[News] The Lessons of Gaza 2009

Anti-Imperialist News 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


"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."[1]

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).[2] Not only indiscriminate: but also completely 
disproportionate as a response to Hamas' home-made Qassam rockets.[3]

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.[4]

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.[5]

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.[6] 
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 
opposed: 1.7%.

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.[7]

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.[8]

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 
for dialogue).

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.[9] 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 
and self-determination.

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.

Our Responsibilities

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).[10]

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 
Palestinian democracy).

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, 
"<http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1059925.html>Consent and 
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 
Roee Nahmias, 
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 
<http://www.%20pflp.ps/index.php?action=Details&id=3043>Arabic press 
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.

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