Monday, December 29, 2008

Israel’s ‘all out war’ against Hamas

According to UN statistics, Palestinian Occupied Territories (OT) ranked No. 106 worldwide on the Human Development Index. Israel is No. 24. The OT’s GDP is estimated at US$3.3 billion; Israel’s is US$106.3 billion. Palestinians, who are crammed in disconnected statelets, have no official army, no modern weapons and only receive unofficial support by states such as Iran and Syria. For its part, Israel has a modern military, upwards of 100 undeclared nuclear weapons and receives on average US$3 billion annually in military assistance from the US.

Such numbers suffice to immediately determine who the occupier and the occupied are in this sad, sad story, for which yet another page of atrocities was written in the past three days with Israel’s bombardment of Gaza — the most severe attack since the war of 1967 — which so far has killed more than 300 Palestinians and injured several hundred more. Not that wars should be about kill ratios, but to underscore the unevenness of the situation, the ratio for the past three days is about 1:150.

Israel blockades, divides, subdivides, crisscrosses, checkpoints and embargoes the OT, impoverishes its population, displaces them, occupies their territories, ignores requests by the international community to halt the building of illegal settlements, only to recoil in horror when Palestinians not only refuse to cease resisting occupation but democratically elect hardline regimes like Hamas. The Israeli government (as opposed to Israelis, many of whom are clear-eyed about the situation) categorically refers to Palestinian resistance as “terrorism,” while claiming that military operations such as the one it launched on the weekend are either in self-defense or, as Tom Segev wrote in an editorial piece in the Ha’aretz newspaper today, to “teach Hamas a lesson.” It seems unable, or unwilling, to realize that its long-held assumption that Palestinians are barbarians who cannot be reasoned with, that razing villages, bombing universities and killing innocents by the dozens will not convince Palestinians to end their resistance. It seems unable, or unwilling, to realize that the more it humiliates, destroys and kills, the hardened the resistance will become, and the likelier it is that Palestinians will support regimes that use the language of violence. Surely the seeds of peace are not sown by creating an entire new generation of grieving sons, daughters, parents, cousins and friends.

Rather than break an opponent’s will or turn it against its own government, bombing civilian areas consolidates the population’s will to resist and rallies it around the flag. This was one of the lessons learned by NATO during its bombing campaign against Serbia in 1999, and this is a lesson the Israeli military should have learned during its invasion of Lebanon in 2006.

In many cities around the world today, demonstrations were held condemning Israel’s behavior. Even China, no champion of proportionality, expressed “shock” at Israel’s actions in Gaza, which some have already described as Israel’s answer to the US “Shock and Awe” in Iraq.

Despite what is said about them, the rocket attacks by Hamas militants against Israeli cities do not represent a fundamental threat to the survival of the Jewish state — not when a handful are killed and a little more injured in months of volleys. Reprehensible though these attacks are, in no way do they justify the kind and intensity of the violence visited upon Gaza this week, and it would be pure idiocy to believe that more violence will persuade Palestinians to end the attacks. Only dialogue between equal parties, with actionable solutions that equally benefit the two sides and provides them with the means to make a proper living, will ever succeed. Otherwise, what we have is an endless cycle of violence, page upon page upon page of one atrocity upping the one that came before it, from Jenin to Gaza and who knows where else.

Surely decisionmakers in Jerusalem are aware of this, as are its backers in Washington. That the self-evident would be so callously ignored, at the cost of blood spilled, bodies dismembered and lives ended, only means one thing: someone, somewhere, profits from all this violence. Now who might this be? (We are six weeks away from a national election in Israel. The current government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is centrist and opinion polls predict the right-wing Likud Party will win.)

Even if, theoretically, it were justifiable to use overwhelming force against an opponent, would one not be morally wrong in choosing that course of action if it knew before the fact that doing so would be self-defeating?

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