Winning and Losing in Gaza

Richard Falk, the United Nations Human Rights Rapporteur in the Occupied Territories, in The Nation:

Now that there is a cease-fire in Gaza, questions are emerging about what Israel has achieved. Of course, the lopsided casualty figures and Israel’s military dominance certainly make it the battlefield winner. But such a “mission accomplished” assessment is as misleading in occupied Palestine as it was in Iraq. Although Hamas could not come close to matching Israel’s armed might, it may have won a major battle for Palestinian hearts and minds. Reports from the West Bank, Gaza and the Palestinian diaspora suggest widespread anger at the Palestinian Authority for its passivity and a rise in support for Hamas, even among secular Palestinians, in appreciation of its determined resistance to the brutality of the Israeli occupation and military operations. If Hamas becomes the dominant political force in all of occupied Palestine when the next elections are held, Israel will be the loser.

The scorecard is also complicated on the diplomatic front. Perhaps Israel’s military display will have some inhibiting effects on its opponents, but the extreme one-sidedness of the struggle evoked widespread protests and some negative diplomatic repercussions. Qatar and Mauritania, among the few states in the region that had accepted Israel, broke relations, and the European Union has suspended moves to improve Israel’s status as a trading partner. The Turkish prime minister even suggested expelling Israel from the United Nations.

In this inflamed atmosphere, it is no wonder that respected international voices, ranging from the UN’s high commissioner for human rights to the president of the General Assembly, are for the first time calling for a war crimes investigation. The Malaysian Parliament has unanimously called on the UN to establish a special war crimes tribunal. Even before Israel’s December 27 attack, its prolonged blockade of Gaza had brought about a grave humanitarian crisis. The blockade is a form of collective punishment, and as such it is a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. On top of that, Israel’s military assault inflicted massive loss of civilian life and severe damage to civilian infrastructure, including many public buildings not connected to Hamas’s military. Even if Israel’s claims of defensive response are accepted at face value, this is excessive use of force. There are also widespread reports that Israel has used legally dubious weapons like white phosphorus, dense inert metal explosives and depleted uranium. And finally, through its rigid control of exits, Israel has denied the people even the right to flee the fighting, a violation of humanitarian law that lends credibility to the claim that Israeli occupation policy essentially imprisons Gazans.

Winning militarily but losing politically should not surprise students of modern warfare. After all, the United States won every battle in Vietnam and yet eventually lost the war. The same was true for the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, and indeed it was the general pattern in decolonization struggles. In such wars the militarily dominant side not only loses the war but generates a deep crisis at home and experiences a tarnished international reputation. What these counterinsurgency or neocolonial wars have in common is that “the enemy” is merged with civilian society; the fighting abandons the restraints of international humanitarian law; and by killing helpless civilians, the occupying or colonial power is perceived as committing war crimes. This has been the case in Gaza, with worldwide outrage inflicting on Israel a major defeat in the battle for public legitimacy, which in the end is often decisive in shaping the outcome of major conflicts.

Neither the United States nor Israel has discovered the limits of military power in the contemporary world. The leaders of both countries seem unable to learn the lesson of recent history: that occupation in the postcolonial world rarely produces the desired results at an acceptable cost. It is from this perspective, despite a horrific price in lives and suffering, that the Palestinians may be slowly winning the “second war,” the legitimacy war, whose battlefield has become global. Perhaps the most impressive victory in a legitimacy war was won by South Africa’s antiapartheid movement. If the Gaza conflict brings the Palestinian struggle for self-determination to the top of the global justice agenda, it will be a major victory for Hamas. Of course, Hamas is not the African National Congress, and Israel is not South Africa. The Palestinians lack the sort of inspired leadership that Nelson Mandela and other ANC figures provided.

Military campaigns usually have a clear beginning and end, as well as a visible battlefield. In contrast, legitimacy wars have no clear boundaries and involve subtle shifts of public opinion that can alter the overall political climate in decisive ways. I believe the Gaza conflict, especially against the background of Israel’s prior siege and its 2006 Lebanon misadventure, is approaching that tipping point. Despite the frightful punishment inflicted on Gaza’s people, despite the bitterly divided Palestinian leadership, despite the cruelties of more than four decades of occupation, the Palestinians are poised to achieve victory.

The fragile cease-fire poses new challenges and opportunities. There are hopeful scenarios, but they depend on leaps of imagination that have been lacking on both sides. Hamas could confirm its willingness to behave as a political actor and stop firing rockets at civilians. Israel could recover in the legitimacy war by dealing directly with Hamas and taking its offer of a long-term cease-fire seriously. Israel could also show a willingness to engage in peace talks based on the 2002 Arab League Peace Initiative. Even at this late stage of the conflict, such alternatives offer both Israelis and Palestinians a promising, if perilous, escape route from the inferno.

