25 Aug 2014
Nothing good. But let us have a look at it in the standard peace studies way: Diagnosis-analyzing, Prognosis- forecasting, and Therapy–remedies, even solutions.
“Israel-Palestine” is the discourse Tel Aviv-Washington prefers. They have all the strong cards: overwhelming military power, political veto in the United Nations Security Council, the economic upper hand in interlocking economies–not just oil cash from Saudi Arabia-Qatar–and the idea of working for a solution with Washington as “mediator”–only USA can bring the two together, gently or roughly–toward a sustainable peace.
It is needed a great distance from reality to believe in that spin. USA and Israel are interlocked by a much deeper tie: they came into being in the same way; flagging a divine mandate for a land without a people for a people without a land. Goes one goes the other.
Palestine is also part of something much bigger than itself: the Arab people with its tortured history of 500 years of colonialism and imperialism, and the religion of Islam. Two nationalisms, carried by Fatah and Hamas in Palestine, both potentially giving rise to a much bigger state, Arabia (not only Saudi), and to a region, the Islamic Umma, beyond an organization of the Islamic Community (of states).
USA is co-responsible for the current Israeli genocide in Gaza and seen as such by most of the world. Hate one hate the other.
Israeli expansion implies conflict with neighbors and their neighbors into the Arab-Muslim worlds. Your problems are my problems say the USA. So far. But one layer deeper is the US hyphenation of Judaism and Christianity to Judaeo-Christianity, leaving out the third Abrahamic religion. The stark reality is three religions hating and killing each other through millennia–but the hyphen, like in Israel-USA, calls for an alliance of 2 against 1. A political program.
Add to this the three imperialisms suffered by the Arab nation. Four centuries Ottoman Empire; four decades English-French imperialism from Sykes-Picot to Nasser; US-Israeli imperialism to make the Middle East region safe for Israel and democracy. However, democracy is rule by the consent of the ruled, not colonialism-imperialism by the consent–so far–of the demos in the rulers, USA and Israel.
The collisions are massive, involving ever more of the huge Muslim part of the world beyond the Arab part. How will this evolve?
More fear, more hatred; more terrorism, more state terrorism. USA-Israel will probably keep the military superiority for some time. But much else is happening. Both are heading downhill in the sense of losing the support they had. USA is losing its world hegemony–even within NATO where Germany de facto is siding more with Russia than with the USA over Ukraine–and Israel by its fall from the moral high grounds into the immoral abyss even among the many deeply touched by the shoa. Israel aggravates its own situation by gluing the etiquette “anti-Semitic” to its increasingly numerous and powerful critics.
But where are the Arab and Muslim worlds heading? Not downhill.
The Ottoman Empire was a relatively benign Sunni “family of nations” with a caliphate also centered in Istanbul. No effort to recreate an Arabia ruled by Turkey is acceptable to the Arab nation. But also unacceptable is Sykes-Picot Western colonialism with four colonies or “mandates”; Iraq-Palestine, Syria-Lebanon. Blindness, ignorance or stupidity is needed to be surprised at the Islamic State (IS). Sykes-Picot could not stand, but the US invasion from 2003 reified those artificial creations, one of them in the meantime divided by the UK into Israel-rump Palestine-Jordan. IS was highly predictable: extremist brutality bred by oppression, and a vision: An ottoman empire with a caliphate without a special role for Turkey.
Without Sykes-Picot no Balfour, without Balfour no Israel. The Ottoman Empire had no Israel. A problem of USA-Israel’s own making.
Patrick Cockburn in the London Review of Books 21 Aug 2014 points to a third of Syria and a quarter of Iraq, with a population beyond Denmark, quickly conquered, heading for Baghdad and Damascus–the capitals of two major Islamic dynasties. Assad may fall, so may al-Maliki’s successor(s). Al Qaeda will join IS. Their problem is Iran and the Kurds, possibly with US-engineered wars that may unravel as such. We will soon see. Imagine IS conquering Baghdad, what happens to the megalomaniac US embassy? IS uses Saddam Hussein assets like the Tikrit clan and his military. But Saddam reified Sykes-Picot as Iraq’s ruler installed by the USA till he turned against them in 1988 in the Arab-Persian Gulf.
