Sunday, November 18, 2012

Israel's New Gaza War

You might have heard John McCain crankily calling for an investigation into the killing of the U.S. Ambassador to Libya in Benghazi.  The foremost target of his ire is U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice.  This is of particular significance given the widely-held assumption that Rice is President Obama’s top choice to replace Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State.  The same John McCain who was gibbering about hostilities with Russia over its war with Georgia four years ago before even reading accounts of the origins of that conflict is now flaying Rice over announcements she made in a press conference in the aftermath of the attack in Benghazi.  McCain has been so industrious in his hare-brained flogging of this particular dead horse that he was unable to attend a Congressional hearing on the matter. 

Perhaps his lack of interest in the substance behind the attack is perfectly understandable in light of the fact that his criticisms of Rice’s statements reveal that he either a) didn’t actually watch the interview; b) listened to the interview through his Limbaugh-filter; c) is a bitter, nasty, dishonest charlatan who sells himself as a foreign policy “expert” on the basis of his willingness to play the bullying, warmongering blowhard.

While I find McCain’s pathetic posturing appalling, I agree with him on this much: Susan Rice is unfit to serve as Secretary of State. 

Like others in the Obama administration, Rice has been eager in recent days to defend Israel against criticism for its bombardment of Gaza.  Rice has form on talking herself in circles where Israeli colonialism is concerned, and is perhaps the most vocal representative of this administration in its efforts to run what amounts to a long-term assisted suicide program in the Middle East by offering unconditional support to Israel however violent, irrational, and self-immolating the actions of that country might be.  Rice’s support for the IDF’s military actions against Gaza over the past years is particularly hypocritical given the fact that much of her credibility stems from her rhetorically strong stance against human rights violations.

But the larger point is that, by allying itself with neoconservatives whose hands are still stained red after their war against Iraq, with warmongerers who pushed us deeper and deeper into an unnecessary and pointless war in Afghanistan, and with the fundamentalist goons in both the evangelical and AIPAC camps, the Obama administration has undercut its ability to act as an honest broker in the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.  The idea that you can offer unconditional moral, material, and military support to one party in a conflict, and then turn around and make demands on the other party to the conflict while claiming some kind of good faith is risible, and is a perfect illustration of the gross immorality which characterises the President’s execution of an increasingly-militant foreign policy.

The President and his advisors have a well-worn phraseology to justify their immoral acts, a language shared by many of those who support Israel blindly.  On Sunday, the President declared himself “fully supportive of Israel’s right to defend itself”.  Rice re-iterated the administration’s response at a Security Council meeting.  The same formulation was used by Defence Secretary Leon Panetta, even as it was reported that “the United States has given the green light to go ahead with Operation Pillar of Defense in Gaza ... The President urged Prime Minister Netanyahu to make every effort to avoid civilian casualties” (deliberately ignoring the fact that the kind of war Israel is waging, like Obama’s drone wars, depends on the ability to commit the kind of murder that those in power refer to as “collateral damage” with utter impunity).  Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes trotted out a similar gem, “We believe Israel has a right to defend itself, and they’ll make their own decisions about the tactics they use in that regard”, ignoring the culpability engendered by the United States by its open underwriting of Israel’s actions. 

Others are more honest, if also more frightening.  Israel’s radical, psychopathic foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, in reaction to Palestinians’ bid for recognition at the United Nations, urged the outright “toppling of Abbas’ government”.  While Lieberman is regarded as a right-wing outlier, the fact that he speaks from the cabinet table of a nuclear-armed country given carte blanche in its colonial policy by the world’s sole superpower makes his status as the resident nutcase more disconcerting than reassuring. 

