[News] The Lessons of Gaza 2009
news at freedomarchives.org
Tue May 5 11:05:43 EDT 2009
The Lessons of Gaza 2009
May 05, 2009 By Bashir Abu-Manneh
Source: <http://www.solidarity-us.org/node/2158>Against the Current
FIRST THE NUMBERS:
"1285 Palestinians killed, mostly civilians, including 167 civil
police officers. 4336 Palestinians wounded, mostly civilians. Two
political leaders of Hamas assassinated, Nizar Rayan and Said Siam,
in bombs that flattened their home and also killed many of their
family members and neighbors. Tens of thousands of people forced to
abandon their homes: 2400 houses completely destroyed, and 17,000
semi-destroyed or damaged. Tens of mosques, public civilian
facilities, police stations, and media, health, and educational
institutions either completely or partially destroyed. 121 industrial
and commercial workshops destroyed and at least 200 others damaged."
Israel's army, the fourth most powerful in the world, surrounded and
attacked by air, land, and sea a defenseless population that it has
intensively besieged since 2007, occupied for the last 42 years, and
expelled and dispossessed for the last 60 years. For 22 days of
relentless round-the-clock bombing, 1.5 million Gazans were
terrorized: nobody and nowhere was safe in Gaza (as the UN's John
Ging stated during the assault).
Causing mass terror and insecurity and massive infrastructural
damage, Israel's assault was systematic, premeditated and
pre-planned, making no distinctions between military and civilian
targets ("cautiousness is aggressiveness," as the IDF command
recommended). Not only indiscriminate: but also completely
disproportionate as a response to Hamas' home-made Qassam rockets.
Months before the expiration of the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire
agreement between Israel and Hamas, which Israel violated and refused
to renew, the IDF began its preparations. Palestinians needed to be
punished for supporting and democratically electing Hamas, for
resisting the Israeli occupation, and for believing that their
national rights are within the realm of possibility.
Israel also needed to re-establish its military "deterrence," shaken
by the 2006 war on Lebanon, as well as remind Palestinians that the
occupied Palestinian territories are not South Lebanon and Hamas is
not Hizbullah. As I argued during the war, Palestine was yet again to
be delayed and obstructed by Israel.
What lessons should we draw from this? What does it tell us about the
question of Palestine 60 years after the Nakba?
The first crucial conclusion that should be drawn and internalized is
the following one: Israel doesn't want peace.
Since 2000, Israel has not only killed over 6000 Palestinians
(shooting over one million bullets into unarmed demonstrators in the
first 3 weeks of the 2nd Intifada alone, "a bullet for every
Palestinian child" as an Israeli officer put it), but it has also
reoccupied West Bank cities and destroyed Palestinian Authority (PA)
infrastructure in a massive invasion resembling the current assault on Gaza.
Thousands of small-scale military incursions and operations ensued.
In 2006, Israel also attacked Lebanon, killed over 1200 Lebanese, and
drove away half a million civilians from the south during a massive
bombing campaign that lasted 33 days.
The Worship of Force
Israel's pattern of aggression is historical: force is always
prioritized over peace. No state that wants peace expels the majority
of Palestinians from their lands, destroys over 530 of their towns
and villages, and prevents their return in 1948; or joins with
Western colonial powers and attacks Egypt for nationalizing the Suez
Canal in 1956; or occupies more Palestinian and Arab lands, crushes
the Arab world's most popular political leadership, and humiliates a
whole nation in 1967. The founding Zionist Theodore Herzl's imagined
"outpost of civilization as opposed to barbarism" was realized and
sustained by force.
The specifics are even more sinister. Indeed, every time Israel has a
chance to settle the Arab-Israeli conflict by peaceful means it goes
to war. Two examples will suffice. The 1982 invasion of Lebanon and
the crushing of the PLO was undertaken as a response to what one
Israeli strategist called the PLO's "peace offensive" in 1981-82.
The invasion of the West Bank in 2002 was conducted days after the
announcement of the Arab initiative in Beirut, which offered Israel
not only the international consensus of peaceful settlement over
Palestine (i.e. a two-state solution based on the 1967 border with
East Jerusalem as capital of the Palestinian state), but also full
normalization of relations with 22 Arab countries.