Anyhow, stop the present IS and a new will emerge out of the same Arab nation holism and dialectic; much stronger forces in the longer run than USA-Israel on a downhill slope with the USA possibly heading for racist fascism at home and abroad. But how about Islam?
Two major factors in its favor. The counter-cyclical pendulum between Christian and Islamic dominance–up for one means down for the other being so similar–is moving from the Christian-secular toward the Islamic pole. One factor is Islam’s message of togetherness and sharing, very attractive to the victims of egocentrism, greed and inequality in the Western world. Add to that something similar to the IS factor: the long term move toward an Islamic umma, not a state system ruled by kings-emirs-sultans, even against theshahada.
And who created so much of that state system? The West, through its colonialism. What we witness today is not only IS but all over Muslim youth trying to be the umma, uniting across even colonial borders, between Iraq and Syria–like the Tutsi bridge between anglophone, francophone and afrophone Africa. Be the future you want.
Solutions beyond USA-Israel going down and the Arab-Muslim worlds up? Yes: dialogue, searching together for how all four could become masters in their own house and only that. The challenge of the century.
Johan Galtung, a professor of peace studies, dr hc mult, is rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU. He is author of over 150 books on peace and related issues, including ‘50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives,’ published by the TRANSCEND University Press-TUP.
Editorials and articles originated on TMS may be freely reprinted, disseminated, translated and used as background material, provided an acknowledgement and link to the source, TRANSCEND Media Service-TMS, is included. Thank you.
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 25 August 2014.
This work is licensed under a CC BY-NC 3.0 United States License.
The international criminal court has persistently avoided opening an investigation into alleged war crimesin Gaza as a result of US and other western pressure, former court officials and lawyers claim.
In recent days, a potential ICC investigation into the actions of both the Israel Defence Forces and Hamas in Gaza has become a fraught political battlefield and a key negotiating issue at ceasefire talks in Cairo. But the question of whether the ICC could or should mount an investigation has also divided the Hague-based court itself.
An ICC investigation could have a far-reaching impact. It would not just examine alleged war crimes by the Israeli military, Hamas and other Islamist militants in the course of recent fighting in Gaza that left about 2,000 people dead, including women and children. It could also address the issue of Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories, for which the Israeli leadership would be responsible.
The ICC’s founding charter, the 1998 Rome statute (pdf), describes as a war crime “the transfer, directly or indirectly, by the occupying power of parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies”.
Also at stake is the future of the ICC itself, an experiment in international justice that occupies a fragile position with no superpower backing. Russia, China and India have refused to sign up to it. The US and Israel signed the accord in 2000 but later withdrew.
Some international lawyers argue that by trying to duck an investigation, the ICC is not living up to the ideals expressed in the Rome statute that “the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole must not go unpunished”.
John Dugard, a professor of international law at the University of Leiden, in the Netherlands, and a longstanding critic of Israel’s human rights record, said: “I think the prosecutor could easily exercise jurisdiction. Law is a choice. There are competing legal arguments, but she should look at the preamble to the ICC statute which says the purpose of the court is to prevent impunity.”
In an exchange of letters in the last few days, lawyers for the Palestinians have insisted that the ICC prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, has all the legal authority she needs to launch an investigation, based on a Palestinian request in 2009. However, Bensouda is insisting on a new Palestinian declaration, which would require achieving elusive consensus among political factions such as Hamas, who would face scrutiny themselves alongside the Israeli government. There is strong US and Israeli pressure on the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, not to pursue an ICC investigation.
