Tag Archives: Gaza

Time For Palestine To Join The Arab Spring

Palestinians must decide whether they want to continue living in dire conditions under a brutal Israeli regime or take the plunge, join the Arab Spring and strive for the opportunity to achieve justice and freedom for themselves.

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Palestine flags

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As uprisings continue to sweep the Arab region, from the North African country of Tunisia all the way to Syria and Bahrain, it is rather astonishing that the Palestinians have not jumped on the bandwagon and joined the Arab Spring movement. After all, it would have been a timely opportunity to join the momentum of those revolutions that continue to strike the region in hope of achieving freedom from brutality. It would have also put the Western nations in a difficult situation. Western Europe, together with the United States, has been very supportive (at least in rhetoric) of the Arab Spring, playing a crucial role in overthrowing Gaddafi and continuing to be an important player in the Syrian civil war. It is well known, however, that the West-especially the United States-shows undeniable support towards Israel. This was witnessed during the last Israeli attacks on Gaza when the United States blamed the Palestinians for the conflict. For this reason, a Palestinian uprising would put the United States in a peculiar position. Could America really continue to show full support to the Syrian rebels and Egyptian civilians, who are once again demonstrating on the streets against their current leader Morsi, yet deny the Palestinians the opportunity to protest against the many grievances: Israeli occupation of the West Bank, the ghetto-like Wall that separates Gaza from the rest of humanity, the illegal settlements, the unfair treatment of Palestinians living in Israel, the shootings of Palestinian children on the Gaza border, the lack of food and clean water due to the Israeli blockade and against the constant threat that Israel will strike again any minute. While western nations are notoriously known for their hypocritical stance when it comes to their foreign policy in the Middle East (which usually reflects their own national interests), the denial of the Palestinian right to rise up against Israel would set in stone what the majority already fear: the West’s lack of concern for human rights of others.

Though the Arab Spring started in 2011, the uprisings are still in full swing and therefore it is not late for Palestine to join the movement. It would be essential for the Palestinians to carry out a peaceful protest (i.e. no rockets from Hamas and no killings of Israelis), but nevertheless a protest that sends out a clear message that they will not back down until some progress is made. This would deny Israel their usual defence: that Palestine is an aggressive region and poses a threat to Israeli national security. This protest should not be about borders, or about a potential creation of the Palestinian state, but about a simple desire to be treated like human beings rather than caged animals. The majority of the international community already support the Palestinians. Not only has Palestine been granted the status of an observer non-member state at the UN, but the reports by the United Nations continue to condemn and criticise the inhumane actions of Israel. If Israel were to retaliate with violence and force against a peaceful uprising by the Palestinians, the Jewish state would risk more alienation from the international community and more disapproval from the general public around the world. A nation cannot continue to survive with a long queue of enemies.

In 2011, the Arab populations took the leap of faith. Many knew that their uprisings could lead to brutal response from their dictators. Some were aware that perhaps they would not survive to see the end of authoritarianism in the Middle East. Yet as the saying goes, when you have nothing, you got nothing to lose. The Palestinians have suffered to the point of near-total submission. However they must use the inspiration from their fellow Arabs who made the decision that enough is enough. Emiliano Zapata, a leading figure in the Mexican Revolution against the dictatorship in 1910 said that “it’s better to die upon your feet than to live upon your knees”. The Palestinians must now make the choice between whether they want to continue living in dire conditions under a brutal Israeli regime or take the plunge, join the Arab Spring and strive for the opportunity to achieve justice and freedom for themselves.

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Photo Credit: Joi

Netanyahu ha davvero perso le elezioni?

L’annuncio della sconfitta del Likud di Benjamin Netanyahu, alle ultime elezioni israeliane, sembra sostanziare una valutazione poco prudente. In realtà il premier uscente ha perso qualche seggio, ma si è rafforzato rispetto alle vittoriose consultazioni di quattro anni fa. 

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[dropcap]R[/dropcap]ispecchiando l’antico detto yiddish “tre partiti ogni due ebrei”, le elezioni per il rinnovo della Knesset hanno consegnato a Israele un quadro di grande frammentazione politica. Il premier uscente Benjamin Netanyahu conserva il primo posto, ma il suo partito risulta numericamente indebolito rispetto alle consultazioni del 2009. Il successo del candidato centrista Yair Lapid è la vera – e indiscutibile – sorpresa delle ultime elezioni. Effettivamente, non si è verificato l’ulteriore spostamento a destra previsto da buona parte degli osservatori: l’estremista Naftali Bennett, che ha attirato su di sé l’attenzione per buona parte della campagna elettorale, non ha ottenuto l’exploit preventivato da più parti. Piuttosto, la formazione di estrema destra ha sottratto voti a Likud-Beitenu, la lista del premier uscente.

D’altro canto, osservando attentamente i risultati sembra ardito sostenere la tesi di un’avanzata delle forze moderate e progressiste. Aggregando i dati per ‘gruppi ideologici’, emerge che le formazioni di destra hanno effettivamente perso ben 6 seggi alla Knesset. Allo stesso modo, le formazioni di centro hanno perso un altro parlamentare. Pertanto, ad una analisi più oculata, si rileva come il successo ottenuto da Yesh Atid, il partito di Lapid, abbia semplicemente occupato la posizione ideologica ed elettorale lasciata vacante dal forte arretramento di Kadima (che, infatti, ha subito una perdita di 24 seggi su 26). Gli ultimi 7 seggi a disposizione sono stati occupati, in gran parte, dalla sinistra – i laburisti e Meretz –, e dagli ultra-ortodossi di Giudaismo Unito nella Torah, che ha conquistato 2 deputati in più rispetto al 2009. In sintesi, lo spostamento avvenuto a favore del centro-sinistra è stato di 4 miseri seggi: insufficienti per formare una coalizione anti-Likud, e imprimere così una svolta politica rispetto ai governi degli ultimi anni.

In definitiva, parlare di una sconfitta di Netanyahu, sulla scorta di buona parte della stampa internazionale (e non) ‘liberal’, sembra poco prudente. Bibi, come è affettuosamente chiamato il primo ministro israeliano, governa da quasi quattro anni il paese, godendo di un consenso personale che supera il 50%. Nonostante la sua coalizione, con i russi di Yisrael Beiteinu, abbia sofferto un calo elettorale, rimane comunque indispensabile per la formazione di qualsiasi formazione di governo. Inoltre, il PIL israeliano ha registrato tassi di crescita del 4.7% nel 2011; dal 2009, inoltre, più nessun israeliano è stato vittima di attentati terroristici che, in precedenza, scandivano macabramente la quotidianità dello Stato di Israele. Netanyahu, pertanto, è percepito dall’opinione pubblica come una guida forte e autorevole, la cui necessità è avvertita in maniera sempre più impellente, dati gli ultimi sviluppi nella regione mediorientale. Infatti, l’instabilità della regione – e quindi l’allontanarsi delle prospettive di pace – rimane da sempre il vero grande alleato della destra israeliana.

Il quadro regionale sembra confermare i timori di chi auspica uno Stato ebraico armato e sulla difensiva. L’Iran, ormai da sette anni, persevera nella sua politica di minacce e dichiarazioni bellicose, così da permettere a Netanyahu di evocare il pericolo di una shoah nucleare. La Turchia di Erdoğan, ormai lanciata verso la conquista dell’egemonia del Mediterraneo islamico, ha mutato il suo approccio accomodante verso Israele, trasformandosi in un potente, sebbene non ostile, avversario regionale. Infine, l’Egitto dei Fratelli Musulmani e i tumulti della guerra civile siriana aggiungono ulteriori motivi di preoccupazione ed elementi di instabilità: in quest’ultimo caso, ad esempio, la caduta del regime di Bashar al-Assad aprirebbe scenari completamente inediti, a cui Israele dovrebbe riadattare le proprie posizioni strategiche pur di conservare l’equilibrio e la pace regionale.

Anche sul fronte interno, relativamente al conflitto israelo-palestinese, il leader israeliano potrebbe continuare ad agire sulle divisioni interne all’ANP, e insistere sulla minaccia rappresentata da Hamas. Difatti, l’operazione militare Pillar of Defense lanciata dalle forze armate israeliane nel novembre scorso, è stato uno pseudo-conflitto – nonostante le centinaia di vittime – dal punto di vista tattico e strategico: da una parte, Hamas ha sempre evitato e respinto il confronto diretto con l’esercito israeliano, che avrebbe come unica conseguenza la distruzione del partito islamista; dall’altra, Netanyahu ha dimostrato di non avere nessuna intenzione di rioccupare Gaza, dato che l’operazione costerebbe eccessivamente in termini umani, elettorali e militari, essendo peraltro inutile dal punto di vista della sicurezza. Pertanto, mantenere lo status quo nella striscia di Gaza rientra tra gli interessi di tutti i contendenti: in primis, da parte della destra israeliana che, insistendo ed ergendosi ad alfiere della sicurezza e della risolutezza militare, guadagna voti ogniqualvolta si affievoliscono le speranze di pace; in secondo luogo, anche di Hamas che, sfruttando la radicalizzazione del conflitto, rafforza l’egemonia e il controllo sui palestinesi, sottraendo consenso ai moderati di Fatah. Purtroppo, a quanto pare, l’unico attore che ci perde in questo ignobile gioco delle parti è il popolo palestinese assediato all’interno della striscia di Gaza.