Opting for war rather than peace describes Gaza 2009 as well. Since
at least 2005, Hamas has launched another Palestinian "peace
offensive" and publicly accepted the international consensus over the
1967 border. Israel panicked and yet again responded with force and
war. Why? The cause is perfectly clear: Israel's colonial-territorial
Making peace means ending the occupation, giving up control of Gaza
and the West Bank, dismantling the illegal Wall, settlements and
Israelis-only roads, and withdrawing to the '67 border. It's a cost
that Israel doesn't want to pay. So it wants a "peace" that would
allow it to continue holding onto most of what it has already: a
"peace" that ratifies its territorial expansion.
Israel's conception of peace, in fact, looks like Oslo: closure.
Beginning a bit earlier in 1991, as a response to the first Intifada
after force alone failed to quell the uprising, Israel first cut Gaza
off from the West Bank and from Israel and denied Palestinians
freedom of movement and the ability to work in Israel. This turned
Palestinians from exploited South Africans (working as cheap laborers
in Israel) to dispensable Native Americans. Palestinians now suffered
not only from political exclusion but economic exclusion as well
(suicide bombings and Qassams begin as the siege and strangulation intensify).
With Oslo, settlements and settlers double in number; checkpoints and
roadblocks are introduced on a permanent basis (now numbering 630)
and internal closure is added to the already existing external one,
preventing free movement within the West Bank as well between the
West Bank and surrounding environs; and a 703km Wall is built, mostly
in the occupied Palestinian territories, incorporating most of the
settlements as it partially or completely surrounds 400,000
Palestinians who are threatened with transfer as a result.
The Oslo period also brought about the Disengagement from Gaza of
2005, in which 18,000 Jewish settlers were removed from Gaza only in
order to fortify and expand the settlement project in the West Bank
and to give Israel a free hand to attack and besiege Gaza at will.
Rather than brutally policing its occupied subjects, then, as in the
first Intifada, Oslo and Bush's "war on terrorism" allowed Israel to
present its conflict with the Palestinians as an armed conflict
against terrorism. Declaring Gaza a "hostile entity" after the Hamas
takeover in 2007 only consolidated this shift. War has become
Israel's way of dealing with its colonial frontier and dispensable population.
Israel has exploited its strategic disengagement from the Palestinian
population during Oslo to intensify the conflict. About Gaza
specifically it tells its citizens "Look, we withdrew from Gaza and
they still shoot at us. We have to teach them another lesson." There
is, as a result, a popular war mood in Israel, which has become a
serious political impediment for peace. During the assault on Gaza,
Ma'ariv daily newspaper published the results of an opinion poll
showing that an overwhelming majority of Israelis (96%) support the
war (2 January 2009).
To the question "A few days ago the IDF began to fight Hamas with the
goal of ending the rocket fire at Israel. To what degree do you
support or oppose this operation?" the results were: Very much
support: 78.9%; fairly support: 14.2%; fairly opposed: 2.2%; very
A majority of occupied Palestinians, in contrast, wanted to extend
the ceasefire even before it expired, and now overwhelmingly support
(88.2%) a renewal of the truce (Poll No. 167 by Dr. Nabil Kukali, 4
February 2009). The peace that Palestinians aspire to seems further
away than ever, with little hope of realisation at the moment.
The second conclusion about the Gaza war is about the United States.
There will be no peace in Israel-Palestine until this country
reverses its rejection of Palestinian rights and accepts the
international consensus over resolving the conflict: full Israeli
withdrawal to the '67 border and ending the occupation, with
compensation and/or return for Palestinian refugees.
U.S. state protection and support for Israel (as part of the two
states' common struggle against radicals and nationalists in the
area) is the only major factor which prevents Israel from being
treated like a pariah state for its ongoing violations of UN
resolutions and international laws.
Beseeching or begging America to pressure Israel never works. The
only effective way forward is developing an anti-imperialist strategy
which seeks to weaken both Israeli colonialism and American
imperialism in the region, forcing the United States and Israel to
pay the costs of their rejectionism.
The Arab Regimes' Role
The third conclusion I want to draw is about the Arab world. Arab
"moderate" U.S.-backed regimes in the region (Egypt, Saudi Arabia,
Jordan) stand like blocks in the way of Palestinian justice and
self-determination. The Gaza massacre clearly showed that these
regimes are very interested in weakening Hamas and in forcing on it
the shackles of American dependency (as they had earlier forced them
on a willing Fatah).