Western pressure on the ICC to stay away from the issue has caused deep rifts within the prosecutor’s office. Some former officials say the Palestinians were misled in 2009 into thinking their request for a war crimes investigation – in the wake of an earlier Israeli offensive on Gaza, named Cast Lead – would remain open pending confirmation of statehood. That confirmation came in November 2012 when the UN general assembly (UNGA) voted to award Palestine the status of non-member observer state, but no investigation was launched.
Bensouda initially appeared open to reviewing the standing Palestinian request, but the following year issued a controversial statement (pdf) saying the UNGA vote made no difference to the “legal invalidity” of the 2009 request.
Luis Moreno Ocampo, who was prosecutor at the time of the Palestinian 2009 declaration, backed Bensouda, saying in an email to the Guardian: “If Palestine wants to accept jurisdiction, it has to submit a new declaration.”
But another former official from the ICC prosecutor’s office who dealt with the Palestinian declaration strongly disagreed. “They are trying to hiding behind legal jargon to disguise what is a political decision, to rule out competence and not get involved,” the official said.
Dugard said Bensouda was under heavy pressure from the US and its European allies. “For her it’s a hard choice and she’s not prepared to make it,” he argued. “But this affects the credibility of the ICC. Africans complain that she doesn’t hesitate to open an investigation on their continent.”
Moreno Ocampo took three years to make a decision on the status of the 2009 Palestinian request for an investigation, during which time he was lobbied by the US and Israel to keep away. According to a book on the ICC published this year, American officials warned the prosecutor that the future of the court was in the balance.
According to the book, Rough Justice: the International Criminal Court in a World of Power Politics, by David Bosco, the Americans suggested that a Palestine investigation “might be too much political weight for the institution to bear. They made clear that proceeding with the case would be a major blow to the institution.”
Although the US does not provide funding for the ICC, “Washington’s enormous diplomatic, economic and military power can be a huge boon for the court when it periodically deployed in support of the court’s work,” writes Bosco, an assistant professor of international politics at American University.
In his book, Bosco reports that Israeli officials held several unpublicised meetings with Moreno Ocampo in The Hague, including a dinner at the Israeli ambassador’s residence, to lobby against an investigation.
A former ICC official who was involved in the Palestinian dossier said: “It was clear from the beginning that Moreno Ocampo did not want to get involved. He said that the Palestinians were not really willing to launch the investigation, but it was clear they were serious. They sent a delegation with two ministers and supporting lawyers in August 2010 who stayed for two days to discuss their request. But Moreno Ocampo was aware that any involvement would spoil his efforts to get closer to the US.”
Moreno Ocampo denied that he had been influenced by US pressure. “I was very firm on treating this issue impartially, but at the same time respecting the legal limits,” he said in an email on Sunday. “I heard all the arguments. I received different Oxford professors who were explaining the different and many times opposing arguments, and I concluded that the process should … go first to the UN. They should decide what entity should be considered a state.”
He added: “Palestine was using the threat to accept jurisdiction to negotiate with Israel. Someone said that if you have nine enemies surrounding you and one bullet, you don’t shoot, you try to use your bullet to create leverage.”
A spokeswoman for his successor, Fatou Bensouda, rejected allegations of bias in the prosecutor’s choice of investigations. “The ICC is guided by the Rome statute and nothing else,” she said. “Strict rules about jurisdiction, about where and when ICC can intervene should be not be deliberately misrepresented … Geographical and political consideration will thus never form part of any decision making by the office.”
The French lawyer representing the Palestinians, Gilles Devers, argued that it was for the court’s preliminary chamber, not the ICC’s prosecutor, to decide on the court’s jurisdiction in the Palestinian territories. Devers said negotiations were continuing among the Palestinian parties on whether to file a new request for an investigation, even though he believed it to be unnecessary in legal terms. Ultimately, he said, the outcome would be determinedly politically.
