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Thoughts on Israel-Gaza war 2014 edition

August 2, 2014 Leave a comment

Once again Israeli is bombing and invading Gaza in the cycle of retaliations. This time I don’t feel so miserable though. Somehow I feel much less neurotic and anxious than in 2012. I’m not sure why, maybe because in 2012 I thought it was quite clear that the justification for attack was flimsy and based on a very weak breaking of a ceasefire.

This time around however I think I have some more clarity in my head on how to think about the latest event. The Norman Finklestein lecture provided a good starting point for my thoughts. The final point for me is that this war is one aimed at eliminating Hamas by targeting and inflicting suffering on the Palestinian population so that they overthrow the Hamas govt or yield and submit further. Not sure how much further they can submit. In any case the war is inevitable based on the conflicting ideologies of what the future of this land ought to be. A state for the Jews has no room for Palestinians. A secular state for both has no room for Zionism. An Islamic state has no room for minorities. A two state solution has the backing of intl law, but Israel won’t accept it because it doesn’t trust the Palestinian side and Palestinians don’t trust Israel to withdraw settlers. In any case the two state solution is going to require great political will and it’s unpopularity doesn’t help it. It is clear that the West Bank is still occupied, and Gaza is surrounded and an open air prison with tunnels. International law gives the right to those who are occupied for armed liberation. The Israelis do not think they are occupying Gaza, they argue they are retaliating against a foreign attacker. Even in this description of events the equivalence of attack is ridiculously absent, more than 1600 Palestinian dead in 25 days and 3 Israeli civilians and 30+ soldiers.

Finklestein’s main argument is the following: Israel’s attack on Gaza is attempting to break the recent unity governemnt because it poses a diplomatic threat to Israeli policy of refusing to implement the two state solution. Bibi was looking for a pre-text to attack to disrupt the recent unity government. When Hamas joined the unity government, it implicitly accepted the Fateh agreements to a two state solution etc… including the Arab League peace proposal. FInklestein made several points that Hamas was not a threat to Israeli citizens until the Israeli state provoked them. The kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers and their murder was blamed on Hamas. No one has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping, but it is thought that a Hamas affiliated group that is not under the leadership of Hamas performed it. In any case, Israel mobilizes its security apparatus in the West Bank, arrests almost all the prisoners exchanged for Shalit and further harasses the West Bank population.

Hamas is under pressure in the WB. Then a Palestinian teen is kidnapped and killed in Israel. Rockets fly from Gaza, and the pretext needed is used to eliminate Hamas. Finklestein argues the Israeli government says it is going in to stop the threat of Hamas. FInklestein says there is no threat. First, the rockets are harmless in proportion. In 2008 a 22 day conflict left 3 civilians dead, in 2014 after 22 days it was the same thing. Iron dome did not exist in 2008. So Iron dome does nothing, the rockets are “fireworks”. The threat from rockets does not justify the scale of the bombing.

Second the Israeli government argued that the tunnels are a threat to be eliminated. Finklestein argues that Sisi destroyed 90% of the tunnels and that the rockets in Gaza are home-made. So Israel’s attack is not to eliminate a threat, since Hamas kept up the ceasefire since 2012 surprisingly well (even created a special force for this purpose), but to destroy unity government.

Third Finklestein states that Hamas’s ten demands for a ceasefire are reasonable. The Tony Blair ceasefire fed to the Egyptian president was a farce intended to make Hamas look reactionary. It required that militias in Gaza be disarmed (or some other language) that basically required Hamas to surrender or for regime change. This is a similar tactic to Iraq intended to entrench not to reduce tensions. This is part of Bibi’s media campaign prolonging the bombing run Israel is taking in Gaza.

Finally Finklestein argues there is no proof of weapons hidden among population centers, bombs are targeting people not weapons. The scale of the dead indicates there is little concern for civilian casualties. The UN has found no evidence of weapon hiding among civilian buildings.This all leads to the conclusion that this war is intended to punish civilians. Finklestein concludes by saying that a two state solution is something Israel does not desire and it takes steps to undermine any movement towards it. In this case it is the Palestinian unity government.

I have a few thoughts about this. First calling the bombs fireworks is a mistake. They reach Tel-Aviv. Sure they are basically projectiles emptied of any explosive power, the odds of actually hitting anyone are really low, but still not fireworks. Second, generally I think this is right to the point of being uninteresting. I guess it is still important to establish point by point that the Israeli bombings are aimed at civilians. But for me this has somewhat of a so-what factor. Yes, it is in violation of international law. But Israel already is in violation of multiple international laws. International law itself is only used when it benefits those already in power. I think as a tactic to stop the immediate killing by putting pressure on Israel, international opinion is important. And in as far as international opinion cares about international law then that is a good tactic (short-term) but a useless strategy (long-term). Third I think it misunderstands the Israeli psyche of being under threat. Even if Hamas is feckless it doesn’t mean that it is not perceived as threatening. The real threat is from the ideas held by Hamas and Palestinian resistance groups. There are anti-semites, and these terrify Israelis and people all over the world, but the real threat to Israel is the alternative political project.

My main point of dissent is that the reliance on international law is not logical given everything else FInklestein says about the conflict. If, as it appears, the strong do what they will (with some window dressing), then the logic for both sides should lead to further entrenchment and resistance. This means armed struggle and conflict is the only way to achieve anything. Talks and negotiations save lives and that has merit. But this will recur until, either the ideologies change, or one side eliminates the other. Each time this will happen the same pattern will repeat itself. It’s not important who fired the first rocket, or made the first move, in the latest exchange. At this point it is easier for Israel to eliminate the other side than to negotiate.  I think in this case the only option for both sides is to increase violence. There are Israelis and Palestinians from either side who are looking for  another solution, one where coexistence is possible, but I do not think they are very popular. We can hope that they triumph, but the better option is strengthening the Palestinian hand to reach a settlement.

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