In conclusione, la strada di Netanyahu non è, quindi, così in salita. Di sicuro, formare una coalizione che coinvolgerà i centristi, una parte degli ultra-ortodossi e l’estrema destra non sarà impresa agevole. Tuttavia, il premier può contare sulla minaccia del ritorno alle urne, visto che una campagna elettorale incentrata sul tema della governabilità non potrebbe che favorire il proprio partito. Diversa, invece, appare la posizione di Yair Lapid: se il nuovo protagonista della politica israeliana deciderà di partecipare al nuovo governo, lo farà ponendo alcune condizioni essenziali, quali la riapertura dei colloqui di pace (sebbene sul tema ci sia da registrare una posizione piuttosto ambigua, concernente l’irrinunciabilità agli insediamenti coloniali in Cisgiordania). Una volta accettata tale condizione, Netanyahu sarà costretto a dimostrare all’opinione pubblica israeliana di essere seriamente interessato a perseguire sulla strada del negoziato con Hamas e Fatah. Lapid, di conseguenza, dovrà dimostrare di essere anche un abile politico, oltre che un ottimo e accattivante comunicatore da campagna elettorale.

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Photo Credit: todogaceta.com

The Drones Are Droning On…

Whatever our respective views are on the subject of drone strikes, it is undeniably the case that they are an incredibly effective method of targeting terrorists in unfriendly, or uncontrolled territory.

Of the many successful drone strikes in 2012, the following are – according to CNN’s Security Clearance blog – the most pertinent. June 4th saw al Qaeda strategist Abu Yahya al-Libi meet the ‘business end of a drone‘ in Pakistan, an occurrence that I argued should both be celebrated and mourned. Fahd Mohammad Ahmed al-Quso, another senior al Qaeda operative (wanted for his role in the USS Cole bombing), was killed in Yemen on May 6th. And lastly Badar Mansoor, considered the most senior Pakistani in al Qaeda, was assassinated on February 9th in Waziristan.

It can be argued that by removing known operatives we are simply inducing unknown individuals to take their position. When Israel assassinated Hamas military chief Ahmed al-Jabari in November there were those that argued that the IDF had acted with overwhelming short-sightedness: at least Jabari was a known quantity. If Sun Tzu was correct when he asserted that knowing one’s enemy is paramount to victory, perhaps there is some weight to these claims.

Last year we saw much debate on these pages on the subject of drones. Catherine Connolly’s piece back in June argued that the use of drones signalled a “failure in moral leadership by the United States”. Matt Wahnsiedler’s response sought to demonstrate that Connolly’s arguments had failed to take into account the realities of warfare. TRS Reviews Editor Jenny Holland, writing in The Guardian, took a different route, arguing that opposition to drone strikes is not so black-and-white ‘on the ground’ in Pakistan as is presented by Western peace activists and human rights groups. The real issue, she argued, is that the “debate over the drone campaign is a distraction from other, more important issues”: health, access to clean water, and the rule of law.

It is highly unlikely that Obama will cease to approve of the CIA’s programme. Whether it remains politically possible to persevere with it given the Arab Spring and the effect it could have on Arab sentiment towards the superpower is another matter altogether. 2013 will be telling.

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 Photo credit: DVIDSHUB

29 Novembre 2012: In Medio Oriente è Ancora Primavera

Perché, a due anni dall’esplosione della Primavera araba nella regione magrebina e all’espansione della rivoluzione verso le estremità più orientali del mondo arabo-islamico, le conseguenze più straordinarie del cambiamento si producono, ancora oggi e con rinnovata energia, sulla scena mediorientale.

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[dropcap]A[/dropcap] partire dal dicembre 2010, il mondo arabo è stato travolto da una nuova stagione di cambiamenti, da una primavera e dal risveglio politico e sociale che l’ha caratterizzata. La rivoluzione tunisina, inaugurata con l’atto estremo ed emblematico del dissidente Mohamed Bouazizi, per denunciare i maltrattamenti subiti dal regime precedente, ha rappresentato la miccia che ha determinato lo scatenarsi de al-Thûrât al-ʻArabiyy, ossia delle ribellioni arabe. Uno a uno, i Paesi del cosiddetto mondo arabo, sono stati sconvolti da denuncie e pretese, avanzate dai propri cittadini a voce unisona, con determinazione e violenza: improvvisamente, e fieramente, respingendo ogni sorta di compromesso, il demos (popolo) ha reclamato la propria cratia (potere).

Sarebbe tuttavia incompleto e, dunque, per certi versi inesatto, sostenere che le nazioni arabe si siano opposte ai propri rappresentanti per le stesse motivazioni. Sarebbe riduttivo immaginare la Primavera araba quale movimento unitario, senza valutarne le specificità di ogni singolo Paese che ne ha fatto e, in alcuni casi, continua a farne parte. D’altra parte, sia il demos che la cratia, possono essere intesi e variare sensibilmente. Cosicché, se in alcuni casi il cambiamento si è compiuto rapidamente e ha portato i frutti sperati, in altri, è stato brutalmente represso e isolato mentre, in altri ancora, si esplica ancora oggi con effetti inaspettati.

Il Medio Oriente, ancora una volta al centro dell’attenzione internazionale, manifesta e subisce la rivoluzione. La primavera è dilagata nel Nord Africa, nella Penisola Arabica, ha sfiorato le coste del Mediterraneo orientale, per poi tornare ancora nel Maghreb e in Libia. Infine, la primavera sboccia, durante questi ultimi mesi e precisi istanti, nel Medio Oriente. Catalizzatore di diverse problematiche internazionali, da tempi immemori, la regione mediorientale ospita nuovamente il teatro degli scontri più acuti, dall’inizio dell’ondata rivoluzionaria.

L’Egitto, dopo decenni di oppressione retta dal Presidente Hosni Mubarak, è insorto. La guida del Paese, a partire dal 2012, è stata consegnata dal popolo al partito dei Fratelli Musulmani, giudicato dal regime precedente illegale e perfino non candidabile a elezioni. Il cambiamento estremo, sebbene sconsigliato e contrastato da molti stessi egiziani, si è generato come reazione alla violazione sistematica dei diritti umani, indirettamente ammessa dal medesimo dettato costituzionale.

Analogamente, la Siria è stata governata per anni da uno stato di emergenza, risalente al decreto legislativo n. 15 del 22 dicembre 1962. Da allora, fino alla violenta opposizione scatenatasi all’inizio del 2011 e ancora in corso, il partito Baath ha negato diritti fondamentali al proprio popolo, protetto da una costituzione impropriamente definita democratica.

Ancora, mentre l’Iraq è in fiamme dal 2003, il Libano ha subito l’ennesimo attentato alle proprie istituzioni lo scorso ottobre, con l’esplosione di un’autobomba che ha visto l’uccisione del generale Wissam al-Hasan, capo del servizio informazione della polizia libanese. La Giordania, alleato strategico dell’Occidente, è riuscita a gestire gli effetti della primavera fino ad oggi, ma si avvia alle elezioni parlamentari, programmate per il 23 gennaio prossimo.

Infine, i territori palestinesi e lo stato d’Israele, sebbene quest’ultimo non possa essere tecnicamente incluso nel mondo arabo. Acuti scontri si sono consumati nelle ultime settimane, principalmente nella Striscia di Gaza e nella regione meridionale dello stato israeliano, tra le forze militari di quest’ultimo e le forze politiche dominanti della prima. Le perdite umane sono state importanti, soprattutto nella società civile o, meglio, nelle società civili, mentre la tregua è stata mediata dalla presenza egiziana.

Tuttavia, ciò che è accaduto in seno all’Assemblea generale delle Nazione Unite, il 29 novembre scorso, ha un significato storico e simbolico assolutamente nuovo. Con 138 voti a favore, nove contrari e 41 astensioni, l’assemblea internazionale ha riconosciuto lo Stato palestinese. Ben 67 anni dopo la fine della seconda guerra mondiale, dopo la Costituzione dell’Organizzazione delle Nazioni Unite, nonché il riconoscimento di Israele, l’Assemblea generale ha affermato il diritto all’autodeterminazione del popolo palestinese.

