Riff on Gaza

When Hamas started its volley of rockets at Israel 3 weeks ago or so, it was already too late for anyone outside Israel or Gaza to have much effect beyond hand-wringing and expressions of outrage over the armed tit for tat.

There are several interested parties here, dozens of them, all distinct and different …

  • Palestinians, Gazans, Hamas, Fatah and other assorted Islamist factions in and out of Gaza.
  • Israel, Israelis, Israeli Jews, Jews generally and various whackier factions of Jewry in and out of Israel.
  • Wider Arab & “Western” nations and interests. Western here needs to include Russia (see other local difficulty)
  • Current interests, plus historical & cultural interests, responsibilities, claims, offers and rejections.

The immediate conflict is between Israel and Hamas. Gazans and Israelis are collateral damage.

Having decided to rocket Israel Hamas has chosen to be the aggressor in the current armed conflict (*1). (Gazan’s specifically(*2), plus Palestinians and Arabs more generally, let the world know your affiliation with Hamas …. Hamas’ own aims are clear and public.)

Having decided to respond to the attacks defensively, and then by pre-emptive attacks, Israel is within its rights. Its responsibilities are then “proportionality” and humanitarian care for the collateral damage on both sides.

Once in the mess of the current armed exchanges with sporadic cease-fires, broken several times by Hamas and ignored (“for operational reasons”) occasionally by Israel, it’s still the same mess we’re in.

Collateral damage of innocents(*) is part of the mess, attributing whose direct and indirect responsibility for whose ordnance hits which “accidental” targets and who located the targets, once we’re in the mess, is the fog of war and blame-game rhetoric. Shit happens because shit is happening when we’re in this kinda mess.

It was too late to avoid the mess 3 weeks ago, other than pleas to humanity. Only the US has forces to match Israel anyway, and whilst US and Russia are miles apart in the world right now, there is little chance of external intervention of genuinely neutral force. This conflagration needs to burn itself out.

Same is true now for both Hamas and Israel, in the sense that the current mess is unavoidable, it’s the current reality; (it wasn’t 3 weeks ago, but now it is). Now we’re in this mess “we” might as well finish the job – the damage is already done, it’s not really about numbers. Having kicked-off the mess originally against Hamas rockets, and their sources, the threat of invasion tunnels became not only real (actual physical assaults) but more extensive, as more were unearthed on the Gazan side – it makes perfect military operational sense to complete their “destruction” with the (human) forces you’ve already put at risk.

The belligerents need to cease any new operations, and cease fire, and withdraw to at-peace dispositions. Fast. Then they need to talk, with mediators clearly.

  • That talk needs to address the whole of the real problem, not the unfortunate recent mess.
  • The talking to solve the problem also needs parallel ongoing strategies for responding to provocations to any new mess arising.
  • The talk must not stop. And the talking shop needs sustained and continuous world effort and variety to maintain its credibility.

That real underlying problem is complicated. What we mustn’t do is wait for the next mess before we fix it, because if it’s not fixed we all share responsibilities for the next mess, just as we do for this and previous examples.

(*1) Hostilities are ongoing, so the precise start of the current armed conflict is a matter of perspective. Before the rocket strikes on Israel per se – ie civilian targets – there had of course been tit for tat kidnappings and killings of individuals on both sides, and Israeli strikes against specific Hamas targets. Hamas themselves confirmed the victims were their own military leaders.

(*2) The parents of Gazan children, and their local leaders are NOT innocent when it comes to Hamas launching rockets and building attack tunnels “in their name”.

