So, this is Christmas
And what have you done?
Another year over
And a new war just begun.
Yes, over Christmas you’ve often heard that little snippet in song, backed by the Harlem Community Choir. But inspired by today’s top news headlines about the Israeli attacks on Gaza, there’s a slight modification to John Lennon’s Happy Xmas lyrics.
The last line should say that a new year has just begun, but just past what is a holy season for various faiths, including Christians and Jews, and Israel refuses to halt its military offensive begun December 27, 2008, saying it intends to “fight to the bloody end.” An end which is as undefined, as the death toll required to attain it. And so, the negativity of war overwhelms the once hopeful start of a new year.
How Israeli Attacks Affect Palestinians
According to a CTV news report, Hamas legislator Mushir Al-Masri contends that the Israeli air strikes devastating Gaza, “fuel our popular support, our military power and the firmness of our positions.”
That statement’s spin-doctoring aside, it is somewhat true. Militants are more easily created in a pit of despair, for without a crisis there is less reason to resort to militancy, regardless of existing frustration with the status quo.
In fact, a joint United States and Israeli study covered in the Jul/Aug 2008 issue of the magazine, Foreign Policy, found that an increase in Palestinian deaths does “discourage people from supporting moderate political positions — such as favouring peace negotiations”; however, this attitude lasts no longer than 90 days.
The study also found that targeted Israeli counterterrorism strikes do not produce Palestinian radicals.
And contrary to Al Masri’s comment above, Hamas did not gain more Palestinian support as more locals died from Israeli attacks; instead the people became more dissatisfied with existing political groups and became more cynical and hopeless.
Those who become disenchanted with politics and the current leaders are therefore not more likely to vote for Hamas in any upcoming election; but neither will they be generating the types of ideas that might revolutionize their lives for the better, be that through politics or entrepreneurship, which is most unfortunate because it entrenches Palestinians in the political and social rut that they languish in.
Gaza resident and medical professional Eyad Al Sarraj, suggested to CTV News last week that outgrowths from the Israeli air strikes will include increased insecurity for people in the region, of whom children will suffer most; and further extremism in retaliation for the worst bombing he’s witnessed in Gaza.
He raises the plight of children (which the U.S.-Israeli study did not) possibly because they are the future, and are the ones being radicalized, temporarily in some cases, and permanently in others–depending on age, personality and personal circumstances.
The United Nations reports that due to the changing nature of warfare, children are “more likely to be recruited as soldiers, and for terrorist activities.” And among civilians, children are increasingly exposed to harm in conflict-ridden places such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. So whether as military detainees, suicide-bombers, human shields or considered par for the war course, children are victims of the unjustifiable terrorism and counterterrorism wars being fought around us.
Ultimatums Fail to Resolve Conflict
As the story goes, Israel warned Hamas to discontinue its rocket attacks on Israel from the Gaza Strip or face air strikes; But apparently Hamas didn’t like that ultimatum.
Violent ultimatums doom us to further self-destruction, since, whether strong or weak, political powers detest the very ultimatums each likes to issue. And looking at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a zero sum game is in progress.
As Israel strikes, they look like heavy-handed warmongers, attacking the poor little Palestinians. But despite the public relations consequences, with its military might, Israel prefers to teach the people (whether for, or against Hamas) that Israel has a right to exist — Sometimes asserting that right by dropping bombs from on high.
Learning from the study, perhaps, or to appease Jewish people around the world, who might disagree with the Israeli military assault in Gaza, Benjamin Netanyahu said in a CNN interview, the “targeted” attacks are necessary to root out the terrorists (Hamas and its supporters).
“Targeted” attacks suggest that only the bad guys are being hurt; however, with reports of possibly more than 25 per cent of the casualties being civilian, something seems amiss, either with Israeli military intelligence information, or the Israeli leadership hopeful’s rationale for war.
Netanyahu isn’t the only one with a crooked view of the situation though. Curiously, Mushir Al-Masri mentioned Hamas’ military power and firm positions, when in truth its rockets are piddling in comparison to Israel’s arsenal. Nevertheless, his comments might be designed to console Palestinians, who don’t see evidence of Hamas’ military strength.
What neither party to this war openly reveals is, in reality, whose military power and what positions are worth unending violence?