In Medio Oriente è ancora, o nuovamente, primavera: infatti, il 29 novembre 2012 è iniziata una nuova epoca per il popolo palestinese, per il popolo israeliano, per il mondo arabo e per tutta la comunità internazionale. L’importanza epocale di quanto avvenuto comporterà, difatti, nuove responsabilità sia individuali che collettive. Il riconoscimento dello stato di Palestina non permetterà più di addossare al passato, né di affidare egoisticamente, alle future generazioni, l’onere della soluzione di un conflitto che rimane, in tutti i sensi, internazionale. Poiché da un punto di vista giuridico, solo da questo momento sono internazionali le relazioni tra lo stato d’Israele e lo stato della Palestina.

La primavera ha, quindi, risvegliato coscienze nazionali e rivendicazioni di potere, ha percorso e attraversato il mondo arabo: a due anni di distanza, i fiori della primavera finalmente sbocciano in seno alla comunità internazionale. Se le conseguenze delle ribellioni arabe, a partire da quella tunisina, si erano estese entro limiti territoriali di singoli stati sovrani e potevano essere ritenute crisi interne, dal 29 novembre scorso il piano su cui si manifesteranno è a tutti gli effetti internazionale.

Gli effetti politici e tecnico-giuridici saranno complessi e molteplici, ma il cammino è appena avviato e l’attività diplomatica da compiere si configurerà decisiva e frenetica, dato che la comunità internazionale dovrà compattarsi e non disperdere i risultati ottenuti finora. Laddove la pace e la necessità di sicurezza non siano più circoscritte a un solo soggetto di diritto, ma si estendano alla comunità degli stati, l’impegno per il loro mantenimento dovrà essere senza alcun dubbio collettivo. Solo in questo modo, al tempo del raccolto, a tutti i soggetti sarà concesso godere della nuova e accresciuta ricchezza.

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Photo Credit: D’Ark Man

Gaza – No Good, No Evil

 As long as Israel remains the state of the Jews and Palestine remains the perfect site for Islamic extremists to launch attacks on Tel Aviv, the two can never coexist in complete harmony.
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Palestine protest youth Gaza
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This month Israel launched the first major attack on the Gaza strip in years. Hundreds of missiles rained down from Israel itself, artillery pounded the strip from the coast and tanks lined up on the border ready to roll in with an unstoppable rampage. Over 150 are dead, over a thousand injured, many women and children. The leader of Hamas’ military division is dead, killed by a missile strike which started the hostilities.
Or at least that’s the simplest way to look at it. Israel react completely disproportionately to Gazan rocket attacks, flatten Gaza at the cost of over a hundred innocent lives and then happily continue to go about their slow conquest of the West Bank. It’s an easy image, the demonic Israel oppressing and killing Palestinians almost arbitrarily. It’s a story of good and evil, of the underdog being crushed under the boot of the giant oppressor.
The reason this concept is so powerful is because it’s so easy to grasp. It’s the story-line to almost every good film ever made, from comedies to action in the cinema. People love to root for the underdog, and they love the black and white nature of good and evil. They cheered for Rocky Balboa, Dr. Richard Kimble, Seabiscuit, even Average Joe’s Gym and Po the Panda. Underdog stories of a small good guy against an stronger evil villain are probably the simplest stories to tell, and therefore the easiest to take sides on. This seems especially true of students across the world. Despite being in the best position to take the time to investigate the complex truths of every conflict they seem most likely to resort to simplistic ideological extremes of support.
But reality is never that simple. No, not even the Nazis, and certainly not the Japanese.
The present conflict did not start with Israel’s targeted killing of the military head of Hamas, it started with a weekend of huge numbers of rockets being fired from Gaza into Israel and attacks on Israeli soldiers on the borders. Over two thousand rockets have been fired into Israel in 2012, resulting in repeated evacuations of homes in the south. These attacks in turn were motivated by continued occupation of the West Bank and blockade of the Gaza strip. The blockade was the result of the 2008-2009 three-week war where Israel responded to 2,378 missiles launched during 2008 by assaulting the Gaza strip, bringing rocket attacks down to only 190 during 2009, however at the cost of over a thousand Palestinian lives. The war was a result of Hamas’ victory in the earlier elections and defeat of Fatah, which in turn was a result of the 2004 conflict where Israel had attacked the Gaza strip again in response to rocket attacks. The list continues to go back. Gazan rocket attacks are responded to with overwhelming force which stops the rocket attacks but through the use of traumatic violence which convinces more Gazans to turn to violence and launch rocket attacks which is responded to with overwhelming force. The attacks of November 2012 are just the latest in a long cycle.
Who’s to blame? Is it Israel for causing the situation which pushes Palestinians towards extremism? Or is it Palestinians for continuing to resort to attacks which they know full well with be responded to with such a display of force? Is it Israel for blockading the strip and occupying the West Bank, or is it Palestinians who’s attacks created the justification for these moves?
The truth is, neither. It makes things easy to take a side and demonise the opposition as the great evil, but it does not make such a position correct. If you want to really get to the crux of the issue it is all the fault of France and Britain who completely arbitrarily broke up the Ottoman Empire and through doing so caused not only the present Israel-Palestine conflict but also the ongoing Syrian Civil War, Iraqi sectarian conflict and Kurdish conflict through the creation of artificial states which could fit into straight lines. Britain created an Israeli state impossible to defend due to its surrounding highlands filled with enemies; therefore necessitated the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Golan Heights.
Yes, you can point to the Israeli blockade and the civilian casualties in Gaza. But on the other side of the coin the blockade was necessitated to reduce the huge influx of weapons into the strip which resulted in the rain of rockets of 2008. Civilian casualties are actually extremely low considering the vast number of targeted attacks directed at Hamas military leadership and rocket sites. Over one thousand strikes have taken place, making the casualty rate astoundingly low. Israeli troops even warned Hamas fighters to move civilians before strikes. The Hamas fighters which launched hundreds of rockets over the year knew what they were inviting in return, in fact it is reasonable to argue that Israel has left such a campaign of deterrence too long. The number of rockets fired by Hamas and Israel are almost the same, Israel’s are simply bigger and more accurate. At least eight Palestinian deaths have been executions carried out by Hamas, and several more have been faulty rockets, including many children.
Yes, you can point to the continual threats from Islamists to wipe Israel off the Earth and constant threats of terrorist attacks Israeli citizens live under the shadow of. However Israeli rejection of international law in the West Bank makes Palestinians feel like a sub-people unable even to vote towards the leaders of the power which controls their lives. The Israeli blockade has created terrible conditions in Gaza pushing people towards armed conflict as their only resort in response.
There is no good and evil in this conflict. Both sides have been terrible to one another and have done good things for their own people. The truth of the matter is that the very idea of placing two fundamentally opposing states on the same stretch of land, in an era where without control of high ground it is impossible to defend yourself, is itself ludicrous. Israel cannot be expected to allow Gaza, the West Bank, the Golan Heights or southern Lebanon to become militarised, to do so would be a gross failure of their duty to protect the citizens of Israel. Likewise the Palestinians cannot be expected to endure sub-standard conditions with no true representation or recognition in the face of an ever-advancing wall.
Boycotting Israel will not work, to think it will is naive. Demonising either side as the evil party oppressing the other will not help, it will only goad them further into conflict. Supporting Palestine as a recognised state will not make any difference at all, and will only serve in legitimising a solution which should never have been attempted and may never work. It may be easy to simplify the conflict into an easy duality of good and evil, underdog and oppressor, but it simply is not accurate. Maybe it is time to question the viability of the two-state solution, which has been gradually eroded to the point of irrelevance for over half a century.
The Gaza conflict is the creation of the concept of Israel and Palestine as two states, fundamentally opposed, and yet squeezed into a space too small for the both of them. As long as Israel remains the state of the Jews and Palestine remains the perfect site for Islamic extremists to launch attacks on Tel Aviv, the two can never coexist in complete harmony. The cycle has continued for too long, it is long past time to take a look at the other options.
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Photo Credit: Gigi Ibrahim

Making The US A True Partner

The complexity of the Arab-Israeli environment demands that the US accepts a role as a cooperative member of an international community seeking equitable peace, not as the sole leader. Only by shifting this reality can a solution amenable to both parties’ goals work.

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Shimon Peres and Leon Panetta

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[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he United States’ role in the Arab-Israeli conflict has been the source of widespread debate, most of it centered on the extent to which Washington can pressure the Palestinians towards a resolution. Yet, these arguments skirt around a crucial element of the continuing imbroglio: America is and will never be the idealized arbiter of Mideast peace. The sooner Washington understands this reality, or at least publicly admits it, the closer a sustainable resolution will become.