“There is enormous pressure not to proceed with an investigation. This pressure has been exerted on Fatah and Hamas, but also on the office of the prosecutor,” Devers said. “In both cases, it takes the form of threats to the financial subsidies, to Palestine and to the international criminal court.”
Among the biggest contributors to the ICC budget are the UK and France, which have both sought to persuade the Palestinians to forego a war crimes investigation. More
Israel's lies make it clear to the Palestinians that it will continue to wage a campaign of state terror and will never admit its atrocities or its intentions.
ALL GOVERNMENTS lie, including Israel and Hamas. But Israel engages in the kinds of jaw-dropping lies that characterize despotic and totalitarian regimes.
It does not deform the truth; it inverts it. It routinely paints a picture for the outside world that is diametrically opposed to reality. And all of us reporters who have covered the occupied territories have run into Israel's Alice-in-Wonderland narratives, which we dutifully insert into our stories — required under the rules of American journalism — although we know they are untrue.
I saw small boys baited and killed by Israeli soldiers in the Gaza refugee camp of Khan Younis. The soldiers swore at the boys in Arabic over the loudspeakers of their armored jeep. The boys, about 10 years old, then threw stones at an Israeli vehicle and the soldiers opened fire, killing some, wounding others. I was present more than once as Israeli troops drew out and shot Palestinian children in this way.
Such incidents, in the Israeli lexicon, become children caught in crossfire.
I was in Gaza when F-16 attack jets dropped 1,000-pound iron fragmentation bombs on overcrowded hovels in Gaza City. I saw the corpses of the victims, including children. This became a surgical strike on a bomb-making factory.
I have watched Israel demolish homes and entire apartment blocks to create wide buffer zones between the Palestinians and the Israeli troops that ring Gaza. I have interviewed the destitute and homeless families, some camped out in crude shelters erected in the rubble. The destruction becomes the demolition of the homes of terrorists.
I have stood in the remains of schools — Israel struck two United Nations schools in the last six days, causing at least 10 fatalities at one in Rafah on Sunday and at least 19 at one in the Jebaliya refugee camp Wednesday — as well as medical clinics and mosques. I have heard Israel claim that errant rockets or mortar fire from the Palestinians caused these and other deaths, or that the attacked spots were being used as arms depots or launching sites.
I, along with every other reporter I know who has worked in Gaza, have never seen any evidence that Hamas uses civilians as “human shields.”
There is a perverted logic to Israel's repeated use of the Big Lie — the lie favored by tyrants from Josef Stalin to Saddam Hussein. The Big Lie feeds the two reactions Israel seeks to elicit — racism among its supporters and terror among its victims.
By painting a picture of an army that never attacks civilians, that indeed goes out of its way to protect them, the Big Lie says Israelis are civilized and humane, and their Palestinian opponents are inhuman monsters.
The Big Lie serves the idea that the slaughter in Gaza is a clash of civilizations, a war between democracy, decency and honor on one side and Islamic barbarism on the other. And in the uncommon cases when news of atrocities penetrates to the wider public, Israel blames the destruction and casualties on Hamas.
George Orwell in his novel “Nineteen Eighty-Four” called this form of propaganda doublethink. Doublethink uses “logic against logic” and “repudiate[s] morality while laying claim to it.”
The Big Lie does not allow for the nuances and contradictions that can plague conscience. It is a state-orchestrated response to the dilemma of cognitive dissonance. The Big Lie permits no gray zones. The world is black and white, good and evil, righteous and unrighteous.
The Big Lie allows believers to take comfort — a comfort they are desperately seeking — in their own moral superiority at the very moment they have abrogated all morality.
The Big Lie, as the father of American public relations, Edward Bernays, wrote, is limited only by the propagandist's capacity to fathom and harness the undercurrents of individual and mass psychology. And since most supporters of Israel do not have a desire to know the truth, a truth that would force them to examine their own racism and self-delusions about Zionist and Western moral superiority, like packs of famished dogs they lap up the lies fed to them by the Israeli government.
