Friday, January 02, 2009

Gaza

3/01: Karma Nabulsi on life in Gaza these days. Journalists, lecturers, professors of phonetics. All burying their dead. This is a Gaza we never see. People like us.

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2/01: Yea, happy new year. An intriguing piece on ei that suggests that the real Israeli objective in Gaza is to coopt Hamas and to get it to collude with Israel in the same way that Fatah does.

In practice that would mean taming Hamas rather than crushing it. Whereas Israel is trying to build up Fatah in the West Bank with carrots, it is using the current slaughter in Gaza as a big stick with which to beat Hamas into compliance.
...
Israel apparently hopes to persuade the Hamas leadership, as it did Arafat for a while, that its best interests are served by cooperating with Israel. The message is: forget about your popular mandate to resist the occupation and concentrate instead on remaining in power with our help.

This sort of makes sense to me. That Israel is not aiming at the all-out destruction of Hamas is suggested by the weird phrases it uses to describe the objectives of its current campaign - e.g. 'changing the security situation in southern Israel'.

Israeli human rights organisations are recording harm caused to civilians on this blog, which is beginning to read like a roster of war crimes. Photographic evidence from B'Tselem of the IDF's inability to distinguish between rockets and oxygen cylinders (which, presumably, are desperately needed in hospitals?).

Did you hear Tzipi Livni on TV saying 'there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza'? Sara Roy, writing in the LRB, on the situation in Gaza: not enough food, cooking gas, banknotes, power, diesel, water, sewage treatment. 'How can keeping food and medicine from the people of Gaza protect the people of Israel?', she asks. What is the definition of a humanitarian crisis?

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31/12: If you have been missing Palestinian or Palestinian-friendly perspectives on the current crisis, go to The Electronic Intifada. If you read one thing today, let it be this searing indictment of Fatah, Arab governments, and yes even Hamas.

...unnamed sources close to Abbas have been leaking to The Jerusalem Post that if the Hamas government in Gaza falls, PA forces could step into the breach. [5] These are the same forces which the Post revealed earlier this month were "taught over and over again" that they were not being trained to "learn to fight against the Israeli occupation." Rather, according to US Lieutenant General Keith Dayton, who is overseeing the training of the new PA security forces, it was to focus on "the lawless elements within Palestinian society" (i.e., Hamas). [6] This revelation is hardly surprising and confirms reports over the past year in the US, Israeli, and Arab press of complicity between PA forces with Israel, the US, and the governments of Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia to topple the Hamas government and destroy its militia. It is also consistent with the actions of these forces in the PA-ruled West Bank, where Hamas members have been rounded up and arrested with frequent accusations of torture and at least one reported death in custody.
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Nor has Hamas offered a viable alternative for most Palestinians and they are not blameless in this murderous assault. Their rule of Gaza bears all the hallmarks of their Fatah predecessors: long on rhetoric and short on achievement. Moreover, Hamas has behaved precisely as Fatah did in Gaza during the Oslo period and as it currently does in the West Bank, including arresting and torturing political opponents. Indeed, Hamas has been saved from its own myopia by the ruthlessness of those aligned against it, as the siege has provided the movement with a convenient excuse for its shortcomings. In an interview with Al Jazeera on Saturday, Hamas' exiled leader Khaled Meshaal called for a "third intifada." As has been demonstrated repeatedly in Palestinian history an intifada without a unified leadership or a strategy is doomed to fail with dire consequences for the future. Merely calling for an intifada is not the same as planning and preparing for one. If Hamas is to be a viable alternative to Abbas, it must decide if it will continue to adopt the policies and rhetoric of past Palestinian leaders where every failure is an achievement and every disastrous defeat a victory. Otherwise, they have similarly sacrificed their people on the rocks and shoals of tired slogans and empty promises.

So, an updated list of Israeli objectives might look something like this:

1. Destroy Hamas militarily
2. Hope (stupidly) that Fatah will step into the resulting political vacuum
3. Look good for the elections.
4. Exorcise the ghosts of Lebanon, 2006.

Who advises these people?

More Gideon Levy, speaking truth into what feels like a void where no one seems to be listening:

Our finest young men are attacking Gaza now. Good boys from good homes are doing bad things. Most of them are eloquent, impressive, self-confident, often even highly principled in their own eyes, and on Black Saturday dozens of them set out to bomb some of the targets in our "target bank" for the Gaza Strip.

They set out to bomb the graduation ceremony for young police officers who had found that rare Gaza commodity, a job, massacring them by the dozen. They bombed a mosque, killing five sisters of the Balousha family, the youngest of whom was 4. They bombed a police station, hitting a doctor nearby; she lies in a vegetative state in Shifa Hospital, which is bursting with wounded and dead. They bombed a university that we in Israel call the Palestinian Rafael, the equivalent of Israel's weapons developer, and destroyed student dormitories. They dropped hundreds of bombs out of blue skies free of all resistance.


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30/12: Remember Olmert's temporary lapse into sanity? Why do people in government, Mossad, Shin Bet start to sound reasonable in retirement, or on the verge thereof?

