Saturday, 10 January 2009

A dialogue on the current Gaza invasion

As I wrote here, as an outsider I'm struggling to grasp what is going on in the Gaza strip these days. I love that entire strip of land, Israel and Palestine, and so this post represents my ongoing struggle to try and get a better purchase of the situation. I'm not an expert and have little time to really research the issue, so this meager attempt is also a call for others to enlighten me and fill in the gaps. It consists in a dialogue with Hadassah, author of the blog Zionism and the State of Israel. The text in italics are her comments, written in response to the post above. Under each statement I give my own thoughts. It would be worth reading Avi Shlaim's article "How Israel Brought Gaza to the Brink of a Humanitarian Catastrophe" and possibly Robert Fisk's article, "Why do they Hate the West so much, we will ask?" [HT Laila, of the interesting blog Raising Yousuf and Noor: diary of a Palestinian Mother]

Hamas has been raining rockets down on Israeli citizens for EIGHT years. They have shown no signs of returning Gilad Shalit and the Hamas government actively and publicly supports terror.

I agree with all of this and personally think that Hamas is probably as evil as it is made out to be by the West (in fact more so, as the West's commitment to political correctness inhibits it from calling a spade a spade). My issue at the moment is not the legitimacy of Hamas—any organisation which uses suicide bombers is illegitimate in my view, whether democratically elected or not—but rather the appropriateness of the current onslaught in Gaza. There seem to me to be two options for evaluating it: either Israel is totally innocent and is finally defending itself after eight years as a passive victim, or Israel has crimes of its own. If the first option is true, then I can imagine that the onslaught may be legitimate … It's terrible, but perhaps something like this is the only solution, something along the lines of what happened to other sick regimes such as Nazi Germany and Japan in WWII.

I want to believe the first option. I love Israel and it actually hurts to see it in this situation. But I have a responsibility to strive to get over my emotional ties and see things objvectively.

The problem is that I can hardly believe that Israel is so innocent. I think Avi Shlaim's article contains enough to demand a response by those in favour of the war. If his article is accurate, then regardless of the evil of Hamas rocketing Sderot, Beersheva, Ashkelon etc., Israel does not have a clean enough slate to give it the moral authority to treat this invasion as pure self-defence. Rather, Israel ought instead to be working on addressing the issues raised by Shlaim before it can be justified in creating the current traumatic catastrophe. If you, or anyone, has an informed response to his article I'd be grateful—grateful because I don't want to believe it.

The Israeli economy benefits from open borders with Gaza and only keeps them closed when security concerns overwhelm economic ones.

Shlaim's article puts this in a totally different light. He calls it “a classic case of colonial exploitation” and gives evidence. I'd appreciate a response.

The Israeli army does its best not to harm civilians in this attack on Hamas. It is focusing on destroying munition factories, Hamas offices and tunnels used for smuggling ammunition into Gaza from Egypt. Occasionally civilians do get hurt, just as they are getting hurt on the Israeli side (and that's not by accident).

I've always believed this and had a lot of respect for the IDF for the way they go about their operations. But I'm being so overwhelmed with information to the contrary at the moment— informed insider information and not the typical rhetoric of those for whom the “Palestinian cause” is a convenient cypher for their own agenda—that its becoming increasingly more difficult for me to defend it … Here, Robert Fisk's article needs to be responded to. I can't just ignore it.

I should add that the Israeli government representative who attempted to defend the recent bombing of the UN school was so obviously following a script that it just dents their credibility. All governments do it, of course (e.g. Britain during the Rwanda crisis), but that doesn't make it right.

Also, Shlaim's article has a more cynical take on the agenda behind the invasion. He needs to be responded to.

Finally, surely “occasionally” is an understatement … What are the latest statistics?

Israel simply wants to prevent Hamas from shooting rockets at Israel by taking away its capability to do that (after all diplomatic avenues have failed).

I keep returning to Shlaim's article. According to him, this is the declared aim of the war. But, “The undeclared aim is to ensure that the Palestinians in Gaza are seen by the world simply as a humanitarian problem and thus to derail their struggle for independence and statehood.” He gives further information on timing, etc. He may be wrong, but how do I find out?

