Friday, January 9, 2009

Lebanon, UN, Gaza cease-fire


I was in an organising meeting last night for Melbourne's upcoming rally for Gaza (18/01), when news reached me that rockets had been fired from Lebanon.

Deeply alarmed at the news, I asked how many rockets were fired? Four. What did they hit? A town.

It wasn't Hizballah, I knew instantly. After being obsessed with everything Lebanon all my life, you naturally come to learn the trait of every Lebanese group, much like learning all the good and bad habits of a married partner.

Fortunately, as I returned home and hopped onto the internet to read the news, my instincts proved right. The media, Lebanon and Israel all suspected rogue Palestinian elements. Israel's response, firing five shells into a deserted hill, demonstrated their unwillingness to open a new front ... for now.


But it's Israel's constant targeting of the UN in Gaza that's striking. Following the attack on the UN school and three other UN facilities, Israel came under increasing fire from the world and took a deep shot to its public image. Now, a clearly marked UN vehicle has been attacked by Israeli forces, killing a UN relief worker.

The International Red Cross also blasted Israel for impeding humanitarian assistance and delaying relief workers from reaching the sick and wounded.

It's simple fact that attacking the UN will damage the attacker's credibility and undermine their narrative.

So why is Israel targeting the UN? Why is Israel battling humanitarian workers? What could drive Israel to risk its public image?

I have only one response, and this is taking into consideration years of analysing Israeli conflicts with the Palestinians and Lebanon: Israel does not want humanitarian assistance to reach its victims.

Throughout all of its wars that have been focused on civilian centres, ambulances, paramedics, UN compounds, hospitals, and fleeing civilians have all been a regular target of the Israel war machine. The same tactics recur so often that they become predictable.

In 1982, Israel destroyed hospitals, attacked ambulances, and bombed civilians attempting to flee by road and foot from South Lebanon to Beirut. It did all it could to make the humanitarian situation so intolerable that the citizens would dare not return.

As it stands, a large population of South Lebanon's former residents currently inhabit severely dense, impoverished southern Beirut suburbs.

In 1996 and 2006, the same tactics resurfaced. Israel targeted UN compounds (Qana massacre, 106 dead) that provided shelter to refugees, fleeing civilians, paramedics and hospitals.

Gaza 2009 is no different. As we have seen thus far the targets have included four UN installations, a UN vehicle, ambulances, paramedics, and preventing humanitarian organisations from their work.

Israel's underlying goal, which motivates it to maintain a policy of belligerence and war, is to ethnically cleanse the Holy Land. Israel's greatest fear is not Iran's nuclear bomb, or Syria, or Al-Qaida, but statistics. The statistics that project worrying demographics. Arabs will be the majority in the Holy Land in 30 years time, excluding the 3 million Palestinian refugees sitting in neighbouring countries. The Arabs don't need to win a war, all they need to do is stand firm, survive and maintain their claim to their land.

Israel, in fear of losing its Jewish character, is stopping at no costs to recreate a 1948 scenario ... another nabka, another mass expulsion of Palestinians.


The media is reporting an agreement between the West and Arab states on a cease-fire proposal.

The Palestinian Authority representative at the UN, the Arab League, US, UK and France have all claimed there is a deal.

There's only one problem here. No one has asked Hamas whether it would agree to a cease-fire being imposed on them by foreign powers pursuing their own interests.

The PA, Egypt and the West all have a common interest, which is to contain Hamas if not destroy it. Israel has failed, again, to dislodge a nemesis from power, thus moves to contain Hamas via a cease-fire becomes plan (B). The proposed cease-fire calls on Israel to end its war, end the blockade, and an international monitoring force to be stationed on the Rafah crossing to prevent arms reaching Hamas.

Of course the Palestinian Authority at the UN is going to agree to this ... he's from Fatah!

Hamas, and its prime supporter in Iran, have both so far publicly rejected the cease-fire terms. However, I can see Hamas agreeing to the cease-fire terms with the condition that Turkish troops form a large part of the international force. Turkey, despite strong military ties to Israel, has become increasingly sympathetic towards Hamas, and has shifted closer to Syria and Iran. Turkey is one of the few states in the Islamic world to give Hamas recognition. The Islamist movement would find loop holes more easily with a foreign force that is, at heart, on its side.