[Post Notes :

This started as a riff – some short sharp statements, without explicit arguments and connected paragraphs. Only response so far has been personal twitter abuse, but I’m gradually adding referenced facts. and subtly modifying details as I do. One suggestion was I was ignorant of facts in this Henry Siegman piece at Democracy Now. Good news is that Siegman agrees with my first point and indeed it’s his first point – in the shorter term now this mess has erupted there is nothing to do but hope the disaster is short-lived. All strategy, planning and action concerns what next, based on deeper understanding of the parties and real issues, current and historical. Reading on, I don’t find anything of which I’m not generally aware, that’s not covered by my “it’s complicated” above. But feel free to point out and ask any specific, anyone. Immediate interest for me is current Gazan “governance” and where Hamas fits in. The fact current Palestinian Gazan’s find themselves “blockaded” into their current narrow strip is a long and sorry tale of missed opportunity in itself – the idea that they are forced to live this way simply being “Israel’s fault” is laughably simplistic. That is one point I depart from Siegman.

Anyway for now – the riff stands. (Fixed the Fatah reference). Sure “provocation” is part of what leads to outbreak of armed exchanges, given the tense conflict of the status quo. No-one is blameless, and sure, I do think Israeli response has been disproportionate and inhumane – I add my voice to that outrage, but I believe other Israelis and Jews saying “not in our name” says that much more eloquently and forcefully than the rest of us hand-wringing bystanders. But both sides have a longer agenda here. Beyond the immediate ending of hostilities but before the “full solution” the short-to-medium term issue has to be Hamas. It won a Palestinian-wide election back in 2006, but had to impose its own Islamic rule of force in 2007 to take control over Gaza from shared secular responsibility with Fatah … since then it’s declared aim of the destruction of Israel, and it’s alignment with other Islamic movements since the Arab spring, Egypt and Syria crises means several things. (1) we need to know where Palestinians and Gazan’s (and wider Arabs) stand on Hamas aims and actions in 2014, and (2), if the supported aims are Islamic militant, against tolerance of other cultures and beliefs, internal or neighbouring – we have a much larger issue to work on whilst “peace-keeping” in and around Gaza.

And here’s a good piece from Brian Eno on the immediate humanist issues.

And (5 Aug) another strong action from Baroness Warsi.

And (5 Aug) the HuffPo interview with Warsi – very explicit on the loss of William Hague, and the internal FO unrest. How much more evidence needed for long-life meritocratic second house, and “wisdom” rather than vote-catching fads manning important ministries – like the FO – that have tough ethical decisions to make over long and short time-scales.

From both Eric (Pickles) and William (Hauge) I learnt the art of reconciling passion and idealism with pragmatism and realism …

Art not science, notice.

Meanwhile (1 Aug) ISIS in Syria and Iraq and …. where next. There is still one complicated problem here called “the middle east” and Israel/Hamas are the bull & red-rag in the china shop.

The belief that Isis is interested only in ‘Muslim against Muslim’ struggles is another instance of wishful thinking: Isis has shown it will fight anybody who doesn’t adhere to its bigoted, puritanical and violent variant of Islam. Where Isis differs from al-Qaida is that it’s a well-run military organisation that is very careful in choosing its targets and the optimum moment to attack them …. A new and terrifying state has been born.

Disappointing to see the myth that Sykes-Picot was “implemented” after WW1? Hopefully just short-hand. After all that’s what myths are for.]

2 thoughts on “Riff on Gaza”

  1. Very well put. Not much I would quibble with here. I did read the Eno piece earlier today and found the part about the Jerusalem anti-Palestinian vitriolic racism particularly hard to take. Assuming it is true I find it staggering and wonder why it is not more widely recognised (there are still some relatively unbiased news outlets left in the world).

    Looking at the other side of the wall, I heard a speech (rant?) from the Hamas leader a few days ago where he as good as said “I’ll fight to the last drop of my people’s blood” while all the time hiding amongst his people. I know he/they were voted in but did the voters really understand what they were voting for? I must look up the numbers to find out what proportion voted for him/them.

  2. As I understand it Hamas only marginally beat Fatah, and of course the Palestinian constituency is spread over Gaza and West-Bank territories (all much smaller than were offered to PLO many years ago, incidentally). Regionally they agreed secular power sharing with Fatah, but then by military coup Hamas took total Islamist control in Gaza.

    (One item of good news is the that Dr Hanan Ashrawi is still active as PLO spokesperson I see.)

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