Three days into Operation Cast Lead, Israel is proposing a diplomatic exit. A ground operation likely looms in an effort to increase the pressure on Hamas. At the same time, however, others argue that the air force is close to exhausting its target bank, so if Hamas can be brought to accept a cease-fire on terms convenient to Israel in the near future it would be better to do so.
Hamas intensified its rocket and mortar fire at Israel Monday. It is starting to recover from the initial shock of the assault, and the bad weather is helping to protect its launching crews from Israeli aircraft.
By 8 P.M., Hamas had fired more than 80 rockets and mortars at Israel, including a Grad Katyusha strike on Ashkelon that killed an Israeli construction worker and wounded 10 others. At 9:30 P.M., a Katyusha hit Ashdod, seriously wounding another two civilians . The Home Front Command says some of the civilian casualties of the last few days could have been prevented had people obeyed its orders and entered shelters when they heard the warning sirens.
Israel has thus far refused to officially discuss a cease-fire, but in practice it is conducting an indirect and hesitant dialogue with Hamas. As of yet, however, there is no official mediator.
Khaled Meshal, the Damascus-based head of Hamas’ political bureau, has been calling for a cease-fire for two days now. However, communications with the organization’s leadership in Gaza are hampered because all its leaders have gone underground for fear of Israeli assassination attempts, while Israel’s air strikes have disrupted the Strip’s communications networks. Paradoxically, the same measures that have hampered Hamas’ military response are also impeding efforts to end the fighting.
Israel will insist that any truce include a complete, long-term halt to the rocket fire from Gaza. In exchange, it will apparently agree to reopen the border crossings at some point, though no final decisions have been made. Some ministers want to continue the military operation, but Defense Minister Ehud Barak and the chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, Gabi Ashkenazi, are more cautious. [continued…]
Editor’s Comment — The war so meticulously planned not to be a re-run of Lebanon 2006 is turning into a re-run of Lebanon 2006. Hesitant to enter into a ground war in which Israel justifiably fears it would get bogged down, suffer unacceptably high casualties and ultimately face humiliation, the choice at this point is to move over to an “expanded target list.” In other words, having trumpeted the claim that this is all about “precision” strikes on Hamas (disingenuous as that claim had to be since those targets were situated in the heart of densely populated urban areas) Israel is now widening its scope to a point where its flimsy facade of discrimination falls away. The Washington Post reports:
Israeli military officials said Monday that their target lists have expanded to include the vast support network that the Islamist movement relies on to stay in power in the strip. The choice of targets suggests that Israel intends to weaken all the various facets of Hamas rather than just its armed wing.
“There are many aspects of Hamas, and we are trying to hit the whole spectrum, because everything is connected and everything supports terrorism against Israel,” said a senior Israeli military official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
It’s only a couple of weeks ago that 200,000 people crammed into the center of Gaza City to celebrate Hamas’ 21st anniversary. In the minds of Israeli commanders one can only assume that everyone in Gaza is now a legitimate target. “Everything is connected.”
As for the level ground on which Hamas is prepared to meet its adversary, the fact that Israel has amassed its forces on the border means it either has to advance and risk getting stuck both figuratively and literally in the Gaza mud, or it backs away. Either way, the likelihood is that Israel will once again have demonstrated the limitations of its own military power.
How easy it is to snap off the history of the Palestinians, to delete the narrative of their tragedy, to avoid a grotesque irony about Gaza which – in any other conflict – journalists would be writing about in their first reports: that the original, legal owners of the Israeli land on which Hamas rockets are detonating live in Gaza.
That is why Gaza exists: because the Palestinians who lived in Ashkelon and the fields around it – Askalaan in Arabic – were dispossessed from their lands in 1948 when Israel was created and ended up on the beaches of Gaza. 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.