The United States is a staunch ally of Israel. This friendship is an inescapable fact. Total bilateral aid from Washington to Jerusalem has increased throughout the Obama Presidency, rising from $2,423 million in 2008 to a projected $3,115 million in 2013. Nearly all these funds are for Israeli military development, and nearly 50% of Obama’s 2010 budget for foreign military assistance — $2.8 billion — was appropriated to Israel. This level of funding has been maintained, if not enlarged. In contrast, US aid to the West Bank and Gaza has averaged just over $600 million since 2008.

These illustrative numbers underscore a far deeper, almost spiritual friendship between the Israel and the US, forged in the years after the Second World War and since fueled by the powerful pro-Israel lobby in Washington. The character of this alliance is unique, and has shaped the region. Israeli policy is founded on the recognition of US support, which is nearly unconditional, and Jerusalem would not be capable of its military operations in Gaza or Lebanon, for example, without American aid.

Of course, this friendship has been the source of much criticism from across the political spectrum. How, many ask, can anyone expect the US to be an honest broker of peace, as it proposes to be?

The answer to this question is: they cannot. It is fully within Washington’s purview to foster a powerful alliance with Israel. Such a friendship is not wholly unprecedented, as similar aid was provided to Great Britain in the 1930s. From a strictly political standpoint, sovereign nations are perfectly justified in seeking and maintaining strong defensive relationships against perceived threats. It is the implications of this aid on the peace process that worries those advocating a bilateral, egalitarian resolution.

Yet, rather than embarking on the Sisyphean task of restructuring the deeply entrenched US-Israeli relationship, the far more constructive solution would be to recognize the reality for what it is. By considering the United States as another partisan actor in the Arab-Israeli matrix, the international community might be better able to understand the true avenues and barriers to peace. As long as Washington occupies the dual role of negotiator and unwavering ally, Israel will not budge from its present course. It is not Washington’s support putting the peace process on hold, but rather the way in which this process is defined by it.

The US need not cut its bonds to Israel, but it must not disguise them. If Washington could enter into a truly multilateral negotiating body — one in which both the Israelis and the Palestinians are equally represented and considered — it could contribute to a far more sustainable solution: International, not unilateral, peace. Both the US and Israel have a real chance to achieve such a solution, as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas makes his case for Palestinian independence at the United Nations. For a peace process founded nearly entirely on US government opinion, the likely American and Israeli opposition to statehood would deal a crippling to Abbas’ chances. Within these parameters, the framework for reconciliation simply does not exist.

Only by shifting this reality can the two-state solution — or any solution amenable to both parties’ goals — work. The complexity of the Arab-Israeli environment demands that the US accepts a role as a cooperative member of an international community seeking equitable peace, not as the sole leader.

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Photo Credit: Secretary of Defense

Operation Cloud Pillar: Deterrence, Not Ballots

The road to Operation Cloud Pillar was paved not by the ballot box, but by strategic failures of the Israeli government. Rather than present a clever political manipulation of patriotic fervour that is inherent in high-stakes warfare, Netanyahu’s dereliction of deterrence may actually cost him dearly in January’s elections.

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Benjamin Netanyahu

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Benjamin Netanyahu is something of an enigma. Though every opinion poll published both before and after national elections were called augured his re-election as Israel’s Prime Minister, Netanyahu (or ‘Bibi’- his Israeli moniker), took the political gamble of a lifetime. Following a deluge of rockets on Israel’s southern cities from the Gaza Strip and the breakdown of the Middle-East’s worst kept secret- a truce between Hamas and Israel- Bibi ordered the assassination of Ahmad al-Jabari, the head of Hamas’ military wing.

Naturally, things have since gone from bad to worse. Whilst norms and ‘red lines’ are being re-written daily, perhaps the greatest misconception regarding the conflict is its origins. Just why did Israel’s Prime Minister order the attack?

Because this is the Middle-East, conspiracy theories abound. The current cynic’s claim is that, with elections on the horizon, Bibi sought to monopolize public debate, engendering a patriotic surge and paving the way for his re-election. Indeed, the Israeli Labor’s party prioritisation of a socio-economic agenda has all but disappeared from national discourse. It has also been argued on this website that international factors, such as Palestine’s bid for statehood at the United Nations, precipitated the need for drastic Israeli action.

The problem with this analysis is that it is myopic, favouring baseless speculation over reality. It is true that many Israeli offensives have been closely followed by elections: from Operation Grapes of Wrath in 1996 to the last tit-for-tat offensive in late 2008- Operation Cast Lead- and many more, bombs usually pre-empt ballots.

However, starting a war before an election has frequently backfired, literally blowing up in the face of the incumbent government. Following Cast Lead, the ruling Kadima Party lost power, whilst in 1996 then-Prime Minister Shimon Peres undid his rosy showing in the opinion polls by ordering the bombing of Lebanon.

These operations have something else in common: the subsequent elections were both won by then-leader of the opposition, Benjamin Netanyahu. Bibi, for all his many faults is a political mastermind, with scant desire to fall into the traps of his predecessors.

Rocket fire from the Gaza Strip declined sharply after the previous government launched Operation Cast Lead, which was a classic manifestation of Israeli deterrence policy. Strategically, the goal of deterrence is conflict management, rather than resolution; by inferring unacceptable costs on the behaviour of a belligerent, a state successfully projects a deterrence equation, limiting the strategic toolbox of the enemy. In order to ensure that the threat is real, states have to ‘make good’ their promises of unpalatable response; deterrence constantly needs ‘topping up’ if the opposing actor errs into the arena of unacceptable norms.

From its inception, Israel’s response to non-state terrorism based in nearby states has been to simply ignore the terror group and punish the state, forcing it to reign in the hostile actors. For this reason, I’m constantly bemused by so-called ‘Israel advocates’ claiming Israeli responses to terrorist acts are not ‘disproportionate’, because disproportionate response is the foundation of Israeli deterrence equations. The goal is not to ‘bomb your way to peace’, but to coerce nearby states and state-like entities into compliance, so a relative ‘quiet’ takes hold. In layman’s terms, Israel’s message is: ‘If you hurt me, I will hurt you ten times harder, so don’t hurt me’.

Whilst those of us on the left constantly lambast his administration for its right-wing reactionary stances, Netanyahu’s nationalist bombast obscures the truth: Bibi’s administration has rejected Israeli disproportionate deterrence policy. After five Israeli tourists were killed by a suspected Hezbollah bomber in Burgas, Bulgaria, I argued that Israel must learn that ‘excessive restraint begets further bloodshed’. Netanyahu agreed, promising that ‘Israel will respond forcefully to Iranian terror’. However, his bark was bigger than his bite: no tangible Israel response was forthcoming.

The most obvious manifestation of this ‘speak big, do nothing’ approach was on Israel’s southern borders. Under Netanyahu, when rockets were launched from Gaza, the Israeli Air Force targeted the rocket crews, not the governmental apparatus of Hamas. Rather than opt for massive retaliation, forcing Hamas to reign in the rocket crews, Netanyahu’s preference was for dialogue and negotiations, leading to several rounds of ‘truces’ which brought relative quiet.

However, Bibi’s restraint gamble unravelled rapidly. The number of rockets fired into Israel from the Gaza Strip increased substantially in recent weeks, suggesting that Hamas was either unwilling or unable to constrain smaller, more radical fellow travellers. Netanyahu was dragged back down the path of deterrence and disproportionate response, kicking and screaming all the way in the face of Israeli public uproar over perceived government inaction. Here lie the origins of Israel’s latest game-changing assault: ‘Operation Cloud Pillar’.

Four days into the operation, Netanyahu retains a preference for limited ‘surgical’ strikes over the strategic employment of disproportionate force. In the first four hours of Cast Lead, over 100 targets including police stations and bureaucratic offices were hit in Israel’s opening salvo, killing approximately 140 Palestinians. By contrast, the first four days of Cloud Pillar has witnessed around twenty Palestinian deaths.

However, every rocket erodes the legitimacy of surgical restraint. Hamas proved that they too are capable of game-changing tactics: for the first time since 1991, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem (where I am fortunate/unfortunate enough to live) were struck by rocket attacks. At the time of writing, the Israeli Defence Forces were subsequently granted permission to call up 75,000 reserve troops and close off the roads surrounding the Gaza Strip.

Thus, the road to Operation Cloud Pillar was paved not by the ballot box, but by strategic failures of the Israeli government, which lead to public uproar. Rather than present a clever political manipulation of patriotic fervour that is inherent in high-stakes warfare, Bibi’s dereliction of deterrence may actually cost him dearly in January’s elections. For those of us on the left, we are once again faced with the stark reality of a region where excessive force delivers quiet, whilst restraint begets clumsy, last-minute regressions to well-trodden strategic norms, of which Operation Cloud Pillar is increasingly looking like another example.