Taking lessons from Hezbollah’s 2006 fight with Israel, it is likely that Hamas is ready for ground warfare. Reportedly planting explosives along Palestine’s Gaza border, it might also have an army of mujaheddin ready to die and kill others in this battle. If so, Hamas’ game face is noted, but it must also realize that, as we’ve heard, perpetual war is demotivating, and inhumane.
Unfortunately, lost amid the sporadic violence that buries the June 19, 2008 ceasefire agreement are the issues both sides are fighting about, and ideas in the best interest of Palestinians and Israelis seeking to live in a just society.
Barriers to Dialogue
Considering Hamas a terrorist group makes it easy to agree that Israel is a victim in the ongoing conflict; but terrorism might be a red herring for those who have more than lack of compromise in common. For example, while Hamas denies Israel’s right to exist, Israel’s Likud party would deny Palestinians complete independence. “The Palestinians can run their lives freely in the framework of self-rule, but not as an independent and sovereign state,” states the party’s platform.
The Likud stance is not as well-known as Hamas’ but both demonstrate the obdurateness that prevents progress in the region.
And perhaps the most interesting part of the public relations case is the fact that Israel seeks to wipe out Hamas and refuses to recognize its 2006 election win because it’s a terrorist group, although terrorists were long ago woven into the Israeli Knesset and army.
The current Likud party can trace its leadership back to Menachem Begin (1973-1983) and Yitzhak Shamir (1983-1993). Even before Israel was officially formed, both men were involved in militant groups such as the Irgun, Haganah, and Lehi militia, which were involved in terrorist activities during the struggle for Israeli independence against the British and Arabs.
Yet, while in government, neither man was reduced to his militant past or leanings; so why should the same opportunity not be given to Hamas to overcome its terrorist label? Unless the real issues are better obscured by blame than by being dealt with openly and honestly.
Additionally, if the latest war is designed to kill children whose parents are/were members of terrorist groups, (and Irgun was considered such) then consider Tzipi Livni of the Kadima party, who might neither be serving her country, nor considered an acceptable Israeli leader because of her parents’ Irgun ties.
The Israeli Defence Forces (IDF), while being formed primarily with Haganah members, also absorbed “terrorists” from other early Israeli underground fighter groups, including Irgun, and Lehi.
To some, the former Israeli radicals were necessary and their cause noble, but from Hamas’ perspective, the same is true. After all, they would call their fight one for Palestinian freedom.
Possible Reason for the Fight
Resources (land, water), power (national, regional) and history (Biblical entitlement etc.) all feature in the Israeli-Palestinian fight.
Land, particularly the division of it, is a well-known sore spot for both sides. And in 2004 the International Court of Justice found that Israeli settlements breach international law, as stated in the Fourth Geneva Convention, which makes it illegal for an occupying country to move its citizens into occupied lands. Therefore, the approximately 473, 000 Israeli settlers living in the West Bank, and East Jerusalem are considered to be illegally residing on Palestinian land.
In addition, there are other restrictions, including separate road systems, checkpoints, trenches and roadblocks that make Palestinian life difficult.
On the other hand, for the Jewish settlers in Palestinian territory, life is also strained.
After Ariel Sharon unilaterally withdrew Jews from Gaza and areas of the West Bank, many Jews were incensed. And despite that initial withdrawal, under outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Jewish settlements grew, with Israel announcing, according to a June 2008 CBC Radio report, that it would build 1,300 homes in East Jerusalem.
Israeli settlements pose a problem for Palestians and the Israelis alike. The uncertain living arrangements prevent people from establishing roots and living freely on a chosen plot of land. Also, as U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said, ongoing construction in the occupied lands make it difficult to build trust between the parties and it undermines future negotiations.
In this uncertainty people take change into their own hands, and increasingly violently. At midyear, the UN recorded 222 incidents of settler violence compared with a total of 291 in the previous year.
“An evil wind of extremism, of malice, of contempt for the institutions of the state is blowing through certain sections of the Israeli public and threatens Israeli democracy,” said Olmert, according to an October 4 article in the Australian. It is a fearful comment linked to the realization that current settlers hoping to avoid evacuation orders might become unlawful to do so.
Tied to the land issue, is politics (power), and it is the most likely reason for the current fight, because both the Palestinians and the Israelis are facing elections in the short-term. Israeli elections will be held on February 10, 2009, while Hamas vows to stop recognizing Abbas as of January 8th, and says legislative elections should be held in 2010.
