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Postscript to Blog Faithful on ‘Civility’

9 Sep

(Prefatory Note: Earlier today I published a post dealing with the case of Steven Salaita, and its bearing on the misuse of civility as a tactic by Zionist forces to deny an academic appointment to a promising young Palestinian-American scholar. It made me rethink my ‘code of conduct’ guideline and controversies that have bedeviled the life of this blog to the extent it has featured discussion of the Israel-Palestine struggle. Steven’s explanation of his conduct, including the posting of anti-Israeli tweets advances important arguments bearing on academic freedom and relating to the use of a private Twitter account is available at <http://mondoweiss.net/2014/09/commitment-teaching-american&gt;)

 

Postscript to Blog Faithful on Civility

 

I have just posted on my blog website a criticism of the use of ‘civility’ to denya faculty appointment to Steven Salaita due to the alleged uncivility of his large number of anti-Israeli tweets. It has made me reflect upon my own reliance on ‘civility’ criteria to block comments that were personally insulting and operated to incite ethnic hatred. I believe that the rules of the road for the blogosphere are different than those that should govern the administration of a university.

 

My reason for blocking these comments was to encourage more reasoned and substantive discourse, and to avoid dwelling on the motivations behind the views being expressed and to exclude argumentation that seemed to deny the fundamental dignity of all ethnicities. In practice I found it difficult to be sufficiently diligent and evenhanded, and have tended several times to decideto allow serious comments to pass through the filter even though they violated my guidelines. Increasingly, I have blocked only the most serious instances of personal insults, usually directed at me although on some occasions at other comment writers, and the clearest instances of submitting material that denigrated an ethnic identity in a wholesale manner.

 

In the course of this experience I have discovered some home truths. Civility to serve positive purposes must be contextualized. In the Salaita context civility is used as a respectable tool of repression. In the blog context civility is a means of setting limits so that the interactive discourse can be more valuable for the blog community. Yet what I have learned is that my own bias in favor of reasoned dialogue as fruitful communication (undoubtedly influenced by Habermas) is not so well adapted to the subject-matter of posts dealing with inflammatory issues that polarize opinions. In this respect, I now believe my original view of the proper tone of debate was too austerely academic, and that there exists a genuine and principled place for the expression of intense emotions, and moral outrage. That it is appropriate to be angry, and to articulate views in such an agitated state of mind. In effect, I learned from Salaita’s tweets that emotional authenticity may be more appropriate than reasoned analysis in some situations.

 

And so I have come to a different temporary and more permissive resting place with respect to my blog’s code of conduct: let a thousand flowers bloom and remove only weeds of personal hostility and group hatred. In such a spirit, comments welcome provided only..

Two Types of Anti-Semitism

1 Sep

 

Contrary to much conventional thinking that treats ‘anti-Semitism’ as exclusively a form of ethnic hatred, there is a second kind of attitude that is alleged to be ‘anti-Semitism’ because it is critical, often justifiably so, of Zionism and Israel’s policies and practices. This second type of supposed anti-Semitism is a tactic deployed to discredit critics of Israel by insisting that criticism of Israel and hatred of the Jewish people should not be distinguished. These two distinct types of anti-Semitism actually work at cross purposes, and although there may be situations of overlap, it is a dangerous confusion to lump them together.

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It is rather unusual for even the harshest critics of the behavior of the U.S. Government to be castigated as anti-American except sometimes in the midst of international security crises, but even then such accusations usually reflect the outlook of red neck patriots or extremists who identify with the right wing of American politics. Also, such accusations, although unpleasant, lack the sting of anti-Semitism, which carries with it an implicit secondary allegation of indifference to the Holocaust, to the Nazi genocide, and to the long history of persecution directed at the Jewish people. In my view this labeling of Israel’s critics as ‘anti-Semites’ is a short-sighted form of unsavory state propaganda, generally implemented overseas by hard core Zionist groups, and partly responsible for an emergent backlash that is being expressed by hatred and hostility toward Jews. This is a highly sensitive subject matter that is almost certain to be treated emotionally in a manner shaped by strong ideological alignments for or against the way in which Israel has behaved since its contested establishment in 1948 and in relation to attitudes toward close connections between the Zionist movement and the Jewish people.

 

Type I anti-Semitism is a form of virulent racism, which is characterized by hatred and envy, and leads to manifold forms of hostility toward Jews. It has been often accompanied by strong governmental and societal support for a punitive response to Jews so as to safeguard the dominant religion and ethnicity, and to uphold the values and traditions of the non-Jewish political community that are supposedly under threat as a result of Jewish activities; historically, Type I anti-Semitism traces its historic roots back to the origins and rise of Christianity, reinforced in later centuries by European restrictions on Jewish ownership of land and permissible habitats that led Jews to focus on money and banking, creating a close relationship between Jews and the rise of capitalism, especially finance capital.

 

Extreme cases of Type I anti-Semitism involve the capture of state power by an anti-Semitic outlook as exemplified by Hitler’s Germany. It is also relevant to observe that anti-Semitism was relatively rare in the Islamic world, which upheld freedom of worship by religious minorities although claiming a hegemonic role for Islam, especially in the era of the Ottoman caliphate. Until the problems generated by Zionism, anti-Semitism was not a serious issue in the Middle East where Jews in most Arab countries were mostly treated as an authentic religion and a respected minority. Throughout modern history Jews suffered mostly from European anti-Semitism with Russia considered part of Europe.

 

In Germany the Nazi seizure and abuse of state power led by stages to death camps, genocide on a massive scale, given its distinctive historical status by becoming known as the Holocaust. This genocidal implementation of anti-Semitism was prepared by Nazi ideology and its ruthless and overtly discriminatory practices, which demonized Jews along with the Roma people and others deemed unfit to propagate Aryans, put forward as the master race. Type I anti-Semitism in post-Nazi Christian societies has generally disappeared beneath a thick cloud of guilt and denial related to the past, although mild patterns of societal prejudice persist. These patterns involve a variety of exclusions and discriminations, ranging from informal and unspoken patterns of discrimination in employment and social life to ethnic profiling that calls public attention to unfavorable aspects of physical appearance or behavior attributed to Jews, and includes jokes that perpetuate stereotypic views of ‘the Jew.’ Such societal attitudes are to some extent offset by the widespread recognition of Jewish achievements and influence disproportionate to their small numbers, and the remarkable resilience of the Jewish people over the centuries despite facing many daunting challenges.