Egypt's role in the crisis was clear for all to see. With national
security concerns of its own and worries about its own its own
fundamentalist opposition, Egypt had strong interests in weakening
Hamas and undermining its initially successful foray into democratic
politics. So it not only deceived Hamas into believing that an
Israeli strike was not imminent in order to maximise the damage and
shock the movement would suffer as a result, but also kept the Rafah
border crossing closed and prevented Arab medical aid workers and
doctors from reaching the sick and dying for far too long.
This is the reason why demonstrations in the Arab world took place
not only in front of the Israel and American embassies and consulates
but in front of Egyptian ones as well. Millions came out to protest
in the Arab world, calling for the assault and siege to end and for
the Rafah crossing to be opened, for assistance and humanitarian
relief as well as for solidarity and volunteers.
Imagine for a moment if Egypt was a democracy and popular will was
state policy. Would Palestinians be allowed to suffer in isolation
like this? This is a question that Gaza 2009 throws open again.
Palestinians need Arab help and support. They are too weak and lack
sufficient capacity and leverage to free themselves and achieve their
national rights on their own. Arab democracy is essential for a just
resolution of the Palestinian question. Arabs and Palestinians again
need to see the Palestinian tragedy as an Arab issue requiring
organized (not just spontaneous) Arab mass support and intervention.
The loss and alienation of Palestine from the Arab world can only
have an Arab answer if it is to be reversed. The Palestinian struggle
should again be linked to Arab democratic rights and anti-imperialist
demands. Arab regimes have no political legitimacy: they are
authoritarian, oppressive, and negate people's fundamental human and
political rights. Overturning them and instituting democracy is the
best progressive way forward, and the best way of undermining
American imperialism and its allies in the region.
The fourth conclusion is about the Palestinians. Where is the
Palestinian Mandela, some ask in the West, as if the Palestinians
lack peaceful intentions towards Israelis or seek to perpetuate the
conflict. My retort to this has always been that Arafat was your
Mandela in 1988 when the PLO officially accepted the international
consensus over Palestine (and did more: accepting the U.S. conditions
What did the United States do in response? Washington opened
low-level diplomatic discussions with the PLO.
It's clear that Zionism is a different project than South African
settler-colonialism, and that America's strategic interests in the
region are such that Israel is protected much more from international
pressure than South Africa ever was. The problem is not the absence
of a Palestinian Mandela, but Israel's colonial project itself and
the obstructions and impediments it puts in front of peace with the
Cutting a deal with U.S. imperialism gave Palestinians no state, no
sovereignty, and no independence. It also forced the PA elite to go
against the popular wishes of the majority of Palestinians and to
abort or crush popular political mobilisation.
When Hamas decided to confront the PA politically on its own turf and
agreed to participate in the elections of 2006 and won, only boycott,
sanctions and more closure and siege ensued. The West has continued
to support the side that lost the elections and to negate Palestinian
democratic choice. This has resulted in deep internal political
contradictions and polarisations among the Palestinians, which only
worsened after Hamas' violent preventive takeover of Gaza in 2007
["preventive" because of the imminent CIA-backed Fatah coup in Gaza -- ed.].
Today, the PA holds hundreds of Hamas political prisoners in the West
Bank and continues to coordinate security issues with Israel (i.e.
cooperating in suppressing resistance in the West Bank). During the
Gaza invasion, it even suppressed demos against Israel and policed
the streets in some areas in conjunction with the IDF.
Fatah elite capitulation and "partnership" with the Israeli occupier
doesn't absolve Hamas' own behavior in Gaza since 2007, from the
monopolization of executive and judicial power to the use of force in
internal Palestinian affairs and the violent suppression of civil
liberties, strongly condemned recently by the Popular Front for the
Liberation of Palestine. But it does show that the West and its
Arab regional allies have produced and fuelled the current
Palestinian crisis by systematically crushing Palestinian democracy
The only way out is to allow democracy to rein freely, opening up
possibilities for autonomous mass anti-occupation organizations which
express the will of the majority. The Prisoners' Document of Spring
2006, modified and ratified by both Hamas and Fatah in June 2006,
remains the best and most popular basis for Palestinian struggle: a
unified anti-occupation strategy that upholds all Palestinian rights
and combines democracy with effective Palestinian resistance,
regional mobilization, and global solidarity.
