Operation Cast Lead, two years on

Two years ago, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) began the indiscriminate slaughter it named Operation Cast Lead. Some 1400 people were killed, thousands more wounded and displaced. Hundreds of sad people marched in Gaza in commemoration.

See here for the reasons Israel attacked Gaza.

Here I write about why the Mavi Marmara (the Gaza flotilla) incident may have been good for Israel, because it distracted the world from Operation Cast Lead and the Goldstone Report.

I wrote here about attempts to try Tzipi Livni as a war criminal, which apparently did not go anywhere.

And here I wrote about how Israel’s culture legitimised Cast Lead (and other violence in Israel’s name).

Gaza is still under blockade, which means little rebuilding gets done. Things had been relatively quiet along the Gaza border for the past two years until recently, when more rockets have been fired from Gaza, Israeli air strikes have followed, and thus tensions are higher. There are fears (or hopes?) that another Cast Lead-like massacre might be “necessary”. Gabi Ashkenazi, IDF Chief of Staff, said Israel “will not accept” more rockets from Gaza, and “holds the Hamas terrorist organisation solely responsible for any terrorist activity emanating from the Gaza Strip”, which means the IDF does not distinguish between rockets fired by Hamas or by any other group.

It is sad that this crime will go unpunished, and that it may even repeat itself.

"Ismail, Abed and Leila don't go to the infant clinic anymore"

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The Israel-Anti Israel Conference on Web 2.0

One of the many wonders of the internet is that one can carry on conversations indefinitely with anyone in the world with a connection. Of course, the same wondrous development leads to the hardening and polarisation of attitudes, and the reduction of serious issues to shouting matches.

Part of the modern battle for hearts and minds can be found on Web 2.0. Long gone are the days when the only people who mattered were one’s compatriots and constituents. Now, everyone considers him or herself a stakeholder in world affairs, and has no qualms about expecting their leaders to force others to conform to their worldviews. Due to what I call the illusions of modern politics (see my Facebook blog), the people think their representatives can resolve these issues.

However, high-level political arguments are often over minutiae that, even if resolved, would not affect the larger picture. A good example is the recent media frenzy over the building of new settlements in East Jerusalem. This is the current issue, but if it were resolved, would the Palestinians suddenly have a state? Would Israelis’ fears suddenly be allayed? An argument over settlements may even distract from the very real issues of Palestinian refugees, Israeli fears of terrorism and war, the occupation and the blockade of Gaza. But those issues, along with history that goes back two thousand years, are being debated in the comment sections of every website.

Some of the issues are as follows.
-Has there been a continuous Jewish presence in Canaan since the Jews were ejected 2000 years ago?
-What was promised to whom during World War One?
-Who was at fault for the Arab-Jewish violence in the British Mandate period?
-Were the Palestinians told to leave by invading Arab armies in 1948 or were they chased out by Jewish gangs?
-Were the Arab states bent on destroying Israel in the Six Day War of 1967 or is Israel guilty of aggression?
-Are the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Golan Heights and East Jerusalem really occupied territories or do they rightly belong to Israel?
-Was Israel justified in blockading and then attacking the Gaza Strip after it was taken over by Hamas?

None of these issues has been resolved to everyone’s satisfaction, so everyone wants to continue the argument until they are.

I wonder how one can actually know facts when there are so many lies, distortions, exaggerations and poor memories. Facts are not as clear as ideologues make them out to be. For instance, one of the major points of contention is the Camp David talks of 2000. In 2000, Ehud Barak and his negotiating team met with Yasser Arafat and his at Camp David. The talks broke down, however, after something happened. What, precisely, happened? Well, we can never be sure: contradictory reports emerged about why the talks collapsed. However, the story the Israeli press latched onto immediately, and which has formed the dominant Israeli narrative since, was Barak’s: Arafat rejected a very generous
offer by Barak and started the second Intifada.

As a result of the clear thinking certainty can bring, the pro-Israel camp claims that one after another Israeli government have offered peace agreements and Arabs or Palestinians have rejected every one and renewed their struggle to eliminate the State of Israel. The anti-Israel camp (there is no unified Arab or Palestinian front) says the opposite: that the Arabs, including Hamas, has an open invitation to peace talks with Israel but Israel is not interested.

So the “discussion” continues. Racist comments about Muslim suicide bombers and Jewish Nazis, genocide, terrorism and so on are bandied about with such ease one would think hatred were a virtue. No problems are being resolved, no learning is taking place, only verbal violence.