Even with all the lies Arab propaganda is spewing, the international community has been fairly understanding of Israel's position. Israel does not go to war lightly and it is paying a fairly high price - the endangerment of all the civilians in the south of Israel as well as Israeli soldiers in Gaza and all over the country. But this is a necessary reaction.

I agree that Arab propaganda is sickening, and I agree that most of the world has been understanding (even Egypt). But I'm coming to learn that the official statements of nations on issues like this have less to do with humanitarian concerns and more to do with realpolitik. In other words, their statements are worth listening to but still needed to be treated with the greatest of caution. It doesn't clinch the argument for me.

Also, I'm not sure if you are not exaggerating a bit when you say that “all the civilians in the south of Israel as well as Israeli soldiers … all over the country” are endangered by this invasion … Shlaim calls it "pin pricks" in Israel ...

But this is a necessary reaction.

As I said above, this depends on Israel's innocence concerning its behaviour during the last eight years of Hamas bombing.

An important thing to note: Hamas complains of lack of food, medicine, etc. Israel has been allowing humanitarian aid in to Gaza and Hamas gunmen have been stealing it in order to sell to the citizens of Gaza! Palestinians wounded in Gaza have been treated in Israeli hospitals. While all this has been going on, a Palestinian baby was brought to an Israeli hospital for a life-saving heart operation.

I wasn't aware of Hamas' actions here. As I said, I have little respect for the organisation, but that isn't the issue for me. The issue is the appropriateness of this invasion given the circumstances which brought it about. Concerning the baby, I know that Israel does such things. Claims that it is an Apartheid regime, racist against Palestinians (as claimed here) are, as far as I can see, ludicrous.

Update: I'm not sure what value there is in posting video footage, if anything it helps orient the discussion on concrete experiences, but here is a Palestinian medic getting shot in the thigh while out on a mission:

[Again, HT Laila]


Kevin P. Edgecomb said...

The shellings into Sderot began after Israel unilaterally decided to evacuate its settlements and end occupation of the Gaza Strip. This required the forced relocation of thousands of Israelis, and the end of profitable farms and orchards, to the detriment of the Gazans as well. This unilateral attempt at making peace has achieved nothing except putting Israeli communities in range of shelling from the Gaza strip. So, that was a stupid mistake. Relatedly, many of those families that were moved from the Gaza communities of Gush Katif and elsewhere have yet to be provided their government-promised new homes. This was a lose-lose situation for the Israelis all around. They have ruined the lives of thousands for nothing. Their attempts to make peace, following the suggestions bourgeois hand-wringers around the world, have failed repeatedly. Now, with Iranian Grad rockets having been smuggled into Gaza through the tunnels from Egypt, and these being used to extend the range of the attacks on Israel, the only response possible is the elimination of such a threat, through whatever means necessary. And, in keeping with international law, they are completely in the right, because of those continual mortar and rocket attacks over the last three years.

I've noticed another peculiarity in much of the coverage, calling Hamas' takeover of Gaza a coup. It was no such thing. They were elected by the majority of Palestinian voters to be the government of the Palestinians. (This should also give one pause, finding a populace with such a disgusting preference in representatives!) The Palestinian Authority (Abbas and the other "Tunisians"--the corruptocrats who followed Arafat around in his Tunisian exile and returned with him after the now-defunct Oslo Accords), however, was and is favored by the international powers, because they at least have the courtesy to lie to diplomats and pretend that they really want peace rather than the destruction of "the Zionist entity." PA/Fatah is no less culpable for suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks than Hamas is. (These, of course, were ceased not through any diplomatic skill, but through the construction by the Israelis of the security fence/wall, so that these terrorists couldn't just literally walk across the border to perpetrate their inhuman crimes.) But the PA now gets good press. It's just that diplomats prefer them for their diplomatic duplicity, and the news cycle (and apparently most of humanity) has a memory of approximately 24 hours.