 

Christian Zionism, so-called, is best viewed as an indirect endorsement of Type I anti-Semitism that hides beneath the veil of ardent support for Israel as a state and Zionism as a movement. Its anti-Semitic animus is directed against Diaspora Jewry, deriving from a reading of the Book of Revelations that anticipates that the Second Coming of Jesus will only occur once all Jews have returned to the Jewish state of Israel. To foster this prophetic claim, Christian Zionist favor taking steps to encourage Jews to emigrate to Israel, and in this respect are in accord with the most influential tendency in Zionist thinking. The further anti-Semitic character of Christian Zionism is directed at a subsequent stage of the Last Judgment, a time of reckoning at which all those who have not embraced the Christian faith would be consigned to permanent damnation. Despite these anti-Semitic underpinnings, Israel has officially and existentially bonded with Christian Zionism, giving its organization a diplomatic status and welcoming its unconditional support within the American political scene. This connection between Israel and Christian Zionism typifies a Faustian Bargain, and functions to tip the political balance within the United States even further in an Israeli direction than might otherwise have been the case.

Type II anti-Semitism comes in two very diverse variants. The first variant is what might be called ‘an Arab branding of anti-Semitism,’ taking the form of condemning Jews and the Jewish people for the implanting of a Jewish state in Israel. Anger is also directed at Israel for granting a right of return to all Jews throughout the world while denying every Palestinian any right of return, withholding such a right even from those Palestinians and their descendants who either fled or were expelled from their homes in 1948. This kind of conflation of a state project with the ethnicity of the people involved is unacceptable, and is a form of anti-state propaganda that assumes a hateful form by targeting an ethnicity in addition to a political entity. Most Arabs do not subscribe to such an outlook are careful to draw the distinction between Israel as an illegitimate political phenomenon and Jews as a distinct and geographically dispersed ethnicity. It is important, as well, not to brand Arabs as ‘anti-Semitic’ because some do cross this line of ethnic hatred.

 

The second expression of Type !! anti-Semitism oddly enough indirectly endorses Arab anti-Semitism by saying that hostility to the state of Israel cannot be distinguished from hostility to the Jewish people. The central contention is that strong criticisms of Israel as a Jewish state or directed at the Zionist Project or expressing sharp disapproval of the policies and practices of Israel are thinly disguised expressions of hatred toward Jews as a people and Judaism as a religion. Proponents of what might be called ‘the Zionist branding of anti-Semitism’ do their best to make people believe that the two types of concern are not properly distinguishable. In this way critics of Israel are denigrated as ‘anti-Semites’ in its authentic sense of hatred of Jews. If Jews themselves become strong and visible critics of Israel they are branded as ‘self-hating Jews’ or simply lumped together with Type I anti-Semites. This is not to deny that some Jews may actually as a matter of deep psychological outlook hate their Jewish identity, and try hard to escape from it, but criticizing Israel and rejecting Zionism should not be used as evidence of such self-hatred. In fact, some anti-Zionists rest their views on strong convictions that Zionism is a betrayal of Jewish values and tradition, and exhibit great pride in their Jewish heritage.

 

I recall an encounter in Cyprus more than a decade ago with hasbara specialist, Professor Gerald Steinberg of UN Monitor and the Israeli ambassador to Greek Cyprus at a meeting of the Inter-Action Council devoted to conflict resolution in the Middle East. The Inter-Action Council is composed of former heads of state, and I was invited as ‘a resource person.’ This session was on Israel-Palestine was chaired by Helmut Schmidt, the former German Chancellor. In the discussion, the Israeli participants argued strongly that Israel, Zionism, and Jewish identity were a unity, and any criticism directed at one of three perspectives was an attack on the other two. I intervened to say that I strongly dissented from such a view, and felt as a Jew a critical attitude toward both Israel’s behavior and Zionist claims. Afterwards, several participants, including Mr. Schmidt, thanked me for saying what they believed, but told me they were unable to say because they feared that it would be treated as proof of their anti-Semitism. In contrast, Mr. Steinberg was quite hostile after the meeting, informing me in a peremptory manner that my comments were ‘most unhelpful.’

 

In my view it is most unfortunate to consider criticism of Israel, even if strongly worded unless amounting to hate speech, as tantamount to anti-Semitism. Type II anti-Semitism has several serious undesirable consequences: it conflates a valid repudiation of ethnic hatred with invalid efforts to ethnicize or discredit criticism of Israel and Zionism; It makes many non-Jews believe that if they are critical of Israel they will be unfairly discredited as anti-Semites and Jews are made to fear that they will be regarded as self-hating, thereby inhibiting criticism of Israel and Zionism. For this reason it allows Israel to hide its criminal policies and practices toward the Palestinian people by invoking the memory of the Holocaust and the long history of Jewish victimization, and thereby inhibit criticism. Also, it leads many people to believe that there is no difference between Jewish identity and Zionist solidarity. This fosters a tendency by some non-Jews to regard Jews as an ethno-religious-political category, even if they have no connection with the state of Israel, and hence responsible as a people for the victimization of the Palestinian people. This insistence that Type II anti-Semitism is a genuine form of anti-Semitism actually encourages Type I anti-Semitic behavior. When Arab youth in the banlieux of Paris throw stones at any Jew they can find on the streets of the city the hateful act is based in most instances on their bitter hostility to Israel. It is clear in such behavior that a symbiotic relationship exists between the equally invalid Arab and Zionist efforts to link Israel/Zionism with hatred of Jews.

 

American popular culture inscribes this confusion. For instance in an early episode of the TV series House of Cards a U.S. senator is completely discredited as a viable candidate for elected office because his opposition found that he was the author of an unsigned editorial in a student newspaper while an undergraduate that criticized building of settlements in the West Bank. Once his authorship was publicized, it was treated as ‘a no brainer’ that his political career was over without any consideration of his age, of the reasonableness of what he had written, and of the supposed openness in a constitutional democracy of diverse views. During the recent Israeli attacks on Gaza this same atmosphere in Washington produced a resolution with 100% backing expressing unreserved support for Israel’s right to defend itself. In polarized America to find such unanimity confirms above all the undeniable success of pro-Israel forces to treat Type II anti-Semitism as synonymous with hatred of Jews. As John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt have convincingly argued, with ample documentation, this skewing of the political atmosphere has interfered with the rational pursuit of American national interests in the Middle East.

 

A recent example of such the manipulation of such anti-Semitic allegations has been raised by the case of Steven Salaita recently denied a tenure track appointment at the University of Illinois because he sent several ‘uncivil’ tweets during the July/August military onslaughts on Gaza. The university chancellor, Phyllis Wise, wrongly treated these tweets as evidence of Type I anti-Semitism, although she slyly claims to have acted to protect an atmosphere of civility on the campus, and not because Salaita exhibited anti-Israeli views. Chancellor Wise used this (mis)perception, strongly encouraged by off-campus Zionist pressures and threats relating to funding, to justify denying Salaita an academic appointment that he had accepted and relied upon in good faith. He had rented a house near what he reasonably thought would be his new campus in Urbana-Champlain, and had already resigned his position on the faculty at Virginia Tech University. Salaita had outstanding teaching evaluations at Virginia Tech that included student appreciations of a classroom environment that welcomed all points of view. His scholarship in American Indian Studies had been thoroughly vetted by a lengthy recruiting process at Illinois. The lame justification given by Chancellor Wise and her supporters is that Salaita’s tweets were evidence of a lack of civility in relation to sensitive issues that might make his Jewish students uncomfortable or inhibited. The evidence suggests, on the contrary that Steven Saiaita personally rejected and intensely disapproved of Type I anti-Semitism, although as a Palestinian-American, he was understandably deeply disturbed by Israel’s behavior toward the Palestinian people, and responded emotionally in the midst of the crisis.

