Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Stop in the name of - Just please stop!

My grandmother did not die to provide cover for Israeli soldiers murdering Palestinian grandmothers in Gaza. - British Labour MP Sir Gerald Kaufman, a Jewish immigrant whose grandmother was murdered by Nazi soldiers.


Be warned: This will be somewhat rambling. These things usually are.

So there is a ceasefire - of sorts - in Gaza. Israel declared a "unilateral" ceasefire on Saturday and Hamas followed with its own "unilateral," one-week, ceasefire a few hours later.

I say "of sorts" because both sides, Israel in particular, have made it clear that this will not be the end unless they get what they want. Indeed, Israel is already violating its own ceasefire. AP reports that
Israeli warships off the northern Gaza coast fired sporadic rounds of heavy bullets at beaches through the afternoon.
An IDF representative said these were "warning shots" - whatever that could possibly mean in a ceasefire - but they wounded one Palestinian. I find it hard to call that a "warning shot."

All this does not bode well for the future since neither side gained what it wanted this time around.

On the Israeli side, we have Prime Minister Ehud Olmert declaring "We won." As Haaretz (Israel) reported it, he said
[t]he Israel Defense Forces objectives for its operation in the Gaza Strip were "obtained in full." Hamas was "surprised and badly beaten," the government "made decisions responsibly and wisely," the IDF's performance was excellent and the southern home front "displayed resilience."
Obtained in full? Who is he kidding? Israel claimed the purpose was to stop rocket attacks coming out of Gaza. The BBC noted that Israel's ceasefire began at 2am local time (midnight GMT or, if you're into technical applications or set your clock by WWV, it's UCT). But
[h]ours later, at least 18 rockets were fired into Israel, Israeli sources said, triggering an Israeli air strike in response.
So unquestionably, that objective was not "obtained in full." (I don't know if those rockets were a ceasefire violation since it's unclear if they were fired before or after Hamas made its own declaration that it was standing down.)

Likely, a truer goal was to, in the words of Deputy Prime Minister Haim Ramon, "topple Hamas," to, as Deputy Chief of Staff Brigadier-General Dan Harel put it, "erase every trace of Hamas," asserting that "there will not be a single Hamas building left standing in Gaza."

However, AP observed that
[u]niformed Hamas security teams emerged on Gaza City's streets Monday as leaders of the Islamic militant group vowed to restore order in the shattered Palestinian territory after a three-week pummeling by the Israeli military. ...

Hamas ... raced to capitalize on anger toward Israel and sought to show it remains unbowed and firmly in command of the Mediterranean coastal strip.

"We are still ready and capable of firing more rockets. We are developing the range of our rockets and the enemy will face more, and our rockets will hit new targets, God willing," said Abu Obeida, the spokesman for Hamas' military wing. ...

The high visibility of uniformed Hamas police stood in contrast to the furtive movements of Hamas fighters in civilian clothing who confronted or tried to evade the Israeli onslaught that began Dec. 27. Some have suspected the Islamic group was in disarray, but even some Israeli observers have acknowledged that the tightly knit organization remains largely intact.
So that "objective" was not reached, either. What, then, are the "objectives" that have been "achieved in full?" Two possibilities present themselves, neither pretty, in fact both ugly. Not that anything about the last three weeks has been otherwise.

One is that, in the words of Thomas Friedman, whose blood lust belies his claim to a bleeding heart, the intent was to "educate" Hamas. The "education" in this case consisting of
inflicting a heavy death toll on Hamas militants and heavy pain on the Gaza population.
The lesson to be learned, it seems, is "challenge our power and we will kill you by the thousands," to, as former IDF Chief of Staff and current Likud candidate for the Knesset Moshe Ya'alon is supposed to have said, "sear into the consciousness of the Palestinians that they are a defeated people."* Now, Friedman is the one who infamously said that the whole purpose of the Iraq war was to tell some country in "that part of the world" - didn't have to be Iraq, he said, could have been Saudi Arabia, could have been Pakistan - to "Suck. On. This." So maybe he's not the best source on this.

