During the 2006 Israel/Lebanon war Condoleezza Rice went on and
on about how she doesn't want a ceasefire that won't hold up over
the long run. That was nonsense given that the single most important
success factor in longterm ceasefires is to stop shooting now, before
even more damage is done and even more revenge is due. But Israel
has announced a ceasefire today that is exactly the sort of thing
Rice fretted over two-and-a-half years ago: it's unilateral, so it
has no corresponding commitment from Hamas; it leaves IDF troops
in place in Gaza, where "militants" are almost certain to take
umbrage and look for easy targets; it solves none of the problems
that led Hamas to non-extend its previous 6-month truce. In other
words, it is nothing but a propaganda ploy, meant to stall for
time. It may also reflect the fact that next week will see a new
US president, who while slavishly committed to Israel doesn't seem
to share the old president's lust for violence, let alone his blind
faith in the power of force to clarify things. As brash as they can
with the rest of the world, Israeli leaders tend to be cautious
with American leaders. They have, after all, burnt their bridges
with the rest of the world (well, except for Micronesia), so they
need to be extra careful about offending the US.
The other likely reason behind their thinking is that they're
running out of ostensible goals and targets, milestones to justify
their adventure. They did, after all, finally manage to blow up
UN headquarters -- with white phosphorus, no less; how's that for
adding injury to insult? -- and to knock off the Reuters office.
They're maintaining a kill ratio of some 300-to-1 over the toll
inflicted by Hamas's rocket barrage. They've revealed themselves
to be callous thugs with no ideas, no concerns for anyone else,
no qualms about their own inhumane behavior.
Sir Gerald Kaufman: Israel's leaders are not simply war criminals;
they are fools.
Let's quote this at some length, a speech on the floor of the UK's
House of Commons, by a member of the British Parliament:
I was brought up as an orthodox Jew and a Zionist. On a shelf in
our kitchen, there was a tin box for the Jewish National Fund, into
which we put coins to help the pioneers building a Jewish presence in
I first went to Israel in 1961 and I have been there since more
times than I can count. I had family in Israel and have friends in
Israel. One of them fought in the wars of 1956, 1967 and 1973 and was
wounded in two of them. The tie clip that I am wearing is made from a
campaign decoration awarded to him, which he presented to me.
I have known most of the Prime Ministers of Israel, starting with
the founding Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion. Golda Meir was my
friend, as was Yigal Allon, Deputy Prime Minister, who, as a general,
won the Negev for Israel in the 1948 war of independence.
My parents came to Britain as refugees from Poland. Most of their
families were subsequently murdered by the Nazis in the Holocaust. My
grandmother was ill in bed when the Nazis came to her home town of
Staszow. A German soldier shot her dead in her bed.
My grandmother did not die to provide cover for Israeli soldiers
murdering Palestinian grandmothers in Gaza. The current Israeli
Government ruthlessly and cynically exploit the continuing guilt among
gentiles over the slaughter of Jews in the holocaust as justification
for their murder of Palestinians. The implication is that Jewish lives
are precious, but the lives of Palestinians do not count.
On Sky News a few days ago, the spokeswoman for the Israeli
army, Major Leibovich, was asked about the Israeli killing of, at that
time, 800 Palestinians -- the total is now 1,000. She replied instantly
"500 of them were militants."
That was the reply of a Nazi. I suppose that the Jews fighting for
their lives in the Warsaw ghetto could have been dismissed as
The Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni asserts that her
Government will have no dealings with Hamas, because they are
terrorists. Tzipi Livni's father was Eitan Livni, chief operations
officer of the terrorist Irgun Zvai Leumi, who organised the
blowing-up of the King David hotel in Jerusalem, in which 91 victims
were killed, including four Jews.
Israel was born out of Jewish terrorism. Jewish terrorists hanged
two British sergeants and booby-trapped their corpses. Irgun, together
with the terrorist Stern gang, massacred 254 Palestinians in 1948 in
the village of Deir Yassin. Today, the current Israeli Government
indicate that they would be willing, in circumstances acceptable to
them, to negotiate with the Palestinian President Abbas of Fatah. It
is too late for that. They could have negotiated with Fatah's previous
leader, Yasser Arafat, who was a friend of mine. Instead, they
besieged him in a bunker in Ramallah, where I visited him. Because of
the failings of Fatah since Arafat's death, Hamas won the Palestinian
election in 2006. Hamas is a deeply nasty organisation, but it was
democratically elected, and it is the only game in town. The
boycotting of Hamas, including by our Government, has been a culpable
error, from which dreadful consequences have followed.
The great Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban, with whom I
campaigned for peace on many platforms, said:
"You make peace by talking to your enemies."
However many Palestinians the Israelis murder in Gaza, they cannot
solve this existential problem by military means. Whenever and however
the fighting ends, there will still be 1.5 million Palestinians in
Gaza and 2.5 million more on the West Bank. They are treated like dirt
by the Israelis, with hundreds of road blocks and with the ghastly
denizens of the illegal Jewish settlements harassing them as well. The
time will come, not so long from now, when they will outnumber the
Jewish population in Israel.