So now in Gaza, we only have the two sides. One is Hamas, driven by a fanatical religious hatred of the Jews, their entire reason for existence being tied to the elimination of Jews. Number two, Israel, is the longest-lasting democracy and most vibrant economy in the entire region, which has been under assault by terrorists-cum-neighbors for the better part of forty years. And yet, this one little country is under so much more scrutiny than any other whenever it attempts necessary defense of its citizens, that they are required (and not only by outsiders, but by their own citizens) to jump through any number of nearly impossible hoops to effect that defense, and still they are cursed. Who has ever heard of phoning all the inhabitants of targeted buildings, telling them all to get out before they are bombed? It is extraordinary. It is also unnecessary. No other nation would ever have to do such a thing. And still, the outcry against Israel is vicious. It's pathetic. If this were fiction, I would throw it away as being completely unbelievable. And yet this is reality.

Unknown said...

Obviously there is a lot to respond to in this post, but I really just want to mention one thing:

The majority of Israelis wants to give the Palestinians their own state. However, they are not willing to create a hostile entity which will wage war against them constantly. Palestinian autonomy can only happen if Israel's borders are kept safe. Hamas is endangering its own freedom by attacking Israel, just as the West Bank Arabs endangered theirs. And in fact, the Second Intifada in the West Bank led to the Israeli army re-occupying the territory so that Israeli citizens would not have to fear being shot at while driving home from work.

Gaza has been given a lot of chances. As pointed out in the previous post, it doesn't get much better than a unilateral withdrawal from the entire territory. The Palestinians missed their chance to set up a government which would lead them to prosperity and peace and instead chose to elect a group of terrorists who would prevent peace with Israel at all cost.

An independent Palestinian state can only be established if Hamas does not rule Gaza.

In the meantime, those of us who have lived with the fear brought about by Palestinian terror (and let me tell you, that includes ALL Israelis) support the Israeli government in its mission to bring calm to the southern region of Israel and damage the Hamas infrastructure.

Unknown said...

I read Avi Shlaim's article and it is very inaccurate on many points. I wanted to know why someone who had lived in Israel could frankly say so many lies. I did a Google search on him and found this -

Why Avi Shlaim hates Israel

Shlaim was born to one of Baghdad`s wealthiest Jewish families, in a mansion with 10 servants. After 1948 his secular and assimilated family had to flee to Israel, leaving most of their wealth behind.

Shlaim`s gentlemanly father spent the rest of his life a broken man, playing backgammon in Ramat-Gan cafes with old comrades and cherishing the "good old days".

Shlaim grew up in this atmosphere of bitterness. He began to see himself as an ethnic Arab of Jewish creed, whose family was ruined due to Jewish nationalism and emergence of Israel.

Shlaim`s anti-Israel pathology eventually attracted the attn of British antisemites at Oxford, who on 1987 rewarded him with a professorial chair at the univ and provided him with the means to further spread his anti-Israel gripe.

For details:

Interview with historian Avi Shlaim

By Meron Rapoport
Aug 12, 2005
(link doesn`t work)

Like most Israelis, I feel when civilians are hurt or killed in Gaza; but feeling sorry for Palestinian civilians does not override my will to live and to protect my family and friends.

The war will stop when Hamas stops firing rockets on Israeli children.

David Melle

Unknown said...

As for Robert Fisk - I don't even know where to start. He has serious problems hating the West and Israel for representing the West and Democracies in general in the war against Islamic fanatics.

He was once beaten by Islamic religious fanatics in Afghanistan, who beat him up simple because he was a westerner.

Right after the incident he said: "If I were them, I'd have
beaten me too". The man is a serious nut job.

The web site has a yearly award for those in the West who are always on the side of dictators or Islamic fanatics - it calls it the "Robert Fisk" award, or the "Fiskie":

These folks who always will place western democracies at fault, whether it's the US or Israel are called "Idiotarians".

Anonymous said...

little green footballs is one of the most right wing anti Muslim nut job websites on the internet.

Phil Sumpter said...

Wow, thank you guys for the detailed responses!


