one of the most powerful images of the Gaza conflict.
The six-month old Mohammed Bourai never knew what his crime was. He sleeps in peace as his young, silently-mourning father cradles him in his arms. What father can bear such a sight? And what kind of people are they who do this to children as young as this?
Is there no one who can stop these child killers? Where is the international community when we need it so badly? Whatever has happened to the world’s conscience? How long will it maintain its silence? Silence is crime. Silence is complicity. As the Prophet warned, those who see evil and do nothing about it also share the guilt. We are all guilty.
Aijaz Zaka Syed is a Gulf-based writer.
Netanyahu needs Hamas, and here's why
By Chris Doyle
23 July 2014
“Hamas is like ISIS, al-Qaeda, Hezbollah or Boko Haram” boomed the chest-thumping Benjamin Netanyahu. It seems the Israeli prime minister wants outsiders to believe that this should permit all manner of aggressive actions against this enemy even if it includes pummeling civilian targets inside Gaza. Yet whilst Hamas has committed atrocities (as has Israel), it is far from being al-Qaeda and Netanyahu knows it.
Despite the thousands of tons of Israeli (and most likely U.S.) bombs being dropped on Gaza once again and the endless Palestinian civilians and children in body bags, Israel even under Netanyahu has had a rich tradition of doing deals with Hamas. It has turned a blind eye to its rearming and even had a hand in encouraging its growth in its early years. Netanyahu himself agreed ceasefire terms with this group in 2012. He released 1,027 prisoners in a deal with its leadership in 2011, all approved by the Israeli cabinet.
This is nothing new. Hamas grew out of the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. Its growth was encouraged by Israel throughout the 1970s and 1980s as a counterweight to the Palestinian national movement in the form of the PLO. Their charitable activities were permitted and their work facilitated. There were rumors that Israel even helped fund it.
Many Israeli leaders, particularly from the Likud, have always been far more concerned about Palestinian nationalism than Hamas. Ariel Sharon was obsessed with Yasser Arafat for this reason, as the former PLO leader was possibly the only man who could deliver a Palestinian state and end Sharon’s dreams of settling in all of the West Bank. The then Israeli finance minister, Silvan Shalom, shared his view when he said in 2001, “Between Hamas and Arafat, I prefer Hamas.”
Hamas is Netanyahu’s get-out-clause. He knows he will never have to sign any peace deal nor accept a Palestinian state he openly opposes as long as Hamas is in power in Gaza. This is why I believe he had to destroy the April Fatah-Hamas unity deal, which, if he was interested in peace would have been welcomed. This is why he has never done a deal with President Abbas but instead undermines him by continually announcing settlement expansion and demolishing Palestinians homes.
Middle Eastern playbook
And this is the playbook adopted across the Middle East. Regimes are ensuring that they have unacceptable, violent and fanatical oppositions. Some say that the Syrian regime facilitated this by releasing hard-line Islamists onto the streets. The secular regime could be delighted to see the rise of Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS. The pitch to his doubting Syrian population was: do you want Assad or these guys who blow you up, crucify people or flog them? In Iraq, Maliki is scaring his own Shiite heartlands in just the same way about ISIS. It is not a tactic unique to the region. The West built up communism and communists as the enemy of the age, and then repeated the trick with success with Muslims. Of course the U.S. also found Muslim fighters to be strategically useful in confronting the Soviet Union. Israel likewise portrays Hamas in such terms, confident that it can be counted on to be provoked into committing atrocities.
For years, Israel calmly watched as Hamas and other groups built up their missile arsenals underneath Gaza, using the tunnels under the Egyptian border. These tunnels, I believe, were large enough to allow a Hummer to drive through and numbered at their maximum some 2000. For a state seemingly so concerned about rockets and other weapons arriving in Gaza, Israel, far from tackling this, tacitly encouraged this armament process especially after Operation Cast Lead in 2009. It tightened the blockade, making the tunnel economy extremely profitable. Unable to import through the legal, verified and monitored means at the official crossing points, Palestinians had to import nearly all products via these tunnels. Even the fish in Gaza largely came via the tunnels, as fishermen were unable to go beyond three nautical miles as enforced by Israeli gunboats. Construction materials could only enter via the tunnels. And of course, so did all the weapons, including the long-range missiles that have been indiscriminately fired at Israeli civilians even to the outskirts of Haifa.
If Israel had at any time decided to open the official crossing points to imports, it would have taken all the financial benefits out of the tunnels, ended a massive income stream for Hamas which taxed every single product imported via the tunnels. Yet again the question remains: Why were Israeli ministers content for so long for Hamas and other groups to rearm? It was not as if there was a lack of international support for any effort to prevent Hamas disarming.
Israeli leaders are fully aware of recent history. It seems that every time they launch a military operation against Hamas, the latter ends up more popular. Hezbollah was also a beneficiary of Israeli aggression, not least in 2006. Is this accidental?
As in Syria and Iraq, Israeli and Palestinian peace camps have been squeezed by the more warlike parties and movements. Israel has arrested even deported peaceful non-violent activists such as Mubarak Awad. The simple reason, I feel, is that any pluralistic, peaceful, democratic opposition is a serious threat to any regime and any occupying power. A single elected Palestinian legitimate leadership would be a nightmare to those in Israel who want no peace deal. As long as this continues, the warmongers of the Israeli Right and Hamas will engage in their regular confrontations and ceasefire agreements, always checking their domestic backyard to ensure the wannabee peacemakers remain beleaguered and side-lined. This is symbiotic relationship where the Israeli far Right and Hamas feed off each other to stay in power is to the ultimate detriment of all Israelis and all Palestinians.
