Monday, December 29, 2008

Gaza ... how history is easily ignored

Rational arguments in the media and academia will point to history to explain modern phenomenons, and the need to learn from history as human struggles for power and supremacy often follow similar patterns.

Greek philosophers, modern historians, even Jesus Christ himself addressed the role of power in humanity. Christ's philosophy was that benevolent power would be met with similar benevolence, and aggressive power with aggression. "Love thy neighbour and love thy enemy" were not simply beliefs attributed to a social level, but also within the political world. Christ's warning, which was preceded by that of several Greek philosophers, was that too much power becomes self-destructive: "Absolute power corrupts absolutely".

A magnanimous power will survive, but unfortunately history offers us little examples of the kind. Nations and peoples throughout history have fallen at the hands of the same error. Nearly all civilisations on earth have reached peaks of power at one certain time, and nearly all have fallen for exactly the same reason: No civilisation has learnt how to master power.

As a nation's power expands so do their appetites for greater power, until eventually their greedy illusions of invincibility forces them to lose all sight of reality, and they take a tumultuous road down to humility ... or worse, extinction.

Is this not what occurred to ancient Israel or to put it into a more recent context, Nazi Germany, the British Empire and the Soviet Union?

The reality emanating from Gaza highlights that Israel has not learnt, neither from its ancient nor its most recent history. The Gaza massacre is another event in the endless cycle of Middle Eastern violence that commenced with Britain's Balfour Declaration of 1917.

Since 1948, Israel has sought military supremacy in the region and a free reign to do as it pleases, and has mobilised effective lobbies amongst the rich Jewish diaspora of the US and Europe in order to keep the money, support and advanced weaponry flowing.

The wars of 1967 and 1973 were Israel's decisive chances to demonstrate to the region, and indeed the world, that it is the regional superpower. Its intelligence service, Mossad, has meddled in the internal affairs of its neighbours, exploiting divisions in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Jordan. On some occasions it succeeded, on others it failed.

It succeeded in preventing a Palestinian overthrow of the Hashemite Kingdom in Jordan, but failed to spark a civil war in Syria. It succeeded in instigating sectarian and tribal tension in Lebanon, but failed in its support of the Kurds to overthrow Saddam ... until the Americans came of course.

In direct combat, it has demonstrated total military might and absolute brutality in an attempt to humble the Arabs. It blitzed Lebanon in 1982, destroying the once beautiful Beirut, and killing 28,000 civilians in its path. It was the first Arab capital since Jerusalem that fell to the Israelis. Israel hoped its reign of destruction would have scared the Lebanese, the PLO, and then Syrian President Hafez al Assad into submission.

But in the rubble and ashes of the Israeli-destroyed Beirut of 1982 rose a resistance of impoverished, angry men. They would call themselves Hezbollah, a Shia group aided by Syria and Iran. The movement would become the most successful Arab story in a century of failures. It would push Israel to withdraw from Lebanese territory in 2000 and become the first Arab force that would claim a military victory against them in 2006.

It is easy to forget that before the Israelis invaded Lebanon and embarked on its war of horror in 1982, the Shi'ites of South Lebanon were ambivalent towards Israel. They grew sick of the PLO exploiting their lands, and in fact showered incoming Israeli troops with rice and rose petals. Israel, through its delusion that brutal might and power humbles all creatures, gave reason to Hezbollah's existence.

Israel is continuing that very policy today. It believes that by striking at civilians in Hamas territory, the Palestinians will return to Abbas and finalise an agreement on Israeli terms. What they will get is another Hamas, a greater Hamas, and more Palestinians determined to fight. It has made recruiting for Hamas all the more easier, which will now compete with Al-Qaida for fresh young talent.

Suicide bombings will return to Israeli cities after several years of relative calm. Israel will bring the war to its streets, but that isn't all. Hamas will not simply return to a rogue, extremist group that commits random suicide bombings and launches a few home-made rockets. Hamas, with its new-found popularity, will move further into the arms of Tehran and seek further sophistication and training. Hamas will turn its back on Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Abbas, and like Hezbollah in Lebanon, will attempt to create an efficient Iranian-funded state-within-a-state that will win the support of its constituents. Iran's price will be that Hamas refuse to negotiate with Israel. The Islamic group will become more sophisticated, and more determined to resist Israel at any cost.