It is time for our Government to make clear to the Israeli
Government that their conduct and policies are unacceptable, and to
impose a total arms ban on Israel. It is time for peace, but real
peace, not the solution by conquest which is the Israelis' real goal
but which it is impossible for them to achieve. They are not simply
war criminals; they are fools.
I don't agree with everything that Kaufman says here, but he
makes a strong impression, precisely because he's willing to look
beyond particular allegiances to general principles. You don't
have to be Nazis to slough off your war kill as "militants" --
the UK did that for ages, the US too, and most likely any other
occupier trying to stabilize their police state, while the Nazis
did some things that are virtually without parallel, such as
their use of slave labor as a path toward extermination. (The
Soviet Union under Stalin came close, and several US states in
the Jim Crow South ran their prison labor systems so brutally
that death rates exceeded 50%.) But the structural congruence
between the Warsaw Ghetto and Gaza is straightforward. Indeed,
it's hard to think of other precedents for what Israel is
Still, the Israeli's aren't Nazis: that Kaufman falls back
on those analogies just shows how close he is to Israel, where
nearly every idea refracts back through the Holocaust. Israel
actually modelled itself first on the British colonialists who
sponsored their "homeland," then after independence adopted a
couple of other unsavory models: the French in Algeria, and
the Afrikaners in South Africa. They're also rather fond of
the pacification of US Indians, especially when it resonates
with US military support. (All that stuff about "making the
desert bloom" really hit a favorable chord in the 1950s when
American television was so dominated by westerns.) As such,
Israel is fighting the dominant trend of the last century.
That they've managed as well as they have has something to
do with their tenacity and cohesiveness, but it's basically
a numbers game: colonialists dominated in the US and Australia
due to overwhelming demographics as well as superior technology;
colonialists failed in Algeria and South Africa where numbers
worked against them, despite technology and cunning. Israel is
in between, still convinced they can win, still terrified they
will lose, unwilling to look for a way out.
The reminder that Begin, Shamir, and Eitan Livni first made
their claim to fame as terrorists might have had more resonance
had Kaufman pointed out that their primary victims in the King
David Hotel massacre weren't the four Jews or the more numerous
Palestinians who perished with typical imprecision -- the main,
intentional, victims were British. On the other hand, as the
British know better than anyone, yesterday's terrorist often
turns into some form of statesman -- the shreds of the British
Empire are littered with such examples, going back at least as
far as George Washington. Yasir Arafat was another example, or
would have been had Israel been willing to follow through on the
promises of Oslo. There's no reason to think that the surviving
leaders of Hamas should be any different. The critical thing
about them is that they represent a significant segment of the
Palestinian people, and that they can credibly bring those
people into a lawful political process if one can be devised
that balances their rights and needs against Israel's. In this
it doesn't help to call Hamas "a deeply nasty organization."
Even if it were true, they would hardly be the only one; but
in any case the goal should be to move beyond such nastiness,
and that isn't the likely result of name-calling.
WarInContext: News & Views Roundup & Editor's Comment: January 15.
Several pieces here: rather than cite them individually, this link
gets you the bunch, plus Paul Woodward's invaluable comments. In
particular, see his comment on the piece Turkish PM: Israel should
be barred from UN:
[Turkish Prime Minister] Erdogan is right: Israel is thumbing its
nose at global opinion with a conviction -- so far well-founded --
that it can act with impunity. Likewise, the killing of Hamas'
Interior Minister Said Sayyam, one of the group's three most senior
leaders, in an airstrike on Thursday, was, Haaretz reported:
"apparently an attempt by Israel to deliver an image of victory in its
offensive against Hamas."
A victory blow in the minds of Israel's leaders, but is this the
way to secure a ceasefire? Israel's leaders seem to have acquired the
diplomatic finesse of the Soprano Family. [ . . . ]
Israel now appears to be acting out a victory lust. Israel and its
leaders have become intoxicated by their destructive capabilities to a
point where they have lost their grip on reality. Israel is in a state
of national psychosis.
Other articles cited:
Khaled Hroub: Hamas after the Gaza war. Starts by
citing Moshe Yaalon's oft-quoted manifesto: "The Palestinians
must be made to understand in the deepest recesses of their
consciousness that they are a defeated people." How quaintly,
atavistically 19th century that quote is. Plausible examples
include the US Indians and various African and Asian peoples
under European colonialism. The 20th century saw virtually all
of those defeats reversed -- the exception being the US Indians,
who were gradually integrated into a pluralist society, not
something Israel is willing to offer. On the other hand, with
Israel setting the bar so high, all Hamas has to do to deny
Israel victory is to survive, which they are certain to do
because they build on the refuge of religion.
Gideon Levy: Someone must stop Israel's rampant madness in
Gaza: The war continues to devolve into quicksand, with Israel's
rhetoric unbounded, and no one else strong enough (meaning the US)
caring enough to reign in the embarrassments: "now only the thirst
for blood and lust for revenge speak out, together with the desperate
longing for the 'victory shot' on the backs of hundreds and thousands
of miserable civilians."
