Only Self-Defense? ~ Gaza/Israel: Peace Needs other Weapons
HOW TO REPRESENT THE ISRAEL/GAZA CONFRONTATION or if you want GAZA/ISRAEL confrontation, of mid November 2012?
This has been on my mind the last days, seeing the usual Pavlov reactions to the conflict of people taking sides for what clearly are the underdogs, without much thought though of the consequences. There have been several demonstrations already that had as their main slogan STOP ATTACK ON GAZA (1) without even mentioning the attacks the other way around, however primitive the missile technology employed by the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades the official military arm of Hamas and other para-military groups.
I am neither pro-Israel nor pro Hamas and see with dismay how each time the warriors from both camps take over. As for Hamas they not only endangers others, but also themselves or their dear-ones and neighbours, because Israeli counter-attacks always come. Forgotten in the turmoil of war is, that the exchange of rockets, missiles and bombs does not only sow fear, kill people and damage buildings and infrastructure, it also is an attack on the many good willing initiatives between citizens of Israel and Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.
Their activities are not catching the headlines of the world press. Less deadly, less sensational activities that aim at diminish suffering and easing tension: support of joint economic projects and zones; promotion of free border crossing and travel; helping reconciliation; sharing of suffering by parents from both camps who lost their children in the conflict; joint environmental actions especially about water resources; arabic/hebrew language learning in schools; promoting fair trade products from Palestine in Israel; medical assistance; mixed summer camps for kids from Israel, Palestine and other arabic countries; joint academic research and education opportunities; mixed orchestras and theatre companies; training for conflict resolution; face to face dialogues initiatives; to sum up just a part of this positive spectre. (2) All these good willingness from West Bank/Gaza and Israel added by international partners, attempts to resolve the stalemate, are brutally brushed aside, once more.
WHO IS TO BLAME? WHO STARTED IT?
Was it the summary execution by a missile fired by the Israel Defense Forces on a Hamas leader, Ahmed Jabari, last wednesday November the 14th? A missile hitting him in his car while driving along Omar Mukhtar Street in Gaza City, in the middle of a crowded neighbourhood, killing also his bodyguard. The 8th remote control assassination by the Israeli Air Force since January 2010 in the Gaza strip. (3)
Was it the barrage of 26 rockets from Gaza on the 29th of October into the South of Israel, which - by sheer chance - did hit no Israeli people or property? A rocket launch that - according to the BBC message of that day - was in response to an incident whereby a Gaza man at the border had been shot by Israeli troops, because he was - allegedly - attempting to fire a mortar at Israeli troops? A series of incidents that was summarised by this BBC news item with the header: "Violence ends Israel-Gaza truce."
BBC correspondent Jon Donisson (based in the West Bank) noted on October the 29th. how precarious it is....
"to pinpoint when a specific escalation in violence started - both sides will always remember what they see as a previous act of aggression by the other which enables them to justify their attacks as retaliation” (3)
There are many other sources that tell the story of how it began in differing ways, from the 'Palestinian Centre for Human Rights' to the 'Electronic Intifadah' website, and the British group 'Media Lense' specialised in scrutinising what they call the "biased" war reporting of the BBC. (4) The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights sums up a whole range of events starting on Saturday November 10th with Israeli army firing an artillery shell at a group of children playing football on a hill 1500 meters away from the border near the east part of Gaza City, killing two of them and a whole serious of subsequent incidents one involving the killing of two "Palestinian resistance" members by Israeli warplanes.
Apart from what has been the real chain of events (5), with each item added or left out, resulting in a change of classification - assault or retaliation - there is the extra input of political scheming on the Israeli political front in the preparation for legislative elections in January 2013. This - cynically - always stimulates the 'hawks' in power or the ones aiming at that, to give or call for 'a good pre-election military show' in the occupied territories.
---- interlude ----
It was less than a century ago we could still speak of 'The Levant' and see a future beyond the vague historical memories of the Mamluk Sultanate and the more recent Ottoman and British empires. The Levant having regional mixed ethnic and religious demarcations that still carried the potential for a new future with very different borders and states as we know them now. There were many plans of reconstructing 'imagined nations' from a past that never existed in the way as imagined by all those ideologists, the historical parade of religious and political leaders with their: Zionism, Greater Syria, Greater Arabia, and similar bordering visions of unity and hegemony like Pan-Arabism and Pan-Turkism, or the even greater idea of Pan-Islamism, the 'Ummah' as a unification of all countries in the world, deemed to be or become Islamic States.