 

I do not claim neutrality on these issues. During the past six years, while serving as UN Special Rapporteur for Occupied Palestine on behalf of the Human Rights Council, I have been the continuous target of a sustained defamation campaign spearheaded by a Zionist-oriented NGO, UN Watch, based in Geneva. I was repeatedly accused of anti-Semitism, and my views on other issues were likewise distorted to create an impression of bizarre judgment. I was called a supporter of terrorism, a 9/11 conspiracy theorist, and the like. The Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles listed me in 2013 as the third most dangerous anti-Semite in the world, ranking just below the Supreme Leader of Iran and the Turkish Prime Minister. Also on their top ten list were such notable authors as Max Blumenthal and Alice Walker. Interestingly, Wiesenthal made no effort to distinguish criticisms of Israel from hatred of Jews by entitling their list “Anti-Semitic, Anti-Israel Slurs,’ mixing the two types of orientation on their list.

 

Because of the atmosphere in North America where demonstrating 100%+ support for Israel has become an indispensable ingredient of political credibility, these defamatory attacks were accepted as valid by several public officials who never bothered to check with me or examine my actual views on such controversial topics. As a result I was attacked by such luminaries as the UN Secretary General, two U.S. ambassadors to the UN (Susan Rice, Samantha Powers), Foreign Minister of Canada, among others, and a favorite target for Fox TV and the Murdock media empire. Additionally, efforts were made to have my lectures cancelled at universities in various places around the world (including McGill and McMaster in Canada, AUB in Beirut, ANU, Melbourne, and Sydney in Australia, Norfolk in the UK, and Princeton, University of Texas, University of Iowa and others in the USA) These universities were warned that unless my campus appearance was cancelled, funding would suffer. On at least one occasion I was informed that a previous offer of a visiting appointment at an overseas university, Kings College London, was reduced from year-to-year to a single year due to my alleged anti-Semitism. Even my wife was defamed by such Zionist zealots who tried to defeat her candidacy in the UN Human Rights Council in 2014 to become Special Rapporteur for the Right to Food. She was accused of writing inflammatory anti-Israeli tracts in collaboration with me, a complete lie as we had never collaborated on this subject-matter, and it was further alleged that she shared my anti-Semitic views, which is a double lie.

 

            This use of anti-Semitism as an ideological weapon, what is being called here Type II anti-Semitism, is having paradoxical effects, including contributing to new outbreaks of Type I anit-Semitism, the real thing. The logic of this development goes like this—if Jews are expected to be supportive of what Israel is doing to the Palestinians to avoid the label of anti-Semitism, then it becomes reasonable to believe that Jews, and not just the government of Israel, are responsible for the crimes being perpetrated against the Palestinian people. If opponents of anti-Semitism are not allowed to be critical of Israel, despite its drastic departures from morality and law, then there is created a deep confusion between the rejection of ethnic hatred and stereotyping that is an unconditional wrong and the repudiation of immoral and unlawful behavior by a government that is subject to challenge as to the facts and its interpretation of law and morality. More pointedly, if Israel invokes the Holocaust to validate its historic claims of victimhood, and then turns around and victimizes another people in an extreme form first by expelling most of them from their homeland and then coercively occupying the land that remains in Palestinian hands and gradually confiscating the territorial remnant, it does seem to implicate the people as well as the state if opposition is silenced or marginalized. To overlook Israel’s crimes against humanity and genocidal conduct or else stand accused of being an anti-Semite compounds the confusion. It is further compounded by Arab and Islamic extremism that insists that Israel’s wrongdoing is a direct result of its claim to be a Jewish state, and not a normal state.

 

In conclusion, I believe it is in the interest of both Jews and Palestinians that Type II anti-Semitism be unmasked as a toxic propaganda tool that should be repudiated by people of good will regardless of their ethnicity and political persuasion. Speaking from experience, it is hurtful personally, and generates anger among all those who insist that criticism of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian people must be opposed in a vigorous manner. Israel has long devoted major funding and great effort to deflecting blame for its policies and practices by raising the black flag of anti-Semitism to discredit responsible and deserved criticism. As the Palestinian solidarity movement grows across the world, it is obvious that this form of hasbara is failing.

Restoring Civil Discourse Relating to Palestine-Israel

22 Aug

To Blog visitors:

 

During the grim events of the past few weeks taking place in Gaza, and more generally in Israel/Palestine, I have not blocked comments even if they crossed the lines of personal insult and group vitriol that I feel justified in excluding from the discourse.

 

I have been particularly disturbed by the frequent long comments written by strong proponents of Israel’s behavior who constantly refer to me and otherswith such inflammatory and defamatory language as ‘Jew haters’ and the like.

Also expressions of ethnic hatred, or personal challenges that are written as it to demand me to denounce the behavior of Hamas are not acceptable, and will be blocked, although during travels I may not be a very efficient monitor. To point only to the alleged crimes of a political leadership that is bearing the brunt of a sustained attacks killing, and wounding thousands of innocent Gazans and terrorizing the rest is also not acceptable on this blog site. Go elsewhere if you wish to spew such incitement and hatred.

 

I hope most readers of the blog comments section are aware that I take these steps reluctantly as I think the subject-matter that elicits these comments deserves sensitive and diverse expressions of viewpoints, and I have strong bias toward free expression. I also appreciate that feelings and emotional commentary are an indispensable dimension of communication, and should not be excluded even from political discourse. At the same time, minimum standards of civility are needed to frame comments in a constructive spirit of dialogue, and thereby  avoid tendencies to hurl hurtful insults back and forth.

 

Perhaps, this recurring difficulty of maintaining civility is a symptom of an  irreconcilable conflict. I do not encounter anything comparable when addressing other issues.

 

The Hidden Costs of War Crimes to the Criminal

20 Aug

[Prefatory Note: I am republishing on this blog site a letter and some documentation written by Fred Branfman, a friend and political comrade of more than 40 years. We met first in our shared opposition to the Vietnam War, and engaged in acts of civil disobedience in Washington to express our solidarity with younger Americans who were facing prison for their opposition or death and injury as conscripted soldiers, and our sense of identification with the millions of Vietnamese who were enduring the ravages of high technology war, many without ever having left their villages, much less their country. As he writes, Fred was moved and shocked by the so-called secret war being carried on in Laos by the United States through extensive covert operations, without even the slightest effort to show respect for the US Constitution's requirements relating to war, and in cruel defiance of international law.  Fred is also very conscious and sensitive about the complexities of his middle class Jewish background, and how it bears on his outlook on Israel-Palestine relations. Throughout his life he has exhibited a primary identity that is preoccupied with what it means to be 'human,' taking his cues from religion, ethics, and empathetic experiences. As such, his reflections on the meaning of the events in Gaza in relation to our assessments of Israel's behavior, whether as Jews or as human beings is relevant for all of us. Fred's central point about the moral victimization of the perpetrator of crimes as well as the abuse of those being targeted is crucial.]