But perhaps this is what Israel prefers. Surely the Israelis, ever intelligent through their extensive spy network, is aware that its actions will only embolden its enemies. Israel has only ever made peace when the Americans saw it in their own interest to draft an agreement.

The Jewish state has never demonstrated a willingness to sign a concrete peace deal with any Arab state, let alone the Palestinians, because Israel is still drawn to its Zionism roots. Zionism, or Jewish fascism, is a warped, nationalistic interpretation of Judaism that promotes zealotry, racism and extremism. It is a blend of selected testaments from the Torah and ultra-nationalist fever. It has attempted to morph the Jewish religion into a national identity based on racist theories. It considers Jews as a superior race that is promised the Holy Land, originally a Greater Israel between the Euphrates and Nile.

Perhaps today you will probably find less Israelis that subscribe to this belief than in 1948, but core Zionist beliefs still resonate in a Israeli political establishment heavily influenced by far-right Zionist movements. Israel still considers Palestinians and Arabs as inferior, and its racist policies are derived from a Zionist ideology that stresses that a Jew cannot view an Arab as an equal.

In war-time, it deliberately bombs indiscriminately to inflict maximum civilian pain. In peace-time, it focuses on ethnically cleansing Palestinians through military occupation, settler expansion, strict curfews, blockades, violation of human rights, imprisonment, torture, assassination and bulldozing of homes.

Israel does not want peace. Israel does not want to share historic Palestine with the Palestinians. Israel does not want to give up the Golan Heights, and if given the chance, it would have established settlements in South Lebanon. Such reluctance is not because of security reasons - Israel is well aware of its military might and takes every opportunity to remind the Arab/Islamic world of its prowess -but because of its deep ideological attachment to Zionism.

Since Israel's withdrawal of Lebanon, the Israelis continue to make life hell for South Lebanese through harassment and intimidation. Daily air violations, naval incursions and firing at Lebanese fishing boats, the terrorising of civilians in border villages, poisoning crops of nearby farms, threatening to destroy any irrigation system are all but a regular occurence. During the Second Lebanon War, the Israelis directly targeted factories and industry in South Lebanon to cripple its economy, in addition to spraying millions of cluster bombs in the dying days of the war. All of the above daily violations and continued harassment is in the goal of making the land uninhabitable and driving the people out through mass migration.

Influential far-right Israelis who hold the balance of power in the Jewish state advocate Zionism and the dream of Greater Israel. Perhaps on a superficial level, even the most extreme Jewish groups will concede that a Greater Israel is far from reality, but that does not change their deeply held conviction that the current inhabitants of these lands are inferior, expendable subjects with no claim to their properties.

Gaza is today's example of such a mentality.

Robert Fisk: Leaders lie, civilians die, and lessons of history ignored

The Independent

We've got so used to the carnage of the Middle East that we don't care any more – providing we don't offend the Israelis. It's not clear how many of the Gaza dead are civilians, but the response of the Bush administration, not to mention the pusillanimous reaction of Gordon Brown, reaffirm for Arabs what they have known for decades: however they struggle against their antagonists, the West will take Israel's side. As usual, the bloodbath was the fault of the Arabs – who, as we all know, only understand force.

Ever since 1948, we've been hearing this balderdash from the Israelis – just as Arab nationalists and then Arab Islamists have been peddling their own lies: that the Zionist "death wagon" will be overthrown, that all Jerusalem will be "liberated". And always Mr Bush Snr or Mr Clinton or Mr Bush Jnr or Mr Blair or Mr Brown have called upon both sides to exercise "restraint" – as if the Palestinians and the Israelis both have F-18s and Merkava tanks and field artillery. Hamas's home-made rockets have killed just 20 Israelis in eight years, but a day-long blitz by Israeli aircraft that kills almost 300 Palestinians is just par for the course.

The blood-splattering has its own routine. Yes, Hamas provoked Israel's anger, just as Israel provoked Hamas's anger, which was provoked by Israel, which was provoked by Hamas, which ... See what I mean? Hamas fires rockets at Israel, Israel bombs Hamas, Hamas fires more rockets and Israel bombs again and ... Got it? And we demand security for Israel – rightly – but overlook this massive and utterly disproportionate slaughter by Israel. It was Madeleine Albright who once said that Israel was "under siege" – as if Palestinian tanks were in the streets of Tel Aviv.

