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The Meaning of Gaza

Bilal El-Amine
Date Published: 
February 11, 2009

The Israeli assault on Gaza was a brutal and one-sided onslaught where one of the most powerful armies in the world used its deadliest weapons against a virtually defenseless population. Like the Lebanon war in 2006, Israel's military campaign was little more than a string of war crimes that succeeded only in butchering thousands of civilians (including a frightening number of children) but did little to weaken the resistance, the declared target of the war.

Israel’s criminal methods and sub-zero ethical standards are nothing new. What is troubling is the deadly silence of the so-called international community, not to mention the outright collusion of most of the Arab regimes. Worse yet, the US, the European Union, and Egypt rushed to the aid of Israel at the end of the war to prevent the Palestinian resistance from rearming. This, combined with the scale of death and destruction that Israel has left behind, can be demoralizing and maybe confusing to the Palestine solidarity movement. But the latest assault – despite its barbaric nature – also holds some hope that the scales are tipping in our favor.

Scorched earth

Let’s start on the battlefield. That Israel has found it necessary to resort to such brutal methods is but a sign of the growing strength of the resistance. In the July War against Hizballah two years ago, this was painfully obvious. Israel’s repeated failure to register even a dent in the Lebanese resistance was compensated for with the cold-blooded massacre of civilians on a mass scale. This strategy was later refined into a military doctrine called the “Dahia Strategy,” in reference to Beirut’s densely populated southern suburb which was obliterated by the Israeli Air Force. The basic idea is that Israel will respond to acts of resistance with such completely disproportionate force that no movement in its right mind would even consider standing up to them.

This kind of scorched-earth approach to war has accompanied Israel from its very birth and has been amply used in its many confrontations with its Arab neighbors. It’s seen by ruling elites as ideal for fighting popular resistance movements and was a staple of Washington’s counter-insurgency campaign in Indochina.

Consider this stunning example: from 1964 to 1973, the US dropped more than two million tons of ordnance over Laos during 580,000 bombing missions – equal to a planeload of bombs every eight minutes, 24-hours a day, for nine years. Remarkably, the US lost the war in Vietnam; despite the untold horrors it left in its wake, no one claims that Washington was the victor.

What did the Israeli military prove in the end? That it can pulverize a trapped and unprotected civilian population with fighter jets, warships, and artillery guns. That it can invade empty fields and at best nibble around the edges of the populated areas from the safety of armored tanks. The invasion was choreographed to make it appear as though brave Israeli soldiers were thrusting deep into enemy territory, when in fact they avoided engaging the resistance at all costs. As one skeptical Israeli columnist put it, “In Lebanon [the army] was fired at and it emerged out of it by the skin of its teeth. In Gaza it was almost not fired at, and it immediately ‘won.’ Therefore, the only learned conclusion we can draw from the Gaza events for the time being is that it is much easier to win without an enemy.”

Arabs in league

The level of official Arab support for the Israeli state, particularly from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, was one of the most shocking and painful aspects of this war for many Arabs. The unending images of dead and mangled children filled our TV screens as the bloodbath unfolded before us live via satellite, and yet our leaders chose to do absolutely nothing to stop it. It became clear that some – like Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, whose country is the only outlet for the besieged Gaza Strip – had come to an agreement with the Israelis to snuff out Hamas once and for all.

But when have the Arab states behaved otherwise? The Jordanian monarchy has had discreet relations with Zionism since before Israel appeared on the map. Saudi Arabia has been a bastion of reaction and a virtual US outpost for nearly a century now. Egypt and the Palestinian Authority came much later but have proven to be loyal servants of Washington and Tel Aviv. Even in what is called the heyday of Arab nationalism in the 1950s and 1960s, the region was just as polarized.

Arab officialdom’s betrayal was more than compensated for by ordinary Arabs who took to the streets in numbers not seen for a long time. Muslims also, in unprecedented demonstrations, made surprise appearances in places stretching from Indonesia to Turkey. Even in the cities and capitals of the West, people rose up intifada-style, besieging Israeli consulates and embassies and launching boycott and sanctions campaigns against the apartheid state. This is what ultimately makes a difference in the Palestinian struggle, not false illusions that the king in Riyadh will turn off the oil or the pharaoh of Egypt will send in his army. 

Right turn

I can almost guarantee that this is not the last act of mass murder Israel will commit. In the aftermath of the Gaza war, Israeli society is moving even more dangerously to the right. There is a consensus among the main parties, more than at any other time, to avoid anything resembling an independent Palestinian state at any cost (even if you have to meet with Mahmoud Abbas on a weekly basis for the next century).

The head of the now-ruling Kadima Party, Tzipi Livni, is considered a moderate by Israeli standards. Livni has openly shared her transfer fantasies on a number of occasions, saying that her ultimate goal is for Israel to be a purely Jewish homeland. Not only has the Israeli side completely ruled out the Palestinian refugees’ internationally recognized right to return to their homes, but they are now suggesting that a second expulsion of over a million Palestinians from inside the 1948 borders is in order.

This is the scale of the lunacy we must face and unfortunately there is only a tiny opposition to it among Israeli Jews. The Palestinians for their part are fragmented geographically and increasingly divided politically over the means by which to continue the struggle. But the forces of resistance in the region are gathering strength. This was proven both in Lebanon in 2006 and now again in Gaza. The intensity and breadth of support Hamas received during the war forced Arab countries like Qatar and Mauritania to cut off ties with Israel. The conservative, pro-US forces of the Middle East (misnamed the “moderate Arabs” by the State Department) are increasingly on the defensive and the question of Palestine has emerged once again as the focal point of the region’s politics.

Local heroes

The ultimate heroes of this drama are the people of Gaza. Their ability to hold their ground and maintain their solidarity against such overwhelming terror is nothing but mythical. The war against them will no doubt continue by other means, through the siege and by undermining or drawing out the reconstruction process. The Palestine solidarity movement owes it to them to carry on the struggle to break the siege so that they can rebuild their homes and communities. Equally important are any efforts, legal or otherwise, to expose and highlight the many war crimes committed by the Israelis. This is the greatest assistance we can offer the resistance – to make Israel accountable for its depraved conduct in war.

The movement must also focus seriously on launching a global boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign, a strategy that was effective against apartheid South Africa in the 1980s. This is a way for the movement to independently exert pressure on Israel without having to go through government and international bodies where Zionism has an iron grip. The solidarity movement has shown by its quick response to the slaughter in Gaza that it has reached an advanced stage of mobilization around the globe. This is the time to up the ante. The Palestinians are not the only victims of the horrors committed in Gaza; Israel’s actions are an affront to our very humanity.

Bilal El-Amine is a former editor of Left Turn and lives in Lebanon. This article is from the March/April 2009 issue of Left Turn magazine.