 

 

 

Dear Friends,

I hope you will consider sending this just-published piece (original version below) to supporters of Israel’s actions in Gaza you know. Most U.S. supporters of Israel that I know are decent people who reflexively support Israel without confronting the actual facts of the atrocities it is committing. But in so doing they must understand that what is at stake is not only Israel’s humanity but their own.

The most painful memories of my life have been triggered by the recent Israeli bombing and shelling of civilian targets in Gaza: the many months I spent interviewing Lao ricefarmers about their 5 years under U.S. bombing – the most significant unknown event of the 20th century. The World Can’t Wait website has just published “Laos: Birthplace of Modern U.S. Executive War and a New ‘Ahuman’ Age” – its lessons apply not only to Laos but to Israel, Gaza, Syria and the many other cases where civilians become the main victims of automated murder.

It is critical to human civilization itself that we make the issue of civilian murder in Gaza personal, by (1) having the personal integrity to look at the facts of, not rationalizations for, Israel-caused civilian destruction in Gaza (please see “The Civilian Impact of Israel’s 2014 Attack on Gaza” below); and (2) to acknowledge that what is at stake here is not only Israel’s humanity but our own. Those who are indifferent to the murder of civilians in Gaza today are also indifferent to the destruction of our own children and grandchildren through climate change tomorrow.

In retrospect it seems like an accident of fate that I so directly encountered the U.S. mass murder of the gentlest, kindest people on earth in Laos. But I regard it now as both the most agonizing and precious experience of my life. For imagining what it means to be on the ground “looking up” at the bombers, rather than “looking down” as we inevitably do in the West, adds a crucial dimension to human existence – and one which may well determine the fate of our species as we confront the growing horrors of the 21st century. ­ Fred

TO ISRAEL’S U.S. SUPPORTERS: PORTABLE GAS CHAMBERS, CHEMICAL WARFARE, BLINDINGS, MASS BOMBING AND SHELLING OF CIVILIANS – WHERE DO YOU DRAW THE LINE?

Note: This message is addressed to U.S. supporters of Israel both because only U.S. pressure can bring about the political settlement which alone can save Israel and Palestine, and because it appears that most Israelis – consumed by fear, hatred and the dehumanization of even Palestinian children – are presently impervious to either reason or human decency.

Dear U.S. Supporters of Israel in Gaza,

If you believed that the IDF could destroy Hamas by employing portable gas chambers or chemical weapons to publicly gas over 1,400 Gazan civilians, including 400 children, chosen at random – or deliberately blinding them – would you favor doing so? I guess not, perhaps you even feel insulted at the suggestion that you might.

But this raises a basic question: if you would not favor gassing Palestinan civilians, how do you justify your support for blowing them to bits? The controversial issue is not Israel trying to destroy Hamas tunnels. Nor is it the attempt to destroy rockets, as if the Israelis can claim that they reasonably suspected the 46-48,000 U.N.-estimated buildings they either partially or totally destroyed of containing rockets. Nor is it rightfully condemning Hamas for rocketing civilian targets as well. As even long-term apologists for Israeli violence like the New Republic’s Leon Wieseltier acknowledge, the issue is massive Israeli bombing and shelling of he civilian infrastructure in Gaza, which is wholly disproportionate to combatting tunnels and/or rockets.

It is the actual massive bombing and shelling of Gaza’s civilian infrastructure that raises the basic question: as a human being, where do you draw the line? How do you justify to yourself your support for mass misery inflicted on hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians through a bombing and shelling campaign that – whatever its stated intent – not only murdered 1400 civilians and maimed thousands more, but destroyed hospitals, schools, businesses, and Gaza’s only power station plunging all 1.8 million Gazans into darkness and depriving them even of drinking water, created over 400,000 refugees, and traumatized a U.N.-estimated 373,000 children? (Please see “The Civilian Impact of Israel’s 2014 Attack on Gaza” below. You own integrity requires that you at least acknowledge the facts rather than, as do so many of Israel’s supporters, accept at face-value Israeli claims that it sought to avoid civilian destruction.)

I answered such questions for myself 45 years ago, when I discovered that civilians were well over 90% of the victims of U.S. leaders’ mass bombing of northern Laos. I concluded then that there is never any moral or legal justification for mass bombing or shelling of civilians. Period. Full Stop.

The “World Can’t Wait” website has just posted a PowerPoint presentation on the years-long bombing of northern Laos, perhaps the worst unknown crime of the 20th century. It combines an analysis of automated war, the writings of the rice-farmers who suffered most and were heard from least, and my personal story in discovering and trying to expose it to the world. A Lao mother summed up the nature of mass bombing of civilians for all time: “There was danger as the sound of airplanes led me to be terribly, terribly afraid of dying. When looking at the faces of my children who were losing the so very precious happiness of childhood I would grow in­creasingly miserable. In reality, whatever happens, it is the innocent who suffer.”

The question of protecting civilians in wartime far transcends the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: it is a basic measurement of the progress of human civilization itself. What is at stake in your support for Israel’s recent attacks on Gaza is not only Israel’s humanity but your own.

There are two basic questions regarding warfare: (1) whether a given war is considered legitimate, e.g. whether it is “aggressive war”; and (2) how civilians are treated once a war is launched. These are two distinct questions – even if you consider a given war legitimate there is no moral or legal justification for waging it in a way that mainly murders and maims civilians.

The evolution of international law on this question, beginning with the 1907 Hague Convention, has been slow and painful. But it is today unequivocal: waging war in a way that results primarily in civilian deaths and damage is a punishable war crime. Article 85 of the 1949 Geneva Conventions states categorically that “the following acts shall be regarded as grave breaches of this Protocol … launching an indiscriminate attack affecting the civilian population or civilian objects in the knowledge that such attack will cause excessive loss of life, injury to civilians or damage to civilian objects” – a precise description of Israeli bombing and shelling in Gaza.

Israel claims that it is justified in maiming and murdering civilians because Hamas is using them as “human shields”. But it must be understood: there is always a military and political rationale for bombing civilians. In Laos, Deputy CIA Director James Lilley explained that though North Vietnamese soldiers were not in the villages they would hide there if the U.S. didn’t bomb civilians. Prime Minister Nethanyahu today offers a similar rationale for mass civilian murder.

Other rationales include hoping that mass murder of civilians will turn the population against their leaders, as when former Israeli General Amos Yadlin stated in the N.Y. Times that Israel must bomb partly so that “Gaza’s people (are) given the chance to elect new leaders”. And, as the U.S. Senate Refugee Subcommittee concluded after visiting Laos, the bombing’s purpose was to hurt the enemy by destroying its “social and economic infrastructure.” This was also General Curtis Lemay’s basic rationale for burning alive over 100,000 Japanese civilians in the firebombing of Tokyo on March 9, 1945, an act for which Lemay acknowledged at the time, and his assistant Robert McNamara later
also admitted, was a war crime – for which they should have been executed. (PIease see Note 1 below.)