The positive potential of the actual population of the East Mediterranean countries with its diverse ethnic and religious mix, has hardly been used as a source of inspiration. Each party seeking, finding and proving by means of archeology their favourite slice of historical time to lay a unilateral claim on the land. Political and religious particularism fired by the disasters of two World Wars have created the violent carving up, expulsion and mass migration that ended in fortification and imprisonment of divided populations, we know now.
So the question in the once more flaring up conflict is:
DEFENSE OF WHAT?
Beyond the flood of 'psychological warfare' and 'internet disinformation' campaigns, that overwhelm us once again, each trying hard to force a singular 'truth' on us, there still is the space for multiple visions, a space that needs to be defended.
There is not only war in Israel and Gaza, there is a related 'cyber war', invading our social-networks in countries far away from the actual conflict zone. The Israeli army is real-time on Twitter, Facebook and Youtube. Partisan web initiatives for the Palestinian cause are counter attacking. 'Ready Made' arguments are produced by all sides, that multiply and circulating with just a click of a mouse. It is as if we need to make a choice: for of against israel; for or against Palestine. No other options. No 'middle ground'. A 'mass mediated dichotomy' with many reminiscences of 'Cold War rhetoric'.
We all know that the state of Israel is many times more powerful - in military sense - than any of its subjected regions and neighbours. This does not imply that we should neglect the relative small violent and criminal acts of its adversaries. Hiding or explaining away a smaller crime because of a related bigger one does not help to overcome what remains to be wrongdoing.
The fact that the confrontations between Palestinians in Gaza and Israelis in Israel tends to be mostly through the air by both advanced and primitive forms of artillery, says it all. Direct communications are failing. Israel certainly is responsible for a great deal of the actual stalemate, but not solely so. Israel persistently - for decades - using hard core military tactics only, failing totally in diplomacy, in social and economic measures to ease the situation of the Gaza-strip inhabitants. Murder having become a state endowed practice with remote control assassination as the highest Israel Defense Force attainment. The opposite side presents us - one can not be surprised - with a mirror image of such practice and mindset.
We are once again flooded with images of the shock and awe of modern weaponry, of fear and death, also similar photographic documentation of the terror spread by the uncontrolled launching of home-made rockets.
Weapons of peace are less spectacular. They are also more radical, in the sense that what is demanded is 'compromise', series of small temporary practical solutions that ease the life of the Palestinians, no more great and detailed 'Peace Plans' but small steps that need to prove themselves in practice, before the next one is taken. The actual self-righthousness, the shining historically polished positions - diamond hard - on both sides will only lead to further killing and destruction. Many say there is no space for such compromise, that the violence perpetrated now is the only thing that is left to the Palestinians.
I think that is just lazy thinking and it will leave people who have of another opinion trapped within a spiralling violence fired by sequences of misdeeds and retaliation that have become so frequent and continuous that any finger pointing to who started first will be countered by the other party with a reference to an earlier incident or act.
Taking sides in the actual conflict for either the Israeli Army or the Hamas military brigades and associated para-military groups, is equal to abandoning people on both the Israeli and the Palestinian side, who are long fed up by these warriors, who have another agenda, without the force of weapons. They need support. They need space to breath, They need some safeguards - especially within Gaza - to be able to speak out without being threatened or even liquidated by the reigning regime over there. (6)
The creation of a new union of nations forming a 21st century Levant / بلاد الشام Bilād ash-Shām may sound as a totally utopian idea, but anybody can see that the group of nation states that have been created in this part of the world are totally unstable and not able to offer their citizens the minimal level of peace each human should be able to enjoy.
An association of nation states into a Union of the Levant - in some way comparable to the European Union - is not a new idea and it may take a long time to come into existence. Still it will give a positive perspective for the whole region.
There are of course pre-formations of this idea in the Arab League which includes the Palestinians with a special status, with the 'Arab Peace Initiative' of 2002 which would normalise the position of Israel if it will withdraw from all occupied territories and make arrangements for the return of Palestinian refugees. This plan has only be sniffed at by some Israeli politicians and for the rest been refuted as a plan that has been made about israel without Israel. Still it has some formal status, not in the least with the Obama administration.
There are major shifts taking place in several of the Arab states that are members of the Arab League, other regional and supra-regional associations of countries could be formed. Circum Mediterranean countries have a potential to associate from Spain to Lebanon, Israel and Palestine. Turkey could over time become a member of both the European Union and such a new Union of Levant countries. These are the macro weapons that need to be forced by diplomacy.
