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Middle East Deja-vu
[Analysis] Haven't we seen this before?
John Horvath (jhorv)     Print Article 
Published 2009-01-09 13:09 (KST)   
As Israel continues to pound the Gaza Strip, it seems that Santayana's curse on the Middle East will remain for some time to come. It's not simply that the past has been forgotten and it's now being repeated. It appears to be the explicit policy of the State of Israel.

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Three years ago I wrote a similar article when Israel attacked Lebanon in the hope of rescuing soldiers taken prisoner by Hamas and Hezbollah. Except for the names and a few other minor changes, the article could be as if I was writing about the present conflict. Now, it is rocket attacks which are seen as reasons to justify military action as Israel has "the right to defend itself" and that the responsibility for this latest escalation in violence rests solely with Hamas. As Europe continues to be traumatized by the Second World War, it dares not to criticize Israel but instead put the burden of responsibility squarely on the shoulders of Hamas. Thus, by failing to raise its collective voice when it needs to, the EU lets Israel get away with murder -- literally.

In many ways Europe is to blame for the blood which continues to flow in the Middle East. Democratic elections which saw a victory for Hamas was immediately not recognized by the international community, despite the fact that the election was considered free and fair. Instead, the EU and its allies refused to recognize Hamas and instead put its support behind the Fatah which did its best to undermine the power and legitimacy of the Hamas government. Thus, peace was never given a chance, and therefore democracy had no prospect whatsoever of taking hold. Instead, many Palestinians simply became radicalized and carried on as before. A golden opportunity then was perhaps lost forever.

Sadly, Europe puts its ideals of democracy and freedom to the background when it comes to strategic considerations. This not only includes unwavering support for Israel (albeit with added calls for restraint so as to appease public opinion in Europe) but also the support of undemocratic and totalitarian regimes which happen to be of economic importance to the EU. Algeria is a prime example of this hypocrisy.

Ultimately, Israel's actions in the occupied territories and elsewhere (i.e., Lebanon) have always proven counterproductive. Not only does Israeli aggression unite Palestinians against a common enemy, but children exposed to this type of violence become hardened and will become the fearless suicide bombers and guerilla fighters of the future.

Not only this, Israel often ends up losing more than it perceives to gain by such an action, not only in terms of financial cost but also in terms of lives. As with the war against Hezbollah in Lebanon some three years ago, more Israeli soldiers died trying to "rescue" the captive soldiers than the number of soldiers being held prisoner. To make matters worse, in the end they failed to find any of the captured soldiers.

The same goes for the present attacks in Gaza. More Israelis are now being killed as a result of the military action than those which have been killed by Hamas rockets. The irony of it all is that most of these deaths have been caused by fellow Israelis and not even Hamas. Along these lines, it would appear that the easiest way to defeat the Israeli army is to goad them into a protracted conflict; sooner or later the army will end up destroying itself.

If Israel ends up losing more than it gains in terms of lives and financial cost, the question remains why would Israel undertake such actions in the first place? The answer is best provided by Paul Rogers who wrote in his 2002 article "Israel's strategy: the impotence of arms." In this article Rogers shows that the incursions and attacks by Israel follow a certain pattern and are undertaken in order to achieve one important goal: to destroy the capacity of a Palestinian state to operate. In other words, Israel never wants to see the existence of a Palestinian state.

Hence, the only way to ensure this is to destroy the apparatus needed for a viable Palestinian state to function, namely services and infrastructure. Conversely, such attacks will never accomplish the intended aim of ending suicide bombings or missile attacks against Israel. If anything, it will only make the situation worse and guarantee that peace will remain an elusive dream. As Rogers foretold some seven years ago, when the Israeli military attacks in the West Bank were undertaken in order to try and put an end to the problem of suicide bombers: "That is not something that can be done by blanket military operations against centers of Palestinian population. Indeed it is very much more likely to produce further generations of potential suicide bombers."

