So the moment has come.
After a week of aerial bombing that has killed roughly 500 people and wounded around 2,500 (BBC estimate, exact figures unobtainable as international media are banned from Gaza), the ground invasion has begun. This is the moment that many of us hoped wouldn’t come, the moment that signals that this will last for months and not weeks, and will bring far more bloodshed. This then, is the time to make a stand.
At the start of this many felt that the Israeli Government had a decent case. As they rightly pointed out, Israelis have been suffering greatly from Hamas rocket attacks, which from 2001 to Dec 31 2008 have killed 10 Israelis (8 during 2008, and 4 of those during the current operation) and wounded 434 (figures from the Israeli Foreign Ministry). In addition to this it was pointed out that millions of Israelis were living in fear of potential and future attacks, causing psychological stress and trauma. So at the start of this campaign, many thought that the attacks would be brief and targeted, to quickly cut down Hamas’ rocket firing capacity.
But a week later, with the scale of the air strikes becoming apparent, and the beginning of a land invasion, it is clear that the IDF has bigger ambitions. Quoted in the New York Times, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said that “There is no doubt that as long as Hamas controls Gaza, it is a problem for Israel, a problem for the Palestinians and a problem for the entire region.” And Vice Prime Minister Haim Ramon has gone further: “What I think we need to do is to reach a situation in which we do not allow Hamas to govern”. So the goal is the total defeat of Hamas, a war of ‘regime change’, which will ultimately require Israel to fully recapture Gaza. This is hubristic, terrifying madness. Has nothing been learned from the wars in Lebanon? Does the Israeli government continue to believe in a ‘military solution, when events have consistently shown that there is none? Every attack by one side breeds a retaliation by the other, continuing the cycle of violence that stretches back to 1948 and beyond. While polemicists on both sides try to deny that such a cycle exists, to any less blinkered observers it is self evident. Every indication is that this operation will make Hamas more popular rather than less, and will further radicalise Gaza’s battered, besieged population.
We are told that one cannot reason with Hamas. In the words of the Wahington Post Neo-Con Charles Krauthammer “For Hamas, the only thing more prized than dead Jews are dead Palestinians. The religion of Jew-murder and self-martyrdom is ubiquitous” We are given the impression that the Hamas rockets came out of a vacuum, because Hamas is a fundamentalist organisation motivated by Islamism rather than rationality. But there is a context; the Gaza strip has been blockaded ever since the 2005 disengagement; in the last year and a half it has been under total siege, by air, land and sea. The rocket fire began in 2000 as a response to the occupation. It continued after 2005 because the occupation never ended; while Israel zealously controls all entry and exit to Gaza, it must still be considered occupied. The continued occupation of Gaza via the siege is the cause of the rocket fire; even the ever-moderate Jonathan Freedland admitted in Saturday’s Guardian that “a relaxation of the blockade would have granted Hamas its key objective – a chance to prove it can govern effectively – and it would not have jeopardised that with rocket fire. It would have had too much to lose”. On the question of who broke the ceasefire, it seems that there were violations on both side. For a more detailed analysis I turn to the ever perceptive and veteran Israeli Peace Campaigner, Uri Averny
As a matter of fact, the cease-fire did not collapse, because there was no real cease-fire to start with. The main requirement for any cease-fire in the Gaza Strip must be the opening of the border crossings. There can be no life in Gaza without a steady flow of supplies. The blockade on land, on sea and in the air against a million and a half human beings is an act of war, as much as any dropping of bombs or launching of rockets….. Those who decided to close the crossings – under whatever pretext – knew that there is no real cease-fire under these conditions.
That is the main thing. Then there came the small provocations which were designed to get Hamas to react. After several months, in which hardly any Qassam rockets were launched, an army unit was sent into the Strip “in order to destroy a tunnel that came close to the border fence”. From a purely military point of view, it would have made more sense to lay an ambush on our side of the fence. But the aim was to find a pretext for the termination of the cease-fire, in a way that made it plausible to put the blame on the Palestinians. And indeed, after several such small actions, in which Hamas fighters were killed, Hamas retaliated with a massive launch of rockets, and – lo and behold – the cease-fire was at an end. Everybody blamed Hamas.