The following is an excerpt from an Al Jazeera interview with Damascus-based Hamas official Musa Abu Marzouq:

Al Jazeera: Under what conditions will Hamas agree a ceasefire with Israel?

Abu Marzouq: We have three conditions for any peace initiative coming from any state.

First, the aggression of the Israelis should stop. All of the gates should be opened, including the gate of Rafah between the Gaza Strip and Egypt. Finally, Israel has to withdraw from the Gaza Strip.

We are not saying we will stop firing rockets from the Gaza Strip to Israel - we are only talking about stopping the aggression from the Israelis against the civilian population in the Gaza Strip.

When others talk about a ceasefire, they are saying all military operations should stop.

But we are sending a message [by firing rockets]: "We will not surrender. We have to fight the Israelis and we will win this battle."

We know we are going to lose a lot of people from our side, but we are going to win, inshallah.

Iran's Ali Larijani dismissed the cease-fire proposal as "honey injected with poison", following talks with Hamas in Damascus and pro-Iranian groups in Beirut. Whilst the Iranians and Syrians would see a Hamas survival as a victory, the end to weapons smuggling may be too high a price to pay.


halewistan said...

Great post, Antoun. I think you're dead-on about the potential dynamic of Turkey's role. I wrote briefly on this here. Although i'm not so familiar with domestic Turkish politics, the intelligence of Erdogan's international stance has thus far really impressed me.

The only problem is, considering Israel's domestic political situation, i can't see Barak or Livni willing to let Turkish forces onto Palestinian territory. It would be an interesting way for Olmert to leave office on a (minimally) higher note, though.

While obsessing over the recent BBC images, ignorance of UNSC resolutions, etc., i felt compelled to pull a hail mary and float a half-baked vision on for the future of the region here.

It's a riff off of a recent post by Juan Cole about Israel's settler-colonialist logic. I'd be keen to hear your thoughts as a kind of litmus test ;)


Antoun said...


My arguments tend to be more inclined with the view of Juan Cole.

His three possible outcomes seem to be the most plausible.

The status quo cannot remain. A single state option appears to be an inevitable conclusion, but perhaps not the most desirable for the Israelis for demographic reasons.

The Arabs in 30 years will form a majority in the Holy Land. The next few decades are crucial in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The Israelis are acting out of desperation, a way to either prolong the status quo, or worse, inflict a 1948 re-enactment.

I don't believe circumstances in the world will permit another mass expulsion, but in the likelihood of a major regional conflict involving several states, Israel may pursue this option.

1948 was different, it was a post-colonial era whereby mass expulsions, population migrations (India/Pakistan, Greece/Turkey, Central Europe etc.) were frequent in order to define the current world order.

Resistance to Israel in the Arab world is also particularly fierce, and the Palestinians are aware of their demographic advantage and will wait 30 years until they have majority.

Another factor is that the state of Israel has tied itself to the global power of the US. America is entering its twilight years of world power. As US power dwindles, Israel becomes more vulnerable.

I don't see a need to paper over the cracks with an internationalisation of the Holy Land. It doesn't address the core issues, and it won't change the course of this conflict.

halewistan said...

Hi Antoun,

Thanks for having a look. I admit the idea's pretty ill-formed thus far. I agree with you about the demographic issues, etc. ... virtually everything, actually.

That said, re: your comment on the geopolitics of 1948--again i'm with you entirely... but i think where our current generation might genuinely contribute to a better future is in thinking past the stifling identity politics of a dead era.

As you obviously know well, the current -isms that have lead to the whole tragedy in Palestine (let alone Iraq and elsewhere) were essentially imposed on the non-European world out of brute colonial force.

The times have changed, and with info tech etc. as it is, stand to change even more rapidly as the years go on. Why restrict ourselves to these old, ill-adapted ways of thinking?

I don't see it as 'papering over the cracks' (although the idea is admittedly still full of them), but rather shattering the whole thing to pieces, replacing it instead with an open-source ideological slate, if you will.

Anyway--thanks for the read. I respect your opinion + appreciate the thoughts. -halewi