Chris Doyle is the director of CAABU (the London-based Council for Arab-British Understanding). He has worked with the Council since 1993 after graduating with a first class honors degree in Arabic and Islamic Studies at Exeter University. As the lead spokesperson for Caabu and as an acknowledged expert on the region, Chris is a frequent commentator on TV and Radio, having given over 148 interviews on the Arab world in in 2012 alone. He gives numerous talks around the country on issues such as the Arab Spring, Libya, Syria, Palestine, Iraq, Islamophobia and the Arabs in Britain. He has had numerous articles and letters published in the British and international media. He has travelled to nearly every country in the Middle East. He has organized and accompanied numerous British Parliamentary delegations to Arab countries. Most recently he took Parliamentary delegations to the West Bank in April, November, December 2013 and January 2014 including with former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.
A war in search of a ceasefire mediator
By Yossi Mekelberg
23 July 2014
The skies of Israel and Palestine are buzzing not only with fighter aircraft, rockets and drones, but also with airplanes carrying potential diplomatic mediators on board from near and afar. They are on a mission to broker a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas and bring this deadly bout of violence to a halt. For a brief moment last Tuesday, it seemed that an Egyptian proposal, reached without consulting Hamas, would end this current round of bloodshed, but it was rejected outright by Hamas.
This begs the question as to why an organisation, which is militarily visibly inferior and has been on the receiving end of sustained air, naval and artillery bombardments, would reject at least a temporary respite. The answer is at least twofold.
First, the entire assumption that in such an asymmetric conflict the party which seems weaker would accept unconditionally any terms of a ceasefire, is false. Secondly, the multiplicity of potential brokers with conflicting interests complicates and prolongs the war rather than hastens a truce to the fighting.
I believe that both sides abhorrently see harming civilians very cavalierly, as legitimate collateral damage on the route to achieving their political or security interests
The unfortunate consequence of this is that a ground invasion of Gaza by Israel, which seemed to be highly unlikely at the beginning of this military operations, became a deadly reality with dire consequences. Both sides recognise that an end to violence is in their best interest, but the agreement for that needs to meet at least the minimum requirements both sides’ and have the right timing. Both leaderships see themselves obliged to demonstrate to their societies that the sacrifices made in this conflict were worthwhile. The higher the death toll and destruction, the higher the demand for demonstrable political achievements. Though this formula does not necessarily work in reality.
Endure another assault
The Palestinian residents in Gaza endure another assault by Israeli military forces, though the vast majority of them have nothing to do with any attacks on Israel. The Israeli government and its military chiefs might claim that they do not deliberately target civilians, but as has always been the case in the past, I do not think that harming civilians would not stop them from pursuing their military targets. Reports from Gaza suggest that around 70 per cent of the more than 600 hundred Palestinian casualties in the last few weeks have been civilians, including children. The Israelis themselves have recently been living under a constant barrage of rockets. Their lives are spared only due to a very high level of interception by the Iron Dome air defence system. The indiscriminate nature of the rockets launched by Hamas, and the attempts by armed militants to infiltrate Israel through tunnels and kill both Israeli soldiers and civilians, could have led to even worse retaliation from Israel, had they been successful.
I believe that both sides abhorrently see harming civilians very cavalierly, as legitimate collateral damage on the route to achieving their political or security interests. Israel’s argument that it does this in the name of securing the safety of its citizens, disingenuously blaming Hamas for the plight of the Palestinians, holds little or no water at all. It entirely ignores her responsibility to adhere to international law and conventions. Especially in times of war, where the lives of many people are at risk, it has to uphold standards of behaviour suited to a country claiming to be a liberal democracy.
Extinguishing the fire between Hamas and Israel is more complicated than ever and is increasingly more difficult as the number of casualties is mounting. Last’s week failure on the part of Egypt to reach a truce between the two belligerent sides highlighted the different perceptions and expectations of the war’s outcome by both sides. The assumption was that after more than a week of sustained Israeli bombardment of Gaza, Hamas’ leadership would be begging for respite and would agree unconditionally to any agreement. This proved to be a false assumption and Hamas rejected a ceasefire, which was accepted, though I believe grudgingly, by the Israeli cabinet. In my view, Hamas declined it partly because it was suggested by Egypt, but mainly because the proposed terms of the agreement included not a single one of Hamas’ demands for a ceasefire. This would have resulted in the organisation’s humiliation and a huge risk of losing any credibility among its constituency. The movement’s existence is defined by its resistance of Israel, thus continuing the war despite heavy losses was preferable to accepting an agreement which might be seen as capitulating to Israeli and Egyptian demands. I believe that Hamas’ leadership is very suspicious of Egyptian President Sisi and his government. After all, Hamas is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the very movement that the new Egypt is trying to eliminate from its country’s political map.
Therefore, I believe that Hamas intensified its military efforts through the use of the tunnels to infiltrate Israel, knowing that this would escalate the situation and would lead Israel to retaliate with even harsher measures. The attempted infiltration by Palestinian militants into Israel became the tipping point in Israel’s decision to embark on a ground campaign, it seems.
Unlike the relative apathy of the international community towards the conflict in Gaza in its early days, there is presently a frenzy of attempts to broker a ceasefire. Unfortunately, some of the proposed terms are unacceptable to at least one of the sides, if not both. There are also divisions between Hamas and the Islamic Jihad as to Egypt’s active involvement in brokering a ceasefire. I believe that Israel itself is reluctant for Qatar or Turkey to be too involved. Moreover, some of those who would like to assist in finding a solution are adverse to the participation of others either due to old grudges or competing interests.