Most people who read this post will say things like, “but Barak DID offer him 93% [or whatever the made-up number is] of the West Bank at Camp David” or “the Arabs are always offering peace but Israelis are expansionist and racist”. Those people prove my point. I am tired of disputing them. It takes a considerable amount of reading just to understand how people think and get a balanced perspective on such issues. People who take sides, dig trenches and adopt defensive stances have not done enough reading, unless they simply reject anything that conflicts with their prejudices.

But those people are everywhere. On every newspaper site that enables comments, every Youtube video that concerns Israel, every Facebook discussion becomes a forum to shout about which side is more evil. I have gone over most of the issues on this blog; suffice it to say, you are one keyword away from knowing all the extremist views. As you probably know, the same applies to any of the millions of other pointless conflicts in the world, from Russia and Georgia to India and Pakistan. Angry, prejudiced people are finding each other and getting angrier and more prejudiced with every comment.

The answer to the obvious question no one seems to be asking is to read and listen to the widest possible variety of perspectives and keep one’s mind equally open and critical to all of them. It is to engage constructively with one another. If the past is so important, let us work to understand each other to bring the truth into the light. We must shed our sensitivities to do so. My side cannot be right all the time, and I need to accept that if I want to work with others to make progress on these problems. Let us work together to forge a better future, instead of dwelling on the past. Or perhaps we cannot handle a future divorced from the past, and are doomed to relive it online.

More settlements will lead to more anger

The Israeli government will approve the building of 1600 new homes in occupied East Jerusalem. This move is another nail in the coffin of the two-state solution.

US Vice President Joe Biden arrived in Israel today and criticised the move by Israel. However, his words will go unheeded. The settlement building will continue, illegal but unabashed. Palestinians will get angrier. They will throw stones. The Israeli Defense Forces will strike back with tear gas, bullets, even tanks, like in the first two intifadas. Binyamin Netanyahu will continue to demand that the Palestinians recognise Israel as a Jewish state, much like the Spanish Inquisition whipping a man into confessing his sins, except that the Palestinians will refuse and this will be taken as proof that they reject peace.

The United States government will continue to pay lip service to ending settlement construction while doing nothing to intervene. “A historic peace is going to require both parties to make some historically bold commitments“, he said in deliberately vague terms. What did he have to lose by saying it? Even while condemning the settlement plan, Biden stressed the US’s commitment to Israel’s interests, and praised the “constructive discussions” he had had with Israeli leaders.

Jews will move into the homes in East Jerusalem and the new settlements will, like the biggest settlements in the West Bank, become part of the status quo. In other words, Israel will be unwilling to uproot people living in them. Ten years down the road, calls to dismantle those settlements will be called insulting. Peace proposals will include them as part of Israel, just as such proposals now mostly include the big West Bank settlement blocs as part of Israel.

The settlement issue must be dealt with if there is to be a peace treaty. But how to deal with it? A 2008 survey found 66% of Israelis opposed withdrawing from the West Bank, which would mean leaving the settlements behind. There is little appetite for giving any concessions. As an example, the Israeli media often refer to “illegal outposts” in the West Bank, meaning small, outlying settlements, when in fact all settlement of conquered land is illegal. There is little support (29%) for a divided Jerusalem, which is another condition of a real, lasting peace. So settlement building in Jerusalem will continue.

Israel is too powerful to care what Palestinians think, and if the powerful, the US and EU, do not intervene, Israeli policy will not change. The settlement question will remain unresolved, and Jewish Israelis will strengthen their hold on all of occupied Jerusalem and the West Bank. Palestinians will throw rocks, perhaps even start another intifada, and peace will slip ever further away.

Paving the Road to Gaza: Israel’s National Role Conception and Operation Cast Lead

On December 27, 2008, the Israel Defense Forces began their assault on the Gaza Strip in what they called Operation Cast Lead. 13 Israelis and as many as 1400 Palestinians were killed in the three weeks of fighting. The war enjoyed wide support among Israelis: according to the Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research, 94% of Jewish Israelis (76% of Israel’s population) supported the attack. Operation Cast Lead caused enormous suffering in Gaza and has been a thorn in the side of Israelis since its commencement. Numerous human rights organisations have issued reports on the conflict accusing both sides of war crimes, and the Israeli government has denied any but the noblest intentions. How did we get here?