And it is precisely because there is always a rationale for bombing civilians that the progress of human civilization is largely measured by the extent to which civilians are protected in times of war from indiscriminate bombing and shelling, and that those who violate these rules are prosecuted for crimes of war. Protecting civilians against indiscriminate murder, in short, is not only a question of war. It is a measure of your own humanity.

The Civilian Impact of Israel’s 2014 Attack on Gaza

n CIVILIAN DEAD AND WOUNDED: A U.N.-estimated 1396 Palestinian civilians killed including 222 women and 418 children, thousands more wounded. (Source: Information Management Unit in the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, from “Month-long War in Gaza Has Left a Humanitarian and Environmental Crisis”, Washington Post. August 6, 2014)

n CHILDREN: “Pernille Ironside, who runs the UNICEF field office in Gaza, said the agency estimates that roughly 373,000 Palestinian children have had some kind of direct traumatic experience as a result of the attack and will require immediate psycho-social support … (She) added that she’s seen ‘children coming out of these shelters with scabies, lice, all kinds of communicable diseases.’” (Source: “Amid Gaza’s Ruins, Impact on Children Most ‘Severe': UN Official”, Common Dreams, August 6, 2014)

n ECONOMIC INFRASTRUCTURE: “175 of Gaza’s most successful industrial plants had also taken devastating hits, plunging an already despairing economy into a deeper abyss” (Source: “Conflict Leaves Industry in Ashes and Gaza Reeling From Economic Toll”, NY Times, August 6, 2014)

n MOSQUES, FARMING, INDUSTRY: “As many as 80 mosques have been damaged or destroyed. Many farming areas and industrial zones, filled with the small manufacturing plants and factories that anchored Gaza’s economy, are now wastelands.” (Source: “Month-long War in Gaza Has Left a Humanitarian and Environmental Crisis”, Washington Post. August 6, 2014)

n THE WATER INFRASTRUCTURE: Oxfam said: “We’re working in an environment with a completely destroyed water infrastructure that prevents people in Gaza from cooking, flushing toilets or washing [their] hands.”(Source: “Gaza’s Survivors Now Face A Battle For Water, Shelter And Power”, The Independent, August 5, 2014)

n 400,000 REFUGEES, 46-48,000 HOMES: “Frode Mauring, the UN Development Programme’s special representative said that with 16-18,000 homes totally destroyed and another 30,000 partially damaged, and 400,000 internally displaced people, ‘the current situation for Gaza is devastating’.” (Source: “Gaza’s Survivors Now Face A Battle For Water, Shelter And Power”, The Independent, August 5, 2014)

n ELECTRICITY: “Mr Mauring said that the bombing of Gaza’s only power station and the collapse at least six of the 10 power lines from Israel, had ‘huge development and humanitarian consequences’ (Source: “Gaza’s Survivors Now Face A Battle For Water, Shelter And Power”, The Independent, August 5, 2014)

n SCHOOLS, REFUGEE CENTERS: “United Nations officials accused Israel of violating international law after artillery shells slammed into a school overflowing with evacuees Wednesday … The building was the sixth U.N. school in the Gaza Strip to be rocked by explosions during the conflict. (Source: “U.N. Says Israel Violated International Law, After Shells Hit School In Gaza”, Washington Post, July 30, 2014)

n HOSPITALS: “Israeli forces fired a tank shell at a hospital in Gaza on Monday … It was the third hospital Israel’s military has struck since launching a ground offensive in Gaza last week.” (Source: “Another Gaza Hospital Hit by Israeli Strike”, NBC News, July 21, 2014)

n HOSPITALS, HEALTH WORKERS: “There has been mounting evidence that the Israel Defense Forces launched apparently deliberate attacks against hospitals and health professionals in Gaza … Philip Luther, Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International (said) ‘the Israeli army has targeted health facilities or professionals. Such attacks are absolutely prohibited by international law and would amount to war crimes.’” (Source: “Mounting Evidence Of Deliberate Attacks On Gaza Health Workers By Israeli Army”, Amnesty International, August 7, 2014)

NOTES

1- Robert McNamara, from the Errol Morris film Fog of War:
“LeMay said, ‘If we’d lost the war, we’d all have been prosecuted as war criminals.’ And I think he’s right. He, and I’d say I, were behaving as war criminals. LeMay recognized that what he was doing would be thought immoral if his side had lost. But what makes it immoral if you lose and not immoral if you win?”

Gaza Interview

20 Aug

(Prefatory Note: I have had several requests to post an interview published in CounterPunch on the Gaza crisis; it covers a wide range of issues, but is not up to date in relation to a rapidly changing situation in which adversaries are engaged in a misleading blame game while the bodies and rubble continue to pile up on the Gaza side of the border)

 

An Interview with Richard Falk on the Crisis in Gaza

by KEN KLIPPENSTEIN

 

Richard Falk is an American professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University. He just completed a six-year term as United Nations Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights. He was appointed to this role by the UN Human Rights Council, in 2008.

Ken Klippenstein: Could you describe Sisi’s [Egypt’s new leader] relationship with Hamas?

Richard Falk: The [Sisi] government is determined to destroy the Muslim Brotherhood and they view Hamas as an extension of the Brotherhood. So they’re, in a certain way, on the same side as Israel on this particular confrontation.

KK: Has the aerial bombardment campaign adopted by Israel done anything to decrease the rocket fire coming from Gaza?

RF: There’s no evidence that it has. It certainly has caused some damage and some deaths to those involved in either making or deploying and firing the rockets. But there’s no discernable effect in stopping Hamas’ and other militias’—it’s not only Hamas, there are other militias, some of which Hamas doesn’t control—that have engaged in this kind of rocket fire. The only alternative to using these rockets for defenseless people like those living in Gaza is to absolutely do nothing—to be completely passive. They have no military capability to resist Israel on the ground or in the air or from the sea. So it’s a very one-sided war; and one-sided wars are, in my view, by their very nature unlawful and constitute crimes against humanity.

KK: Since Palestine lacks statehood, does that deny them recourse to the protections afforded by international law?

RF: The UN General Assembly on Nov. 29, 2012 passed a resolution recognizing the statehood of Palestine as a non-member observer state of the UN. That has been interpreted as giving Palestine the status of being a state in international society for most purposes. They have joined UNESCO, for instance, as a member state, and they’ve adhered to more than 15 international treaties open only to states. They’re recognized by, I think, 130 governments as a state. They could at this point seek redress at the International Criminal Court, a step that Israel and the United States have declared would be very provocative from their point of view and would lead to adverse consequences.

In effect, the United States and Israel are saying it’s not acceptable to use international criminal law to uphold your legal rights.