This leaves the arena to Egypt and the United States as the most likely brokers of a ceasefire. The return of Secretary of State Kerry to the region and the urgent arrival of the U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, reveals that the international community’s early reluctance to intervene has changed. It has been replaced by a sense of urgency to reach a ceasefire as the number of casualties increased and the situation threatened to get out of hand.
As this piece is being written, a ceasefire agreement has still not been reached. Both sides seem to believe, erroneously in my opinion, that a few more days of fighting will leave them in a better position when the hostilities come to an end. It seems Israel would like to deal Hamas a mortal blow by crippling its military infrastructure and destroying its tunnels, believing that this will bring an end to rocket attacks. Hamas on the other hand, in my view, would like to keep launching rockets until the very last minute before a ceasefire is declared, and inflict as many casualties as possible on Israel, and if possible even kidnap Israeli soldiers. They might succeed in causing damage to one another, but at the end of the day this, like any other round of vicious violence, will end without conclusive results. It leaves both societies to lick their wounds, while the relationship between Israel and the Palestinians is left even worse than before and peace and reconciliation almost impossible.
Yossi Mekelberg is an Associate Fellow at the Middle East and North Africa Program at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House, where he is involved with projects and advisory work on conflict resolution, including Track II negotiations. He is also the Director of the International Relations and Social Sciences Program at Regent’s University in London, where he has taught since 1996. Previously, he was teaching at King’s College London and Tel Aviv University. Mekelberg’s fields of interest are international relations theory, international politics of the Middle East, human rights, and international relations and revolutions. He is a member of the London Committee of Human Rights Watch, serving on the Advocacy and Outreach committee. Mekelberg is a regular contributor to the international media on a wide range of international issues and you can find him on Twitter @YMekelberg.
Why Israel’s media pressuring won’t work
By Diana Moukalled
23 July 2014
Not long after NBC presenter Ayman Mohyeldin ended his emotive live report about the tragic killing of four Palestinian children as they were playing football on Gaza beach, the NBC hierarchy took him off the beat. The New York Times ran what I see as a toned down headline on the killing of four Palestinian children on a Gaza beach: “Boys Drawn to Gaza Beach, and Into Center of Mideast Strife.”
No sooner had CNN reporter Diana Magnay criticized Israeli settlers in Sderot via Twitter for cheering the air strikes on Gaza, describing them as “scum” for threatening her broadcast, then the channel pulled her off the Gaza beat. She and CNN have since apologized “for any offense that may have been taken.”
Of course, these incidents are nothing new. They do not reveal anything new regarding Western, and particularly American, coverage of Israel. Every Israeli military escalation is accompanied by a Right-wing media escalation that aims to incite a loud and senseless debate regarding who is the aggressor and who is the victim.
This favoritism enjoyed by Israel in the Western and American media is only one side of the coin, albeit one that has dominated the scene and which has been the status quo throughout more than one war or conflict. And now we see the current Gaza “war” returning this Western pro-Israeli discourse to the fore once again, ignoring the Arab–Palestinian narrative. The awkward situation many media outlets have found themselves in as a result does not represent an Israeli victory; it only serves to compound the criticism of Israel’s actions.
It is true that the New York Times did not dish out the specifics regarding the four young Palestinian boys being killed in its headline, but the story remained, along with an accompanying report written by one of the newspaper’s photographers who witnessed the tragedy. This article by Tyler Hicks, who witnessed the killing of the four Palestinian boys, ended: “Children, maybe four feet tall, dressed in summer clothes, running from an explosion, don’t fit the description of Hamas fighters.”
But the New York Times was not the only media outlet to be surprised by the scale of the discontent of Israel’s Right wing towards its reporting, amid Israeli claims of a bias towards the Palestinians.
Regardless of the strength of Israel’s Right wing, criticism of the country escalates the more missiles it fires and the more Palestinians are killed. However as much as the Israelis try to play up the “panic” and “fear” Israeli settlers feel about Hamas rockets, I don’t feel that their fear can be compared with the pictures of four innocent children killed on Gaza beach.
The four boys killed in the attack, Mohammad, 11 or 12, Ismail, 9, Zakariya, 10, and Ahed, 7 or 9, were playing football on the beach when they were killed in an Israeli air strike. This tragedy took place in front of the Deira Hotel, where a number of international journalists are staying. All of the journalists reported this story as it happened, and they were clearly affected. Such tragic events are beyond Israel’s ability to play down, nor can Tel Aviv pressure media outlets to report this in a certain way. These events outpace media outlets, and not even Israel can put an end to social media or Twitter where not only are these incidents reported fairly; but so are Israel’s attempts to suppress such reporting.
The alternative media is beyond such pressure tactics.
Diana Moukalled is the Web Editor at the Lebanon-based Future Television and was the Production & Programming Manager with at the channel. Previously, she worked there as Editor in Chief, Producer and Presenter of “Bilayan al Mujaradah,” a documentary that covers hot zones in the Arab world and elsewhere, News and war correspondent and Local news correspondent. She currently writes a regular column in AlSharq AlAwsat. She also wrote for Al-Hayat Newspaper and Al-Wasat Magazine, besides producing news bulletins and documentaries for Reuters TV. She can be found on Twitter: @dianamoukalled.