But the Big Lie is also consciously designed to send a chilling message to Gaza's Palestinians, who have lost large numbers of their dwellings, clinics, mosques, and power, water and sewage facilities, along with schools and hospitals, who have suffered some 1,850 deaths since this assault began — most of the victims women and children — and who have seen 400,000 people displaced from their homes.
The Big Lie makes it clear to the Palestinians that Israel will continue to wage a campaign of state terror and will never admit its atrocities or its intentions. The vast disparity between what Israel says and what Israel does tells the Palestinians that there is no hope. Israel will do and say whatever it wants. International law, like the truth, will always be irrelevant. There will never, the Palestinians understand from the Big Lie, be an acknowledgement of reality by the Israeli leadership.
The Israel Defense Forces website is replete with this black propaganda. “Hamas exploits the IDF's sensitivity towards protecting civilian structures, particularly holy sites, by hiding command centers, weapons caches and tunnel entrances in mosques,” the IDF site reads. “In Hamas' world, hospitals are command centers, ambulances are transport vehicles, and medics are human shields,” the site insists.
“… [Israeli] officers are tasked with an enormous responsibility: to protect Palestinian civilians on the ground, no matter how difficult that may be,” the site assures its viewers. And the IDF site provides this quote from a drone operator identified as Lt. Or. “I have personally seen rockets fired at Israel from hospitals and schools, but we couldn't strike back because of civilians nearby. In one instance, we acquired a target but we saw that there were children in the area. We waited around, and when they didn't leave we were forced to abort a strike on an important target.”
Israel's ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, in a Big Lie of his own, said last month at a conference of Christians United for Israel that the Israeli army should be given the “Nobel Peace Prize … a Nobel Peace Prize for fighting with unimaginable restraint.”
The Big Lie destroys any possibility of history and therefore any hope for a dialogue between antagonistic parties that can be grounded in truth and reality.
And when facts no longer matter, when there is no shared history grounded in the truth, when people foolishly believe their own lies, there can be no useful exchange of information.
The Big Lie, used like a bludgeon by Israel, as perhaps it is designed to be, ultimately reduces all problems in the world to the brutish language of violence. And when oppressed people are addressed only through violence they will answer only through violence. More
Listen to the headlines and you will hear more and more frequent anecdotal evidence of the crisis facing our global fresh water supply. Only 3 percent of the water on earth is fresh, and of that some 2 percent is locked in the polar ice caps, thus leaving us with the astonishing conclusion that the entire population on earth is reliant on 1 percent of the available water worldwide to sustain its fundamental need.
That need is universal; each of us — no matter who we are, what we earn, or where we live — should consume at least two quarts of water per day to sustain basic daily physical health. According to the World Health Organization, an individual requires 18 gallons a day to provide medium term maintenance to include drinking, cooking, personal hygiene, washing clothes, cleaning homes, growing food, and sanitation and waste disposal.
There is an apocryphal story of a proposed reality television show focusing on water use of a middle-class American family of two adults and three children. The value entertainment was to derive from the inter-personal consequences of reliance on the minimal supply to meet the profligate use of water in the United States for domestic uses only. The trial was a disaster as the family chosen could not subsist a week on these conditions, deprived of infinite supply for cooking, showers, dishwashers and washing machines, lawn and garden watering, without serious negative psychological effect, inter-family conflict, and rejection of the experiment.
The headlines speak of water shortages everywhere, in large amounts, and in many forms. We read of cities closing down their water systems because of toxic run-off, of the poisoned water from fracking oil wells that leak into watersheds, streams, and rivers; of droughts that evaporate available water and radically decrease supply for irrigation of industrial farms and orchards; of wildfires that cannot be contained because there is no available water to fight them. There are many more examples; add them all up and you have a water crisis that threatens rich and poor everywhere in the world, has serious financial implications now and for the future, destroys communities, and indeed becomes a context for conflict.
