Israel will never turn armed might into strategic security. If need be, it could win a war against all its enemies combined. But if it wants peace it must face the decision it has avoided for 40 years: withdrawal from the occupied Palestinian territories. Military victories and land grabs are futile. Security will come only with political resolution.
As it happens, these are not my sentiments, though I certainly share them. They were among some valedictory reflections offered by Ehud Olmert, Israel’s outgoing prime minister, when he announced his resignation last September.
Israel, Mr Olmert volunteered during an interview with the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, had long looked to its military for answers. But, through all the country’s many wars had the generals learnt “a single thing”? Tanks, controlling territory, holding this or that hill – “these things are worthless”. Security lay in peace with its neighbours.
The moment had come for someone to break the spell. Save for negotiated land swaps, Israel had to hand back the West Bank to the Palestinians and to share control of Jerusalem. Peace with Syria was possible only with the return of the Golan Heights. “What I am saying here has never been said by a leader of Israel. But the time has come to say these things.”
He was right. Now, fast forward three months and the same Mr Olmert, serving out the last few weeks of his premiership, has sent Israel’s military to war against Hamas. The humanitarian tragedy in Gaza, we must conclude, is mirrored by a political tragedy in Israel. Even the authors of the latest invasion understand in their hearts its hopelessness. [continued…]
… the bulk of the western media would have us believe that the cause of this war is Hamas’s firing of mostly home-made rockets into Israel – which no state could tolerate without retaliation. In this myopic fantasy land, there is no 61-year national dispossession, no refugee camps, no occupations, no siege, no multiple Israeli violations of UN security council resolutions and the Geneva conventions, no illegal wall, no routine assassinations, no prisoners and no West Bank.
Nor would you have much sense that – as Akiva Eldar, the Israeli Ha’aretz columnist, wrote this week – “Gaza is still, practically and according to international law, occupied territory”, and part of one political entity with the occupied West Bank. Or that the US, Britain and the EU, while paying lip service to ceasefire calls, prepared the ground for this barbarity with money, arms and diplomatic support as hope of a viable two-state solution has disintegrated before our eyes.
Pressure now has to be brought to bear not only on Israel, but on those governments that support it – including Britain’s. That’s why the call by Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, for an arms embargo on Israel and the suspension of the EU’s new cooperation agreement with Israel – the first mainstream party leader to do so – is so significant. David Miliband, the foreign secretary, calls it naive. In reality, the naivety lies in imagining that the west can continue to underwrite the injustice and bloodshed inflicted with no respite on the Palestinian people, without paying a price for it. [continued…]
This war, perhaps more than its predecessors, is exposing the true deep veins of Israeli society. Racism and hatred are rearing their heads, as is the impulse for revenge and the thirst for blood. The “inclination of the commander” in the Israel Defense Forces is now “to kill as many as possible,” as the military correspondents on television describe it. And even if the reference is to Hamas fighters, this inclination is still chilling.
The unbridled aggression and brutality are justified as “exercising caution”: the frightening balance of blood – about 100 Palestinian dead for every Israeli killed, isn’t raising any questions, as if we’ve decided that their blood is worth one hundred times less than ours, in acknowledgement of our inherent racism.
Rightists, nationalists, chauvinists and militarists are the only legitimate bon ton in town. Don’t bother us about humaneness and compassion. Only at the edges of the camp can a voice of protest be heard – illegitimate, ostracized and ignored by media coverage – from a small but brave group of Jews and Arabs.
Alongside all this, rings another voice, perhaps the worst of all. This is the voice of the righteous and the hypocritical. My colleague, Ari Shavit, seems to be their eloquent spokesman. This week, Shavit wrote here (“Israel must double, triple, quadruple its medical aid to Gaza,” Haaretz, January 7): “The Israeli offensive in Gaza is justified … Only an immediate and generous humanitarian initiative will prove that even during the brutal warfare that has been forced on us, we remember that there are human beings on the other side.” [continued…]
Around two weeks after the start of fighting in Gaza, there are only vague reports on Israel’s success in damaging Hamas’ terrorist infrastructure. On the other hand, statistics on the harm done to civilians accumulate. More than 800 Palestinians have been killed and around 3,000 have been wounded, an overwhelming majority of them from air strikes. According to UN figures, half of those killed are civilians, and half of the civilians killed are women and children.