KK: What is the US role in the aerial bombardment campaign?

RF: The US is definitely complicit and legally accountable, at least in theory, in that this weaponry is not supposed to be used except in accordance with international law; and if the whole undertaking is a violation of international law, then the United States is responsible, and should diplomatically have been seeking to restrain and censure Israel, rather than to lend its support.

Beyond that, there is the sense that Congress itself—again at least theoretically—restricts military assistance to foreign countries in a way that is supposed to be compatible with international law and the UN Charter. So by the guidelines that are embedded in American law itself, this is an unlawful and unacceptable policy that the US government has been pursuing.

KK: Could you talk about the legality of the siege of Gaza?

RF: The siege of Gaza is clearly a form of collective punishment that is prohibited by Article 33 of the 4th Geneva Convention, which unconditionally prohibits any recourse to collective punishment. A blockade that has been maintained since the middle of 2007 is directed at the entire civilian population of Gaza. It includes many items that are needed for health, subsistence, and minimum requirements of a decent life. So in my view, Israel—as the occupying power (under international law) of Gaza—is supposed to protect the civilian population, rather than subject it to a punitive blockade of the sort that’s been in existence these past 7 years.

KK: Israel sometimes phones warnings ahead of time before bombing buildings. Do you believe that this constitutes a serious effort to minimize civilian deaths?

RF: One would have to look carefully at each context. My impression is that Gaza is a place where there’s no real opportunity to escape from impending attacks. There may have been some lives saved as a result of these warnings. My impression is they’re not given consistently and comprehensively; and furthermore, that in the wider context of Gaza, there’s no opportunity for people to become refugees or to even move from points of danger to points of relative safety. It’s unusual in a wartime situation where almost always there is an option of crossing borders during a period of combat and finding some sort of sanctuary. Israel again, as the occupying power, has an obligation to see to it that the civilian population [of Gaza] is protected. They deny any kind of exit right to Palestinians living in Gaza, except those holding foreign passports (there are about 800 Palestinians with dual passports who have been allowed to cross the border into Israel). 150 of those have American citizenship and the US consulate has been facilitating their departure if those people want to.

But in general, for the 1,700,000 Gazans, they are denied the option of becoming refugees or even of becoming internally displaced persons. And therefore they cannot escape from the fire zone that Israel has created. And even if they’re not direct casualties being killed or injured, they are living under the cloud of state terrorism maintained day and night over this period, in a way that psychiatrists and psychologists and mental health experts say is inducing mass trauma on the part of the Palestinian people, particularly among the children.

Even before this attack there exists a highly anxious atmosphere because there are Israeli planes flying over all the time; and it’s never clear when they will do something that is hostile. People of Gaza, as I’ve been saying, are completely vulnerable. They have no way of fighting back. They are at the mercy of the Israelis. And the Israelis show very little mercy.

KK: What is Israel’s legal rationale for denying Gazans the displaced persons status that you mentioned before?

RF: As far as I know, they haven’t articulated any justification for this policy. They just close the borders and the international community has by and large been scandalously silent; and has remained so up to this time.

KK: What is the US role in blocking a UN resolution condemning Israeli violence in Gaza?

RF: As I understand it, the US did indicate its readiness to veto any resolution that blamed Israel, and there was support for such a resolution on the part of the majority of the members of the Security Council. What the UN ended up doing was issuing a statement that called for a ceasefire but it is a statement that has no binding legal effect and did not in any way censure Israel for its role.

KK: Do you believe the Security Council should be reformed in any way, given the US’ propensity for vetoing otherwise unanimous Security Council resolutions?

RF: I think it would be a helpful move from the perspective of global justice and the implementation of international law; but as matters now stand, it’s a very impractical step because no amendment to the UN charter can be made without the consensus of the 5 permanent members of the Security Council, each of whom has a veto. The United States and probably Russia and maybe China would veto any effort to deprive them of their veto rights. So it’s more or less gridlocked with respect to reform.

KK: Would you support a call for an arms embargo on Israel?

RF: Yes I would. I think it would be an appropriate move at this point. Israel has consistently defied international law in many different ways. It shows no sign of respecting the wishes of the international community, at this time, for an immediate ceasefire. So I think that the only way the world can show that it’s at all serious about protecting vulnerable peoples—in this case the Palestinians—would be to impose an arms embargo.

Of course Israel has a very robust arms industry itself. It’s one of the ten leading exporters of arms. And it’s of course inconceivable that, at this stage, the US and several of the West European countries would respect such an embargo. Nevertheless, it would be an important symbolic step in the direction of delegitimizing the kind of behavior that Israel has been engaged in.

KK: In the case of Israeli kidnappings and murder of Palestinians in Palestinian territory, can the perpetrators be brought before a Palestinian court or must Palestinians simply accept an Israeli court? 

RF: At this point they would have to accept the formal authority of the Israeli courts because the crime was committed in an area under Israeli legal administration. And the accused are in the possession of the Israelis and therefore they have the authority under international law to prosecute.

If there’s not a serious assessment of the crime, it could be questioned as an evasion of the obligation to prosecute; and if found guilty, punish those that engage in this kind of behavior. Remembering that, as far as we know, this was purely private criminal activity. It was not something that the government can be shown to have authorized—although the background of incitement after the kidnapping of the 3 Israeli teenagers on Jun 12th is part of the broader context in which this crime occurred.

KK: Are allegations of Hamas using human shields credible?

RF: There hasn’t been, as far as I know, serious evidence that this has taken place. In fact there is evidence that the Israelis used Palestinians as human shields when they mounted the ground offensive back in 2008-2009. And even if the Palestinians did do this, it would still not vindicate Israelis shooting directly at civilians, unless there was some kind of argument of absolute military necessity, which is pretty remote from this situation.

KK: Do you believe that Israel has been committing war crimes in Gaza?

RF: Yeah. I think certainly there’s the basis for alleging war crimes. It requires a formal legal judgment to reach the conclusion that there have been war crimes committed. There is a presumption of innocence until proven guilty—that’s important to maintain. But certainly the evidence that I’m aware of suggests the commission of serious crimes against humanity and war crimes in the course of this operation.

KK: Could you discuss the background of the crisis? Western media’s accounts usually begin with the kidnapping and murder of the three Israeli boys, omitting important contexts: the siege of Gaza, for instance.

RF: The timeline for these justifications that are made by Israel is very self-serving and not very convincing. Of course, you have a complex pattern of interaction. On the other hand, Israel is the occupying power, and has the international responsibility to protect the civilian population [of Gaza]. And in the case of the kidnapping on Jun 12, they had the opportunity to limit the response to an enforcement action that was done in a reasonable way. Instead they used it as a pretext for seeking to destroy Hamas as a political actor present in the West Bank; and then extending that anti-Hamas policy to the attack on Gaza. So it was clearly a way of using this initial criminal act as a means to pursue a much wider political agenda that focuses on Israel’s national ambition to control the West Bank—at least most of the West Bank, where the settlements are—and to eliminate from that reality the only viable Palestinian opposition force (because the Palestinian Authority that is nominally in control on behalf of the Palestinians of the West Bank, is in a semi-collaborationist relationship with Israel). So the attempt to get rid of Hamas as a political influence on the West Bank particularly, and to punish it severely in Gaza where it’s in control of the governing process, is a crime.