Why Sisi cannot let Egypt’s Gaza deal fail
By Lina Khatib
23 July 2014
As the Israeli attack on Gaza continues, Egypt has presented an initiative to broker a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel to end the current violence. President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi simply cannot let this initiative collapse and I believe he will do everything to see it through.
The Egypt deal comes at a critical time for Sisi, with the Gaza crisis taking place only two months after his ascension to the presidency, following a campaign that promised to resurrect Egypt’s leading role in the Middle East. The Egyptian president needs to demonstrate to his own people that he is indeed a leader with regional clout. He also wishes to assert himself in the international arena.
This is not Sisi’s first such attempt. In June 2014, before the Israeli attack on Gaza, Sisi had discussed with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry the regional threat presented by Islamist extremists in Syria, which I see as an indirect appeal for counterterrorism cooperation as well as a hint at a desired role for Egypt in the Syrian conflict. The current crisis presents an easier opportunity than the complex Syria crisis for Sisi to construct an active regional role for Egypt. After all, Egypt has traditionally often played a mediating role between Palestinians and Israelis, such as the mediation that took place after the outbreak of violence between Hamas and Israel in 2012. Sisi can capitalize on existing channels of communication to push for a deal.
Optimal time for Sisi
The deal also comes at a somewhat optimal time for Sisi: Qatar, which had previously taken advantage of the relative decline of the mediation roles of Saudi Arabia and Egypt to present itself as the new key mediator in the region, is now on the backburner as a regional actor after much pressure by other Gulf countries led by Saudi Arabia. This leaves the space open for Sisi to present Egypt as a deal broker in the Gaza crisis. Qatar remains in the picture as an interlocutor with its ally Hamas, but its role in the initiative is secondary to Egypt’s, as Doha’s participation is geared towards pushing Hamas to eventually consent to the Egyptian deal.
International signs also seem positive. Sisi’s initiative has already gotten the endorsement of the United States and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, and now the Arab League has also spoken out in support of the deal. The West’s stance in this case can be attributed partly to its search for a new broker in the region following the recent retreat of Qatar, and partly to the need to keep an open channel with the new Egyptian administration. For the Arab League, success of the initiative would resurrect Egypt’s traditional regional role.
For Sisi, in addition to strengthening his position within Egypt and confirming the narrative of a “strong Egypt” externally, the initiative could give him the upper hand vis-à-vis Hamas. Further down the line, this would give Egypt greater control over its border with Gaza as well as increase the legitimacy of its measures against Islamist groups within Egypt, particularly Hamas’ ally the Muslim Brotherhood.
The success of the Gaza initiative would also grant Sisi a platform to engage in brokering other deals in the future, such as in context of the Syria and Iraq crises, that would continue to affirm Egypt’s reclamation of its regional leadership. As such, Sisi is heavily invested in the Hamas-Israel deal and cannot afford to see it fail, I believe.
Lina Khatib is director of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut. Previously, she was the co-founding head of the Program on Arab Reform and Democracy at Stanford University’s Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law. Her research interests include the international relations of the Middle East, Islamist groups, political transitions, and foreign policy. She has also published widely on public diplomacy, political communication, and political participation in the Middle East.
Hamas, the first Palestinian army
By Shlomi Eldar
July 23, 2014
In recent years, two narratives developed in Israel regarding its face-off against the Hamas movement. According to the first one, Hamas is a terrorist organization and, therefore, classic anti-terror tactics must be used to fight it. The second narrative, formed after Hamas took over the Gaza Strip in 2007, holds that Israel must create a balance of military and economic terror against the organization and erect clear red lines. Only if those lines are crossed by Hamas should Israel begin action to destroy the organization.
In general, Israeli governments adopted relatively restrained policies of containment vis-à-vis Hamas. The reason for this was the assumption that should the Hamas regime be overturned militarily or collapse economically, the alternative regimes in Gaza could be much worse and much more dangerous to the security of Israel. Operation Protective Edge already proves that both narratives are no longer applicable.
The Hamas movement was founded six days after the eruption of the first intifada at the end of 1987. The first terrorist acts of the military wing were perpetrated by the “101 Unit” established in the Jabaliya refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. Its people abducted and murdered Israel Defense Forces soldiers Avi Sasportas (February 1989) and Ilan Saadon (May 1989), and concealed their bodies.
Hamas’ terrorist acts became more deadly and murderous after the signing of the Oslo Accord between Israel and the PLO in 1993. Hamas attempted to subvert the agreement with terrorist attacks by suicide bombers. The height of suicide terrorism was reached in the second intifada in 2000, when the State of Israel was inundated by a wave of attacks that were directed mainly against civilians. Hamas’ military wing then adopted the suicide-attack model of Hezbollah. Small, compartmentalized terror cells acted independently to plan attacks and send terrorists to blow themselves up in shopping centers and buses in Israel’s major cities.
After the disengagement from the Gaza Strip (August 2005), the movement underwent a strategic change: From small terror cells, it developed into a real army. Hamas became an organization of uniform wearers whose daily pursuit was military; they were trained according to the doctrine of a recruited army. They underwent weapons training and developed excellent military skills, together with religious indoctrination to strengthen their faith and adherence to the jihadist cause. Thus, in effect, Hamas created the first Palestinian army.