All this threatens total supply and must force us to re-think how we manage the efficiency of our water use. Certain changes seem obvious: becoming more aware of the problem and modify personal use by turning off faucets, shortening showers, collecting rain water for gardens, not washing the car, replacing old appliances with conservation-certified new ones, and understanding that every gallon wasted by indifference is a gallon gone and irreplaceable for you or anyone else.
Individual actions can, of course, be scaled up by government actions and regulations. The Alliance for Water Efficiency, for example, exists as an authoritative voice for water conservation in North America, informs and advocates for the development of state and municipal laws, codes, and standards, and supports a national partnership with the US Environmental Protection Agency called “WaterSense” that promotes best water conservation management practices for homes, hotels, factories, businesses, treatment plants and water distribution infrastructure, and rewards the best examples of the most efficient water conservation technologies.
But this is nowhere near enough. Water consciousness must improve dramatically at all levels of society to enable us to recycle water effectively, to divert treated water to alternative use, to channel urban run-off from roofs and storm systems back into the usable water supply, to revolutionize our agricultural irrigation practices that today consume a vast majority of water resources worldwide, and regulate any and all industrial or extraction behavior that continues to pollute our waterways with harmful pollutants and poisons with unacceptable local health and downstream consequences.
And yet, in the United States at least, determined politicians are attempting to reverse any such intelligent controls by diluting or over-turning clean water laws and regulations already established in the name of protecting threatened corporate interests, denying the role of government to regulate destructive practice, and sustaining the status quo. Wouldn’t it be interesting to put those representative lawmakers in a situation like that American family? Where they would have to live together, with of their individual hypocrisies, compromised decisions, and destructive political ideologies? I wonder how long they would last having to live together up close and personal in today’s global fresh water crisis? More
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The carnage in the Gaza Strip has been horrendous: more than 1,900 dead, mainly civilians; its sole power plant destroyed (and so electricity and water denied and a sewage disaster looming); 30,000 to 40,000 homes and buildings damaged or destroyed; hundreds of thousands of residents put to flight with nowhere to go; and numerous U.N. schools or facilities housing some of those refugees hit by Israeli firepower.
And then there was the evident targeting by the Israelis of the Gazan economy itself: 175 major factories taken out, according to the New York Times, in a place that already had an estimated unemployment rate of 47%.
The last weeks represent the latest episode in a grim, unbalanced tale of the destructive urges of both the Israeli government and Hamas, in a situation in which the most fundamental thing has been the desire to punish civilians. Worse yet, indiscriminate assaults on civilian populations create the basis for more of the same — fiercer support in Israel for governments committed to ever worse actions and ever more recruits for Hamas or successor organizations potentially far worse and more fundamentalist), and of course more children traumatized and primed for future acts of terror and revenge.
Think of it as the Middle Eastern equivalent of a self-fulfilling prophecy, which means it hardly even qualifies as a prediction to say that Israel’s violent and punishing acts against the civilian population of Gaza will settle nothing whatsoever. In fact, for the Israelis, as Sandy Tolan suggests today, the Gazan War of 2014 may prove a defeat, both in the arena of global opinion (U.S. polls show that young Americans are ever more sympathetic to the Palestinians and disapproving of Israeli actions) and in relation to Hamas itself. History indicates that air strikes and other attacks meant to break the “will” of a populace, and so of a movement’s hold on it, generally only create more support.
These have been the days of the whirlwind in Gaza and in Israel, but don’t stop there. If you want a hair-raising experience, put these events in a larger regional context.
Following 9/11, the Bush administration and its neocon supporters dubbed the area that stretched from North Africa to Central Asia “the Greater Middle East” and referred to that vast expanse as “the arc of instability.” At the time, despite their largely Muslim populations, the nations of that sprawling region had relatively little in common; nor, on the whole, was it particularly unstable, even if the roiling Israeli-Palestinian situation already sat at its heart.