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7 thoughts on “Winning and Losing in Gaza”

  1. I am a 60 year old African American and I feel so bad for the Palestinian people. Did they really gain anything from this bombardment? I understand the grievances but I don’t understand how the actions of Hamas that brings so much devastation to the population could still hold the allegiance from the common man. The mosquito bombs they have sent over to Israel serve no purpose but to bring devastation to their own people. Please tell me how this is a winning strategy. My prayers go out to all Palestinians for peace and properity. What a terrible way to live. Peace!

  2. I am a bit surprised to read Sherley’s comment.

    Hamas observed a very long cease fire. Yet Israel never stopped the blockade which was starving the people of Gaza. Moreover, they breached the ceasefire and killed Palestinians in November.

    In this situation, how could the Hamas extend their ceasefire? Had they done so, they would have lost all credibility.

    They had a choice: let Gaza’s epople die from starvation or fight back.

    I don’t think Sherley has a clue of the situation. He has clearly learnt from Israel’s propaganda. I quote him: “how the actions of Hamas that brings so much devastation to the population could still hold the allegiance from the common man”. Well Sherley, the common man has seen Israel bombing schools, hospitals, mosques, houses and flats, UN headquarters etc. They have not seen Hamas killing anyone.

    Is it Israel or Hamas who led them to quasi-starvation?

    I think that Sherley’s comments reflect the stereotype we have of the common uneducated American man. I wish Sherley and others of his compatriots could open their eyes.

    I regret that these people think that Palestinians are guilty to be colonised, brutalized, deprived, murdered and startved etc. by the Israelis.

    Quite a shameful comment in my view!

    May I ask him a question in my turn.
    What did Israel win? Instead of destroying Gaza, killing hundreds of kids and severely wounding thousand, why didn’t they stop the blockade of Gaza (which would have guarranteed the ceasefire), stop breaching the ceasefire, and withdraw from occupied territories, according to UN law???

  3. I am a bit surprised to read Sherley’s comment.

    Hamas observed a very long cease fire. Yet Israel never stopped the blockade which was starving the people of Gaza. Moreover, they breached the ceasefire and killed Palestinians in November.

    In this situation, how could the Hamas extend their ceasefire? Had they done so, they would have lost all credibility.

    They had a choice: let Gaza’s people die from starvation or fight back.

    I don’t think Sherley has a clue of the situation. He has clearly learnt very well from Israel’s propaganda. I quote him: “how the actions of Hamas that brings so much devastation to the population could still hold the allegiance from the common man”. Well Sherley, the common man has seen Israel bombing schools, hospitals, mosques, houses and flats, UN headquarters, firing at journalists, ambulances etc. They have not seen Hamas killing anyone in Gaza.

    An other question: is it Israel or Hamas who starved the people of Gaza for months, through a complete blockade (which is a crime under Geneva conventions)?

    I regret that Sherley’s comments reflect the stereotype we have of the common uneducated American man. I wish Sherley and other of his compatriots could open their eyes.

    I regret that these people think that Palestinians are guilty to be colonised, brutalized, deprived, murdered, startved etc. by the Israelis.

    Quite a shameful comment in my view!

    May I ask him a question in my turn.
    What did Israel win? Instead of destroying Gaza, killing hundreds of kids and severely wounding thousands, why didn’t they stop the blockade of Gaza (which would have guarranteed the ceasefire), stop breaching the ceasefire, and, why not, withdraw from occupied territories, according to UN law???

  4. Hello Sherley,

    During the period of mass slavery the crime of aspiring to be free brought a great punishment for the individual or the group. However black men and women were strong and like all peoples they struggled and deserved to be free. The slave revolt of Haiti was the first impressive victory against the masters, the victory that led to the abolishion of slavery.

    The leaders of the revolt knew that the white empires would try and make an example of them and indeed they did. The British and French sent several armies, I believe the British force was the largest that ever left these shores. However the oppressors lacked heart and they lacked intelligence, which the former slaves had in abundance, cruelty is no substitute.

    Would you have blamed Toussaint Louverture for freeing the slaves on that island and thus bringing down the wrath of the British and French? Of course not. As it happened the French agreed to negotiate with the leader Louverture and kidnapped him and he remained in jail until his death. They thought killing the leader would end the revolt. Similar to Hamas leaders that are arrested or targeted for assassination.

    Wordsworth wrote this of Toussaint Louverture on his death:

    Though fallen thyself, never to rise again,
    Live, and take comfort. Thou hast left behind
    Powers that will work for thee; air, earth, and skies;
    There’s not a breathing of the common wind
    That will forget thee; thou hast great allies;
    Thy friends are exultations, agonies,
    And love, and man’s unconquerable mind.

    Hamas wanted to renew peace and negotiate a future for their people, starved and trapped under Israeli seige and blockade. Seige and blockade are acts of war – Hamas had a choice, resist these acts and be free men or be starved as slaves. Israel refused to lighten the blockade and instead escalated the conflict with a massacre in Gaza. The white coloniser, who stole the land of Palestine, does not negotiate with the brown native who wants justice, he gives orders and when they are ignored he makes his wrath felt. Palestinians like the black slaves will continue to struggle for their freedom and justice, for the same reason, because of man’s unconquerable mind.

    It might not be a winning strategy, but slaves do not have a lot of options – to remain a slave is to be dead, to resist is to be killed. At least with resistance there is freedom.

    For more on the rockets try this:
    http://conflictsforum.org/2009/why-the-gaza-calm-crashed/

  5. The wagging fingers of admonition pointed by commentators like Falk against the Israeli leadership for having overstepped a moral boundary will fall on deaf ears.

    It is a familiar establishment narrative that bespeaks a longing almost as soon as the Palestinian victims are in their graves to reintegrate Zionism into the embrace of the Christian nations of the West who helped spawn its evil racial creed in Palestine in the first place.

    Unfortunately for these deluded,wishful thinkers this moral line is one that the Zionists in power in Tel Aviv do not recognise taking as they do their evil creed from priestly Levitical injunctions in the Book of Deuteronomy and put into the mouth of Moses.

    These are the ones where Jehovah tells Moses that he will put the dread and fear of Moses’ people upon the nations “who shall hear report of thee and tremble.”

    The Zionists we saw in the pictures rejoicing as the most gruesome and cruel weapons known to man were unleashed on their Canaanite (read Palestinian)neighbours were rejoicing that their IDF “warriors” were acting out these scriptural injunctions on their behalf.

    These people are,I’m afraid,quite impervious to any form of the rational Enlightenment thinking.Indeed they cannot even see the moral line that commentators like Falk would invoke before their eyes.

    Progressives fail to see what was unleashed with Zionism is fundamentally regressive in every way.The Levitical scriptures underlying Zionist claims invoke a cruel God ordering racial violence and extinction of the heathen by his chosen people in their midst.

    Ironically such teachings were rejected utterly by the Israelites and Hebrew prophets on whom the Levites sought to foist them.

    The name “Israel” was chosen (a typical bit of Rothschild PR you might say!) to fool gullible Western Christians into thinking that their giving assent to the creation of the state would be a fulfillment of Biblical prophecy.

    Nothing could be further from the truth.

    The British and American secret societies and the Zionists of the so-called Christian West
    begat the merciless monster we see before us.

  6. For all his attempts to do Zionist bidding Wilson died sad and reviled by most Americans.

    Obama might best be advised to take to heart the words of Maurice Samuel,the Zionist writer,who in You Gentiles in 1924 wrote:

    In everything we are destroyers-
    even in the instruments of destruction
    (read US-purchased phosphorous,micro-wave
    weaponry)….We Jews,we,the destroyers will
    remain the destroyers forever.

    Nothing you will ever do will meet our needs
    and demands.

    Some people are never satisfied!

    Remember that next time you’re in Jerusalem ,Mr Obama.

  7. I said what I said because you seem to think it is OK for thousands to be killed and others to live in rubble to appease Hamas. Did you interview the children whose parents died? Did you interview the people that have no place to live. If your methods are not effective you need another way. Since being voted in have they done anything to improve the lives of their citizenry?

    I think there are ways to agitate for change without living in rubble. Even if it takes five years to rebuild, that is five years wasted redoing what you already had. Look how long it took to rebuild from the riots in the 60’s. Many black folks still don’t have grocery stores in the neighborhoods. The impact has been long lasting. Yes you get a little sympathy in the beginning but after the evening news people find something else to talk about you are still living in destroyed neighborhoods without services. At least we still had running water and a sewage system. The maybe 3 percent of blacks that participated in the riots affected millions of others. Stop the madness.

    I don’t care how much I may love my leader I would be angry if my house was bombed to rubble for the leader to make a point. I would be ready to get rid of him/her as a leader.

    I think Hamas may need to put their best minds together and come up with better tactics. You still need to progress so that you can come back another day.

    They called the Black Panthers militants because the Panthers wanted for blacks what whites wanted for their families. A terrorist is a term that is used to cause the status quo to panic.

    Lets not forget the American Indian. There have been wrongs done all thru the ages at some point you need to do a loss assesment and figure out what is best for your people.

    Sherley

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