It is believed that the Hamas army drafted between 15,000 and 20,000 men, divided into three geographic brigades in the north, center and south of the Gaza Strip. At the same time, it also established elite units for special, localized operations. During the current Protective Edge operation, these units were tasked with implementing the combat doctrine they had acquired throughout the years: to infiltrate Israeli territory through underground tunnels and attack army bases or civilian population centers. Each unit numbers between 10 and 15 fighters who know that their chances of surviving any such military operation are very small. In effect, these are suicide missions. Hundreds of Hamas soldiers were trained according to this combat doctrine during recent years, mainly after the Pillar of Defense operation and as part of the organization’s subsequent preparations for the next round.
A Hamas unit that infiltrated Israeli territory July 21 near Kibbutz Nir Am succeeded in firing an anti-tank missile at an Israel Defense Forces jeep that killed Lt. Col. Dolev Keidar (regiment commander of the IDF’s officer training school) and three soldiers who traveled with him. The assault was documented by cameras placed along the length of the border between Gaza and Israel; 10 armed terrorists wearing uniforms similar to IDF uniforms, including helmets and camouflage gear, were seen before they attacked the IDF jeep that approached them.
This filmed ambush displayed the abilities and expertise of Hamas fighters better than any propaganda video clip disseminated by Hamas. The footage clearly demonstrates that the IDF does not face terror cells this time, but a real army.
The two previous IDF operations in the Gaza Strip, Cast Lead and Pillar of Defense, took Hamas by surprise. This time, the organization painstakingly planned for this attack over years. In contrast, the IDF did not appropriately assess the scope of the threat of the underground tunnels.
We ask the question: Now that Hamas’ true dimensions and magnitude are apparent, does Israel still believe that it is best to endure the Hamas regime in Gaza as the lesser of evils? Is Hamas to be preferred over the unknown entities that would take its place?
When Israel talks about the “unknown” — meaning the entity that would take control of the Gaza Strip should Hamas be overturned or fall apart, and about the new threats it would bring with it — it mainly alludes to the Islamic State (IS). This Islamist organization has already succeeded in conquering cities in Iraq, and apparently is expanding to the Gaza Strip and to the Sinai Peninsula. It proclaims that its goal is to establish an Islamic state from Iraq to Syria.
But how is a Hamas army different than the fanatical organization that operates in Iraq? Both are fueled by religious belief in martyrdom designed to sanctify Allah's name, both have recruited armies that are well trained and display excellent military skills. Therefore, Israel should no longer view Hamas as the Strip’s de facto, default rulers. How can other Salafist organizations in the Strip, in addition to the Islamic Jihad and Popular Resistance Committees, threaten Israel more than Hamas?
Hamas operates mainly according to the utterances made by the members of the military wing. All of Gaza’s resources were mobilized on behalf of exaggerated armament and incredible underground protection. The IS cells, the Salafist organizations and Islamic Jihad do not have access to such tremendous financial resources. While Hamas has long been regarded as the default ruler of Gaza in Israel’ eyes, that does not have to be true any longer. Israel did not appropriately assess Hamas’ military abilities or, evidently, its intentions. Until the eruption of the current operation, many in Israel estimated that Hamas was in crisis and thus not interested in entering into conflict with Israel at this time.
Any cease-fire that will be declared between Israel and Hamas will be viewed as a victory by the Palestinian organization. Hamas will view it as a respite for reorganization, reconstruction and enlarging its recruited army for the next round of hostilities. Even destruction of the tunnels, as effective as that may be, will not destroy Hamas or its military wing. The Hamas command echelon, the heads of the military wing and the commanders of the Hamas brigades are still protected in their bunkers below Gaza, as are the leaders of the political wing.
Anyone who thinks, or truly believes, that Hamas will agree to demilitarize Gaza of its rockets is deluding himself. To dismantle Hamas from rockets, it will be necessary to dismantle Hamas first.
But even if Israel still considers coming to terms with the existence and presence of the Hamas army in the Gaza Strip, one thing must be remembered: No other organization could be more violent or hazardous to the state of Israel’s security than Hamas.
In Israel, social media threatens sacred duty
By Daniel Ben Simon
July 23, 2014
For days now, Israelis have been following the fighting in Gaza. The sense of anxiety across the country has been increasing day by day. Despite the experience they’ve amassed during all the wars and battles since the founding of the state, Israelis still have a hard time coming to terms with the steep human cost that they are forced to pay. First and foremost, every soldier killed at war is a tragic loss to his family. Almost at the same time, however, the casualties quickly become part of the national mythos of the fallen soldier.
The war in Gaza is turning out to be especially brutal. Nowhere near this many soldiers have fallen in such a short time — 25 casualties in just four days — since the Second Lebanon War in the summer of 2006. The number of victims is sending new tremors through Israeli society, which has difficulty dealing with the loss. While this society may be considered strong in terms of its military might, it is also extremely fragile when it comes to dealing with its fallen soldiers.
The Casualties Unit of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) operates like a well-oiled machine. Perhaps it can be attributed to the very high number of casualties since the founding of the state (over 23,000), but regardless of the reason, the unit’s officers are meticulous about every detail of the notification and the way it is delivered. In all cases, or at least in most of them, officers from the fallen soldier’s unit inform the chief officer of the city, who is responsible for the town where the fallen soldier's parents live.
One thing that is especially fascinating is the military procedure from the moment the army learns that a soldier has been killed. There is no other country in the world that reacts toward its dead like Israeli society. It is a complex and painful process that involves keeping the name of the fallen soldier secret until the official announcement is given to the parents.
The chief officer of the city, who in normal times serves as the link between the army and the soldiers, assembles a team consisting of a casualties officer, a physician, one or two paramedics and two reservists to assist him when the notification is delivered. Before approaching the parents of the fallen soldier, the unit attempts to locate brothers, sisters and any other first-degree relatives. They inform them of the tragedy and ask these relatives to accompany them to the home of the soldier’s parents.