Ruled largely by strongmen and autocrats, those nations remained in a grim post-Cold War state of stasis. Three American interventions — in Afghanistan (2001), Iraq (2003), and Libya (2011) — blew holes through the region, sparking bitter inter-ethnic and religious conflict, as well as an Arab Spring (largely suppressed by now), while transforming most of the Greater Middle East into a genuine arc of instability. Today, what's happening there qualifies as the perfect maelstrom, as yet more states and groups, insurgent, extremist, or otherwise, are drawn into its maw of destruction.
To start on the eastern reaches of the Greater Middle East, Pakistan is now a destabilized democracy with a fierce set of fundamentalist insurgencies operating within and from its territory; Afghanistan is an almost 13-year nation-building disaster where the Taliban is resurgent and, in the latest “insider attack” at its top military academy, an Afghan soldier considered an American “ally” managed to kill a U.S. major general sent to the country to help “stand up” its security forces. Iraq is a tripartite disaster area in which another American-trained and -equipped army stood down rather than up and in which an extreme al-Qaeda offshoot, the Islamic State (IS) is at the moment ascendant. It has routed Iraqi and Syrian forces, and most recently, the supposedly fierce Kurdish pesh merga militia in northern Iraq, while endangering the Kurdish capital and possibly seizing the country’s largest dam. Turkish and Syrian Kurdish insurgents are being drawn into the fight in Iraq, as once again is the U.S.
Syria itself is no longer a country at all, but a warring set of extremist outfits facing what’s left of the patrimony (and military) of the al-Assad family. In Lebanon last week, regular army units found themselves battling IS extremists and their captured American tanks for the control of a border town. In Egypt, the military is back in power atop a disintegrating economy. In Libya, the chaos following the U.S./NATO intervention that led to the fall of autocrat Muammar Gaddafi never ended. Recently, factional militias fighting in Tripoli, the capital, managed to destroy its international airport, while diplomatic missions, including the U.S. one, were withdrawn in haste, and now the Egyptians are threatening an intervention of their own. Meanwhile, reverberations from the chaos in Libya have been spreading across North Africa and heading south. Only Iran (eternally under threat from the U.S. and Israel), Saudi Arabia (which helped bankroll the rise of the IS), and the Gulf States seem to have remained — thus far — relatively aloof from the chaos.
In sum, the vast region the Bush people so blithely called the arc of instability seems to be heading for utter chaos or a mega-conflict, while the predicted “cakewalk” of American forces into Iraq managed, in barely a moment in historical time, to essentially obliterate the regional borders set up by the European colonial powers after World War I. In other words, a world is being unified in turmoil and extremism, as thousands die and millions are uprooted from their homes, and all of this now surrounds the volatile, still destabilizing center that is the Palestinian/Israeli nightmare. There, as Sandy Tolan, a TomDispatch regular and the author of The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East, points out, both Tel Aviv and Washington have, in recent years, ignored every chance to take a less violent path and so encouraged the arrival of the maelstrom. Tom – Follow TomDispatch on Twitter @TomDispatch.
Blown Chances in Gaza
Israel and the U.S. Miss Many Chances to Avoid War
By Sandy Tolan
Alongside the toll of death and broken lives, perhaps the saddest reality of the latest Gaza war, like the Gaza wars before it, is how easy it would have been to avoid. For the last eight years, Israel and the U.S. had repeated opportunities to opt for a diplomatic solution in Gaza. Each time, they have chosen war, with devastating consequences for the families of Gaza.
Let’s begin in June 2006, when the University of Maryland’s Jerome Segal, founder of the Jewish Peace Lobby, carried a high-level private message from Gaza to Washington. Segal had just returned from a meeting with Ismail Haniyeh, whose Hamas faction had recently won free and fair elections and taken power in Gaza. Hamas was seeking a unity government with the rival Fatah faction overseen by Mahmoud Abbas.