The Palestinians having two governments (Fatah in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza) need to be united somehow, and surely foreign players notice this because it’s a precursor to progress in negotiations for any deals — two-state or otherwise.
Could it be possible that Israel’s latest strike is less about eradicating terrorists, and more about creating a situation which will legitimize the Fatah faction and its leader Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whom both Israel and the United States would prefer to negotiate with?
A divide and conquer strategy that strengthens Fatah and weakens Hamas might also produce Palestinian concessions in the West Bank, from which Israel did not withdraw completely in 2005, and are not eager to leave, for some feel Biblically entitled to it. However, Abbas’s Fatah, after the Oslo Accord, must work to win public opinion, because Palestinians reportedly felt betrayed by the agreement, which did not guarantee their independence, only allowing for limited self-rule. Fatah must also be seen as the party that can bring progress for a united Palestine when compared to Hamas. So the current battle might help increase Fatah’s existing support from Western countries, such as the United States.
With a military crisis growing daily, the Israeli elections might begin to focus on political and military issues instead of the economy. But whatever the objective, because of this war, Palestinians and Israelis will be more vulnerable to political messages. In some cases that might be peace, which requires policy change in both Israel and Palestine.
Working for Peace
The conflict is complicated and grows ironically out of Biblical stories of entitlement and the general power struggles of conquering entities, so it is not easy to apportion blame. It’s been gathering momentum for eons.
A friend recently commented that since Judea is Jesus’ birthplace and considered the holy land, it is amazing that in modern times this area (the West Bank and Israel) is more like the bedrock of discontent rather than harmony. Sadly recent events and continued violence will make the situation even more difficult to understand, as people in the region battle anger, fear, depression, anxiety, and post traumatic stress disorder.
Al-Sarraj calls for the United Nations Security Council to broker and support peace. But peace is grounded in mutual respect and understanding, instead of double-speak, and military operations. Also essential is the recognition that each party has the right to exist and the responsibility to learn tolerance; otherwise, peace will remain elusive. And to effect peace, both sides must focus on their similarities rather than their differences.
As Toronto Star columnist Haroon Siddiqui reports, various Muslim and Jewish groups are trying to underline their similarities as part of the push for peace. Among them is Rabbi Marc Schneier, president of the New York-based organization, Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, which encourages partnerships between synagogues and mosques in North America to facilitate tolerance as they partake in each other’s religious services, and even meals.
Schneier believes the alliance of 50 mosques and synagogues in North America will ‘strengthen the moderates.’ And hopefully this interactive educational initiative will simultaneously uncover the foundation for peace and progress, even if it’s decades late.
Already we know that the UN alone cannot bring lasting peace; that is the responsibility of the people. It can, however, help two parties who are willing to live peacefully, overcome their differences and find common ground.
War will only end when humans agree to fulfill the desire for peaceful co-existence, and though it would be nice if hopeful songs like Lennon’s could make it happen faster, it appears to be a very slow process.
It’s time for peaceful change!
Below is a brief timeline provided by Sheera Frenkel in a November 21, 2008 article for The Times (United Kingdom). It might be useful in understanding the ongoing conflict.
1948 The state of Israel is formed in West Palestine, leading to a mass exodus of Palestinians into surrounding Arab states
1967 Six-Day War results in the expansion of Israel into the remaining Palestinian territories, including the West Bank. The Israeli Government begins its settlement program, housing Jews in Palestinian areas
1993 A meeting in Norway results in the Oslo Accords, in which both sides recognize the other’s right to exist in Israel/Palestine
1994 Yitzhak Rabin, Yassir Arafat and Shimon Peres awarded Nobel Peace Prize for their role in the Oslo Accords
1995 Oslo II is signed, providing a framework for peace talks. Rabin is assassinated by an ultra-Orthodox Jew
1997 Agreement made allowing international troops in Hebron to handle the conflicts between Jewish settlers and Palestinians
2000 Camp David summit hosted by President Clinton fails to reach any agreement
2003 The Quartet (the US, Russia, the EU and the UN) develop the Roadmap for Peace. Progress fails in the face of increasing conflict in Gaza and the West Bank
2005 Under international pressure Israel evacuates Jewish settlers in Gaza and four West Bank settlements