Small arms are needed also for construct a peaceful situation. Opening of borders. Relaxing of social economic interaction between areas that are now sealed off. Freeing ways for all forms of assistance and cultural exchange. De-militarisation and reconciliation initiatives, employment opportunities for all those active in weapon production and military activities, and so on... It all may sound too idealistic and silly... still these are the kind of weapons needed for the self-defence of people against the all overruling violent forces of fear and hate.
1) See my news-tableau on Flickr dated November 16 2012, which is a reaction on a call of the Dutch Palestina Komitee fro a demonstration: "Stop Attack On & From Gaza" stop supporting either war mongers side in the conflict"
Also another reaction on singular views of the conflict, starting with a cartoon by Simon Farr published in The Guardian in 2008 and used again for a call to demonstrate on November 17, in Amsterdam: "Gaza: Israeli Overkill does not legitimise Palestinian Terror Rockets"
2) List of fifty or so 'Arab-Israeli peace projects' that will be hampered by the "defending" warriors on Wikipedia
3) 29 October 2012 Last updated at 19:34 GMT "Violence ends Israel-Gaza truce - Militants in Gaza have fired 26 rockets into Israel, officials say, amid a flare-up in fighting which shattered a brief ceasefire between the two sides."
4) Here short indications and links to non-main stream news sources that challenge the BBC reporting, though I must say that we can not expect a world news organisation to continuously report on each incident. Even when a local correspondent would send in such reports we can be sure that often things more fashionable or deemed more important will come first. In fact is the dilemma of our whole news systems that they only report when something grows out of hand grossly and than time restrictions and the haste of 'the news' as such make that the events that did lead up to a crisis deemed big enough to be represented, are simply left out. Social internet media, that is the good part of it, tend to fill up now-a-days the gap. Blaming of mainstream media is understandable and also helpful to keep up the quality of news broadcasts, but the problems are more structural in the whole idea of having 'world news in half an hour or so'.
- Palestinian Centre for Human Rights: "New Israeli Escalation against the Gaza Strip, 7 Palestinians, Including 3 Children, Killed and 52 Others, Including 6 Women and 12 Children, Wounded; Sunday, 11 November 2012 - 00:00
- Electronic Intifada: "As Israel assaults Gaza, BBC reporting assaults the truth" by Amena Saleem; London 16 November. "On the morning of 15 November, the day after Israel carried out the extrajudicial killing of Hamas military leader Ahmed al-Jabari and unleashed a wave of terror against Gaza’s civilian population, the BBC put an article onto its website headlined: “Gaza rocket arsenal problem for Israel.” / The article goes into minute detail about what the BBC’s diplomatic and defense correspondent Jonathan Marcus describes as “the Palestinian rocket arsenal.” / Nowhere in the article, or elsewhere on the BBC, does Marcus investigate Israel’s weapons stockpile, which is funded to the tune of $3 billion a year by the United States. / There are no reams of paragraphs devoted to describing the different types of bombs, mortar shells, drones, fighter jets, gunboats, tanks, guns, nuclear warheads or white phosphorus shells that are in Israel’s arsenal. Yet, with the exception of nuclear missiles, all of these have been used at some point against the people of Gaza with devastating consequences."
- Media Lens: "Gaza Blitz - Turmoil And Tragicomedy At The BBC" by David Cromwell and David Edwards; November 16, 2012. "The Israeli attacks have routinely been reported as 'retaliation' for Palestinian ‘militant rocket attacks’ on southern Israel. In a study of news performance in 2001, the Glasgow Media Group noted that Israelis ‘were six times as likely to be presented as “retaliating” or in some way responding than were the Palestinians.’ A BBC correspondent in Gaza said ‘there are now fears now (sic) of a major escalation of violence’. But the Israeli execution of Ahmed al-Jabari was a major escalation of violence. BBC News reported three Israeli deaths by rockets fired from Gaza with the briefest mention of the earlier deaths of ‘eleven Palestinians - mainly militants but also children’. As ever, there was no explanation of how a Gaza civilian is distinguished from a ‘militant’."
5) A "List of Israeli assassinations" from the 1950s onward can be found on Wikipedia
There are of course a whole series of lists that involve killing by all sides, from Palestinian rocket attacks to suicide attacks, the index page of these lists can be found at:
6) The non-biased Israeli peace organisation B'Tsalem keeps for many years a refined classification of casualties that helps to understand this point.. For the period 19/1/2009 to 30/9/2012 for the Gaza strip and the West Bank. For the Gaza strip it lists: "Palestinians killed by Palestinians = 45"; "Palestinians executed by the Hamas Government = 14." The number of Palestinians killed by Israeli security forces over this period for Gaza = 271, of which 158 are detailed as "Palestinians who took part in the hostilities and were killed by Israeli security forces."