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Photo Credit: Abode of Chaos

Resistance and Retribution: Israel’s Follies in Gaza

The IDF is entering another endless rabbit warren from which it will emerge victory-less after it inevitably fails to achieve its aims. Gaza will be left in a considerably worse shape. Of course, it will be the international community’s fault for not letting them finish the job.

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After reports of 30,000 Israeli reservists mobilising after a day of tit-for-tat attacks between the IDF and Hamas, some commentators are predicting an ‘Operation Cast Lead 2.0’. The situation in Gaza has exploded since the assassination (or targeted killing, whichever your sensibilities prefer) of Ahmed al-Jabari, the commander of Hamas’military wing and many of us have been left trying to comprehend the course of the events.

Despite the tragedy unravelling before us across a multitude of news and social media platforms, swarming us with swathes of information and subtle misinformation. Already journalists are noting the ‘cyber battlefield’ between Hamas and the IDF, and now even Netanyahu himself is jumping into the Twitter front line, unsurprisingly denouncing Hamas as cowards for using their fellow Palestinians as improvised body armour. However, we see a shining example of how too much information is even more debilitating than too little and it has become near impossible to see through the fog of the information war to understand what is going on

Rather than attempt to tackle the course of events from an unfamiliar perspective, if we approach the IDF’s counterinsurgency strategy towards Gaza then we can gain valuable insight into some of the factors at play.

First and foremost, Gaza is not an existential threat to Israel. Short of Hamas acquiring a nuclear bomb, there is very little that could develop in Gaza that could alter Israel’s threat picture. Existential threats are a classification reserved only for threats such as a hostile Egypt – the linchpin in any conventional assault on Israel – and the Iranian nuclear programme. Hamas’ rockets, however, do pose and existential threat to the government. While sporadic rocket attacks on southern Israeli settlements closest to the border with Gaza are to be expected, Fajr-5 rockets falling on Tel Aviv will start making people question their government’s ability to protect its citizens.

Second, there are number of international factors at play whose influences are still obscured by the ‘shock of capture’ from the rapid deterioration of events. There’s the ongoing chaos in Syria, which has started to draw in the IDF after exchanges of mortar bombs and tank shells in the Golan. In early October, Hizbollah flew an Iranian-made reconnaissance drone into southern Israel, while the rest of Lebanon simmers from the tension exacerbated by the Syrian conflict. There is the ongoing crisis over Iran’s nuclear programme and the international sanctions, combined with the drop in the Rial, are straining Iran’s ability to support the Assad regime, Hizbollah and Hamas. In the US, Obama’s re-election has foiled Netanyahu’s hopes of a Romney-Ryan presidency.

What is the IDF trying to achieve? It is blatantly clear that their assassination of al-Jabari has escalated the situation. Fajr rockets dropping on Tel Aviv is a very significant development. The fact that Hamas has only decided now to bring them to bear on the cosmopolitan Israeli city indicates a red line has been crossed. There are two possible conclusions: the Israeli government underestimated Hamas’ reaction or they intentionally provoked a reaction out of the organisation. Considering the reported competence of Israel’s intelligence organisations, the former is very unlikely and there is little chance the IDF was caught off guard. The latter is far more likely to be the case. Furthermore, they will have calculated Hamas’ most dangerous course of action as firing Fajrs onto Israelis cities and have considered it as an acceptable risk to their larger aims.

We need to backtrack to Lebanon in 2006 to get a better sense of what is going on. In 2006, after a month of heavy fighting with Hizbollah, Israel withdrew from Lebanon defeated. Both the Israeli civilian and military leadership were shocked at the IDF’s poor performance against an enemy they had badly underestimated. After the war, the government conducted a probing investigation into what went wrong.

Israeli operations in Lebanon and Gaza show the reality of COIN doctrine without all the fuzzy frills of ‘winning hearts and minds’. The doctrine determined the IDF’s operations in Lebanon during its occupation from 1982 to 2000, again in 2006 and once more in Gaza in 2009 in Operation Cast Lead. Not-so-coincidentally, Israel failed to achieve any of its aims in these operations. But while US and British thinkers are beginning to criticise COIN as a viable strategy after NATO’s experience in Afghanistan, it seems that 6 years on from Lebanon the only visible adjustment the Israeli government has made towards it strategy on the Palestinian issue is to set up the IDF with a Twitter and You Tube account.

According to an IDF tweet, one of their objectives is to ‘cripple Hamas’ terrorist infrastructure in Gaza’. There is no single, universally accepted definition of a terrorist. If you cannot agree upon the definition of a terrorist, then it is impossible to define the limits of ‘terrorist infrastructure;. It is an ambiguous (presumably intentionally) term that could be applied to Hamas’ leadership, their rocket launch sites, roads, mosques and the list goes on. It does not define the end state for IDF’s operations and gives them considerable scope to cause significant damage across the Strip.

The IDF’s actions are the most telling sign that the conflict is even further from peace, and not just because of another explosion of violence. After a moment of national introspection following the 2006 war, the Israeli government has decided to stick with a military solution to the Palestinian issue. The IDF is entering another endless rabbit warren from which it will emerge victory-less after it inevitably fails to achieve its aims. Gaza will be left in a considerably worse shape. Of course, it will be the international community’s fault for not letting them finish the job.

And, of course, the operation has nothing to do with the Israeli elections in January.

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Photo Credit: Rahuldlucca

Israel’s Deadly Game of Politics

Desperate times call for desperate measures and it seems Israel has decided that the only way to deter Palestine from achieving an observer state status at the United Nations is to destabilise the region and use the argument that Palestine is not ready to become a state due to its violent and confrontational nature.

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On Wednesday 14th November Israel killed the military commander of Hamas in an airstrike on the Gaza Strip. Hamas said Ahmed Al-Jabari, who ran the organization’s armed wing, Izz el-Deen Al-Qassam, died along with a passenger after their car was targeted by an Israeli missile. Jabari has long topped Israel’s most-wanted list. Israel blames him for a string of attacks, including the kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit in 2006. The Israeli military says its assassination of the Hamas military commander marks the beginning of an operation against Gaza militants.

The consequences of Israel’s actions were already noticeable just a few hours after the announcement as immediate calls for revenge were broadcast over Hamas radio and smaller groups also warned of retaliation: “”Israel has declared war on Gaza and they will bear the responsibility for the consequences,” Islamic Jihad said.” There is now a real chance that this event can lead to another full-blown conflict similar to the three week conflict in 2008 and 2009.

However perhaps a full blown conflict in the region is exactly what Israel wanted. On the 29th of November, Palestine will put in a resolution to upgrade the status of Palestine to that of a non-member observer state in the organization. Unsurprisingly Israel with the support of the United States have opposed this move arguing that it will hinder real negotiations, despite the fact that the majority of UN members believe Palestine should be granted a full state membership at the international organisation. Israel has bluntly said that they will consider partial or full cancellation of the Oslo Accords if the United Nations General Assembly adopts the resolution. On Sunday, the Foreign Ministry sent an urgent cable to all Israeli representatives around the world, asking ambassadors to deliver a number of messages to senior officials in those countries as soon as possible. “You are asked immediately at the beginning of the work week to contact the foreign ministry, prime minister’s office, national security adviser or president’s office and request to do all possible to halt the Palestinian initiative because of its far-reaching consequences,” the cable to the ambassadors said. As opposed to the decisions of the UN Security Council, General Assembly decisions cannot be vetoed, therefore the USA cannot play its ace card to prevent Palestine achieving its objective. Despite strong pressure from Israel, the Palestinian President has defiantly said he will not back out from his plan to table the resolution at the United Nations.

Desperate times call for desperate measures and it seems Israel has decided that the only way to deter Palestine from achieving an observer state status at the United Nations is to destabilise the region and use the argument that Palestine is not ready to become a state due to its violent and confrontational nature. Hamas have always argued that asking the UN to grant Palestine a member status would be purely symbolic and would not achieve anything on the ground. For this reason, it is likely that Hamas will retaliate against Israel after the death of Al-Jabari, which is exactly what Israel wants them to do. Abbas is likely to plead to Hamas not to seek revenge at such a crucial time for the Palestinian state, but Hamas (who are already on cold terms with Abbas) are unlikely to listen, giving Israel more ammunition to claim that Palestine is a divided nation and thus do not deserve a place at the United Nations.

While many claim that it would be purely a symbolic matter if Palestine were to become an observer non-member state, the consequences are far greater than that. Netanyahu is fully aware of the fact that the new status as a non-member state would allow Palestine to be accepted as a member of the International Criminal Court of the UN in The Hague and demand Israel and its leaders be tried for war crimes. This is a very serious threat to the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian land and teh Israeli officials will not take this lightly.