Yossi Alpher, a former official at Mossad and a military commentator...was critical of the tough economic blockade Israel has imposed on the Gaza Strip in recent years, limiting imports to humanitarian supplies and preventing all exports, a policy that has all but wiped out private industry and brought Gaza's economy to collapse. "The economic siege of Gaza has not produced any of the desired political results," he said. "It has not manipulated Palestinians into hating Hamas, but has probably been counter-productive. It is just useless collective punishment."

He said that in future Israel would have to choose either to recognise Hamas was around to stay and to talk to the movement, however unpalatable that might be for most Israelis, or to fully reoccupy the Gaza Strip, topple Hamas and bear all the costs involved.

I can't yet tell whether this crisis will cement some sort of unity between Fatah and Hamas. In some bits of this report, the West Bank sounds a world away, almost as if the reality of a 3-state solution were sinking in.

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18.02: Everything about this war is so depressingly familiar, so predictable, so in accordance with a script you have seen before. You almost know beforehand that Gideon Levy is going to say the most courageous, sensible things. And that few in power are going to listen to him.

More clarity on Israeli objectives. I'm going to update the shopping list as I go along.

1. Destroy Hamas militarily, even if you strengthen them politically.

2. Look good for the elections. (If the current Defence Minister and the current Foreign Minister are going to be leading rival parties into the election, are they going to sing from the same songsheet over the next few weeks? Or are we going to hear contrasting versions of what-I-said-should-have-been-done when the campaigning begins?)

3. Exorcise the ghosts of the 2006 defeat in Lebanon; signal to enemies that Israel is not a paper tiger. (Of course Israel runs all the same risks this time around, though the 'lesson' of 2006 it seems to have learned is that it needs to be more ruthless.)

On a different note, perhaps I was too harsh on the international press earlier. There are some strong pieces in the Independent - Fisk as always, and Johann Hari, whose piece seems to corroborate Amira Hass's claim that there are people in Hamas who accept the existence of Israel:

According to the Israeli press, Yuval Diskin, the current head of the Israeli security service Shin Bet, "told the Israeli cabinet [on 23 December] that Hamas is interested in continuing the truce, but wants to improve its terms." Diskin explained that Hamas was requesting two things: an end to the blockade, and an Israeli ceasefire on the West Bank. The cabinet – high with election fever and eager to appear tough – rejected these terms.

The core of the situation has been starkly laid out by Ephraim Halevy, the former head of Mossad. He says that while Hamas militants – like much of the Israeli right-wing – dream of driving their opponents away, "they have recognised this ideological goal is not attainable and will not be in the foreseeable future." Instead, "they are ready and willing to see the establishment of a Palestinian state in the temporary borders of 1967." They are aware that this means they "will have to adopt a path that could lead them far from their original goals" – and towards a long-term peace based on compromise.

Why isn't someone writing this in 10-foot high letters outside Whitehall and the White House? Instead, we get these nauseating mealy-mouthed statements appealing for restraint on both sides.

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13:46: Israeli objectives seem utterly illogical to me. Even as Israel decimates Hamas as a military force (something it is doing an excellent job of), it strengthens it as a political force. Or it creates the space for something much more monstrous.

As usual, Ha'aretz bravely publishes opinion that one could not dream of reading in the stupid, supine international press. Read this column by Tom Segev; and Amira Hass actually tells us something important that no one is bothering to mention: Israel's policy of assassination has targeted Hamas politicians who accept the two-state solution. So much for the argument that Hamas (all of it) does not recognise the existence of Israel, that there is no one to talk to, and all those usual canards.

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I am sickened by the nakedly opportunistic behaviour of Israeli politicians. Everyone to the left of Likud wants to look tough on security for the February elections, and bludgeoning Gaza into oblivion is a good way of demonstrating this. Otherwise, it is unclear why Israel thinks this particular assault? attack? massacre? is going to decisively end rocket attacks on Sderot and other cities in the south.

The university, a television station, a mosque, the Interior Ministry - nothing, it seems, is off limits. I don't understand why police stations are being attacked (and of course police stations are going to be in the midst of civilian areas; where else are they supposed to be?) Tzipi Livni has the gall to say Palestinian civilians should leave places where Hamas officials and fighters are known to be located. Gaza is 41 km long and 6-12 km wide. Exactly which part of it is safe and devoid of an official presence?

The international media should stop using Orwellian language like 'disengagement' and 'truce' because these have never been realities in Gaza. The Israelis pulled out their military, but the territory has been blockaded for over 18 months, a democratically elected government has been boycotted. The plan has been to starve people into submission, so that they turn against Hamas and possibly back to what was beginning to be seen as the incompetent, corrupt and collaborationist Fatah. This is a policy of state terrorism, because like the non-state terrorism that is unfailingly brought to our attention, it ignores the distinction between combatants and non-combatants; it indulges in mass collective civilian punishment with a view to achieving political objectives.

Most worryingly from the broader geopolitical point of view, statements made by the various local actors and regional powers in response to this crisis fall into that familiar pattern reinforcing the great divide in Middle Eastern politics between Hamas, Hizbollah, Iran, Syria and the March 8 alliance in Lebanon on the one hand, and the US, Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Fatah and the March 14 alliance in Lebanon on the other.

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