Tony Karon: How the Gaza war could end: three
scenarios: Regime change, deposing Hamas from Gaza (not likely,
even with a lot more fighting); negotiated longterm ceasefire (not
likely, as it would involve Israel recognizing Hamas control of
Gaza, and ending the blockade that has attempted to starve Gaza
into submission); "the guns go silent without a formal truce"
(pretty much Israel's unilateral, very conditional ceasefire).
Akiva Eldar: Inquiries show Olmert version of UN Gaza vote
spat closer to truth than Rice's. Spin to the contrary, Olmert
did manage to dictate US policy in the UN.
WarInContext: News & Views Roundup & Editor's Comments: January 15.
Again, I want to point out a Paul Woodward comment:
Suppose the attempted US-backed coup through which Mohammed
Dahlan's security force tried to oust Hamas in June 2007 had
succeeded. And suppose Fatah and the Palestinian Authority had
effectively swept Hamas off the political stage. Would this have
destroyed Hamas? Of course not. The Islamist group would simply have
re-focused its efforts on militant operations while Israel's "peace
partner" would be wringing its hands saying it was doing all it could
to limit attacks on Israel. Gaza would have been spared the current
onslaught but rockets would still be fired on Israel -- as they were
before Hamas won the elections.
The irony is that if Israel ever decides it really wants to
negotiate peace, the group that can really deliver is the group most
Israelis want to see destroyed.
The history is that Israel always attacks the Palestinian group
most credibly able to deliver a peace agreement. We saw this most
graphically in 2003-03: whenever Hamas launched a suicide bomber
attack, Sharon blamed Arafat and shelled his compound in Ramallah.
Hamas, like the PLO before them, only became a credible political
threat once they gave up terror tactics and entered the mainstream.
Israeli leaders understand that insurgent violence only strengthens
Trita Parsi: Israel, Gaza and Iran: Trapping Obama in Imagined Fault Lines.
Explores the angle that Israel is countering Iranian influence by
attacking Iran's alleged pawns in Hamas. As Parsi has explained at
length elsewhere, Israel's obsession with Iran is largely a figment
of their fevered relationship with Washington: the US has an old
grudge against Iran -- the result of several legitimate grudges
Iran has against the US -- and Israel has discovered that their
stock rises whenever they can heat up the antipathy between the
US and Iran. With Obama committed to opening talks with Tehran,
Israel is all the more desperate. Iran, on the other hand, is all
the more cautious, especially since they've never had more than
a mild rhetorical interest in the plight of the Palestinians.
Neve Gordon: How to sell 'ethical warfare'.
Meanwhile, note that Israel has arrested some 700 Israelis during
the course of this assault on Gaza. The reason: protesting against
Israel's war. As was clear from the start, this war is above all
a political one, which is to say that its main focus is to hold
Israeli political opinion in check. Gordon explains:
The Israeli media continuously emphasises Israel's restraint by
underscoring the gap between what the military forces could do to the
Palestinians and what they actually do. Here are a few examples of the
refrains Israelis hear daily while listening to the news:
- Israel could bomb houses from the air without warning, but it has
military personnel contact -- by phone no less -- the residents 10
minutes in advance of an attack to alert them that their house is
about to be destroyed. The military, so the subtext goes, could
demolish houses without such forewarnings, but it does not do so
because it values human life.
- Israel deploys teaser bombs -- ones that do not actually ruin
houses -- a few minutes before it fires lethal missiles; again, to
show that it could kill more Palestinians but chooses not to do
- Israel knows that Hamas leaders are hiding in al-Shifa
hospital. The intimation is that it does not raze the medical centre
to the ground even though it has the capacity to do so.
- Due to the humanitarian crisis the Israeli military stops its
attacks for a few hours each day and allows humanitarian convoys to
enter the Gaza Strip. Again, the unspoken claim is that it could have
barred these convoys from entering.
The message Israel conveys through these refrains has two
different meanings depending on the target audience.
To the Palestinians, the message is one that carries a clear
threat: Israel's restraint could end and there is always the
possibility of further escalation. Regardless of how lethal Israel's
military attacks are now, the idea is to intimidate the Palestinian
population by underscoring that the violence can always become more
deadly and brutal. This guarantees that violence, both when it is and
when it is not deployed, remains an ever-looming threat.
The message to the Israelis is a moral one. The subtext is that the
Israeli military could indiscriminately unleash its vast arsenal of
violence, but chooses not to, because its forces, unlike Hamas,
respect human life.
All of these themes are repeated in the propaganda Americans receive,
coming through as high moral tone on top of complete dissociation from
the reality of the war.
Update: One problem with Israel's unilateral ceasefire
is that two can play that game. Hamas has announced their own,
with the flourish that they're insisting that Israel withdraw
from Gaza within one week. Hamas doesn't realistically have the
power to eject Israel if they fail to comply, but this shifts
the sense of who will be responsible for the ceasefire breaking
down, and it gives Hamas a credible rationale to accept Israel's
ceasefire -- for a week, anyway.