KK: Why did Netanyahu not take Abbas up on his offer to cooperate with the investigation into the kidnapping and killing of the three Israeli boys?

RF: I think it’s part of Netanyahu’s political escalation of the Israeli approach at this point. They repudiated the direct negotiations—which didn’t make much sense in the first place—but they repudiated them as a way of stating that they would no longer seriously engage in diplomacy but would impose their own solution on the conflict. And that solution involves consolidating control over the whole of Jerusalem and taking all or the most valuable parts of the West Bank and in effect annexing them to Israel.

KK: Under the Arms Control Act of 1976, governments that receive weapons from the US are required to use them for legitimate self-defense. Does the US’ arms aid to Israel violate that law?

RF: Yes, definitely. From everything I’ve been saying, there’s no legal, political or moral argument that would uphold the claim that Israel is acting in legitimate self-defense. There’s been no armed attack by Hamas or Gaza; in any event, Gaza from an international law point of view, is not a foreign state but an occupied territory. It’s not clear that you can exercise self-defense in relation to a territory that you are responsible for administering in accordance with international humanitarian law.

Ken Klippenstein is a journalist based in Madison, Wisconsin, USA. He can be reached via twitter @kenklippenstein or email: kenneth.klippenstein@gmail.com

98

 

 

 

2 Aug

Poetry and War

 

During these days of continuing massacre in Gaza I have found it difficult to focus the mind elsewhere. I came across a short statement of about 200 words by the great, enigmatic 20th century poet, Wallace Stevens, stuck between poems in his Selected Poems, p.270, with a characteristically unemotional title—‘A Prose Statement on the Poetry of War.’

 

Stevens seems to be telling us that true poetry is a peacetime activity generated by the imagination while poetic responses to war are products of our consciousness derived from the domain of fact. In his words, “consciousness takes the place of imagination.” It is, to be sure, a special kind of consciousness, imbued with what Stevens refers to as the ‘heroic,’ and I would add, the ‘tragic’ and ‘unimaginable.’ We witness horror visually and viscerally, and yet we still too often rely on statistics about killing and dying to shape our sense of the gravity of all that is happening.

 

Stevens also reminds us that the imagination is not without its own ambitions, seeking to impart a sense of reality that supersedes the facticity of what Stevens is calling consciousness. Ambitions of this sort, situated in the hidden recesses of mental activity, also reflects the strong pull of desire, which if it challenges the prevailing images of what we might call ‘heroic fact’ generates severe feelings of hostility. It is a war zone of its own. Stevens alludes to “the endless struggle with fact” whether in peacetime or during a war, and adds, almost as a cautionary warning, “[b]ut in war, the desire to move in the direction of fact as we want it to be and to move quickly is overwhelming.”

 

There is of course a haunting ambiguity in Stevens’ use of the word ‘we’ in this sense. Who are we? Does not our answer, usually not articulated, tell us how we join imagination to fact under the stress of war. The intensities of the ongoing violence in Gaza stifles the imaginative voice because the domain of fact becomes truly, even appropriately, overwhelming. Yet fact can be as victimized by subjectivity as the realms of the imagination, especially when it collides with desire. I think these days of those who would rationalize ‘massacre’ as ‘self-defense’ or dehumanize and demonize victims by branding ‘the other’ as ‘terrorist.’

 

While attentive to the terrible reality confronting us by the ongoing happenings in Gaza, we should strive for root causes. What is it about our world that allows the Guernicas, Auschwitzs, Hiroshimas, Srebrenicas to keep happening? How do we best identify this genocidal virus that keeps attacking the body politic, and yields tears, but no antidote? Is it the reification of ‘the other’ and of ‘the self’ that allows us to see mostly ‘villains’ and ‘heroes,’ and not children, women, and men? Up to now, we allow these lines of division to be drawn and to dominate the public sphere, and affirm partisanship as ‘realistic’ because the tensions of our world means that either I die or you die, and our leaders find good reasons for us to live and you to die. And so atrocity

begets atrocity, a ceaseless cycle with periods of calm and shifts of place, culprit, and victim.

 

In reflecting along these lines I am reminded of Theodor Adorno’s extraordinary comment—“To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.” Adorno’s meaning is not immediately evident, nor will it ever be. The cultural critic, Brian Oard, insists that the assertion must be read in its broader context, and in light of Adorno’s own later clarification that softens the specific injunction. If so approached, the statement is meant less literally than if read or invoked as an isolated indictment of what could be described as the indecency of any return to ‘cultural normalcy’ after the enormity of the crimes of the Holocaust.

 

What Adorno wants us to grasp is that Western culture that allowed Auschwitz to happen included its cultural artifacts, incorporating even the work and worldviews of poets in an overall totality that facilitates the grotesque. It encourages the coldness of indifference and helplessness in the face of the severe abuses of all those who fall outside the protective umbrella of our conscience.

 

Can we capable of learning anything at all from the corpses being drawn from the rubble of devastation in Gaza day by day? Is not the beginnings of a response, whether in the domains of imagination or consciousness, a refusal to embrace the moral and political delusions of sub-species identities, whether of nationality, ethnicity, religion, gender, and civilization? Until the self merges with the other on a planetary scale, we will feel the pressure to avert our gaze from those crimes against humanity committed on our behalf or against those with whom we have no tribal or national identification. Is such an affirmation of species unity a dangerous utopian dream? We cannot know, but we should realize by now that the its rejection helps explain the recurrence of genocidal nightmares.     

Cruelties of Ceasefire Diplomacy

27 Jul

[Prefatory Note: the post below is a revised text of an article published in AlJazeera America on July 26, 2014. Devastation and violence has continued in Gaza, with Palestinians deaths now numbering over 1000 (overwhelmingly civilians) and Israeli deaths latest reported at being 43 (almost all military personnel). Such casualty figures and disparities raise questions of state terrorism in a stark manner. Also, it should be appreciated that if Israel were to do what it is required by international law to do there would be no rockets directed at its population centers--lift the blockade, negotiate peace on the basis of the 2002 Arab proposals and Security Council 242. Yet this would require Israel to give up once and for all its expansionist vision embedded in the settlement phenomenon and the version of Zionism embraced by its leaders and reigning political parties. The best that the UN has been able to do is to call for an "immediate and unconditional ceasefire" to allow the delivery of humanitarian aid at an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council; such an unseemly balancing act is not what the UN Charter had in mind by aligning the international community in opposition to states that break the peace and act aggressively in disregard of international law; a victimized people deserves protection, not some sort of display of deforming geopolitical symmetry.]