By last night, the exchange rate stood at 296 Palestinians dead for one dead Israeli. Back in 2006, it was 10 Lebanese dead for one Israeli dead. This weekend was the most inflationary exchange rate in a single day since – the 1973 Middle East War? The 1967 Six Day War? The 1956 Suez War? The 1948 Independence/Nakba War? It's obscene, a gruesome game – which Ehud Barak, the Israeli Defence Minister, unconsciously admitted when he spoke this weekend to Fox TV. "Our intention is to totally change the rules of the game," Barak said.

Exactly. Only the "rules" of the game don't change. This is a further slippage on the Arab-Israeli exchanges, a percentage slide more awesome than Wall Street's crashing shares, though of not much interest in the US which – let us remember – made the F-18s and the Hellfire missiles which the Bush administration pleads with Israel to use sparingly.

Quite a lot of the dead this weekend appear to have been Hamas members, but what is it supposed to solve? Is Hamas going to say: "Wow, this blitz is awesome – we'd better recognise the state of Israel, fall in line with the Palestinian Authority, lay down our weapons and pray we are taken prisoner and locked up indefinitely and support a new American 'peace process' in the Middle East!" Is that what the Israelis and the Americans and Gordon Brown think Hamas is going to do?

Yes, let's remember Hamas's cynicism, the cynicism of all armed Islamist groups. Their need for Muslim martyrs is as crucial to them as Israel's need to create them. The lesson Israel thinks it is teaching – come to heel or we will crush you – is not the lesson Hamas is learning. Hamas needs violence to emphasise the oppression of the Palestinians – and relies on Israel to provide it. A few rockets into Israel and Israel obliges.

Not a whimper from Tony Blair, the peace envoy to the Middle East who's never been to Gaza in his current incarnation. Not a bloody word.

We hear the usual Israeli line. General Yaakov Amidror, the former head of the Israeli army's "research and assessment division" announced that "no country in the world would allow its citizens to be made the target of rocket attacks without taking vigorous steps to defend them". Quite so. But when the IRA were firing mortars over the border into Northern Ireland, when their guerrillas were crossing from the Republic to attack police stations and Protestants, did Britain unleash the RAF on the Irish Republic? Did the RAF bomb churches and tankers and police stations and zap 300 civilians to teach the Irish a lesson? No, it did not. Because the world would have seen it as criminal behaviour. We didn't want to lower ourselves to the IRA's level.

Yes, Israel deserves security. But these bloodbaths will not bring it. Not since 1948 have air raids protected Israel. Israel has bombed Lebanon thousands of times since 1975 and not one has eliminated "terrorism". So what was the reaction last night? The Israelis threaten ground attacks. Hamas waits for another battle. Our Western politicians crouch in their funk holes. And somewhere to the east – in a cave? a basement? on a mountainside? – a well-known man in a turban smiles.

Jackson Diehl: Olmert's Final Failure

Washington Post

Israel's new battle with Hamas in Gaza means that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will be remembered for fighting two bloody and wasteful mini-wars in less than three years in power. The first one, in Lebanon during the summer of 2006, punished but failed to defeat or even permanently injure Hezbollah, which is politically and militarily stronger today than it was before Olmert took office. This one will probably have about the same effect on Hamas, which almost certainly will still control Gaza, and retain the capacity to strike Israel, when Olmert leaves office in a few months.

The saddest aspect of all this is that Olmert, a former hard-line believer in a "greater Israel," was more committed than any previous Israeli prime minister to ending the country's conflicts with Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinians. Thrust into office in January 2006 by the incapacitation of Ariel Sharon, Olmert won his own mandate by promising to unilaterally withdraw Israeli soldiers and settlers from most of the West Bank. When that project was undermined by the Lebanese war, he launched into one-on-one negotiations with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in which he discussed terms for a two-state settlement going well beyond those previously offered by an Israeli government. He also initiated indirect talks with the Damascus regime of Bashar al-Assad over the objections of the Bush administration.

Olmert has the passion of a latter-day convert to the two-state solution. He is convinced that, unless Israel is able to separate itself from the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza in the relatively near future, it will be overwhelmed demographically and will have to give up either its democracy or its status as a Jewish state. As recently as his last visit to Washington in late November, he was still pushing -- after virtually everyone else in Jerusalem and Washington had given up -- for some kind of "framework agreement" with Abbas that would spell out the terms for a deal, and be ratified by the U.N. Security Council.