But watching the news shows, you’d think that history began yesterday, that a bunch of bearded anti-Semitic Islamist lunatics suddenly popped up in the slums of Gaza – a rubbish dump of destitute people of no origin – and began firing missiles into peace-loving, democratic Israel, only to meet with the righteous vengeance of the Israeli air force. The fact that the five sisters killed in Jabalya camp had grandparents who came from the very land whose more recent owners have now bombed them to death simply does not appear in the story. [continued…]
… in Ramallah, anti-Israeli and American sentiment was high among a small crowd of protesters gathered, incongruously, beneath a Stars and Bucks Cafe. Even here, in Fatah’s heartland, people said they admired Hamas for its willingness to take on a regional superpower.
Challenged on the point that firing highly inaccurate rockets from Gaza into Israel carried a huge cost in retaliation, one 30-year-old Palestinian who refused to give his name compared the attacks to the impotent yet defiant gesture of the Iraqi journalist Muntader al-Zaidi, who became a folk hero across the Arab world for throwing his shoes at President Bush.
Mustafa Saleh, 37, said: “I am originally Fatah and my voice will always be Fatah. But Hamas is resisting and we are a nation under occupation. I support the resistance, even here in the West Bank.”
Hamas hopes such sentiments will bring it new supporters.
But as he watched the protesters go by, Mohanad Salah, 42, said that emotions would calm down. Palestinians were quite capable of wanting Hamas-style “resistance” with their hearts but peace talks with their heads, he said.
“The more military operations by Israel either here or in Gaza, the more it will make people go away from wanting agreements,” he said.
“But you should know that even after Israel carried out this operation yesterday, if today it says ‘We want a political solution, let’s reach an agreement,’ it would be completely accepted by the majority of the Palestinian people,” Mr. Salah added. [continued…]
Barack Obama’s aides, in explaining the US president-elect’s silence, are meanwhile sticking to their mantra that the US only has one president at a time. But as the carnage and the outrage mount, this hands-off stance begins to look less like tact and more like a sign of a man who, confronted by a raw conflict that has defeated many more experienced statesmen before him, lacks new ideas.
Obama and his replacement for Rice, Hillary Clinton, have closely followed the Bush line on the ostracism of Hamas as an illegitimate terrorist organisation. He condemned Hamas rocket attacks in emotive, personalised terms during a visit to Sderot in southern Israel earlier this year.
“If somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I’m going to do everything in my power to stop that. And I would expect Israelis to do the same thing,” Obama said. Arab critics suggested at the time that a balancing line or two about the impact of the Israeli army on Palestinian family life in besieged Gaza would have been welcome. [continued…]
Editor’s Comment — The balancing line is utterly obvious (even if it’s impossible to imagine Obama using it): “If somebody was sending rockets into my house in Gaza where my two daughters sleep at night, I’m going to do everything in my power to stop that. And I would expect Palestinians to do the same thing.”
Terrorism is a normative term and not a descriptive concept. An empty word that means everything and nothing, it is used to describe what the Other does, not what we do. The powerful – whether Israel, America, Russia or China – will always describe their victims’ struggle as terrorism, but the destruction of Chechnya, the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, the slow slaughter of the remaining Palestinians, the American occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan – with the tens of thousands of civilians it has killed … these will never earn the title of terrorism, though civilians were the target and terrorising them was the purpose.
Counterinsurgency, now popular again among in the Pentagon, is another way of saying the suppression of national liberation struggles. Terror and intimidation are as essential to it as is winning hearts and minds.
Normative rules are determined by power relations. Those with power determine what is legal and illegal. They besiege the weak in legal prohibitions to prevent the weak from resisting. For the weak to resist is illegal by definition. Concepts like terrorism are invented and used normatively as if a neutral court had produced them, instead of the oppressors. The danger in this excessive use of legality actually undermines legality, diminishing the credibility of international institutions such as the United Nations. It becomes apparent that the powerful, those who make the rules, insist on legality merely to preserve the power relations that serve them or to maintain their occupation and colonialism. [continued…]