I'm constantly astounded at your knowlege in so many areas. Thanks for this well-written piece. May I post it? I'd love to see how others respond to it. I think I agree with most of what you say ... though I'm struggling to believe that the Israelis are as innocent in all this as I once did. I guess I need time to digest all the relevant information and evaluate it properly. For example, I still need a response to the third video clip in my post The Gaza war on Youtube. You see what is going on live, and it is made by Westerners on site.

Concerning the relocation of Israelis out of Gaza. Weren't most of them illegal settlers? And according to Shlaim (and I think I've heard this elsewhere), weren't they simply relocated to the West Bank?

As for Fatah also being against the State of Israel as a whole, I believe our hero Bernard Lewis said something similar in an enlightening essay. I'll post it later today. I'm aware of the corruption of Fatah. I'd recommend Said Aburish's excellent biography of Arafat.

I would also go as far as to say that Hamas is an Islamofacist organisation. Hitler was also voted in, but that doesn't make him legitimate. As for the "coup," I overheard on CNN while ironing something about this. I was also surprised by the use of the word, but it sounds as if both an election and a coup took place, somehow.


thanks for getting back to me on this. I agree that whatever for a future Palestinian government would take, it simply could not take the form of an Islamofascist regime like Hamas. Concerning the Gaza pullout, my comments to Kevin on the the illegal settlement of the West Bank apply. It underminds the move. Finally, I got the impression that there are a number of Israeli's who are against the invasion (e.g. the girl from Sderot, who I mentioned). But you're in a better position to tell.


I'm sure that your average Israeli does not take Palestinian suffering lightly. And of course, protecting one's own is also an imperative.

As for the Shlaim link, although I would welcome critique of Shlaim's article (because, as I said, I simply don't want to believe it), the details given here are not really convincing. They are psycho-analytical, trying to guess from a distance what childhood experiences may have influenced Shlaim's current thought. Whether true or not, I'm interested in concrete responses to the actual claims he makes. What impresses me about him is not his nationality but rather his academic credentials. Oxford is a top place of research. Simply labelling his employers anti-Semites sounds like a convenient way of avoiding the content of his message.

The same applies to your comments on Robert Fisk. Whether nut job or not, in his article he makes a number of statements of fact, which, if true, are incriminating. These need to be responded, regardless of his mental stability.


thanks for the warning. It's not always easy to judge a site when one only has time to glance through ...

Unknown said...

I must respond to your comment about the settlers in the Gaza Strip. The settlements in the Gaza Strip and in the West Bank were set up by the Israeli government over the last 40 years. The government of Israel thought for many years that the settlement of these areas by Israeli citizens would create a reality in which these territories would be no different from other parts of the country. In the last 15 years or so, this consensus has been eroded and public opinion in Israel has tilted away from support of settlements.

The result of the new policy has been that some citizens have established new settlements without the official support of the government. These settlements are in the West Bank and not in the Gaza Strip. Although the government calls these settlements "illegal," it provides all kinds of services for the residents of these outposts.

The settlers who lived in the Gaza Strip went there with the full support of the government. In fact, the government encouraged settlement in this area (and in the West Bank) by providing tax breaks, low-cost education and inexpensive housing.

After the disengagement from Gaza, the residents of these settlements went to live all over the country. A number have found new homes in the West Bank, but the majority settled in towns in the south. They were provided for by the government only partially and were resettled in pre-fab temporary homes which are a far cry from the homes they were living in previously. Many of these southern towns are under attack now. The temporary communities lack proper shelters, so many of these families have had to evacuate their homes temporarily during this war.

The disengagement from Gaza was a traumatic experience for Israelis. Many Israelis are especially disappointed now, three years later, since it is now clear that the objective of the disengagement was not accomplished: peace (or even an uneasy tension) has not ensued. Instead, the Palestinians elected Hamas and rockets are being fired non-stop.

Phil Sumpter said...

Thanks for the details, Hadassah. I wouldn't mind posting those too, if it's OK ...

Though the settlements have largely received the Israeli government's stamp of approval, and so in that sense are not illegal internally, isn't it the case that Israel's ongoing support of settlements are in violation of agreements made with Palestinians on land for peace? The argument is that settlements rob what in the future should be part of the Palestinian state. In this sense, as violations of peace negotiations, they are illegal, aren't they? It seems to me that the idea of "land for peace" is fair.