Once they are ready to deliver the notification, the most terrible moment of all arrives. The military group that accompanies the family members goes to the family’s home and waits for “the appropriate moment.” They avoid using the intercom, so as not to attract attention. Instead they look for other ways to enter the building, usually with the help of neighbors. Then they arrive at the door of the family’s apartment. The chief officer of the city, a relative or an officer from the fallen soldier’s unit knocks. The door opens. The horrific spectacle begins. In most cases, there’s no reason to say much. The very presence of the uniformed group is enough for the family to realize that disaster has struck. Each family reacts in its own way. Some parents withdraw and suffer in silence in a corner of the home. In many other cases, heartrending shrieks echo across the neighborhood. Within an instant, the neighbors have all found out the terrible news and start rushing to the house where tragedy struck.
In most cases, these notifications catch the families completely by surprise. The army insists on taking every precaution to block rumors from reaching the parents. Newspaper editorial boards receive notification in real time from IDF representatives that a soldier has been killed, but as part of their understandings with the army, they will only make an announcement after the soldier’s parents have been informed. The news media follow a single formula and avoid revealing the identity of the fallen soldier. Instead, they report, “The family has been notified.”
But accidents happen. Rona Ramon, the widow of Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, was making her way home one day in 2009, when she saw journalists and photographers waiting by the entrance. She immediately realized that something had happened to her son Assaf, who was a combat pilot in the air force. His jet had crashed during a training flight a few hours earlier. Journalists rushed to her home, believing that she had already been told the bitter news. The air force officers who came to inform her of the tragedy discovered that they were too late.
The war in Gaza has caught Israel in an extreme state of anxiety. The involvement of more than 70,000 regular soldiers and reservists in the conflict creates a situation in which almost every family in Israel has at least one relative on the battlefield. Given the nature of the fighting, which is taking place in one of the most densely populated cities in the world, the families of these soldiers can’t help but feel deep distress, knowing that their loved ones are taking part in a campaign that is more like a game of Russian roulette. With this as the new background against which the war is waged, news of each casualty does not wait for the proper procedures to be followed. It takes off and spreads across the country before the victim’s family finds out. While soldiers’ cell phones are taken from them before they enter the Gaza Strip, this has not stopped information about casualties from leaking, even from the battlefield. It is the nature of Israel that nothing remains a secret the moment a casualty is brought to the nearest hospital, photographers and journalists gather around the gurney, then share information with their friends about the number of casualties and their identities.
Social networks have also interfered with the long-established procedures for informing families, with the current conflict perhaps the most obvious example of this. Since Internet users have no formal obligations to the army, they post whatever they want. Ever since the beginning of this campaign, precise details and also misleading details about the battles and casualties have appeared online, without first consulting with the authorities. For instance, a message on WhatsApp detailed a list of casualties, which included the name of a soldier from the village of Nitzan. Only several hours later, his parents learned that he was not wounded at all. In these critical days, when every bit of information is a desired commodity, the social networks have become a key player on the battlefield.
It must be noted that the army is well aware of the great damage caused by this phenomenon. Four youngsters were arrested after publishing names of fallen before the notice was delivered to the families. The state announced that they would be indicted with serious charges, to deter others from such activities which entail great pain, especially these days, when thousands of families live in constant fear for their sons fighting in Gaza.
Turkey-based NATO radar's Israel protection in question
By Burak Bekdil
“Dismantle that radar base; it is there merely to protect Israel from Iran,” roared the main opposition leader, Kemal Kiliçdaroglu, hoping to squeeze Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the presidential race, dominated by an anti-Israeli campaign by all candidates.
However, a leading member of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) refuted claims that the NATO radar base in Kürecik, eastern Turkey, and the NATO Patriot missiles to be deployed on Turkish territory against threats from Syria are actually aimed at protecting Israel against Iran.
“When Israel has such a security system that it is called the ‘Iron Dome,’ there is no answer to the question: ‘Why would an additional facility be established in Kürecik to protect Israel?’” AKP deputy Volkan Bozkir, the head of Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Commission, was quoted as saying by Anadolu Agency.
According to Bozkir, since the Israeli anti-rocket shield is able to intercept 90 percent of the 1,500 missiles sent from Gaza, it is absurd that the Jewish state would need extra protection.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, meanwhile, has reminded everyone that the NATO radar was a NATO radar and Israel was not a NATO ally.
Facts behind Kürecik and regional dynamics
Who is telling the truth? Or is anyone telling the truth without twisting the facts? Here are a few facts:
- The Patriot system is a mini-missile defense architecture (Patriots) owned by NATO and deployed in southern Turkey, presumably to protect parts of eastern/southeastern Turkey from the potential threat of Syrian chemical-biological attack.
- Six Patriot anti-missile batteries simply cannot protect a vast territory and its 3.5 million inhabitants from ballistic missiles with quite unpleasant warheads.
- Defense analysts and insiders have often argued that the Patriot umbrella will not protect 3.5 million Turks, but a U.S.-owned, NATO-assigned radar deployed earlier in Kürecik (in the province of Malatya) – and not from Syria – primarily from Iranian ballistic missiles.
- This is an early-warning missile detection and tracking radar system whose mission could include providing U.S. naval assets in the Mediterranean with early warning and tracking information in case of an Iranian missile launch targeting an ally or a friendly country, including Israel.