One may argue that the two events (UN resolution vote on the 29th November and Wednesday’s assassination of the Hamas militant) are purely coincidental in their close timing. But as Roosevelt said: “In politics nothing happens by accident”. Not much else needs to be said.

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Photo Credit: Lilachd

The Gaza Strip: First Impressions

One leaves the Gaza Strip unsure whether to categorise the experience as witnessing real life in surreal conditions, or life by mirages of banality under normalised conflict. The answer is probably a mixture of both.

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Tunnel to the Gaza Strip

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[dropcap]F[/dropcap]rom the outset, Gaza City fiercely interrogates one’s sense of surreality. First of all because there is no way of knowing what to expect. Gaza suffers an excess of definitions from but a dearth of normal contact with the outside world. The competing definitions – prison camp, animal pen, laboratory, breeding ground for terrorists, enemy entity, potential humanitarian disaster zone – along with the only reportage and images we see from the strip being warfare-related mean that one enters and is genuinely surprised by everything normal: trees! buildings! billboards! cars! When banality is what is most surprising, it is probably time to rethink these definitions, for what one finds is not a society of prisoners, animals, terrorists; but just people.

The situation and the borders around the Gaza Strip must be what is surreal, then. Except that they are violently real and patently part of Gaza’s reality. Thursday night sees the Gazan elite socialising at the ex-Moevenpick (now an Arcmed, the 5* hotel is empty, but the leisure facilities service the local population). One night, during the usual scene: people sipping juice cocktails, children playing freely, a toddler dances on a table. Behind her a few blocks north, two Qassam rockets rise and fall towards Ashkelon. What I take for Iron Dome activation sets off next, rockets with orange flare tails headed back into the strip, and then a heavier strike on the Qassam launching ground, all thuds and flashes. Adults pause to look but quickly return to their juice cocktails. The toddler never stops dancing. I could not help but think of the same scenario from the Israeli side, they will have been ushered into bomb shelters, underlining that what is going on outside is not to be considered normal life. There are no public bomb shelters in Gaza. They built open air night spots instead.

This is not to say that Gazans are all hardened against threat, that they do not appreciate the danger of their situation, nor that they necessarily could build state of the art bomb shelters if they wanted to. Psychological problems are rife here, many suffer from some kind of ongoing trauma distress. And as a visitor here, soon you will too.

Experiences vary throughout the strip, the middle area around Deir al-Balah sees more incursions of actual ground troops, but if you live in Gaza City you will not see an Israeli. However they are a pervasive mental presence, piqued by occasional deadly physical reminders. They mostly come at night, the drones. Disrupting television signal if the electricity is working, or barely disturbing sleep. And then their target is fired upon. A strike a block away will blow your windows open and have you leaping for the exit if this is your first time. Perhaps, like me, you’ll find yourself mustering alone in a hotel corridor with your trusty towel until you slope off back to bed realising you’ve experienced nothing special. At least in Gazan terms. You get on the Gazan twittersphere and are reassured by some strange kind of human contact after proximity to being collateral damage. It will be over a week before you can sleep properly again. Once out of Gaza, it becomes a novelty and delight to take in that not every loud noise is an air strike, that there are passenger planes in the air, not drones and F16s, and that there is electricity available all day long. This is a conflict that blurs your sense of warfare with the everyday and domestic. It is disturbing.

This must be why the international United Nations workers mostly opt to spend some of their danger pay on weekends off in Tel Aviv. It’s just up the coast and visible from Gaza City on a clear day. That those who can do flit between the Gaza Strip and Israel brings the borders back into surreal territory. The actual workings of the borders are a mystery and occupy the same space in small talk as the weather does in British conversation: is Rafah open? Will it open later? What is Erez like today? The meteorology of Rafah is based on Egyptian politics, bureaucracy and Hamas permits, it is somewhat predictable by a crude barometer measuring these influences. The same cannot be applied to the Israeli ones, and indeed to the reasons behind the ongoing blockade that was designed to put pressure on Hamas to release an abducted Israeli soldier and to weaken their ability to govern, but which achieved the total opposite of both goals, is something nobody can explain to their children when they inevitably ask that awkward question.

One leaves the Gaza Strip unsure whether to categorise the experience as witnessing real life in surreal conditions, or life by mirages of banality under normalised conflict. The answer is probably a mixture of both.

Lucy spent 10 days in Gaza in June – hosted by the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme – as part of her PhD research.

EU-Israeli Relations: Time For Sanctions?

EU-Israeli relations must drastically change if the EU wishes to uphold the values they claim to embody. If they do not, the EU will bear part of the responsibility for the Israeli occupation and subjugation of the Palestinian people.

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[dropcap]I[/dropcap]f there is anything the politicians in the European Union’s parliament have become experts on, it is devising and applying economic and diplomatic sanctions on countries they deem as ‘outlaw’ states. Their list of targets is wide-ranging: Syria, Belarus, Myanmar, Zimbabwe, Cote d’Ivoire, Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and, of course, Iran. In many cases, the justification for the implementation of sanctions is sound, usually instigated by the abuse of human rights and a lack of political freedom.

If we accept these reasons as sufficient for the implementation of sanctions against a foreign country, then we should ask why none are being applied to Israel. To be sure, one could immediately object that it is useless to engage in such talk since the EU does not regard Israel as an ‘outlaw’ state such as the examples mentioned above.

It is at this point that the interesting fact of the matter lies. Recently, the EU has published two reports outlining the persistent violation of international law and human rights on behalf of Israel against the native Arab population. Before asking further questions, some factual quoting is in order.

The two reports are the EU Heads of Mission report on East Jerusalem published in 2011 and the European Neighbourhood Policy on Israel published in mid-May of this year.

The latter highlights irregularities in most areas it investigated. In the field of “freedom of association and freedom of expression and the media”, the report notes that “an increasing number of bills that can be labelled as potentially discriminatory or even anti-democratic” were proposed in the Knesset and the ones which have been passed “are examples of laws that raise concerns, as they can…alienate the Arab Israeli minority”.

Moreover, the “progress on the situation of the Arab minority was limited”. Furthermore, “the exercise of media freedom, freedom of expression and freedom of assembly remained problematic in the occupied Palestinian territory in 2011”, “Israeli detentions of Palestinian journalists…continued” and “the situation of Palestinian human rights defenders remained critical”.

The report also noted that due to the acceptance of Palestine as a member of UNESCO, “Israel temporarily suspended the transfer of Palestinian tax revenues to the Palestinian Authority, contrary to its obligations under the Paris Protocol”, the document which outlines the economic relations between Israel and Palestine signed in April 1994 as part of Oslo 1.

The report went on to highlight that “settlement construction and expansion continued in the West Bank…with a surge in settlement activity at the end of 2011” and that “this undermines the prospects for a two-state solution”.

On the issue of administrative detention, the report notes that “there was a sharp increase in the number of administrative detainees” and that “the EU has repeatedly conveyed its concerns about this practice to the Israeli authorities in the framework of regular political and human rights dialogue”.

Not even children were spared. The report informs us about “insufficient protection of children during arrest and detention” with the abominable “cases of solitary confinement of children” continuing.

Further complaints include breach in freedom of religion for the Arab Christian minority, Palestinian social and economic rights being “hampered by Israeli restrictions on freedom of movement” and property rights coming under “particular strain…due to the demolition of their homes by Israel” in Area C of the West Bank.

If you find these findings harsh, then take a look at the EU Heads of Mission report on East Jerusalem. Here we find out that “Israel is actively perpetuating its [i.e. East Jerusalem’s] annexation by systematically undermining the Palestinian presence in the city through the continued expansion of settlements, restricting zoning and planning, ongoing demolitions and evictions, an inequitable education policy, difficult access to health care and the inadequate provision of resources and investment”.

The report explicitly acknowledges that “Israel’s actions in East Jerusalem have run counter to its stated commitment to a sustainable peace with the Palestinians” and “in accordance with international law, the EU regards East Jerusalem as occupied territory” thus considering “the construction of the separation barrier illegal under international law where it is built under occupied territory.”

The document continues with extensive and detailed criticisms of Israel’s settlement policy, archaeological projects supposedly searching for biblical artifacts, “planning, demolitions, eviction and displacements”, the “residency status”, “access and movement” of the native Arab population and inequalities in the allotment of education and health resources for local Arabs.

In a few words, the two reports highlight the almost total disregard of basic human rights on behalf of the Israeli political establishment when dealing with its native Arab population. They explicitly demonstrate violations of international law and the adoption of discriminatory policies on the behalf of Israel.

If the EU is fully aware of these facts, the obvious question is not only why the Union does nothing to put real pressure on Israel, such as its beloved threat and implementation of diplomatic and economic sanctions, but especially why it is doing the exact opposite by increasing its economic and diplomatic ties with the Jewish state.