Kevin P. Edgecomb said...

Yes, Phil, if you'd like to post it, do. I'm thankful for your compliment.

But I do take issue with something in your comment above. Hitler was the duly elected Chancellor, and the legitimate leader of Germany. We may despise him and his memory, but he was the legitimately elected authority. Such is the case with Hamas, as well. Despite our preferences, Hamas is the elected government of the Palestinian territories, although they effectively only control Gaza, and the West Bank is under the PLO/Palestinian Authority/Fatah, an only slightly less despicable organization. What happened after the election of Hamas was a purge of Fatah functionaries in Gaza, and the attempt at one in the West Bank, which turned quickly in favor of Fatah. This is the point at which the Palestinian territories effectively became two separate entities, ruled by two separate and antagonistic groups, who hate one another only slightly less than they hate Jews.

Regarding the videos, I'll view them later, but I'm sure they have little to contribute. The Israelis are doing the best they can to avoid collateral casualties, which is something that Hamas is not doing at all, has never done, and never will do. I seriously think that it's partly all a game to Hamas and Fatah. They parade around in macho uniforms, posing for reporters, lobbing shells willy-nilly at Israel's southern towns, and play at being internationally respected members of a resistance when they're really only overgrown boys playing cops and robbers or somesuch, but with deadly consequences to their games. Now that Israel is behaving as an adult should (and as every state has a right to do in defense of its citizens!), in giving them a proper spanking, they're crying, Stop, no fair!

The "land for peace" concept appeared in the 1993 Oslo Accords, long after the Gaza settlements (which were effectively security/buffer zones) were established, and so were not illegal per se. The accords are not binding, but are effectively a treaty between a state and a non-state entity, thus "accords" and not "treaty". De facto, the Oslo Accords are defunct, in any case.

The only "land for peace" that will ever achieve peace with Hamas and Fatah is the complete handover of all of Israel to Hamas and Fatah, for them to squabble over and destroy. That will never happen, and no one should believe it will. The handover of the Gaza settlements was an attempt to implement this "land for peace" concept. It didn't work, and we should never expect any other implementation of such to work. Hamas and Fatah will never cease their attacks until either Israel ceases to exist, or until they cease to exist. Considering the options dispassionately, Israel should be preferred, as a successful democracy and culture of distinct achievements in education, technology, the arts and in nearly every other field of endeavour. The corruption and violence of the Palestinian factions inspire no confidence in their ability to govern anything more than their Swiss bank accounts. The sooner they are gone, the better, as far as I'm concerned. Perhaps the Palestinian public will wake up and discover that violence is not the way, and should not be supported. Until that public does, they'll continue to fester in their own hatred and jealousy of Israel, and no progress will be made toward peace. That's how I see it, anyway.

Unknown said...

The settlements in Israel have been around for long before the Oslo Accords. The only possible violation of the Accords is that the Israeli government did not try too hard to remove new settlements that cropped up without its permission. But as I said earlier, there were no such settlements in Gaza.

Phil Sumpter said...

Thank you Hadassah and Kevin for the info. Kevin, I share your concerns about Hamas, as I posted here. I also wasn't aware of the details concerning the settlement of Gaza and the Oslo Accords. Where do you get this information? I need to educate myself.

I still feel, however, that I need to clarify the content of the accusations made by Shlaim etc. I cannot believe that Israel is quite so innnocent ... At least from the sources I've been reading. But it isn't as bad as it has been made out either ... Hmm. I want to emphasise that I love Israel and just about anything "Jewish," so this situation is personally quite difficult for me. My latest post express some of my frustration.

By the way, Kevin, someone responded to your comments which I posted, in case you want to get back to them.

Thanks again for taking the time!

Phil Sumpter said...

Sorry, I forgot to ask: so, when Shlaim says that 12,000 settlers were relocated to the West Bank after Gaza, is that a lie? And if true, doesn't it undermine the morality of the move?