The present is more or less the same as the past, only this time it isn't the West Bank under siege but the Gaza Strip, and it's not suicide bombers that Israel is after but Hamas rockets. Not only this, Israel is actually doing precisely what Hamas wants. "The intense military action, killing and injuring very many hundreds of Palestinians, will serve to further radicalize opinion, bringing forward many more people willing to die for their beliefs," writes Rogers.

In addition to this, the pretext for the military offensive has been skewed in the same way as it was in the past. Three years ago, the military interventions into Gaza and Lebanon were justified on the grounds that Israelis were somehow under threat. Yet in the one year from when Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip to when it launched its military offensive, over 100 Palestinians in Gaza had been killed by Israeli forces, often by helicopter gunships. This included an Israeli missile strike that killed seven members of a Palestinian family picnicking on a Gaza beach, which then prompted Hamas to end its 16-month-old informal ceasefire with Israel. In all, only 31 percent of the people killed were engaged in hostile actions at the time of their deaths, and 25 percent of all those killed were minors. During this same period, meanwhile, no Israelis were killed by violence emanating from Gaza.

This same sort of media manipulation appears to be in place for the present conflict, as illustrated by FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting) in its latest Media Advisory entitled "The Blame Game in Gaza: Erasing Israeli actions to fault only Hamas." FAIR points out that the emphasis on Hamas' decision in late December to allow a cease-fire agreement with Israel to expire is often misplaced, and that the group actually did much to try and suppress rocket attacks into Israel during the cease-fire. Moreover, the collapse of ceasefire agreement was in large part due to the failure of Israel to deliver on promises in terms of the number of goods shipments. Also, Israel had continued to attack Hamas and other militants in the West Bank, prompting Palestinian militants in Gaza to fire more rockets. Indeed, the cycle of violence increased already in November when an Israeli attack on a tunnel killed six militants. As the FAIR media advisory concludes, the media bias is such that it "gives a wildly misleading impression of a conflict where the deaths and suffering are overwhelmingly on the Palestinian side."

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Meanwhile, the international community continues to turn a blind eye to what is going on. True, most opinion coming from Europe and abroad has been critical of the sheer scale of the Israeli military action, especially in terms of the civilian casualties, but there is little sign of this having any impact on Israel's conduct of the war. This is because the underlying premise, that is, that Israel has the so-called "right to defend itself" is never openly challenged.

Israel's perceived right to disproportionately defend itself is as ridiculous as saying that Kosovo has the right to defend itself after German agents bombed a UN office there late last year. Accordingly, Kosovo has the right to bomb German buildings and if they happen to also bomb a school full of civilians, we should express regret and concern but also note that German agents were also probably hiding in the school anyway.

A much more disturbing view regards the entire Israeli action not simply as a means for preventing the creation of a viable Palestinian state, as argued by Rogers, but also as crude means of population control. A dilemma faced by Israel is that it is surrounded by countries with expanding populations, while the population of Israel is slowly but surely declining. Thus, the biggest threat to the State of Israel isn't so much Hamas bombs but one of demographics.

Finally, some take the pessimistic view that war is the only reason for the existence of the State of Israel. As the country is heavily dependent on aid from the US, if peace were to break out then it would be a near tragedy since the economy and society as a whole is geared toward a constant state of war.

It can be only hoped that the pessimistic and demographic views expressed by some don't contain within them any amount of truth whatsoever. For the moment, this is irrelevant as scores are being killed and wounded needlessly -- on both sides of the conflict. What is needed now more than ever is a proactive international community to take a serious look at the Middle East and try to restart a peace process which, with the fall of the Berlin Wall, appeared to be somehow possible. In the US much depends on the new administration of Barack Obama. In Europe the task is much more difficult as some countries, namely Germany, must heal itself first of its traumatized past and then approach the issue in a more objective manner. Only then can peace have a chance.

Should Israel implement a cease-fire in Gaza?  (2009-01-02 ~ 2009-01-26)
I don't know
©2009 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter John Horvath

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