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.


Media matters

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 terrorism.

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 by definition.

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 and colonialism.

Desperate resistance

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 can muster.


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 were destroyed.

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 people.

This eventually neutralised and transformed the PLO into a liberation movement which collaborates with the occupier.

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.


Failed policies

In the past 60 years, Israeli leaders have toed the line that 'the only language Arabs understand is force'.

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 impossible.

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 untenable.

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 to leave.


Restoring Palestine

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 beyond.

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 go away.

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 positions.

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

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