Israel's failure to learn
by Nir Rosen
December 30, 2008
When George Bush, the US president, first
entered the White House as the commander-in-chief in 2001, Palestinians
were being killed in the al-Aqsa intifada.
Eight years later, as Bush prepares to
leave office, Israel is carrying out one of the largest massacres
in its 60-year occupation of Palestine.
The US, then and now, strongly backs Israel's
offensive, justifying it as being, in fact, defensive.
An Israeli general recently threatened
to use military force to set Gaza back decades in much the same
language used before the invasion of Lebanon in 2006. But despite
the Israeli devastation of Lebanon, Hezbollah emerged victorious
and the Shia resistance and social movement emerged a hero to
the Arab world.
Israel is about to make the same mistake
with Hamas. Its notion of a truce with Hamas was that the Palestinians
would quietly accept the siege. Israel would deny them the basic
means of survival, let alone the basic means to create a functioning
society. If the Palestinians attempted to resist, they would be
crushed. As in Lebanon, Israel should have learned years ago that
military might cannot crush Palestinian resistance movements.
While the Israeli military again bombs
the starving and imprisoned population of 1.5 million Gazans,
the world watches their plight live as Western media scrambles
to explain and, in some cases, justify the ongoing carnage.
Even some Arab outlets have attempted
to equate Palestinian resistance - and homemade rockets - with
the might of the Israeli military machine.
However, none of this is a surprise; the
Israelis just concluded a global public relations campaign to
gather support for their assault, even gaining the collaboration
of some Arab states.
An American periodical once asked me to
contribute to a discussion on whether terrorism or attacks against
civilians could ever be justified.
My answer was that an American journal
should not be asking whether attacks on civilians can ever be
justified. This is a question for the weak, such as the Native
Americans 150 years ago, the Jews in Nazi Germany, and the Palestinians
today, to answer.
Terrorism is a normative term which is
used to describe what the 'other' does, not what 'we' do.
Powerful nations such as Israel, the US,
Russia or China will always describe their victims' struggle as
However, they fail to acknowledge as acts
of terror the destruction of Chechnya, the slow slaughter of the
remaining Palestinians, the repression of Tibetans, and the US
occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Normative rules and what is legal and
permissible are determined by the powerful. They formulate the
concept of terrorism in normative terms and make it appear as
if a neutral court derived such definitions instead of the oppressors.
For the weak to resist becomes illegal
This excessive use of legal jargon actually
undermines the fundamentals of what is truly legal and diminishes
the credibility of international institutions such as the UN.
The law becomes the enemy of those who struggle.
It becomes apparent that the powerful
- those who make the rules - insist on legality merely to preserve
the power relations that serve them or to maintain their occupation
Colonial powers use civilians strategically,
settling them to claim land and dispossess the natives, be they
indigenous populations in North America or Palestinians in what
are today Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
Attacking civilians, then, becomes the
last, most desperate and basic method of resistance in the face
of overwhelming odds and imminent eradication.
The Palestinians do not attack Israeli
civilians with the expectation that such violence will destroy
or defeat Israel.
When the native population understands
that there is an irreversible dynamic stripping them of their
land and identity with the support of an overwhelming power then
they are forced to resort to whatever methods of resistance they
PLO, then Hamas
In 1948, when Israel was being established
as a new state, 750,000 Palestinians were deliberately cleansed
and expelled from their homes, and hundreds of their villages
Their lands were settled by colonists
who even today deny their very existence and wage a 60-year war
against the remaining natives and the national liberation movements
the Palestinians established around the world.
Israel, its allies in the West and some
regional Arab countries have managed to corrupt the leadership
of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) and entice them
with the promise of power at the expense of liberty for their
This eventually neutralised and transformed
the PLO into a liberation movement which collaborates with the
The focus then shifted to Hamas, a movement
which won legislative elections nearly three years ago and thus
became a target for the Israelis.
By enforcing an embargo and allowing Israel's
siege of Gaza, the world has effectively told the Palestinians
that they are unfit for democracy.
Isolation and radicalisation
By informing them that they are not free
to choose the leaders they trust but must conform to the requirements
set in place by others, the world community is only further isolating
and radicalising the Palestinians.
This radicalisation has increased several-fold
as Israel pounds Palestinian infrastructure, saying it is solely
targeting Hamas targets.
This is not true, however; Israeli forces
have targeted Palestinian police forces, killing some such as
Tawfiq Jaber, the chief of police - a former PLO official who
stayed on in his post after Hamas took control of Gaza.
With the vestiges of security and order
debilitated in successive Israeli military campaigns, chaos will
prevail in Gaza. If Hamas is weakened it will not be a more moderate
Palestinian group which will take the helm.
It will not be the weakened, corrupted
and unpopular Fatah, but a more extreme group who have been persuaded
through blockades and incessant Israeli attacks that compromise
and negotiations with Tel Aviv are ill-fated.
In the past 60 years, Israeli leaders
have toed the line that 'the only language Arabs understand is
However, it is Israel that has routinely
used violence to solve problems. During the 2002 Arab Summit in
Beirut, the Arab League collectively offered Israel a framework
to end the bloodshed and move towards a comprehensive regional
peace deal. Israel responded by invading Jenin and killing hundreds.
Last month, Fatah launched a media campaign
to revive the 2002 peace initiative, but this, too, has been answered
with Israel's extreme brutality.
A Zionist Israel is no longer a viable
long-term project. Israeli settlements, land expropriation and
separation barriers have long since made a two-state solution
There can be only one state in historic
Palestine. In coming decades, Israelis will be confronted with
a fundamental question - whether to ensure the peaceful transition
towards an egalitarian society in which Palestinians are given
the same rights as Jews.
The alternative in a few years will become
History has shown that colonialism has
only worked when most of the natives have been exterminated. But
often, as in occupied Algeria, it is the settlers who flee. Eventually
the Palestinians will not be willing to compromise and accept
one state for both people, and the Jewish colonists will be forced
Despite its lack of initiative for the
Middle East peace process, the White House has in recent years
been unable to dislodge the occupation of Palestine as the main
motive for every anti-American militant in the Arab world and
It is the common denominator by which
Arab populist policies are shaped. Invading Iraq or offering economic
benefits to frontline states will not make the Palestinian issue
During my travels and research, I have
spoken with jihadists in Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Somalia and
elsewhere; they all mentioned the Palestinian struggle as one
of their motivations.
The US will pay a price for backing Israel.
Soon the so-called moderate Arab dictatorships that collaborate
with the US hegemony in the region will find themselves in untenable
Loss of credibility
Already we see tensions increasing in
the region. Damascus has pulled out of third-party talks with
Tel Aviv and Arab anger has been mounting not just at Israel,
and not just at America, but also at their own regimes which have
collaborated with Washington.
Some Israelis have started to realise
their government's flawed approach. While 81 per cent of Israelis
support the military campaign, a poll has showed only 39 per cent
believe it will succeed in removing Hamas or reducing violence.
An editorial in Haaretz, an Israeli daily,
even went so far as to label Israel "the region's bully".
Barack Obama, the US president-elect,
remains silent as Israel kills Palestinians with impunity. In
his silence he expresses his complicity.
Nir Rosen is a Beirut-based journalist,
fellow at the New York University Center on Law and Security and
the author of The Triumph of the Martyrs: A Reporter's Journey
into Occupied Iraq.__The views expressed by the authors are not
necessarily those of Al Jazeera