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Friday, January 09, 2009

Starting points and the attack on Gaza

The general portrayal in the media, and some of the blogs, is that Hamas broke the ceasefire through launching amateur rockets and Israel had no choice and so they Israel had to lead this brutal attack…

From watching the media portrayal of what is happening in Gaza, this is the dominant narrative, though even the media can’t stop how disproportionate and brutal the US backed Israeli use of force is (the English tabloid, the Sun, is doing its very best in highlighting the threats from Palestinians or Hamas with some highly peculiar stories, from apparent threats to Apprentice star Alan Sugar to tunnels of terror in Gaza where the inhabitants will pop up and shock the tanks – another day). It is worth questioning this narrative and asking a few why questions.

Why begin with Hamas breaking the ceasefire? Why not go back a little further? Why not suggest that the Israel broke the ceasefire in November in one raid that killed six or later in November in another attack that killed four? November is another place we could start the narrative and certainly the narrative about the broken ceasefire.

Why not begin the narrative with the Israeli blockade of vital resources? That seems one reason why Hamas might react. To do this blockade in such a densely populated area like Gaza is deeply dangerous. Moreover, Avi Shlaim points out:
During the ceasefire, Israel prevented any exports from leaving the strip in clear violation of a 2005 accord, leading to a sharp drop in employment opportunities. Officially, 49.1% of the population is unemployed. At the same time, Israel restricted drastically the number of trucks carrying food, fuel, cooking-gas canisters, spare parts for water and sanitation plants, and medical supplies to Gaza. It is difficult to see how starving and freezing the civilians of Gaza could protect the people on the Israeli side of the border. But even if it did, it would still be immoral, a form of collective punishment that is strictly forbidden by international humanitarian law.

Do we begin the narrative at the blockade then?

Or could we look at longer term issues? Some of the rockets were fired at Ashkelon. This was one of the areas where Palestinians were dispossessed in 1948 and moved on to Gaza. As Robert Fisk put it in the Independent, ‘They – or their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren – are among the one and a half million Palestinian refugees crammed into the cesspool of Gaza, 80 per cent of whose families once lived in what is now Israel. This, historically, is the real story: most of the people of Gaza don't come from Gaza.’

Or why not go back to the origins of Hamas? In the 80s, Israel nurtured Hamas to function as an opponent against the secular nationalists/Fatah, a decision that has now come back to haunt them (very similar to US policy towards violent Islam previous decades which came back to haunt them). Of course Fatah, for some (e.g. Bush) are now the good guys.

We could look for more starting points on the (US and) Israeli government side (e.g. issues of cheap labour, general issue of settlements, water resources, various acts of state violence and so on) but it should be clear that it is nowhere near as simple as Muslim fundamentalists firing these amateur rockets therefore Israel had no choice but to engage in this brutal massacre. It is horrific that Israeli lives have been lost now and over the years in the regions near Gaza and beyond but then many, many more Palestinian lives have been lost in Gaza alone. Like any other state, Israel deserves safety and security but so does Gaza (and the West Bank). The way that the US and Israeli governments and certain figures in the media have portrayed the background to the destruction of Gaza strongly suggests (and this is a wider pattern in ‘western’ media) that Palestinians lives are not worth as much as lives of other human beings. They are presumably sub-human.

This is a crazy attack for several reasons. I don’t like to predict things but how such brutal killing of Palestinians is going to bring peace seems unlikely I do not know. It certainly has the potential to lead to suicide bombings and a recruiting sergeant for violence. This would hardly be good news for Israel. The US government are doing themselves, or perhaps their people, no favours by their actions/non-actions with the UN. Of course, one group of people this attack will please, no doubt, is the arms industry but if we stick to most human beings and citizens this is a disaster.

As for starting points, why is one being so heavily pushed?


Blogger Michael F. Bird said...

You should read Gary Burge's Book, "Whose Land is it Anyway?" I think you'd like it!

January 09, 2009

Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

So what would you do with rockets landing on your head? Read a book? Isn't it simply a matter of them or us, if you are an Israeli?

January 09, 2009

Blogger Doug Chaplin said...

"As for starting points, why is one being so heavily pushed?"

Because any of the others would require a grasp of history and complexity, something news outlets and their readers/viewers appear to struggle with.

January 09, 2009

Anonymous steph said...

The whole conflict is playing very nicely into Israel's hands as Juan Cole on Informed Comment says. That Fisk article is very good naturally. It's a shame everyone in the west has amnesia or is it actually Alzheimer's?

January 10, 2009

Blogger N T Wrong said...

Amen, JC.