If the politicians in the European parliament want to uphold the values they claim the EU embodies, and if they do not want to smack of hypocrisy, they need to drastically change its relations with Israel and begin to consider the use of sanctions. Until they do so, they bear part of the responsibility for the Israeli occupation and subjugation of the Palestinian people.

Human Rights As A Tool For A Palestinian State

Human Rights Instrumental Efficacy for the Palestinian struggle for national independence: The Case of Contemporary Gaza
{Department of Politics and International Studies, Cambridge University}

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[dropcap]S[/dropcap]ince the nakba of 1948, Gaza is both “exceptional and paradigmatic of the broader Palestinian condition” (Feldman 2007: 129). One million refugees in Gaza account for two thirds of its population (Id.). Being included in no state, its population falls into a citizenship vacuum. Understandably, the Palestinian struggle for national independence is a central theme of political mobilisation in Gaza. It has developed amongst Gazans in a co-constitutive relationship with international humanitarian practices and politics. This essay will consider the instrumental value of human rights as a tool for the Palestinian struggle for national independence. In order to undertake a thicker analysis, I shall almost exclusively focus my attention on the contemporary Gaza strip.

Human Rights: An Integrative Legal Discourse Founded on Human Dignity

An integral and important part of the problem is in the definition of human rights, “a complex of concepts and practices” (Allen 2009: 164). A definition depends primarily on the description of the existing relationship between humanitarian law and the international human rights law. Generally speaking, humanitarian law refers exclusively to “the conduct of military operations (methods and means of combats) as well as the protection of victims of armed conflicts (wounded, sick, prisoners, civilian population, and so on)” (Gros Espiell 2000: 351). More strictly, it is based on the Geneva Convention (1949), and its additional protocols (1977). These documents all share article 3, which is identical or similar to an article in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR 1948) and of the International covenants on Human Rights (ICCPR 1966 and ICESCR 1966).

Humanitarian law has always been a central tool in safeguarding human rights through the third article of the Geneva Convention. In contemporary legal theory, humanitarian law and human rights are becoming more and more interdependent, although they remain two distinct branches of international law. Previous debates about this distinction have been transcended since this interdependence has been accepted in international practice on the basis of the recognition “of the common fundamental principle of the dignity of the human person” (Gros Espiell 2000: 347, 352). Therefore, humanitarian law aims at protecting human rights in situations of war, and is included in the objective principles and rules of “international human rights law” lato sensu. I should also mention that the same logic applies to the collective right to self-determination (see Declaration of Alger 1976) since it is included within the main human rights covenants (UDHR art. 15, ICCPR art. 1, and ICESCR art. 1). In this essay I will use “human rights” as an all-encompassing expression that refer to all these interdependent legal regimes, including humanitarian, self-determination, and senso stricto human rights law, as they have all placed human dignity as their universal bedrock.

Finally, it is essential to specify that human rights are more than the objective sets of principles and rules mentioned in the covenants. For the purposes of this essay, they also include the subjective discursive constituents of all these rights (Symonides 2000). Therefore, I situate human rights in line with Isaac’s interpretation of Hannah Arendt’s conceptualization:

She believed that human rights were not a problem of moral speculation or legal philosophy so much as a problem of politics, a matter of mobilizing new and effective forms of solidarity and concern
(Isaac 1996: 61)

The instrumental value of the human rights discourse (i.e. its mobilizing and legitimizing capacity) lies in its potential to undermine politics that are not funded on the principle of human dignity. As I shall discuss, it is this central characteristic that makes it such an efficient tool for the Palestinian struggle.

The main political actors of the Palestinian struggle for national independence in contemporary Gaza are the Hamas and Israel.1 They enunciate their political claims through a chimera of the modern discourses of national security or religious faith, and the alternative discourse of human rights. Before considering the broader context, it is necessary to evaluate the impact of the practices of human rights organisations (HRO) and international organisations (IO) on the Palestinian mobilisation since they shape the relationship between political actors, the international community and the population.

Humanitarianism: the Pernicious Effects of some Human Rights Practices

As part of an assessment of human rights efficacy in the Palestinian struggle for independence, it is essential to understand the impact of its practices on Gazans’ political claims and practices of resistance.

As Feldman demonstrates in the case of Gaza, the category of refugee emerged as a structuring category in the “rearticulation of Palestinian political identity in the aftermath of dispossession” (2007: 132). By arbitrarily dividing people into two categories, refugees and natives, half a century of human rights practices transformed the identities and discourses from which stemmed the political claims of the Gazans.

On the one hand, the humanitarian distinction had an impact on the “natives” in the Gaza strip. In the post-nakba economic context, the very fact that they remained at home was the only feature distinguishing them from the refugees. It “would later become an explicit facet of Palestinian citizenship—the notion of steadfastness (sumud), the value of staying put” (Feldman 2007: 152). For the natives, remaining in place was, therefore, an integral part of political action in the struggle for national independence. On the other hand, the humanitarian practices redefined the role of the refugee to that of a victim. Access to the rights to relief, compensation, and return was consequently dependent on extra-legal performatives of victimhood (Malkki 1996: 384), dependent on the status of a “non-agencive victimized community” (Jeffery and Candea 2006).

As Feldman (2007) and Malkki (1996) argue, administrators of humanitarian aid need to establish objective conditions to identify victims. The universal humanitarian subject of aid is imagined as the historic victim that is portrayed in the images of physical suffering (Malkki 1996: 378). Following Malkki’s (Id.) argument, the visual proof of suffering exclusively determined the possible claims of refugees to aid, relief, and return. Symptomatic of humanitarianism, B’Tselem reports are based on many descriptive accounts restricted to violence against civilians. They are classified under different categories, such as torture and abuse during interrogations, beating and abuse, etc. (e.g. B’Tselem 2009b, see also HRW 2009 and Al-Haq.org). The images of pain and mutilated bodies were the only ways to reach and to relate to the international in order to receive consideration and help (see Allen 2009: 173).

All in all, universalized as suffering refugees, Gazans were detached from their situated socio-historic context.2 Human rights practices became humanitarianism in Gaza when it depoliticizes the refugees, and when “political activism and refugee status were mutually exclusive […], as in international refugee law more generally” (Malkki 1996: 385). Humanitarianism, in this form, silenced the refugees’ capacity to express their political claims, and only allowed space for them to share their suffering (Ibid.: 378). However, claims’ enunciation is limited into this specific discourse and only appeals for decontextualised and apolitised restorative responses. Dialectically, international response has been constructed around correcting a violation or returning a right. Human rights practices have had significant consequences for the Palestinian struggle in Gaza since humanitarianism is “able to keep people alive but entirely incapable of changing the conditions that have put them at such great risk” (Feldman 2007: 139).

Beyond Humanitarism: Contextualizing Human Rights’ Role in a Complex Struggle

In the humanitarian apolitical space, Gazans claim access to services through an objective proof of physical grievance such as displacement, mutilation, or homicide. Following this analysis, victimhood establishes itself as apolitical:

Victimhood thus makes a claim for a non-political space, and this is a claim to which many anthropologists have attended. … One might argue in fact that while the suspension of politics was until recently achieved by appeals to “impartiality”, “objectivity”, or “science” (cf. D’Andrade 1995), it is increasingly being achieved by appeals to the ontological primacy of victimhood or suffering.
(Jeffery and Candea 2006)

This theoretical argument issued as a critique from within the anthropological perspective is important to consider (on this topic see also Allen 2009). It allows for the understanding of many of the inherent limitations of contemporary OIs and HRO’s practices in Gaza. It unveils the pernicious consequences of humanitarianism which positions victimhood as the objective or the apolitical cornerstone that is required to legitimize both action and support.

However, this approach does allow space for assessing the role of the human rights discourse and practices outside humanitarianism. In a complex dynamic, other discourses based on politics, such as realpolitik or Jihad,3 are competing with human rights for hegemonic acceptance amongst Gazans and other political organizations. The efficacy of the human rights discourse for the Palestinian struggle can only be appreciated when considered with respect to these competing discourses.

Therefore, an alternative perspective on the intertwining relationship between human rights and political struggle is to consider the discourses as opposing performative entities. Their collision suggests a struggle for hegemonic positioning within their respective discursive foundations. Conceiving politics and victimhood as competing discursive contexts is “to recognize that not only does victimhood attempt to suspend or trump politics, the reverse is also the case” (Jeffery and Candea 2006). Stating the ontological primacy of power politics is as engaging as claiming the universal (and metapolitical) status of human rights politics. From this radical anti-foundational perspective, performatives are not false or just, but can only be considered to be either successful or not at asserting themselves.