The previous year, Israel had withdrawn its soldiers and 8,000 settlers from Gaza, though its armed forces maintained a lockdown of the territory by air, land, and sea, controlling the flow of goods and people. Gazans believed they were trapped in the world’s largest open-air prison. For generations they had lived in overcrowded refugee camps, after their villages were depopulated by Israel and new Israeli cities built on their ruins in the years that followed Israel’s birth in 1948. By voting for Hamas in 2006, Palestinians signaled their weariness with Fatah’s corruption and its failure to deliver an independent state, or even a long-promised safe passage corridor between the West Bank and Gaza. In the wake of its surprise election victory, Hamas was in turn showing signs of edging toward the political center, despite its militant history.
Nevertheless, Israel and “the Quartet” — the U.S., the European Union, Russia, and the U.N. — refused to recognize the outcome of the democratic elections, labeling Hamas a “terrorist organization,” which sought Israel’s destruction. The administration of George W. Bush strongly pressured Abbas not to join a unity government. The Quartet suspended economic aid and Israel severely curtailed the flow of goods in and out of Gaza.
“It’s like meeting with a dietician,” remarked Dov Weisglass, a top aide to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. “We have to make [Gazans] much thinner, but not enough to die.” Only years later did researchers prove that Weisglass was speaking literally: Israeli officials had restricted food imports to levels below those necessary to maintain a minimum caloric intake. Child welfare groups began to report a sharp rise in poverty and chronic child malnutrition, anemia, typhoid fever, and potentially fatal infant diarrhea. Human rights organizations denounced the measures as collective punishment. Avi Shlaim, a veteran of the Israeli army, author of numerous books on Middle East history, and professor of international relations at the University of Oxford, wrote:
“America and the EU [European Union] shamelessly joined Israel in ostracizing and demonizing the Hamas government and in trying to bring it down by withholding tax revenues and foreign aid. A surreal situation thus developed with a significant part of the international community imposing economic sanctions not against the occupier but against the occupied, not against the oppressor but against the oppressed. As so often in the tragic history of Palestine, the victims were blamed for their own misfortunes.”
These punitive measures were to remain in place until Hamas renounced violence (including stopping its cross-border rocket attacks), recognized Israel, and accepted all previous agreements based on the Oslo peace accords.
Which brings us back to that Washington-bound letter from Gaza. In the wake of the elections, Hamas was no longer the militant opposition to a ruling Fatah party, but a legally elected government operating under siege. Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, suddenly responsible for governing and facing a mounting economic, humanitarian, and political catastrophe, sought to defuse the situation. In his June 2006 hand-written note to President Bush that Jerome Segal delivered to the State Department and the National Security Council, he requested a direct dialogue with the administration.
Despite Hamas’s charter calling for the elimination of Israel, Haniyeh’s conciliatory note to the American president conveyed a different message. “We are so concerned about stability and security in the area that we don't mind having a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders and offering a truce for many years,” Haniyeh wrote to Bush. This essentially added up to an offer ofde facto recognition of Israel with a cessation of hostilities — two of the key U.S. and Israeli demands of Hamas.
“The continuation of this situation,” Haniyeh wrote to Bush, “will encourage violence and chaos in the whole region.”
A few lonely voices in the U.S. and Israel urged that the moment be seized and Hamas coaxed toward moderation. After all, Israel itself had been birthed in part by the Irgun and Stern Gang (or Lehi), groups considered terrorist by the British and the U.N. In the years before Israel’s birth, they had been responsible for a horrific massacre in the Palestinian village of Deir Yassin and the Irgun bombing of the King David Hotel, killing 91 people. Leaders of the two organizations, Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir, later became prime ministers of Israel. Similarly, Yasser Arafat, whose Palestine Liberation Organization was considered a terrorist group by Israel and the West, recognized Israel’s right to exist in a pivotal 1988 speech, paving the way for the Oslo peace process. More