My fifth and final point is about solidarity in the West. What should
the demands of progressives and radicals be? After Gaza, imposing
restrictive measures and sanctions against Israel should be the main
political demand, until Israel complies with international laws and
resolutions and ends its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. This
is the recommendation of Palestinian human rights organizations like Al-Haq.
As the International Court of Justice ruling against the illegal Wall
stated on 9 July 2004, international action is required to ensure
Palestinians' right of self-determination: "Further action is
required to bring to an end the illegal situation resulting from the
construction of the wall and the associated regime" (clauses 159 & 160).
Sanctions against the occupying Israeli state are thus an urgent and
primary task in the West. This also means that the solidarity
movement should not get bogged down or distracted with discussions
about the one-state or two-state solutions (ultimately a matter for
Nor should our movement be required to lend ideological legitimation
to Hamas or to other Palestinian nationalists. One supports the
Palestinians, not because of the nature of their leadership, but
because one supports the principle of self-determination for an
oppressed people. It's a basic democratic right and a pre-requisite
for a life of dignity, freedom, and justice. It's also a moral imperative.
Centre for Human Rights, Gaza.
2. For Israel's legal preparations long before the assault, see Yotam
Feldman and Uri Blau,
Advise," Haaretz, 29 January 2009. One Israeli law professor's
comments on Israel's use of international law in order to justify its
behavior is very revealing: "The dean of the Faculty of Law in the
College of Management, Prof. Orna Ben-Naftali, is convinced that
international law, her field, is bankrupt, and the results of the IDF
operation in Gaza only reinforce this opinion. 'Today, this
discipline is utilized only to justify the use of force,' she says.
'It has ceased to exist, because there is a clear inconsistency
between the rules and the reality to which they are applied.
Distinctions between types of conflicts or between civilians and
combatants no longer exist in the field, and one can put forward
weighty and serious reasons that will justify almost any action. The
implication is to validate the use of almost unlimited force in a
manner that is totally at odds with the basic goal of humanitarian
law. Instead of legal advice and international humanitarian law
minimizing suffering, they legitimize the use of force."'
3. For two excellent Palestinian legal opinions about the war see:
Al-Haq, "Al-Haq Brief: Legal Aspects of Israel's Attacks on the Gaza
Strip during 'Operation Cast Lead,"' 7 January 2009 and Fatmeh
El-'Ajou, "Position Paper -- Israeli Military Attacks on the Civilian
Police Force and Government Buildings and Institutions of Hamas in
Gaza," Adalah's Newsletter, 57 (February 2009).
Gaza, Delaying Palestine," Znet, 4 January 2009.
5. For details, see Gilbert Achcar and Michael Warschawski, The
33-Day War (London: Saqi, 2007).
6. For "the imperatives of rejectionism" in Israel in that period,
see Noam Chomsky, Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel, and
the Palestinians (Cambridge, Massachusetts: South End Press, 1999), 198-209.
7. I won't say much more on this as Stephen Shalom's talk, published
here as well, is dedicated to exploring the American role.
8. A day before the Israeli operation, al-Quds newspaper reported
that Egypt gave Israel a green light to topple Hamas in Gaza. See
Egypt Sanctions Gaza Military Op," Ynet, 24 December 2008.
9. Maan News Agency,
Condemns Hamas Violence Against Gazans [during war], calls for
Strength and Unity," 30 January 2009. The PFLP's
release spoke of "repressive and intimidating practices" by Hamas.
For period before the war, see, for example, reports by International
Crisis Group. On Gaza: Ruling Palestine I: Gaza Under Hamas, Middle
East Report no. 73 (13 March 2008) and Round Two in Gaza, Middle East
Briefing no. 24 (11 September 2008). On the West Bank: Ruling
Palestine II: The West Bank Model?, Middle East Report no. 79 (17 July 2008).
Bashir Abu-Manneh is Assistant Professor of English at Barnard
College, a regular contributor to ZNet, and is currently writing a
book on Palestinian nationalism and the novel. This is a slightly
revised and footnoted version of a talk given at New York University
on February 6, 2009 as part of a program sponsored by the Radical
Film and Lecture Series.
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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