These are not two “readings”, but rather two alternative configurations of reality: the question is which alternative manages to establish itself at any given point. … The problem is thus reduced from a metaphysical to an ethnographic one—with a twist. For in this approach, we are forced to recognize the performative power of our own ethnographic accounts
(Jeffery and Candea 2006)

From this perspective, human rights’ practices take on another dimension. In line with what Hannah Arendt conceptualized as political action, human rights’ practices are “intended to secure an elemental human dignity that is systematically jeopardized by the imperatives of national sovereignty” (Isaac 1996: 63). In other words, they have the potential of undermining alternative discursive foundations, which as an instrumental assessment impacts actors’ legitimacy and mobilisation capacity. With respect to the Israeli State, the structuring effect of competition between discourses plays a crucial role in successfully mobilizing support from the international community. In this respect, human rights are integral for Palestinians.

The role of human rights for the Palestinian struggle for national independence was clearly exposed during the last Gaza crisis. Both Israel and the Hamas referred to the different competing foundations for legitimacy.

Israel’s Legitimacy: Human Rights as a Challenge to National Security

Israeli claims of benign interference in Gaza to re-establish order rapidly faded due to the disproportionate use of force. This left the national security principle of self-defence as the last foundation for the legitimacy of IDF’s Operation Cast Lead (27 December 2008 – 18 January 2009). HROs denunciations against the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) were central in exposing the humanitarian law violations (see HRW 2009). According to the Palestinian HRO al-Mezan (cited in B’Tselem 2009: 3-4), weeks of bombardments and fighting resulted in 1342 Palestinian and 13 Israeli causalities (including 10 soldiers). From the vantage point of human rights discourse (Isaac 1996: 63), the legitimacy this operation relying exclusively on national interest can be challenged.

This approach highlights how the human rights discourse is an instrumental tool in weakening hardliner politics in Israel. Israeli state sovereignty, as a legitimate ground for military action, is limited if (and only if) the ontological primacy of human dignity is successful in asserting itself as the foundation of this competing discourse. Proportionality restraints emanate from this discourse. Therefore, the human rights discourse poses limits to the appeal of national security in order to legitimize bellicose actions or to mobilize international (and Israeli) support.

IOs and HROs have a clear role in restraining IDF’s asymmetric military advantage. It impedes the IDF from applying an unlimited strategy of tabula rasa in the Gaza strip. However, HROs response is symptomatic of the humanitarian flaws since it neither reveals the political consequences of the IDF operation, nor considers the strategic consequences of its violence on Gazans’ acts of resistances. However, it did limit the magnitude of the destruction of this operation on civilians’ lives and assets.

In brief, considering Israel, the existence of legitimate competing discourses per se makes it possible to consider legitimacy and violence from an alternative vantage point. The efficacy of human rights as a tool is not limited to the relief of pain; it allows for an international reconsideration of the legitimacy of military action.

The Hamas: a Jihadist organisation or a vehicle of Palestinians rights?

“the Islamic Resistance Movement erupted in order to play its role in the path of its Lord. In so doing, it joined its hands with those of all Jihad fighters for the purpose of liberating Palestine”
(Hamas Charter 1988)

This initial Jihadist discourse of the Hamas remains relevant while considering the hardliners. However, as counter-intuitive as it may appear, it seems that Hamas political leadership has recently narrowed its ambitions and rearticulated the discourse of the human rights around its religious foundation. Hamas’ incapability to consolidate international support in the West while conserving jihadist rhetoric was a central cause of this shift. The Jerusalem Media and Communication Centre (JMCC 2005) noted the incommensurability of Palestinian political claims with the international discourse: the “Palestinian narrative […] makes little sense in the dominant news agenda of the ‘war on terror’. Journalists feel great pressure to conform to this news agenda.” Micheal Oatley (2008)4, former head of the MI6, noted how the war on terror label of terrorist organization is dangerous for political actors such as the IRA, the Hezbollah, and the Hamas. It impedes negotiations by taking away a priori from these actors the rational capacity to compromise. To tackle this issue, the Hamas has significantly adapted their discourse to the international vocabulary of human rights. This discourse transcends the Jihadist-terrorist dead-end and allows them to engage the international community on a commensurable ground.

In early 2004, Hamas leader, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, and a senior Hamas official, Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi, declared that armed confrontation could be ended. A ten years truce could be achieved on the basis of the creation of a viable Palestinian state delaminated on the borders of the pre-1967 Six Day war; therefore, calling for the complete withdrawal of Israeli troops from occupied territories (Amayreh, Al-Ahram weekly online, 2004). The terms of this proposal for truce almost implicitly acknowledged the two states solution. Abruptly, Yassin and al-Rantissi were killed in two IDF’s air strikes in March and April 2004. Despite their deaths, the pragmatic stand taken by Yassin and al-Rantissi continued to be present in the discussions from within the Hamas in 2005 and 2006 (on internal tensions see Levitt 2009). During 2006 election, Hamas declarations revealed a human rights approach towards national independence. The introduction of its political programme is emblematic of this discursive adaptation when it referred to the collective right to self-determination and to live free from oppression. Hamas also referred to resolution 194 when claiming that Palestinians have the right to return (Hamas cited in JMCC 2006).

Breaking with Diplomatic Isolation: Post-crisis Hamas Capacity to Mobilise International Support

Due to the rigidity of the terrorist label in 2006, it seemed that the international community was not ready to endorse Hamas officials as legitimate political actors even after being elected (see BBC, 7 April 2006 on the Quartet’s decision to cut aid). As a result of this Hamas made some efforts to make the new government more acceptable for the international community through the formation of a unitary government with the Fatah and other parties. Since then, the human rights discourse has become increasingly influential in acting as an efficient tool for mobilizing international support.

However, this process was halted following degradation of Gaza’s situation and the military operation Cast Lead. This last crisis was an epitome of the dynamics of competition between human rights and other discourses, and its consequences. This military confrontation appeared to have weakened human rights discourse and moderated opinions within the population in Israel and Gaza. Symptomatically, Palestinian support for the Sudanese plan of the latter dropped from 64% in December 2008 to 58% in March 2009, while Israelis support dropped from 36% to 33% for the same period (PSR 2009).

It is also most probable that both hardliners within the Israeli government and Hamas organisation have increased their influence as a result of the confrontation (The Herald, February 1st 2009). Israeli politicians, such as actual Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, are opposed to the two states solution (BBC News, 30 March 2009). This political force has based their claims on the nationalist project of a Jewish state, thereby excluding Palestinian return. Hamas political leadership is also divided between hardliners and moderates in Gaza (Levitt 2009). In this context, Ismail Haniyah represented the moderate voice from within the Hamas but “is not believed to hold significant sway” (Id.). A few days prior to the end of the Gaza crisis, he restated the right to self-determination and return as the ultimate goal of the Palestinian struggle in amessage published in The Independent (15 January 2009).

This last episode has confirmed that the actual Hamas political leadership is committed to formulating claims into more legalistic terms of national auto-determination and return. This discourse allows for some international openings that were denied to the Hamas within the war on terror mind frame. It allowed the Hamas to get out of diplomatic isolation since many government representatives have initiated contact with its officials (see The Independent 22 and 28 April 2009 and the BBC news, 23 April and 22 March 2009). While the US still designates it as a terrorist organization, the newly elected Obama administration asked for legal changes in order to allow aid to be administered by the Palestinian Authority even if “Hamas backed officials become part of a unified Palestinian government” (Los Angeles Times, 27 April 2009). EU External Affairs Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner “said Netanyahu should commit to talks with the Palestinians” (BBC News, 30 March 2009). Following international pressure, Netanyahu may bend and approve a two state solution (The Independent, 28 April 2009).

In conclusion, human rights, considered as an all-encompassing discourse, remains an efficient and pragmatic tool for Palestinian independence struggle. Human rights, beyond their pernicious impacts on Gazans’ forms of mobilisation, have prevented Israel from using its overwhelming military power to seek an expedited solution. The human rights discourse also allowed the main political actor in Gaza, the Hamas, to start to break away from international isolation. This is a crucial development since the Palestinians face a humanitarian crisis resulting from reduction in aids. Moreover, partial rechanneling of aid through UN and civil society agencies weaken the Palestinian Authority viability and further deteriorate the probability for Palestinian independence. In contemporary Gaza, the Palestinians need the human rights to mobilise support.

[toggle title=”Citations & Bibliography”]

1 Hamas will be considered as the main actor of Palestinian independence struggle in Gaza since I will focus on the period of 2004 to the present.
2 Similarly, Ferguson (1994) analyses development’s discourses. He underlines its linear and apolitical treatment of the poor as an unidimensional human.
3 The diversity of discursive practices can hardly be reduced to these labels. However they represent local manifestation of some of the main discourses (see Der Derian 1987, 2001).
4 Argument reported by the author.

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