- This should explain the quiet U.S. encouragement for the deployment of the Patriots in areas near the NATO radar in Turkey. Anti-missile protection over Kürecik could be essential for the alliance.
- Turkish and NATO officials have claimed that the location of the Patriot batteries (Adana, Gaziantep and Kahramanmaras) and the radar at Kürecik makes any connection between the two impossible. A connection between the two is possible simply because the Patriot is a road mobile system: It takes minutes to dismantle a battery, say in Kahramanmaras, and re-deploy it closer to Kürecik in a matter of hours. This can be done quite discreetly.
- Iran, and to a certain extent Russia, have not been deeply annoyed by the deployment of the Patriots because Tehran or Moscow want 3.5 million Turks to die under a barrage of Syrian chemical-biological warheads. They are annoyed because they view both the radar at Kürecik and the Patriots that guard it as a threat to their own (offensive) missile capabilities, which the NATO assets now stationed in Turkey can theoretically – and probably practically too – neutralize (the only theoretical vulnerability is if Iran launched its Sejil missiles from a distance of 1,600 - 1,700 kilometers).
- It was not a coincidence that Iran’s army chief of staff, Gen. Hassan Firouzabadi, warned NATO at the time of deployment that stationing the Patriot batteries in Turkey “was setting the stage for world war.”
Bozkir’s defense line was probably aimed at blurring the picture, one defense analyst said. “Israel’s protection through the Iron Dome is a shield against rocket threats from Gaza. Kürecik could be useful for protecting Israel from any missile threat from Iran. These are completely different threats,” he said.
This does not mean that the Patriot and Kürecik architecture was deployed solely to protect Israel, said another analyst, but that "such deployments can be multi-purpose shots.”
Israel’s dangerous ignorance of its own history
By Jonathan Power
July 23, 2014
Do the inhabitants of Israel regard Arab life as less human than their own? The severely skewed rate of casualties in the Gaza conflict including the killing of many, many children seems to suggest it
If the people of Israel want to go back to their memories of their war against the Arab nations after they had been attacked following the handover by the British in 1948, if they want to go back to the Holocaust, if they want to go back to the anti-Jewish violence — the first so-called “pogrom” in 1819 when the Jewish ghetto in Frankfurt was ransacked — or to 12th century England when began the libel that the Jews ritually murdered Christian children to mix their blood in the unleavened bread baked at Passover, then they should recall some equally important other events. What about the welcoming of the large numbers of Jews by the Muslim Turks when they were expelled from Spain in 1492? What about the long period up to the 12th century when Jews lived without being persecuted for the most part in Europe? What about the centuries up to the 20th when the good periods of toleration far outnumbered the bad years of discrimination and repression? Or, going back even further, what about Moses’s act of genocide, which God told Moses he must carry out? Moses’s army on its way to the land now called Palestine attacked its resident tribes: the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Midianites, the Amorites, the Jebusites and the Hivites, and then, on God’s instructions, Moses told his victorious generals to return to the Midianites and kill all the women and their young sons (it is all recorded at length in the Old Testament’s Book of Geneses and the Book of Numbers).
Let us interrupt this history a while and recall Shakespeare’s great work of dramatic art, The Merchant of Venice, where Shylock was treated as an unpleasant Jew (with a lovely, self-effacing daughter) who dealt mainly in shady usury. His speech to the court is one of Shakespeare’s most remembered: “Hath not a Jew eyes? / Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? / If you prick us, do we not bleed? / If you tickle us do we not laugh? / If you poison us, do we not die? / And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?”
But what if we turn this around and allow a Palestinian to ask this question? Do the inhabitants of Israel regard Arab life as less human than their own? The severely skewed rate of casualties in the Gaza conflict including the killing of many, many children seems to suggest it.
Four decades have passed since Israel, in 1967, crushed a new Arab attack. It was following that that Israelis started to settle beyond the border of their state in contravention of international law, which prohibits an occupying state from transferring population into seized territory. For around two-thirds of its history Israel has been an occupying state, one that by fear has extended its settlements. The state of Israel has been free of the malignancy of occupation for only 19 years of its existence. The vast majority of the seven million Israelis do not know any other reality. The vast majority of the four million Palestinians who live under occupation similarly do not know any other reality.
How many Israelis are aware of the details of their people’s long history, or do they only know about blood libel, the Russian pogroms and the Holocaust? Probably so, for an overwhelming majority of rabbis of this and the last century have shunted the depths of history to one side. I recently went to the library and looked carefully at over 60 volumes of Hebrew history and theology. Not one mentioned the ethnic cleansing stories of Deuteronomy. Similarly, Israelis know little or nothing about the history of the Arabs and that it was their Middle East that was the cradle of western (as opposed to Indian and Chinese) civilisation, millennia before the Israelites came on the scene. Nor do they know much, if anything, about the long history of Muslim friendship towards the Hebrew people, one that the ancestors of present day US and Europe did not often offer.
If the Israelis could face up to their history and to the events from 1949 on, the world would no longer be threatened by the Israel-Palestine dispute and the madness of this conflict. The Israelis should pull back from the West Bank and offer a two state solution on the most generous of terms, turning back the clock to 1947 (which if the Arabs had been smart they should have accepted then.). Why should it be only to the so-called pre-1967 boundaries? The lion then would lie down with the lamb and swords would be beaten into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks.
Massacre in Gaza: Can international law provide justice for Palestinians?
By Richard Falk
2 Jul 2014
Richard Falk is Albert G Milbank Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University and Research Fellow, Orfalea Center of Global Studies. He is also Former UN Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights.
