Whether or not the ceasefire to stop the Israeli bombing of Gaza, and the retaliatory rockets on Israel, will hold is anybody’s guess. If the past is any guide, the prospects of any durable truce are not too bright. At the same time, all the rhetoric about terrorist rockets falling and Israel simply defending itself by unleashing bombs and missiles on Gaza from air, sea and land takes one’s breath away. Israel’s so-called defensive and ‘precision’ bombing of Gaza in eight days killed about 160 people with more than 1,000 injured, while the ‘terrorist’ rockets killed six Israelis. And why did the Hamas and its allied groups persist with their rocket throwing until the ceasefire, knowing that it would cost them dearly? Simply because if they do not react forcefully, they will simply be forgotten by the world, as they almost already are. This is their way of keeping their cause alive on the regional (Middle East) and global map. At the same time, despite Israel’s unbearable arrogance of invincibility, even the firing of admittedly not terribly effective rockets tends to unsettle Israel psychologically, with the rockets occasionally reaching deep into the country.
Gaza is essentially a large prison camp of nearly 1.7 million people (many of them refugees from what is now Israel), surrounded by Israeli forces that attack and kill at will to force them into submission. Their supplies of daily provisions and needs are rationed subject to the Israeli blockade of their territory. The only wonder is that that they are still able to fight for their dignity and basic human rights. And it is this ‘stubbornness’ on their part that riles Israel. Even when there is the slightest gesture of some support from any international humanitarian group, as in the case of a flotilla of peace activists in 2009 that sought to bring relief supplies into Gaza for its besieged citizens, Israel goes berserk. Israeli soldiers, at the time, killed nine Turkish citizens on board the ship carrying relief supplies to Gaza.
Any decent human being, with no political agenda, will be appalled at the Israeli inhumanity towards Gaza’s citizens, as during the eight days bombing of the territory. Jepke Goudsmit, a Jewish citizen of Australia who might invite the label of a self-hating Jew, was appalled in a letter he wrote to The Sydney Morning Herald. He wrote, “...Being of Jewish descent myself, I had hoped that a people who have suffered as much as the Jews would not become perpetrators of the same wrongs done to them in the past...” Well, he is in a hopeless minority in his community.
The killings in Gaza this time, as in the earlier bombings like the three-week Israeli invasion in 2008-2009 when 1,400 Gazans were killed, seem like a normal military excursion for the Israeli armed forces. The obvious question is how does Israel get away with all these murders? And the simple answer is the unqualified support it receives, politically, economically and militarily, from the United States and, for the most part, from European countries that follow the US lead. The statement of US President Barack Obama supporting Israeli bombing raids on Gaza was almost identical to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s angry outbursts rationalising Israeli attacks.
Netanyahu said that no country could tolerate its citizens being targeted by rockets. But he forgot to mention that it was his country that started the process by killing a Hamas commander, Ahmed Jabari, travelling in his car. Jabari had earlier been instrumental in having the captured Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, released from a Gaza prison. In a cruel twist, Jabari was reportedly working to bring about an effective and durable truce between Israel and Gaza.
Regarding Obama’s support for Israeli bombing, he said, “...there’s no country on Earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders”, virtually echoing Netanyahu. The Palestinians in Gaza are simply fighting for their freedom from a horrifying Israeli blockade of their territory from land, sea and air, and they are rained with bombs when they seek to exercise that right.
An important question is, why do Europeans so supinely follow the US? One simple answer is that they follow the US as part of their strategic alliance. But at a deeper level, their commitment to Israel is born of a collective guilt at treating the Jewish Diaspora inhumanely through pogroms and Hitler’s Holocaust. And they want to expiate their crimes by creating a new bogeyman, the Palestinians who resist Israeli occupation. Even at the height of the killing of Jews by the Hitler regime, known to the US and Europe, the pleas from Jewish groups to bomb railway lines and trains transporting Jews to their death camps, were ignored. Not only that, those Jews seeking refuge in these countries, including the United States, were simply ignored or turned away. With this kind of record, to turn on the Palestinians by supporting Israel’s killing machine is unconscionable.
Another problem is internal to the Palestinian movement. It is divided and badly fractured, giving Israel enough scope to play one group against the other. For instance, the Palestinian Authority based in the West Bank and Hamas controlling Gaza have been at each other’s throats ever since Hamas won the Palestinian elections in 2006. Since Hamas is branded as a terrorist organisation by Israel, the US and the western world, it was outlawed as a legitimate government, forcing it to withdraw to Gaza where it has a powerful base. In the ensuing infighting between the Fatah organisation and Hamas in 2007, the latter succeeded in ousting Mahmoud Abbas’s organisation from Gaza.
All attempts to bring the two warring factions together have failed, principally because Israel and its international backers would not accept a unity government with Hamas as its component. In other words, Israel has plenty of scope to play politics in the Palestinian movement. Hence, Palestine continues to be the orphan child of the international community, letting Israel play havoc with Palestinian lives. This will continue to happen unless the new political forces unleashed by the Arab Spring put up a joint front to help the Palestinians. To some extent this has already happened with Egypt’s President Mohammed Morsi playing an important role in bringing about the recent truce, winning plaudits from both President Obama and the Hamas leadership. Incidentally, Morsi has immediately used his enhanced status to assume unlimited powers in Egypt. He obviously hopes that his newfound usefulness for the Americans will still their criticism of his ‘popular’ dictatorship. But political developments in Egypt following Morsi’s decree, plunging the country into political turmoil, might not be helpful for the Palestinian cause. In other words, they are likely to remain pawns on the international chessboard.
The writer is a senior journalist and academic based in Sydney, Australia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org