Alongside reports on the number of dead and injured are reports of doctors being denied entry, the inability of aid groups to reach refugees and give them food, and a serious shortage of medicine and supplies. Blame does not rest with the Israel Defense Forces for all these issues. Hamas and other Palestinian organizations deliberately fired at a food convoy heading to Gaza because it sought to enter the Strip through a different crossing than what Hamas had desired. Hamas also liquidates its adversaries at home and is not ready to adopt the Egyptian cease-fire initiative. But these cannot serve as a pretext for a cruel, all-out war against 1.5 million Palestinian civilians. [continued…]
A majority of the Jewish public in Israel opposes a ceasefire in Gaza without kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit’s release, according to the monthly War and Peace Index poll conducted about a week and a half after the start of Operation Cast Lead.
Beyond the decisive support for the Israel Defense Forces’ operation, the public also backs the raid’s continuation even if Hamas holds fire under certain conditions.
The respondents were asked, “If a ceasefire agreement with Hamas could be reached, but without including Gilad Shalit’s release, do you believe Israel should or should not sign such an agreement?” About 76.5% gave a negative answer, while only 17.5% responded positively.
Asked whether Israel should or should not halt its military activity in the Strip if Hamas is ready to stop firing on southern communities in exchange for the opening of the crossings, 80% responded negatively. In other words, the majority of the public believes Israel should not halt its operation even if Hamas accepts such an offer. [continued…]
The deputy head of Hamas’ politburo Moussa Abu Marzuk has said that his Palestinian Islamist group no longer cares whether or not kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit has been wounded, the Lebanese daily Al-Hayat reported Sunday.
“Shalit may have been wounded, and he may not have been,” the paper quoted Abu Marzuk as saying. “The subject no longer interests us.” [continued…]
The U.S. military has sought to hire a merchant ship to deliver ammunition to Israel this month, tender documents show, but the Pentagon said the shipment was not linked to the conflict in the Gaza Strip.
A Pentagon spokesman said the ammunition was for a U.S. stockpile in Israel. The U.S. military pre-positions stockpiles in some countries in case it needs supplies at short notice.
In the tender documents, the U.S. Navy’s Military Sealift Command (MSC) said the ship was to carry 325 standard 20-foot containers of what is listed as “ammunition” on two separate journeys from the Greek port of Astakos to the Israeli port of Ashdod in mid-to-late January. [continued…]
After Israel’s killings in Gaza, after the images and outrage, have come the inevitable stern warnings about culpability for war crimes.
In the aftermath of Monday’s Israeli shelling of a building full of members of the Saimouni clan in Zeitoun, killing 30, the call by Navi Pellay, the UN’s Human Rights Commissioner, for an independent investigation into whether war crimes had been committed came not a moment too soon.
This was not the only incident that inspired outrage. After the Israeli Defence Forces targeted a school –run by the UN refugee agency UNRWA – that was crowded with those fleeing the violence, there were claims that the attack was a crime against humanity. [continued…]
A plan to create a new foothold in Gaza for the Palestinian Authority and to bring in international monitors was being drawn up by diplomats yesterday as a UN ceasefire call was dismissed by both sides.
The plan would allow a return of the authority, led by the secular Fatah faction, to the territory 18 months after it was expelled by the Islamist Hamas. Diplomats are considering taking a triangle at the southern end of Gaza, including the Rafah crossing to Egypt and the Kerem Shalom crossing to Israel, to be policed by Turkish and French military monitors to stop arms smuggling into Gaza.
The zone would nominally be controlled by the authority, the internationally recognised Government. Such a plan would allow the crossings to reopen for the first time since Hamas seized power in Gaza in June 2007. [continued…]