This essay uses national role conception theory to explain how Israel’s political culture approved of Operation Cast Lead and permitted the latest brutal attack on the Palestinians. You can find it at the following link.

A Short History of the Six Day War, part 1

On June 5, 1967, Israel went to war with its neighbours. By June 10, Israel had more than tripled in size. In a decisive victory in six short days, Israel defeated Egypt, Syria and Jordan, who in turn had help from Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Morocco, Algeria, Sudan and Tunisia. Soon dubbed “the Six Day War”, this short, regional conflict would go on to have enormous implications for Israel, the Middle East and the peace and security of the world.

This series of posts will summarise, in three parts, the causes, conduct and consequences of the Six Day War. It attempts to give a simple but not simplistic account of the facts, inasmuch as the facts can be ascertained from noteworthy historical accounts of the war.

This account will begin with the consequences, followed by the conduct of the war in its most important events and finally, the war’s causes. We start with the consequences of the Six Day War in order to show the reader the enormous impact this small war has had, and why he or she should continue reading.

Consequences
The Six Day War’s consequences were numerous and far-reaching, and some of them plague the region to this day. The changes of perceptions of threats in the area, the 1973 Yom Kippur War and subsequent Egypt-Israel peace accord, the hostage massacre at the Munich Olympics and the increased importance of the Middle East as a Cold War hotspot are some of the war’s short term outcomes. I will attempt to outline the longer lasting ones here. They are the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, the occupation the Palestinian territories and military and nonmilitary conflict.

First, the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, or Islamism, or jihadism, or whatever you want to call it, is an indirect consequence of the Six Day War. Before the Six Day War, Pan-Arabism was the motto of the day. Egypt, under Gamal Abdel Nasser, had become the leader of a kind of anti-colonial, anti-Israeli, socialist movement in the Arab world. This movement was a source of unity and the reason why Arab states combined their armed forces on the eve of the Six Day War. In a very unusual act as governments go, Egypt and Syria had even united under one state to form the United Arab Republic, though only for three years. Nasser was very charismatic and popular and, in the lead up to the Six Day War, was assured a win by those around him.

One year before the Six Day War, in 1966, Nasser ordered the execution of Sayyid Qutb, a leading intellectual member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Qutb was not a terrorist (and the Brotherhood is not a terrorist organisation), but he played a big role in the rise of Islamic terrorism. When he was executed, he was made a martyr. His ideas spread and “jihadist” organisations like al-Qaeda followed them.

The transnational Islamist movement arose in a vacuum. After the Six Day War, the Arab leaders (the losers) bickered and fought. Each heaped culpability on the others and suddenly, unity was no longer a priority. Some leaders, such as Jordan’s King Hussein, wanted a peace accord with Israel, while Nasser engaged Israel in the pointless but deadly War of Attrition. Pan-Arabism thus discredited, Islamic fundamentalism became the new ideology of the Muslim world. While most Muslims do not fall under this banner, Islamism has attracted people from countries as diverse as Indonesia, Morocco, India, Iraq, Britain and Spain. And the main target of anger and terrorism in the name of Islam has been Israel.

In the second lasting consequence of the Six Day War, Israel acquired the Sinai Peninsula, the Golan Heights, the West Bank of the Jordan River, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. It occupies the last four of these to this day. The return of the Sinai to Egypt was the major reason that Egypt and Israel were able to sign a peace agreement in 1978. Israel and Jordan signed a peace accord in 1994 but return of the West Bank was not part of the deal. It was believed that the Golan Heights could be returned to Syria and the West Bank to Jordan for peace accords, but they were not. The Heights were not of sufficient importance to Syria and peace with Syria not of sufficient interest to Israel to ever make the exchange. And no one wants the Gaza Strip. What problems these territories have caused.

The acquisition of territory by conquest and the settling of it with the conquering state’s citizens are both strictly prohibited by international law. With the exception of East Jerusalem, which the vast majority of Israelis refuse to give up, the government of Israel once hoped that the occupied territories could be returned for peace treaties (“Land for Peace”). At the same time, however, it was allowing Jewish settlers into all areas of the territories. Settlements began springing up everywhere. Settlements in the Sinai were uprooted to return the land to Egypt, and settlements in Gaza were removed in 2005 for reasons we will not go into here. But there are still half a million Jewish settlers in all the occupied territories. Going into all the trouble they have caused for both Israel and the Palestinians is the subject of the book “Lords of the Land” by Idith Zertal and Akiva Eldar; suffice it to say, the occupation and settlement are the primary reasons the Palestinians are angry.