“At the forefront of our minds, the obvious signals of violence are acts of crime and terror, civil unrest, international conflict. But we should learn to step back, to disentangle ourselves from the fascinating lure of this directly visible ‘subjective’ violence, violence performed by a clearly identifiable agent. We need to perceive the contours of the background which generates such outbursts”
- Slavoj Žižek, Violence (2008)

Compare Paradise Now -- a film in which the background is foregrounded throughout (the objectively violent, oppressive and hopeless cityspace is the central and determinate actor; we don't even know where one of the main human actors is at the subjectively violent climax) -- with any number of Hollywood terrorist films, American television shows, etc, in which the problem is always portrayed as crazed individuals arriving ex nihilo (or rather, arriving, from the primeval chaos out East) and the solution is conversely portrayed as the action of smart and justice-restoring individuals. The former is unglorified and complex; the latter is hyped, simplified to the level of the (dangerously widespread) shit-for-brains lowest common denominator of a viewer.

January 10, 2009

Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

I have just been informed that one of my rebellious daughters has been on the protest march in London today, with two of her children. My wife had tried to phone her in the day with no response. Knowing my daughter, I said, "I'll bet she was on that march" - it had seen on the news today. Her mother just called up to me, "you were right about the march."

Ok, but suppose some religionists wanted to force you to adopt their beliefs. What would you do Jeffrey? I mean, see them in Gaza at prayer and you realise they are all brainwashed, and they would have you doing the same. These are not crazed individuals, that is until after prayers. Ask yourself, why the Arabs do not accept the existence of the Jews? Could it be that they realise that their religion was, like Christianity, fabricated out of Judaism. I don't want to see people killed or injured. But this is evolution in the raw.

January 10, 2009

Blogger Leon said...

I get tired of hearing people say that Israel deserves security and safety — without any idea of what this means. Hamas has been aiming rockets at Israel for years and there is almost no media coverage of this. In the six months before this recent conflict, Hamas fired something like 800 missiles at Israel. That is an average of about 4.5 per day. When an air raid siren goes off in Israel (about 4.5 times per day), it is not a drill. It means run for your life. Could you live like that? You are all such brave people.

Israelis live in constant anxiety. They do everything faster. They eat faster, shower faster, dress faster because they never know when they might have to run for their lives. Israeli children do not start speaking until about the age of three. They remain bed wetters until about 8 years. Constant anxiety. And they have to listen to many Arab groups like Hamas chant how they are going to kill all the Jews. The message Arabs send is quite literally "Pack your suitcases or prepare your coffins because, one way or another, you are all leaving." A continuous message of hatred pours forth from the Arab side. Why don't you start there if you want a starting-point so badly? Synagoues and Jewish centers in other countries are attacked, the web of hatred is aimed at more than just Israel.

I do not point all this out to defend the measure of Israel's current attack. I have no idea if it is proportionate or too much because I do not live there. I cannot judge them. What I am more sure of is that mostly everyone here on this blog is quite the hypocrite. You have no idea what you might do if you had to run for your life more than 4 times a day for years on end (since 2004 or 2005, Hamas has fired over 5,000 missiles, let alone the 800 in the last 6 months). You do not know what it would be like to live like that. But you are scholars, so you feel you are gods perfectly qualified to judge others who live in a hell you have no idea of.

You want a starting point? Do you really want one? What about the Arab attempt to erase Israel and Jews at the very start in 1948? What about the sickening atmosphere of European racism against Jews throughout the 19th century? It taught Jews that the whole point was to escape Europe. Europe drove Jews out and that is the truth. Where else could they go?

Some of the scholars on this blog still propmote prejudice against Jews by telling lies about ancient Judaism and the NT. They promote the worst, most irrational standards for studying history, and then claim they love Jews and have only Israel's best interests at heart. How do you sleep with such hypocrisy?

Leon Zitzer

January 11, 2009

Blogger Leon said...

It is not likely that I will get an answer to this question, but I have to ask it for the sake of completeness. In the last 6 months or year, have you ever posted a blog about Hamas over-provoking Israel? Hamas knows what it is doing. They know that launching thousands of missiles in the last few years creates deep anxiety that will eventually bring a reaction or overreaction. Should Israel control itself? It is not a matter of being purely rational. The constant anxiety forces a reaction. Hamas knows that. So have you ever given it to Hamas because it aims to provoke? Are they to blame for some of these deaths?

Hamas also operates on a deep belief or assumption that the world, especially the Christian world, is still fundamentally antisemitic, so if they just keep up the pressure of continual violence (from Israel and Palestinians), the world will eventually get sick of it and abandon Israel. They count on worldwide antisemitism as a component in their eventual success.

Are they right or are they wrong? I have no idea. But my question is whether you have ever posted anything that recognizes Hamas' deep responsibility in provoking all this and for celebrating when Palestinian children are killed because it intensifies the atmosphere of hatred of Israel. Or is your concern only aimed at Israel's overreaction?

If you are seriously looking for a starting-point, how about self-examination? Would that be a good place to start? But then gods don't do that sort of thing, do they? They just hurl thunderbolts at mere mortals, preferably Jewish mortals but all mortals take a hit in this environment. (Sometimes I feel like I am stuck in a Monty Pyhton skit. They got it right.)

Leon Zitzer

January 14, 2009


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