The 12-day Israeli assault on Gaza and its cost in non-combatant lives has elicited the usual tongue- clucking about the need for a ceasefire to prevent another “humanitarian disaster”.
The phrase is straight out of the dictionaries of UN relief agencies, and by now has little meaning to many people. The entire planet having become one huge disaster area, humanitarian crises have become so common millions are part of one, while others have been desensitized to the tales of suffering that daily flood the media.
In Gaza, the Israeli bombings, machine-gunning, artillery-pounding and tank attacks of the past two weeks are mere additions to the disaster Palestinians have endured both during formal Israeli occupation as well as “withdrawal.” The Western media insist that Gaza is under Hamas control, but it is still under Israeli blockade, and the Israelis control the seas and the airspace. As a result the Palestinians there have had to live on a day per capita.
Israel has also cut off the water supply, and conducts military operations in the Strip at will, since it has the high-tech, US-supplied hardware that assures it military superiority over the Kalashnikov- and RPG-armed Hamas fighters. In retaliation for the Hamas’ capture (the Israelis and Western media called it a “kidnapping”) of an Israeli soldier in 2006, for example, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) launched a series of attacks on alleged Hamas strongholds that left at least a hundred Palestinians including children dead.
Before that, the Islamist group Hamas had handily won 56 percent of the seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council in elections international observers said were fair and free. The Palestinians’ failure to vote for the US-Israel favored Fatah party of Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas rather than Hamas provoked a punishing Israeli response and US efforts to unseat Hamas, whose poll victory the US had not anticipated.
As has become normal in US foreign policy during the Bush watch, the Hamas victory was a result the policy was trying to prevent. It was much like the attempt to halt Iraq’s turning into a terrorist breeding ground by attacking it in 2003 which produced the exact opposite effect of turning it into a terrorist breeding ground.
The usual suspect is US President George W. Bush, who had pushed for the elections “in furtherance of democracy” over the objections of Israel and the US’ Fatah allies, who knew they couldn’t win a fair election. Bush’s commitment to democracy rapidly faded with the Hamas victory, and was replaced with the usual US tactic of punishing entire populations for voting for people it doesn’t like, in the hope that they (the population) will eventually change their minds.
The punishment in this case, said US journalist David Rose in a 2008 article in Vanity Fair, was an intra-Palestinian civil war, specifically between Fatah and Hamas, in which, of course, the usual civilian casualties were likely. To make a long and distressingly sordid story short, the US refused to recognize the Hamas-led, democratically-elected government, and rejected the Hamas call for a ceasefire to allow negotiations on the two-state plan that has been supported by much of the international community for 30 years except by Israel and the US.
Instead the US offered to arm and train Fatah so it could confront Hamas militarily. By now practically a US creature, Fatah’s Abbas agreed, albeit reluctantly, and sent fighters off to Egypt for training and arming–with US funding, of course.
To preempt Fatah’s capturing with arms the power it had lost in the polls, Hamas attacked Fatah security forces and defeated them in the middle of 2007. The US policy under Bumbling Bush once again produced the exact opposite result of its intent: it made Hamas and its hold on Gaza even stronger.
State terrorism begets home-made terrorism. Hamas kept lobbing rockets into Israeli-held areas in Gaza and the West Bank, but also targeted Israeli towns near the Gaza-Israel border as the Israelis kept up their blockade, assassinations, and brutal military incursions. A tenuous truce that might as well have been non-existent was somehow put in place, with the Israelis continuing to arrest and assassinate Hamas leaders by obliterating the neighborhoods they live in, while Hamas continued to fire rockets into Israel, killing civilians and causing extensive property damage.
The immediate justification for the December air attacks and subsequent ground assault by the Israelis was to put a stop to the rocket attacks, which, however, would be possible only if Hamas were totally destroyed and its links to its major patrons and funders, among them Iran, were severed.
While analysts concede that Israel could inflict substantial damage on Hamas, it’s not likely to destroy it, not only because its fighters are among the population, but also because the usual collateral damage on women, children and other non-combatants is likely to foment even greater anger against Israel and the US, and to breed even more terrorists and terrorism. Despite the noises it’s making about an immediate ceasefire, the Bush administration is incidentally likely to have approved the Israeli attack, which seems to have been timed to limit the options of the incoming Obama administration in dealing with Hamas.
The way to peace in this part of the Middle East has been known for 30 years: it is to negotiate and implement the two-state solution that in the first place the creation of the Jewish state out of Palestine in 1948 by the UN was supposed to put in place, but which it never did. Except for a brief period during the Clinton administration, neither the US nor Israel have ever considered that solution, blinded as they are by their singular focus on their self-interest and in denying the Palestinians a fair share of the land and resources to which they have as much right as the Israelis. The US and Israel are as eyeless in Gaza as Samson was–but with the difference that Samson was blinded, not by greed and intolerance, but by love and his Philistine foes.