The Israeli PR line is that Israel’s government had no choice, it had all agency removed from itself. What, they ask ad infinitim, would we have them do? This is a legitimate question, and we should be clear about the answer.
1) Accept international proposals for a ceasefire immediately
2) End the siege of Gaza, i.e. allow Gazans control of air and sea, and allow normal transfer of goods and persons through the land borders with Israel and Egypt, thus allowing her people to return to normality.
3) Situate an international force to separate Israel and Gaza; they should be responsible for supervising the border to make sure arms do not come in, and they should be responsible for making sure no rockets are fired by Hamas, and that there are no further incursions by Israel.
4) Open negotiations with Hamas. Ideally as part of a unitary Palestinian government, which Israel should encourage (she and America blocked it last time) but if this is impossible, then with Hamas alone. Hamas are not as rejectionist as Israel and America claim; they were previously willing to allow Abbas to negotiate with Israel on behalf of the unity government, to seek a state within the 1967 boundaries, and to put any agreement to a referendum of the Palestinian people. The text of the unity government, from 2007, can be found here. Opponents of this view have often argued that Hamas has only ever offered a 50 year truce with Israel. But no peace agreement is guaranteed, it is upheld by the people if they feel it has worked. If a process succeeded in bringing peace to Israel/Palestine for 50 years, it is inconceivable that the Palestinian people would allow that to be destroyed, no matter what some clerics argue.
5) The big one-enter into immediate negotiations with all Palestinian parties over all issues, including Jerusalem and Refugees. The slow, piecemeal strategy of Oslo has failed. Serious negotiations will require vast international pressure on both sides, and will largely depend on how far Obama is willing to push Israel.
So there we have it-a practical proposal, hardly doing nothing
If Israel was genuinely motivated by the welfare of its citizens this is the course it would take. The current action will not bring security to the residents of Sderot and Ashkelon in the long run, even if it creates a short-term lull. 500 residents of Sderot (2.5% of the towns population) have realised this, signing a petition urging the IDF to end the operation and renew the truce with Hamas. Once signatory, Arik Yalin, was quoted by Ynet as saying “Our need to voice a different stance stems from the strong desire to change the situation and begin negotiations with the other side in order to stop the violence”. Proposals such as that above are not, in the facile phrase, ‘anti Israel’. They are motivated by a desire for a just peace, and shaped by the advantage of being outsiders rather than immersed in the conflict.
If, however, Israel does not start to take these kinds of steps, if this grossly disproportionate operation continues over several months, suspicion will arise that Israel has a further aim beyond the destruction of Hamas. We shall have to conclude that this is not a war to protect Israelis from rocket attacks-this is a war against peace. If the ground invasion becomes a full re-conquest of Gaza it will become apparent that the war is designed to force the Palestinian to accept peace on Israel’s terms, to destroy any notion of a just peace, and force on a fatally weakened Fatah leadership the final settlement programme of Ariel Sharon’s dreams. Such a ‘peace’ settlement would be of the kind long favoured by the Israeli security establishment, involving permanent annexation of large chunks of the West Bank, Israeli control over all of Jerusalem, and the Palestinian state having no border with Jordan, leaving the Palestinians with Begin style ‘autonomy’. Such an intention has long been suggested by the circuitous route of the Separation Barrier. Is this at the heart of things, is this what this war is really about? We can only hope that it isn’t.
We should not feel that in criticising the actions of her government, we are standing against the Israeli people. Israeli spokespeople give the impression that the outside world is simply naïve; not understanding what they have to deal with. But this notion is given the lie by the fact that 10,000 Israelis marched in Tel Aviv on Saturday against the war, organised by heroic Israeli peace groups such as Gush Shalom, the Alternative Information Center and Anarchists Against the Wall. Even Peace Now, that has largely remained silent since the 2nd Intifada has called on the government to ‘Stop the war and find a political solution now. These groups are Israel’s contemporary Prophets. They need our support.