What has been happening in Gaza cannot usefully be described as "warfare". The daily reports of atrocities situate this latest Israeli assault on common humanity within the domain of what the great Catholic thinker and poet, Thomas Merton, caIled "the unspeakable". Its horror exceeds our capacity to render the events through language.
The events in Gaza are essentially a repetition of prior Israeli incursions with heavy sophisticated weaponry in which the people of Gaza are the helpless victims of Israeli firepower, with no place to hide, and increasingly without even such necessities of life as water and electricity, whose facilities have been targeted by Israel's precision weaponry.
By now we should all understand that one-sided violence whether in the form of torture or state terror is criminal behaviour. When it leads to many civilian deaths on one side and few civilian casualties on the other side, then such state terror is best characterised as a massacre, epitomised by the high civilian death toll on July 20 in the Gaza City neighbourhood of Shujayea where a crowded residential district was repeatedly shelled by heavy IDF artillery. The latest casualty figures on the Palestinian side are more than 600 killed, over 3,000 injured, 75 percent of whom are estimated to be civilians. On the Israeli side, 29 killed, all but two were soldiers.
As with earlier massive Israeli military operations carried out against the people of Gaza 2008-2009, and 2012, the defenceless Gazan population is again being cruelly victimised. If an adversary of the West was behaving as Israel has since July 8, it would be branded an aggressor whose leaders would likely be held accountable before the International Criminal Court (ICC) or some other tribunal with the authority to prosecute persons accused of international crimes which have distressed the US government and its allies.
Was this not the response to Slobodan Milosevic, Saddam Hussein, and Muammar Qaddafi whose criminality stood in the path, blocking Western interests? But what of George W Bush, Tony Blair, and Barack Obama whose crimes are shrouded in a thick cloud of impunity?
This contrast manifests the geopolitical logic of world order for all who have eyes that want to see "the real" as opposed to heeding the "reigning hegemonic myths". It is this geopolitical logic that is shaping the application of international criminal law: accountability for enemies of the West, impunity for the West and its friends. Such double standards highlight the tensions between law and justice. There is currently no greater beneficiary of this deformed political culture of impunity than the political leadership and military command structure of Israel.
And yet there does exist an international criminal law and procedures for its application, and although so far successfully manipulated by the geopoliticians, the endgame of criminal accountability has yet to be played. Those who are victimised should not ignore its unrealised potential for justice, and the challenge posed to all who consider themselves "citizen pilgrims" - on a life journey of human solidarity and faith in a better future: Law from above, justice from below. This is the populist equation that can guide us towards thought, feelings, and actions on the "right side of history".
'Sign or leave!'
In this connection, I was moved by reports of the young activists in Ramallah and other cities in the West Bank putting forth the demand that Mahmoud Abbas "sign or leave!" That is, sign the Rome Treaty on behalf of Palestine, and thereby join the International Criminal Court, or give up the presidency of the Palestinian Authority, because not fit to lead.
Such an impassioned call for criminal accountability expresses a populist demand that justice must finally be rendered by a court of law, and Palestinian victimisation authoritatively confirmed and vindicated by overwhelming evidence of Israel's multi-dimensional criminality. It is the faith of those who believe that the ICC is a tribunal of justice and not an instrument used as a moralising convenience by power-wielders shielding their own greater criminality.
In practice, even if Palestine is accepted as a party to the ICC, and should the prosecutor, as seems unlikely, proceed to investigate, indict, and issue arrest warrants, the prospects of adjudication, conviction, and punishment are near zero. And yet the demand "sign or leave!" makes political sense. Legal literalism misses the point.
For one thing, since Israel so intensely opposes Palestine's adherence to membership in the ICC, such an initiative should be presumed helpful for Palestinians. For another, mere recourse to the ICC would make a significant contribution to the struggle between Israel and Palestine for the high moral and political ground, generating commentary and dialogue.
We need to keep in mind that it is the outcome of this legitimacy struggle that will, in the end, likely decide this long conflict in favour of the Palestinians, as it has determined the outcome of every prior anti-colonial struggle of the last 70 years.
The BDS movement
And finally, such moves towards Palestinian control over the legitimacy discourse would help mobilise global support for the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) campaign and an arms embargo on Israel. It will also push governments and the United Nations finally to support the Palestinian call for pressure on Israel, use leverage and non-violent coercion to obtain a sustainable peace that realises Palestinian rights under international law, especially, the right of self-determination and the right of return.
Palestinians have suffered for nearly a century as a result of what the international community decided on their behalf without seeking their approval, or even their consent. It is time that all of us, including those who act in solidarity, to be sure that it is the Palestinian national movement that decides what self-determination means for Palestinians.
At this stage, the most authentic expression of Palestinian views on a just peace is contained in the declaration of 2005 by a coalition of 171 Palestinian civil society organisations (NGOs and labour unions) that initiated the worldwide BDS campaign. BDS made three demands from the outset of its campaign:
"Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall;
Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and
Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194."
It is an illuminating commentary on the confusing political situation that it is the BDS leadership that is presently best able to serve as a more authentic and legitimate voice of the Palestinian people than either the Palestinian Authority or Hamas.
Palestinians may suffer from what has been widely identified as a leadership deficit, but this is being offset by an innovative surge of democracy from below, and how this might yet produce the first global intifada that will be the next, and hopefully, emancipatory stage in the Palestinian struggle.
Richard Falk is Albert G Milbank Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University and Research Fellow, Orfalea Center of Global Studies. He is also Former UN Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights.