Friday, January 9. 2009
Todd Snider's latest album (maybe just EP) has a song that sums up Israel's latest foray into Gaza near perfectly -- well, a little short on blood and gore, but he's got the dynamic right. The song is called "Is This Thing Working?" Some lyrics:
Israel has never lost a war, but they haven't really won one since 1967 either. They could have parlayed their 1967 victory into peace. All it would have took was a little magnanimity and grace: a return to the pre-1967 borders, a token recognition of the refugee problem, some money (largely from the world powers). Until 1967, the standard Arab position was that Isreal should withdraw to the 1947 UN-proposed partition boundaries. After 1967, Israel's much-expanded armistice borders became the standard deal -- as they still are today. But more importantly, the 1967 borders (unlike the 1947 partition lines) were "facts on the ground" -- due to the expulsion of Palestinians, the wholesale destruction of Palestinian villages, and the implant of large numbers of Israeli settlers. That wasn't right, and under the newly emerging post-WWII international system wasn't legal, but it was real, and it did matter a great deal to Israelis to secure world recognition of their borders and their state. There were several possible variations on that deal, the simplest being one where a new, independent Palestinian state would be formed combining the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Gaza -- essentially, the other shoe dropping from the 1947 UN partition plan. With Palestine free and recognizing Israel, the other Arab nations would have no grounds for continuing their hostilities against Israel.
However, Israel did not choose peace. Israel did not choose to recognize the human rights of Palestinians under Israeli occupation. Israel did not choose to live peacefully with its neighbors. Looking back at how Israel acted from 1948-67 -- numerous border incidents, including several massacres aimed at punishing whole towns suspected of giving support to "terrorists"; acts of subversion like the Lavon Affair; a massive military build up, including development of nuclear weapons; aggressive wars in 1956 and 1967 -- it is now easy to see why. Israelis had come to believe they could get whatever they wanted by bullying their neighbors and their unwanted people. They've pretty much done that ever since, waging war after war, flounting the most powerful military in the region, the most disciplined intelligence agents, and the most effective propaganda specialists. They've wasted their carefully cultivated David-vs.-Goliath conceit and turned into Snider's bully. The Palestinians never had a chance, yet by surviving to be beaten again and again, they keep exposing Israel, undermining its foreign support, turning Israel into an international pariah.
There's an old Golda Meir quote to the effect that someday Israelis may forgive the Arabs for killing Israeli sons, but Israelis could never forgive the Arabs for turning Israeli sons into killers. It was, at the time, a typical assertion of moral superiority, but over time it has become something much more mundane: a self-loathing way of life. With memories of pogroms and the Holocaust fading, with the dreams of forging new lifestyles on kibbutzim dashed in a society increasingly given to crony capitalism and corruption, in a nation where more Jews return to exile than make aliyah, Israel has little identity left but for its wars against Arabs.
Like Israel, Snider's bully is trapped in his own attitude and performance, bereft of anything else to do with its increasingly miserable and pointless life. Snider doesn't explore what happens to the bully after he loses his girl, his posse, his self-respect, maybe even his health and sanity, but he does hint that the kid picks up aspects of the bully. We see some of this in Palestinians like Hamas, taunting Israel with homemade rockets, boasting that Gaza will be Israel's graveyard. Of course, it won't be, but that hardly matters any more. Totally self-absorbed without any real self-control, Israel has no claim to moral ground whatsoever -- to exercise morality you have to be able to recognize others like you recognize yourself, but Israel has lost that. They are the dead endlessly, mechanically revenging the loss of their souls.
Jimmy Carter: An Unnecessary War. Starts out:
The passive voice skirts the question of who is doing what to cause this starvation. The answer is Israel, backed by the US and European countries fantasizing that they can bully Palestinians into overturning the Hamas government. But Carter makes clear that the rockets are in response to the starvation tactics, and that allowing food and supplies into Gaza will stop the rockets. This is something that Carter has tried to broker, so he understands on a more detailed level than nearly anyone else how counterproductive Israel's belligerence is.
Tony Karon: The War Isn't Over, But Israel Has Lost. We've seen this before. In 2006, after removing all Israeli settlements from Gaza, Israel invaded Gaza -- ostensibly to search for a kidnapped IDF soldier -- producing enormous infrastructural damage, including destruction of the power grid. But that invasion was largely upstaged by Israel's even more dramatic fit against Lebanon. Go back further and you find more of the same: in 2001, Israel bulldozed its way into a number of Palestinian towns and refugee camps, going out of its way to destroy the infrastructure of the Palestinian Authority, their way of undoing the Oslo Accords. At the time, whenever Hamas committed an attack against Israel, the IDF responded by beating up Arafat's compound, because it was the PLO (not Hamas) that Israel took to be their major threat. And you can keep going back, all the way to the early 1950s atrocities when Ariel Sharon first made his name. You could even go back to the 1937-39 revolt, when the Haganah learned its craft under British colonial administration. Israel has always sought to decapitate Palestinian resistance, and it's never worked:
Needless to say, Barak did join a terror organization -- just one that is especially well-heeled and relatively secure, one that allows him to kill more and risk less than he ever could have as a Palestinian.
As Karon emphasizes, Israel's policy is the child of the US policy of reversing Hamas' political power, a base that was built precisely because religion is the last refuge people seek against repression:
Hamas's right to govern is not something that should be decided in Jerusalem or Washington, or anywhere else except by the Palestinian people. Karon quotes Avi Shlaim (no citation):
The best chance any government has to counter terrorism is to get terror groups to choose the ballot over the bullet. By precluding this way out, Israel (and the US) perpetuates its terrorist opponents.
Tim McGirk: Can Israel Survive Its Assault on Gaza?. This piece buys much of the Israeli propaganda line, yet still can't find a way out. Degrading Hamas's current military capability only increases its long-term political furor, or supersedes Hamas with a new, even more furious opposition. Backing down weakens Israel's deterrence, but that's a pretty illusory issue any way: it's not like Hamas doesn't understand that firing rockets on Sderot will cost Palestinian lives (many more than they will take from Israel), but they do it anyway, just to get a bargaining chip to trade off against mass starvation.
The link was to Charles Krauthammer. Few things have damanged Israel's moral position more than their choice of American friends: the neocons and the Armageddon freaks. Moreover, friends like that provide all the more reason why it is important to shift American opinion against Israeli militarism. The Armageddon freaks mostly cheer from the sidelines. The neocons do real damage, as we've seen in Iraq, Afghanistan, and throughout the Middle East. Their real pride and joy, however, is Israel. It's their model for how a superpower should act: all stick, no carrot.
Andrew J Bacevich: The lessons of Gaza. Raises "moral issues," but doesn't talk about them. Rather, Bacevich goes into strategic failures -- rather archly explaining, e.g., "as instruments of pacification, conventional armies possess modest utility. Rather than facilitating political solutions, coercion only exacerbates the underlying problem."
Rashid Khalidi: What you don't know about Gaza. Starts off: "Nearly everything you've been led to believe about Gaza is wrong." Goes on to explain who lives in Gaza (mostly refugees from the 1948 war, especially from Ashkelon and Beersheba), what occupation is ("even though it removed its troops and settlers from the strip in 2005, Israel still controls access to the area, imports and exports, and the movement of people in and out"), the blockade, the cease-fire, the question of war crimes.
You can see from this quote why Hamas will declare their mere survival as some form of victory: it's the only way they have to deny Israel its success.
Paul Woodward: Israel (and a world that looks the other way) is in the grip of moral paralysis. Among other things, note the picture, showing Orthodox Jews in Israel protesting not just the Gaza invasion but Zionism in general -- a position that virtually all orthodox Jews shared until the Kooks came to power. One sign reads:
That's further than I would go, but it ultimately depends on what you mean by "Israel." The government currently using that name has a lot to answer for, as do the people who elected it. On the other hand, I have no doubt that the people who live there should be able to elect their own government.
Italics in original, followed by quotes from the leaders of the "so-called Leftwing Meretz party" and Peace Now supporting the war.
Probably many more pieces to cite. Throughout this affair, Philip Weiss has been my most dependable source of news and reactions.