In the end all Olmert got was U.N. Resolution 1850, passed Dec. 16, that endorsed a two-state solution without any specifics. Instead of a groundbreaking accord with Abbas or Assad, he will leave behind scorched earth in Gaza, a Lebanese front bristling with Hezbollah's missiles and an Israeli West Bank presence that has expanded rather than contracted during the past two years, with thousands of new homes for Jewish settlers under construction. To top it off, Olmert may well go to prison on the corruption charges that have forced him from office.

His failure represents another missed opportunity for Middle East peace -- and probably means that the incoming Obama administration, like the incoming Bush administration of 2001, will inherit both a new round of Israeli-Palestinian bloodshed and a new Israeli government indisposed to compromise. The front-runner for prime minister in the Israeli election scheduled for February is Binyamin Netanyahu, who aspires to indefinitely postpone Palestinian statehood -- and to use military force against the Iranian nuclear program. If Netanyahu is elected, Barack Obama will be more likely to preside over a crisis in U.S.-Israeli relations than a Middle East peace.

Olmert badly miscalculated in launching the 2006 offensive against Hezbollah -- and he's probably making the same mistake in Gaza, which will cost many lives and subject Israel to another round of international opprobrium while distracting attention from the more serious threat of Iran. Despite his bold intentions, Olmert proved unwilling or unable to stand up to the Jewish settlement movement in the West Bank; his government failed to dismantle even those outposts it has repeatedly declared illegal.

But Olmert is not the only one to blame. President Bush hosted a Mideast peace meeting in Annapolis last year but never fully invested himself in Olmert's attempt to negotiate with Abbas. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice traveled to the region 16 times in 21 months but proved feckless as a broker. Arab states proclaimed their commitment to peace with Israel as part of a two-state settlement but were unwilling to take any tangible action to make it happen.

Worst of all, Abbas followed in a long tradition of previous Palestinian leaders by reacting to a far-reaching Israeli offer with an uncourageous demurral. Olmert has never publicly disclosed the terms he discussed with Abbas, but sources say he went well beyond what Israel agreed to at the Camp David talks of 2000, previously the closest approach to a deal. I'm told Olmert offered to support the groundbreaking concession of allowing thousands of Palestinian refugees to "return" to Israel over a period of years; he also agreed to divide Jerusalem between Israel and Palestine. Abbas, like Yasser Arafat at Camp David, refused to sign on to a compromise that the world would have hailed.

So Olmert, like Ehud Barak eight years ago, will end his term as prime minister by bombing rather than liberating Palestinians. He will be remembered for his wars -- but it may be many years before Israel again has a leader as willing to make peace.


Jillian said...

Excellent post, ya Antoun.

(Also, your captcha/word verification is a dirty word right now! Some much-needed laughter on this end)

Anonymous said...

Thought-provoking post, Antoun. I think you correctly point to how people are imprisoned by the logic of their underlying assumptions.

In a country like Israel, where the combination of ideology, demography and geography has created such a polarized distinction between 'us' and 'them,' it's hard for people to see the forest for the trees.

Operations like what we're now seeing in Gaza then seem like perfectly natural ways to behave. To those of us on the outside, of course, the real-life consequences are abhorrent. Israel seems to live in a bubble of deontology, while to the rest of the world--Gaza included--it's the consequences that matter.

To my mind, the only hope is that new generations will be able to look past the constraining, outdated ideologies of their predecessors to construct identities and institutions that are ultimately more just and sustainable. Sadly, current trends bode otherwise.

Anyway, sorry to ramble. I liked reading your thoughts.

Antoun said...

Thanks Halewi,

It is equally imperative, then, that we engage Israelis and Jews, and encourage those voices within the community who would offer a different perspective or approach.

Burst the bubble and perhaps then they will open their eyes.

sarah islam said...

Dear Antoun

I really loevd your post. Yes we do need to engage the jews and the arabs in dialogue or this conflict seems neverending. I wonder if it is too late already...

sarah islam said...

Just placed a link to your blog on my site at

I think people here in India really need to see the things you are writing. Thanks again.

(sorry am quite a novice at this so I didn't know how else to tell you:-) )

Antoun said...

Cheers Sarah.

I'm a bit naive when it comes to the technical wonders of blogging also, slowly getting the hang of it. :)