Third and most important, and related to Israel’s territorial gains, it may be fair to say that all major violence against Israelis and Palestinians since June 1967 has been due to the consequences of the Six Day War. One consequence of the 1948 war, the first Arab-Israeli war, was the beginning of the Palestinian refugee problem. The Six Day War exacerbated it. The Palestinians were pushed in greater numbers into refugee camps in places like Lebanon and Jordan. Palestinians were a big presence in western Jordan, and around 1970 had almost carved out an autonomous enclave on the East Bank of the Jordan River. The Palestinian organisation Fatah, led by Yasser Arafat, conducted border raids on Israel and fought with Jordanians as well.

In September of 1970 (“Black September”), Palestinians attempted to assassinate King Hussein. They also hijacked airplanes and, after removing the hostages, blew them up on television. The Jordanian army attacked and, after a year of fighting, drove them out of Jordan to Lebanon.

The Six Day War is also known as the third Arab-Israeli war; the fourth one was in 1973; and the fifth one was Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982. The Lebanese Civil War broke out in 1975, and after a short time staying out, Arafat’s guerrillas entered the fray. The Israeli Defense Forces, or IDF, entered Lebanon in an attempt to shore up a friendly government and take out the Palestinian Liberation Organisation. For some time it occupied Beirut, but was forced to retreat to a small part of southern Lebanon that it held as a buffer. Israel’s invasion is generally held as the progenitor of Hizbullah, which prodded Israel into violence several times since, most evidently in the 2006 Lebanon War. In what many Israelis saw at the time as unprovoked and unnecessary violence, in 1982, the IDF killed several thousand Lebanese, enabled the massacre of more than 800 Palestinian refugees and suffered more than 600 casualties.

The occupation of the territories turned the IDF from a defense force into a police force, setting up checkpoints, defending settlers and bulldozers, arresting and shooting Palestinians for violating curfews. This oppressive policing of Palestine led to the first Intifada. The typical image of the Intifada is the Palestinian boy throwing rocks at Israeli soldiers. The first Intifada was an uprising against Israeli control of the Palestinian territories and lasted for six years. The second Intifada, characterised less by stones and more by suicide bombings, also lasted several years (when it ended is disputed) and a third one may be in the works.

Contrary to what many Israelis believe, the Intifadas were spontaneous, not planned. They were not the attempted destruction of the State of Israel by the Palestinians but may be likened more to the Warsaw Ghetto uprising against the Nazis: people were herded into terrible conditions and handled with violence. Only the most sheeplike people would not consider fighting back. Things have not gotten any better in the occupied territories and there is no solution in the works. The Palestinians were the real victims of the Six Day War, a war that, in the minds of too many people, has never been resolved.

Tomorrow, we will look at the conduct of the war itself.

A third Intifada may be brewing

According to a piece in Foreign Policy, a news magazine known for integrity and depth of analysis rather than sensationalism, a third Intifada could be ready to break out. Rioting has increased in Jerusalem and so has detention. Fighting among Palestinians contributes to instability. Though the Barack administration is taking small steps toward reconciliation between Israeli and Palestinian leaders, my guess is that many Palestinians do not trust their leaders to look out for their best interests. And Jewish radicals are still visiting the Temple Mount, which sparked the second Intifada. As a result, the rocks are flying.

(Also find analysis of the viability of a third Intifada at the Global Arab Network and a rather incomplete analysis at Haaretz.)

My perceptions may be flawed, given that I am not in Israel and never have been, but it seems from the large amount I have read that the way to solve the Israel-Palestine conflict is to change the perceptions of Israelis. Israel holds the cards in this relationship. The Israeli authorities make the decisions that govern Palestinians’ lives, not the other way round. Israelis’ perceptions, however, are skewed by the strong collectivist bias of the culture. The Jews are God’s chosen people, after all. But more so than that, people in Israel have been offered half-truth, fabrication, propaganda and occasionally the truth, and it is very hard to distinguish among them. People have so much choice in what to believe that, like everywhere else, they tend to believe the stories that make themselves sound most righteous. Would seeing how their support for so-called apartheid policies is affecting common people in the Occupied Territories head off a third Intifada? If not, would anything?