However, he's not the only one. That AP report also said that
Israelis hope Gaza's civilians, who suffered heavily in the fighting that ended Sunday, will blame their militant rulers for provoking the Israeli assault with rocket attacks on southern Israel.
That is, the purpose was to attack civilians. To make them "suffer." To inflict "heavy pain." To destroy, to kill, to maim, all in the hope that it would provoke the people of Gaza to blame Hamas rather than the people who were actually bombing and shooting them. Which makes the IDF's actions make a kind of perverted sense. That's why you bomb mosques and schools and UN sites and hospitals and clinics and food distribution centers. That's why you shell houses full of unarmed civilians. That's why you shoot at ambulances and keep medics from getting to the wounded. That's why you kill 100 times as many Palestinians as Palestinians killed Israelis and over 200 times as many civilians as the reverse. That's why you leave 400,000 without running water and entire neighborhoods "flattened," looking like "they have been hit by a strong earthquake."

That's why you destroy 80 percent of the crops.

That's why you produce 100,000 refugees, including at least 35,000 homeless.

All that, all of it, based on "responsible and wise" decisions and an "excellent" performance by the IDF, had one goal: to "inflict pain." To "educate" Palestinians that they have the choice between hunger, pain, squalor, and death on the one hand and abject, crawling surrender on the other.

I have to say that Palestinians are not the only ones getting an education. A lot of the rest of us are, too. There is a saying that those who deal in vengeance become what they say they oppose. There is no better example of that than Israel, which has engaged not only in repression, illegal occupation, and war crimes, but has become a terrorist government, deliberately targeting civilians for political purposes - which is the very definition of terrorism.

I can remember things I wrote and not all that long ago, it seems, when I expressed sadness about the Middle East, when I felt the deepest tragedy of the region was that just at the time when the Arab states and the Palestinians were coming to accept, even if grudgingly, Israel's existence and permanence was just the time when Israeli hearts, hardened by war and a constant sense of looming danger, would no longer accept that as enough, that "security" through dominance had come to fill their thinking. Still, I said,
[t]he truth is, there’s blame enough for all sides in the on-going tragedy of the Middle East, enough pain both suffered and inflicted by each to rouse both compassion and anger.
But I must confess that my compassion for Israel has about run out.

And it would completely die if the second possible "objective" that has been "fully met" is the real one. Even though it has been suggested as a possibility by some who would not be thought unkindly disposed toward Israel, I still find it too hard to accept: It's the idea that the bottom-line purpose of the attack was to help Olmert's chosen successor, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, look "tough" in the run-up to the February elections. That the whole thing was simply a political stunt. That is just too far beyond my understanding of what it means to be human, too truly sociopathic, for me to grasp. Hardened hearts and calloused souls, that I can understand. That level of subhuman, casual cruelty, I can't.

Nevertheless, nevertheless all the considerations of why and how, of which cruelty was the source of the attack, there is now a ceasefire - again, of sorts - and it appears to be holding. Israel initially made only vague promises about withdrawal, all conditioned, of course, on a total end to rocket fire from Gaza. Olmert grandly allowed as how if that happened, Israel would "consider" withdrawing. That is, "you be good little submissive boys and girls and maybe we'll stop. No promises, though."

Despite that, within hours of the ceasefire, Israeli troops began withdrawing from Gaza. At first that was called a "partial" withdrawal, and the situation right now is somewhat confused. Reuters is saying that
Israel planned to complete a troop pullout from Gaza before Barack Obama's inauguration on Tuesday, Israeli political sources said, in what analysts saw as an effort to avoid any tension with the new U.S. president.
But AFP said that
[h]ours before the inauguration of US president-elect Barack Obama, the army said a full troop pull-out from Gaza was not under discussion.

"For the moment, no one is talking about the total withdrawal of troops," said army spokeswoman Avital Liebovich.
So while troops are pulling out, how many and if they'll be out before Obama is inaugurated at noon today is unclear.

What is clear is that troops or no troops, Israel intends to continue its economic and ethical suffocation of Gaza. It still controls the borders, it still controls the air and the sea, and it still, even in the face of the devastation it has caused, is agreeing to allow in merely a trickle of humanitarian aid. I say it again: That is terrorism. How can you say it isn't?

