Outmanoeuverings

I’ve been silent on the Gaza issue.  Not because I haven’t been following developments, but because I do not have anything new or interesting to say.  I’ve just re-read my take on the 2006 Israel-Lebanon crisis, and my view on the current catastrophe is very similar – the military response lacks imagination.  If you’re faced with a situation where bombing civilians seems to be the only course of action left open to you, then you’ve already been outmanoeuvered, you have already lost, and the only thing you are playing for is your own soul, your own humanity.  Those who persecute these strikes simply lack an understanding of the mess they’re in.  Either that, or they are waging war for cynical, electoral reasons.

Watching the UN impotently go through their motions, its clear that the tired, tried and tested route through these kinds of crises are futile.  Anything from ‘outside the box’ would be welcome at this juncture.  It is the unexpected gestures that regain the initiative, and provide a solution, a new momentum.

This suggestion from Jeffrey Goldberg caught my eye:

Why not erect a massive tent hospital in Sderot, staff it with Israeli army doctors, and treat the Palestinian wounded there?

A PR stunt, to be sure, but at least its humane.

16 thoughts on “Outmanoeuverings

  1. It really bothers me when people describe horrific sadistic violence as “lacking imagination”.

    When a nation has descended into inhuman cruelty as Israel has done, I hardly think that a slight on their intellect, or a philosopical debate about who’s winning is going to bother them. And it certainly isn’t going to help those poor people in Gaza.

    Are you coming to the rally tomorrow in Hyde Park?

  2. First, describing something as “lacking imagination” does not preclude it being other things as well. I also called the latest conflict a “catastrophe”.

    Second, the lack of imagination extends to many others too, not just the Israeli decision-makers. I also said the UN is ineffectual.

    Third, pointing out this lack of imagination is not intended to ruffle Israeli feathers. Even if they did read this blog, you’re right to suggest it wouldn’t sway them. I’m saying that they way in which they are following the same, failed and brutal path gives us – me – an insight into their aims and motivations. I repeat, its either stupidity or cynicism. Both of which make me weary and depressed, and discourage me from thinking deeper.

  3. “If you’re faced with a situation where bombing civilians seems to be the only course of action left open to you, then you’ve already been outmanoeuvered, you have already lost, and the only thing you are playing for is your own soul, your own humanity. “

    Explain to me why this does not apply MUCH MUCH more forcefully to Hamas’s rocket attacks over the last x years on Israel?

    Israel is at least trying to minimise civilian casualties. Hamas is trying to maximise them, both of its own people and Israelis in Sderot etc.

  4. “I’m saying that they way in which they are following the same, failed and brutal path gives us – me – an insight into their aims and motivations. I repeat, its either stupidity or cynicism. Both of which make me weary and depressed, and discourage me from thinking deeper.”

    So does this. Please elucidate which of Hamas’s policies are not failed or brutal or (usually) both, and not much much more so that anything Israel has tried to do when faced with a genocidal neighbour openly, unrepentently and proudly committed to the destruction of Israel?

    The reason the UN is so ineffectual and all the solutions are complete failures is that all the solutions studious fail to take any account of the differences between the two parties. Israel is the only modern liberal democracy in the area. Hamas is a medieval murderous cult. They are not equal and they should not be treated equally.

    We both know this. Everyone knows this. Israel has managed to change its government god knows how many times in its 60 year life without ONCE needing to throw members of the outgoing adminstration from tall buildings.

    So why the soft-soaping? Why the complete one-sidedness?

  5. No, I don’t think my point works the other way, since we don’t credit Hamas with the same moral aspirations as Israel. Haven’t we been through this before?

    Hamas has succeeded in provoking the IDF into selling Israel’s soul. Precisely the aim of terrorism. More dishearteningly, perhaps an inevitable feature of a long-term occupation.

    However, the fact that Hamas have seized power, and are pursuing terrorist attacks on Israel, probably does mean that the Palestinian Cause as a whole has been outmanoevered. I certainly wish that ordinary Palestinians would choose a different path.

  6. “since we don’t credit Hamas with the same moral aspirations as Israel.”

    Wow. Just Wow. Can we please start to treat the whole subject in this light?

    I would give you the credit for this if this absolutely fundamental point was repeated with absolute clarity at the start of every news report and at several times during every interview with anyone related to Hamas. That is not the case.

    The BBC and indeed almost all Western media apparently DOES credit Hamas with the same moral aspirations as Israel.