Gilad Sharon, son of the former Prime Minister, urged the Israeli government to emit “a Tarzan-like cry that lets the entire jungle know in no uncertain terms just who won, and just who was defeated”.  How would that defeat of Gaza be achieved?  Invoking the U.S. annihilation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Sharon called for cutting off electricity, gasoline, and the movement of vehicles in Gaza.  In fact, he writes, “we need to flatten entire neighbourhoods in Gaza”.  The uncharitable could easily map Sharon’s unhinged calls for total war on Gaza against Raphael Lemkin’s definition of genocide, given the advocate’s emphasis on the “destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups ... and the destruction of the personal security, liberty, health, dignity, and even the lives of the individuals belonging to such groups” as key components of the acts used to target European Jews (Lemkin, Axis Rule in Occupied Europe ix). 

This formulation—that Israel has the right to defend itself, and that this is the beginning and end of what is happening in Gaza—is deliberately misleading, as was Susan Rice’s statement to the UN Security Council, which began, “Today, the United States strongly condemned the barrage of rocket fire from Gaza into southern Israel and expressed regret at the death and injury of innocent Israeli and Palestinian civilians caused by the ensuing violence”. 

Listening to Rice, one might be forgiven for assuming that this conflict began on Wednesday with the launching of rockets at Tel Aviv, rather than in the second decade of the twentieth century.  One might assume that the basis of this conflict rests on a bizarre Palestinian predilection for violence rather than on repeated wars of aggression waged by both sides after the repeated seizure of land.  One might forget to ask why it is that there are missiles being launched into Gaza, and why it is that Israel needs to defend itself against its neighbours.  One might ask whether placing the entire burden of responsibility on Hamas while offering that organisation—whatever you think of its ambitions and methods—none of the legitimacy required to bargain in good faith is an intelligent thing for Israel to do.  One might wonder whether the economic conditions imposed on Gaza (where unemployment is at 40% and 38% of inhabitants live below the poverty line) have anything to do with the elusiveness of peace. 

The CIA World Factbook recounts how “high population density and Israeli security controls placed on the Gaza Strip since the end of the first intifada have degraded economic conditions in this territory”, and describes how “Israeli-imposed border closures, which became more restrictive after Hamas seized control of the territory in June 2007, have resulted in high unemployment elevated poverty rates, and the near collapse of the private sector that had relied on export markets ... Changes to Israeli restrictions on imports in 2010 resulted in a rebound in some economic activity, but regular exports from Gaza are not permitted”. 

One might further ask why the parties to this conflict should be treated as equals when one of them is a nation-state with all of the privileges and recognitions that comes from this status, while the other is an occupied territory.  One possesses a formidable military machine, backed by the weaponry of the globe’s superpower, the other has to resort to guerrilla street fighting to gain the attention of the global public.  One retains the power of life and death over the other.  The rockets Hamas launches into Israel are but, when you think about it, a small gesture against the struggle for survival, recognition, and dignity that the people of these colonised territories wage on a daily basis.

One of the most extraordinary things about the manner in which Israel conducts its affairs is its apparent obliviousness to its own history.  I would have at least expected Israel’s leadership and support network to show a little more awareness about the immediate circumstances in which their nation came to be.  It was brought into being at the end of a campaign waged by what were then described as terrorist gangs—their tactics included bombings, kidnappings, and murders—by the British administrators against whom they waged a guerrilla war while their supporters lobbied the nations of the world and made their case before the UN to the frustration of Palestine’s colonial rulers.  These are precisely the efforts made today by Palestinians, but they elicit not so much as a flicker of recognition from the cabal which orders more bombings, advocates policies of segregation, and is currently contemplating a ground invasion—which would undoubtedly be a campaign on all sides of spectacular violence, stunning ferocity, and surreal aims—on the grounds that you can extirpate a maligned and persecuted people’s will and ambitions through the application of overwhelming military force. 

This struggle did not begin last week, and it cannot end until we recognise that its origins and historical character are important; until we understand that we cannot expect people who have suffered injustice to bear the double-standard inflicted on them by their colonial rulers and global powers; and until we accept that the United States is daily eroding its ability to play a constructive role in making peace. 

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