A final, related, thought here:
"Our fight is not with the people of Gaza," Olmert said....

"We did not go to war to fight the people of Gaza," [Defense Minister Ehud Barak] said. "Hamas has taken half of the Palestinian people hostage."
So by their own account, at least half the people killed (even accepting the odd standard that Palestinian policemen were not civilians) were, and virtually all who suffer in hunger and cold are, innocents - indeed "hostages." Israeli forces have killed the innocent, have mowed down "hostages," to gain political ends. How is that not terrorism?

At the end of World War II, Albert Camus wrote hopefully of people who could learn to be “neither victims nor executioners.” The Israelis, it seems, have preferred simply changing roles from the former to the latter.

Footnote One: Haaretz reports that
[t]he Immigrant Absorption Ministry announced on Sunday it was setting up an "army of bloggers," to be made up of Israelis who speak a second language, to represent Israel in "anti-Zionist blogs" in English, French, Spanish and German. ...

[Erez] Halfon[, the ministry's director general,] said volunteers who send the Absorption Ministry their contact details ... will be registered according to language, and then passed on to the Foreign Ministry's media department, those personnel will direct the volunteers to Web sites deemed "problematic."
Put more simply, Israel is organizing a mass online PR assault using people falsely claiming to be independent voices. (And please don't bother with anything about "how do you know that" unless you're able to imagine these people going to their assigned websites and saying "hi, I was sent here by the Israeli government." If you can imagine that, you have a much more active imagination than I do.)

Footnote Two: Consider this quote:
The spokesman for the Israeli consulate in New York boasted of the masses who attended a solidarity demonstration with the children of Sderot. He did not mention the masses of Jews who do not know where to hide their shame at the sight of pictures of Palestinian men weeping bitterly over the families who perished under the ruins of their houses.

Israeli spokesmen try to cope with the values question by using the following question/argument: "Would the United States have restrained itself in the face of ongoing rocket fire from Mexico at its children, in its sovereign territory?" It is hard to believe that such a comparison will make any impression on an intelligent man like Obama. Mexico is not under an American aerial and naval blockade, nor is it considered occupied territory under international law. The U.S. Army and American settlers have not controlled parts of Mexico for the past 41 years (and the United States was a guarantor of the Oslo Accords, which stated that Gaza and the West Bank constitute a single political entity). ...

Obama has two choices. First, he can let the Israelis bleed and kill all the way to an ostracized apartheid state, observing from the sidelines as Israel endangers peace in the Middle East and undermines his country's interests.... The second option is to stand at Israel's side in its struggle to achieve peace and maintain its Jewish and moral character en route to regional acceptance, which has been offered by 22 Arab states.
The author is an Israeli Jew named Akiva Eldar, writing in Haaretz for Monday. It has been said so many time but it remains true that there is more dissent from Israeli policy in Israel than there is in the US. Which is a good part of the reason why, I suspect, we keep paying for the murder of innocents to the tune of about $2.3 billion in military grants in 2008. The blood on Israeli hands splashes heavily onto ours and our boots are covered with the gore of mangled bodies and the wreckage of ruined lives.

If I can just manage to step away from the day-to-day carnage, I'll be able to write more about our own responsibility and what we as a people should do beyond condemnation and cutting off military aid. That will take a little time.

*The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), the extremist, pro-Israel lobby dedicated to snuffing out any criticism of Israel in US media, claims that the quote is bogus, a misquote of something Ya'alon said in a 2002 interview with Haaretz. Which is partly true; in that interview, he didn't say those words. Rather, he said that it must be "burned into the Palestinian consciousness" that they can't win in a confrontation with Israel. However, since in that same interview he referred to the Palestinian "threat" as being like a "cancer" and Israeli military repression in the West Bank as "chemotherapy," I think it's a distinction without a difference so I don't feel bad about using the quote as I did.

As a footnote to this to be filed under Consider the Source, in April 2008, CAMERA was discovered to be engaging in an organized, secret effort to edit all Israel-related Wikipedia articles to conform to CAMERA's warped view.

Thanks to Eli for the link to the video.

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