    The fact is that we simply cannot even begin to trust any reports from Gaza. Your whole premise about Israeli being outmaneovred is therefore unsound. The ONLY reason that we do not see this in terms of the Palestinian cause being outmanoevred is because no-one is prepared to admit in public that indeed we do not credit Hamas with the same moral aspirations.

    This is my point entirely. If the UN and EU did do so, we would reach a solution almost overnight.

  7. Robert,

    Sorry to go on about this, but your post elicited this response from Clarice and it is essential that this is corrected:
    “When a nation has descended into inhuman cruelty as Israel has done”

    See here for exactly the mentality we are talking about.

    Neither the Israelis nor Hamas have descended into inhuman cruelty. Israel has never been there at all and Hamas has never been anything else.

  8. Oh, I’m sure there was a time when these self-styled martyrs were no so filled with hate and inhumanity, but I think that’s beside the point.

    You seem to be forgetting the third party here, which is the wider Palestinian population. They are not all Hamas voters, for starters. Second, as you so rightly point out, Hamas did not take power in an altogether democratic way. Even if they had, I would argue against this sort of collective punishment as horrible and inhumane, and those in the Israeli Government who advocate it have lost their moral bearings.

    Clearly, ordinary Palestinians seem to be bearing the brunt of the onslaught, receiving the punishment aimed at Hamas. That this situation has come about is indeed an outmanoeuvring. It serves to recruit more militants to Hamas cause. Also perverse, but a fucked-up feature of the situation nonetheless.

  9. “Even if they had, I would argue against this sort of collective punishment as horrible and inhumane, and those in the Israeli Government who advocate it have lost their moral bearings.”

    But it’s not collective punishment unless Israel is going out of its way to target civilians alone and/or its actions have no military objective.

    The problem here is that the UN, EU and everyone calling on Israel to stop defending its citizens have lost their moral bearings. The Israeli government should not be held to account for the moral weaknesses and failings of others.

  10. No, Cleanthes, you are wrong. If Israel is knowingly killing, maiming and causing humanitarian suffering to civilians, to women and innocent children, while daring to claim it is not attacking them, but Hamas, then it IS collective punishment, and it IS inhumane.

    No-one is calling on Israel to stop defending its citizens. If “defence” is what you think Israel’s excessive and sadistic military aggression against civilians represents, then you have been duped. As Robert (I think) is arguing, there are plenty more peaceful, ethical, humane, and crucially EFFECTIVE ways to defend Israel’s citizens. “Defence” is no excuse for Israel’s barbarity. Israel has long lost any moral high-ground it may have had, and while it perpetuates the spiral of violence like this, it isn’t going to regain it any time soon. No-one likes a bully.

    I would also add that I disagree with Robert as to “the aim of terrorists”. From what little I know, I would suggest that terrorism (and especially suicide terrorism) tends to be a last resort of the powerless, the abused and the oppressed. Their aim is only to have their protest heard, and their oppression (perceived or otherwise) redressed. Which is not to defend it in the least, but if Israel (or Britain, or America) really wanted to wage a war on terror, then ironically, the best way to do that is by peaceful, ethical, and humane means. Air-strikes, invasion and depleted uranium do not count as such, surely any idiot can see that.

  11. On the contrary Clarice: the peace process only really got off the ground after the IRA were really soundly beaten c. 1994. It was only once it became clear to the IRA that they were:
    a) utterly outgunned
    b) never going to dislodge the Unionists
    c) completely riddled with informers
    that Sinn Fein actually started to engage in serious negotiations. there was no prospect for peace at all whilst the IRA believed it had something to gain from the use of violence.

    Similarly in Iraq: the surge allowed the situation to improve sufficiently to allow the populace to make a decision about which form of governance they wanted: something approaching democracy (however imperfect) or the sadistic barbarousness of AQ and the like.

    “I would suggest that terrorism (and especially suicide terrorism) tends to be a last resort of the powerless, the abused and the oppressed.”

    In Hamas’s case, this is just utter bollocks.

    “Their aim is only to have their protest heard”
    And this is fanciful nonsense. Are you seriously suggesting that the plight of Gaza is not given wall to wall coverage?

    “the best way to do that is by peaceful, ethical, and humane means. “
    Ironically, whilst this would be true when applied to Hamas, we are only here because Israel DOES try to resolve things by peaceful, ethical, and humane means.

    Imagine what would happen if the Palestinians really DID resort only to peaceful protest. Imagine the condemnation of Israel if it moved in violently to suppress truly peaceful protestors. Peaceful protest WOULD work against Israel, BECAUSE it is fundamentally humane. Ghandi’s protest only worked with the British in India because he knew that his opponent was essentially decent.