 

So far, the diplomatic effort to end the violence in Gaza has failed miserably, most recently with Israel’s cabinet rejecting a ceasefire proposal from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. This attempt by Washington is representative of the overall failure of American policy toward the Israel-Palestine conflict, only on this occasion the consequences can be measured in the growing pile of dead bodies and the widespread devastation that includes numerous homes, public buildings and even artillery damage to several United Nations schools sheltering Palestinian civilians.

 

The U.S. approach fails because it exhibits extreme partisanship in a setting where trust, credibility and reciprocity are crucial if the proclaimed aim of ending the violence is the true objective of this exhibition of statecraft. Kerry is undoubtedly dedicated to achieving a cease-fire, just as he demonstrated for most of the past year a sincerity of commitment in pushing so hard for a negotiated peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Yet throughout the failed peace process the United States exhibited all along this discrediting extreme partisanship, never more blatantly than when it designated Martin Indyk, a former staff member of the America Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and former ambassador to Israel, to serve as the U.S. special envoy throughout the peace talks.

 

The U.S. approach up to this point to achieving a ceasefire in Gaza has been undertaken in a manner that is either woefully ignorant of the real constraints or callously cynical about their relevance. This is especially clear from the initial attempt to bring about a cease-fire by consulting only one side, Israel — the party bearing the major responsibility for causing massive casualties and damage — and leaving Hamas out in the cold. Even if this is a unavoidable consequence of Hamas being treated as “a terrorist entity,” it still makes no sense in the midst of such carnage to handle diplomacy in such a reckless manner when lives were daily at stake. When Israel itself has wanted to deal with Hamas in the past, it had no trouble doing so — for instance, when it arranged the prisoner exchange that led to the release of the single captured Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit back in 2011.

 

The basic facts seem so calculated to end in diplomatic failure that it is difficult to explain how they could have happened: The U.S. relied on Egypt as the broker of a proposal it vetted, supposedly with the approved text delivered personally by Tony Blair to President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in Cairo, secreted endorsed by the Netanyahu government, and then publicly announced on July 15 via the media as a ceasefire proposal accepted by Israel, without Hamas having been consulted, or even previously informed. It’s a diplomatic analogue to the theater of the absurd. Last July, then-General Sisi was the Egyptian mastermind of a coup that brutally cracked down on the Muslim Brotherhood and criminalized the entire organization. The Sisi government has made no secret of its unrelenting hostility to Hamas, which it views as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood and alleged responsibility for insurgent violence in the Sinai. Egypt destroyed the extensive tunnel network connecting Gaza with the outside world created to circumvent the punitive Israeli blockade that has been maintained since 2007. Was there ever any reason for Hamas to accept such a humiliating ceasefire arrangement? As some respected Israeli commentators have suggested, most prominently Amira Hass, the “normalization” of the occupation is what the Israeli military operation Protective Edge is all about. What Hass suggests is that Israel is seeking a compliant Palestinian response to an occupation that has for all intents and purposes become permanent, and seems to believe that such periodic shows of force will finally break once and for all the will to resist, symbolized by Hamas and its rockets, and now its tunnels. In this respect, the recent move to establish a unity government reconciling the Palestinian Authority with Hamas was a setback for the normalization policy, especially suggesting that even the PA could no longer be taken for granted as an acceptably compliant ‘partner,’ not for peace, but for occupation.

 

Whatever ambiguity might surround the Kerry diplomacy, the fact that the cease-fire’s terms were communicated to Hamas via the media, made the proposal a “take it or leave it” clearly designed to show the world that Hamas would never be treated as a political actor with grievances of its own. Such a way of proceeding also ignored the reasonable conditions Hamas had posited as the basis of a cease-fire it could accept. These conditions included an unwavering insistence on ending the unlawful seven-year siege of Gaza, releasing prisoners arrested in the anti-Hamas campaign in the West Bank prior to launching the military operation on July 8, and stopping interference with the unity government that brought Hamas and the Palestinian Authority together on June 3. Kerry, by contrast, was urging both sides to restore the cease-fire text that had been accepted in November 2012 after the previous major Israeli military attack upon Gaza, but relevantly, had never been fully implemented producing continuous tensions.

 

Hamas’ chief leader, Khaled Meshaal, has been called “defiant” by Kerry because he would not go along with this tilted diplomacy. “Everyone wanted us to accept a ceasefire and then negotiate for our rights,” Meshaal said. This was tried by Hamas in 2012 and didn’t work. As soon as the violence ceased, Israel refused to follow through on the cease-fire agreement that had promised negotiations seeking an end of the blockade and an immediate expansion of Gazan fishing rights.

 

In the aftermath of Protective Edge is it not reasonable, even mandatory, for Hamas to demand a firm commitment to end the siege of Gaza, which has been flagrantly unlawful since it was first imposed in mid-2007? Israel as the occupying power has an obligation under the Geneva Conventions to protect the civilian population of an occupied people. Israel claims that its “disengagement” in 2005, involving the withdrawal of security forces and the dismantling of settlements, ended such obligations. Such a position is legally (and morally) unacceptable, a view almost universally shared in the international community, since the persistence of effective Israeli control of entry and exit, as well as air and sea, and violent incursions amounts to a shift in the form of occupation — not its end. Israel is certainly justified in complaining about the rockets, but the maintenance of an oppressive regime of collective punishment on the civilians of Gaza is an ongoing crime. And it should be appreciated that more often than not, Israel provokes the rockets by recourse to aggressive policies of one sort or another or that most primitive rockets are fired by breakaway militia groups that Hamas struggles to control. A full and unbiased account of the interaction of violence across the Gaza border would not find that Israel was innocent and only Hamas was at fault. The story is far more complicated, and not an occasion for judging which side is entitled to be seen as acting in self-defense.

 

In “Turkey Can Teach Israel How to End Terror,” an insightful July 23 article in The New York Times, the influential Turkish journalist Mustafa Akyol drew from the experience of his country in ending decades of violent struggle between the insurgent Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Turkish state. Akyol “congratulated” Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (while taking critical note of his “growing authoritarianism”) for ending the violence in Turkey two years ago by agreeing with the imprisoned PKK leader, Abdullah Ocalan, to initiate conflict-resolving negotiations in good faith and abandon the “terrorist” label. Some years ago I heard former British Prime Minister John Major say that he made progress toward peace in Northern Ireland only when he stopped treating the Irish Republican Army as a terrorist organization and began dealing with it as a political actor with genuine grievances. If a secure peace were ever to become Israel’s true objective, this is a lesson to be learned and imitated.

 

Just as with the peace process itself, the time has surely come for a credible ceasefire to take account of the views and interests of both sides, and bring this sustained surge of barbaric violence to an end. International law and balanced diplomacy are available to do this if the political will were to emerge on the Israeli side, which seems all but impossible without the combination of continuing Palestinian resistance and mounting pressure from outside by way of the BDS campaign and the tactics of a militant, nonviolent global solidarity movement.

 

 

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