    If Ghandi had tried his stuff against any Arab government you care to name, he would have had a bullet in the back of his head within the month and no-one would ever even have heard of him.

    So it is with Hamas. The whole calculus here is that Hamas and Israel are morally equal. They are not. Robert is big enough to say so

    … and their oppression (perceived or otherwise) redressed. “
    Their oppression – the real oppression, being the blockade – stops as soon as they stop rocketing Israel. They know this but they do not appear to care. Do you seriously imagine that Israel would blockade Gaza at all if it were not under constant threat from Hamas?

    It is the perceived oppression that is the problem: the perceived oppression is what Hamas calls “the occupation”. The problem is that this refers to Israel proper. The only way to address that “oppression” is to stop pandering to the idea that the existence of a sovereign state within its own borders is oppression and to tell Hamas that it needs to grow up.

    “If Israel is knowingly killing, maiming and causing humanitarian suffering to civilians, to women and innocent children, while daring to claim it is not attacking them, but Hamas, then it IS collective punishment, and it IS inhumane.”
    Wrong. Civilians are only protected when there is no military target. To locate yourself close to civilians so as to use them as human shields is a war crime. The logic is obvious: cynical and/or evil govts will always locate their forces in schools etc and civilian casualties will be higher if they do not bear responsibility for separating themselves from civilians. This is exactly what Hamas is doing and we should be condemning them for it.

    It is up to Hamas to separate itself from its civilians. Your anger is completely misplaced.

    By contrast, Hamas’s rocket fire on southern Israel genuinely IS a war crime because it IS intended to target civilians and only civilians.

    Part – if not most – of the reason that there has not already been a comprehensive peace for I/P is exactly this mentality: that we somehow have lower expectations of the behaviour of the Palestinians. Why should they do anything different when – from Hamas’s perspective – they can’t lose?

  12. Cleanthes, I won’t address every falsehood you make above, nor all of your misconceptions. But let us get one thing straight. You write:

    “Their oppression – the real oppression, being the blockade – stops as soon as they stop rocketing Israel.”

    First, the oppression of the Palestinian people (whether Hamas sympathisers or -member or -voters or not) cannot be reduced to the blockade of Gaza. The vast majority of the 1.5m people crammed into Gaza only live there because they are refugees from areas inside historical Palestine that became Israel in 1948 and Israel refuses to allow them the right of return *only* because they failed to be Jewish. I think you know enough history of the Middle East to know that the Palestinians’ oppression didn’t start with the blockade.

    Second, in direct contradiction to your assertion, the blockade did not stop when the rocketing from Hamas stopped. That is the entire point. Throughout the ceasefire agreement, Gaza was blockaded. People died as a result of lack of the lack of medicines and the impact of the electricity shortages on hospitals. There were also basic food shortages. The UNOCHA described the blockade as having created “a profound human dignity crisis, leading to a widespread erosion of livelihoods and a significant deterioration in infrastructure and *essential* services.” I’d say that sounds pretty oppressive. You can read the 17 Dec 2008 UNOCHA Report on the humanitarian conditions in Gaza here: http://ochaonline2.un.org/Default.aspx?alias=ochaonline2.un.org/oPt

    Finally, are you aware of what happened on Nov 4? While the world was transfixed by the Obama drama, Israel attacked Hamas in the Gaza Strip, breaking the ceasefire agreement.

    So the lesson is clear. If there is a “ceasefire”, Palestinians will be blockaded, impoverished and denied essential services, thereby suffering many deaths. And if there is not a ceasefire, Palestinians can expect their civilian casualty numbers to soar. Meanwhile, the brutality of the occupation continues for its 41st year.

    Surely it is the “mentality” that legitimizes or apologizes for all of this that needs to be questioned. Objective observers are unlikely to conclude that the deaths of a handful Israelis in the past few years from rocket fire legitimizes the killing of over 1000 Palestinians, even if they believe the Israeli propaganda that this operation is concerned with ending such attacks.

    Perhaps you suffer from the cognitive dissonance that Gordon Lynch describes here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2009/jan/12/religion-israelandthepalestinians

  13. Israel uses white phosphorous in built-up areas. Israel bombs the UN compound unprovoked. Yeah, that’s ethical, that’s humane.

    And what about the escalation of attacks in advance of the ceasefire? What is that about but sheer sadism?

    I propose mass individual economic sanctions against Israel. I shall refuse to buy anything Israelian in origin or providence, and I hope everyone else will do the same.

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