This is just a quick bit of writing concerning some of the more common questions that I’ve encountered in the last few weeks about showing solidarity with the people of Palestine. If anyone has any particular questions that they want answered that I haven’t addressed, or want more information concerning any of the positions I have taken, please feel free to put them forward.
Israel has the right to self-defence and to stop the Hamas rockets being fired on Israel
This is one of the most common refrains I hear, especially coming from Israel itself, but also from US and UK politicians, and from many US citizens that I have discussed the Israel-Palestine situation. And, bizarrely, Nigerian students have come across as big supporters of Israel – South African students have taken a very much opposite position and fully support the people of Palestine.
My first reaction to hearing these sentiments is, yes, but aren’t the Palestinian people allowed the right to self-defence also? But more on that below…
Okay, yes, under international law and general common sense, yes, any nation has the right to defend its citizens against aggression. The crude rockets being fired from Gaza by Hamas militants into southern Israel have very little destructive power but a very potent psychological impact, mainly because due to their rudimentary nature they are essentially indiscriminate in where they land. In the three years following the August 2005 ‘unilateral withdrawal’ of Israeli forces from the Gaza strip a total of eleven (11) Israelis died as a result of these rockets. Just to give a sense of proportional losses though, its important to note that in the 2005-2007 period alone, one thousand, two hundred and ninety (1290) Gazans (222 of which were children) were killed as a result of actions taken by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF). But that perhaps goes better with the right to Palestinian self-defence below…
Now, even though Israel is allowed the right to self-defence, international law states that this self-defence must be proportional. I admit I’m not that great a mathemetician as I would like to be, but the numbers certainly don’t seem to add up in any way as indicating Israeli proportional responses. Israel has recieved mere pinpricks from Hamas, while the responses of the IDF betrays what seems to me unbridled brutality towards the people of Gaza. It should also be noted that direct military action in the form of bombs, rockets and bullets is only one form of military aggression one may take. One often used military strategy is that of a siege, or blockade. Gaza has been under de-facto military siege for close to three years now, essentially since Hamas was forced to pre-empt a US inspired Fatah coup, seizing power in the Gaza strip. This has meant a blockade of food, fuel, medicines and other commodities from entering Gaza, a blockade that has only been infrequently lifted through international pressure to allow basic rationing of supplies. As part of the six-month ceasefire agreement Israel was supposed to lift this siege. It didn’t. As a result it was Israel that never honoured the ceasefire agreement.
Now don’t get me wrong here, the killing of civilians, be it by Hamas rockets or IDF aerial bombardment, is wrong. for one thing its completely counter-productive. Hamas rockets tend to hit only poor working-class Israeli towns (who should be their allies – more on that in part three), and the psychological impact of these terrorist attacks only hardens Israeli resolve to crackdown on Hamas. It gives the Israelis an excuse as it were for assaults like the one we see today. At the same time, Israeli military agression and blockades amount to collective punishment of Gaza, and only strengthens support for armed resistance (which is legitimate) and terrorist tactics. It should be noted that terror is always the weapon of the weak. It comes as a result of having no other option other than being destroyed, physically, mentally and socially in the face of agression, with the calculation being that if one is going to be destroyed anyway, one might as well take some of the aggressors with you. Its also a product of the trauma that the Palestinian people have experienced for the last several decades. There is ample evidence that children exposed to warzone trauma, which Palestine has been for the last few decades, are more likely than not to resort to violence themselves. Ultimately it leads to a cycle of increasing violence. I think this article I found in The Guardian expresses this situation much better than I can here.
But an eye for an eye…
This is a common refrain I hear, especially from the more religious individuals, but also from some rather disillussioned individuals. Its pretty much the same issue as the one above. There exists a rebuttal to this, I think originating from Gandhi, something along the lines of ‘if we take the logic of an eye for eye to its conclusion, it leaves us all blind.’ Personally, I’m not a pacifist, although I know many lefties are. I believe in the right to self-defence. But I believe in dealing with the root cause of the violence in the first place, and not contributing to further violence through disproportional responses. What Israel is doing in Gaza is not an eye for an eye. Its an eye for an eyelash.
It will not destory Hamas or support for Hamas. Instead it will strengthen support for them. It will not crush the spirit of resistance but strengthen it. It will lead to worse and worse terrorist actions from some as weapons of last resort and desperation.
But by demonstrating against Israel aren’t you supporting Hamas?
I’ve gotten this response from quite a few US students here, who are appalled at the bloodshed and disproportionate violence on the part of Israel, but will not take action because they think these rallies are pro-Hamas demonstrations. This is not the case.
The demonstrations are first and foremost demonstrations against the disproportionate violence being dished out by Israel, seeing Israels actions as inherently counterproductive, and calling for an immediate ceasefire. Secondly I think they are an expression of exasperation with the cycle of violence over there and cynicism of Western hypocrisy on the issue (think Sudan and Darfur here).
I won’t deny that there have been Hamas and Hezbollah flags at demonstrations here. I won’t deny that many people are taken in by the romance of national liberation movements and support for the ‘underdog’ as it were. They have the right to take the positions that they do, and to express them as they will, or so I am led to believe, in formal liberal democracies, such as I am told the UK is. Its false to assume that just because there are indeed Hamas or Hezbollah supporters in these demonstrations that all of the demonstrators are Hamas or Hezbollah supporters. There are also communist and anarchist flags, as well as labour unions and various activist organisations in these demonstrations. They all certainly don’t see eye to eye, and there have been some rather heated exchanges between these various groups. They are united only in solidarity with the people of Gaza and calling for an immediate ceasefire. Thats all there is to it.
But Hamas are terrorists!
There is alot of overlap between this statement and the one immediately above, so I’ll focus on the subtle difference here. I don’t support Hamas, their ideology and their tactics. But whether I like it or not, or no matter what others would like, Hamas is the democratically elected government of the Palestinian people. In January 2006, in free and fair elections for the Legislative Council of the Palestinian Authority, monitored by international observers, Hamas (running as the ‘list for Change and Reform’) won 42.9% of the popular vote, and seventy-four (74) of the 132 seats. They won this election through a combination of disillussionment with Fatah corruption and percieved collaboration with Israel and failure to advance the Palestinian cause, through its policy of continued armed resistance to Israeli occupation, and, most importantly, through its commitment to social services, being responsible for most of an extensive social services network, running many relief and education programs, and funds schools, orphanages, mosques, healthcare clinics, soup kitchens, and sports leagues. Quite frankly, they have been committed to grassroots issues, and that paid off in these elections.
Yes, Hamas does indeed have an armed wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades. I don’t support Hamas, as I’ve said, and while their techniques are indeed questionable, one must remember that even with the South African ANC, following the 1960 Sharpeville massacre, many members came to the conclusion that non-violent civil disobedience (peaceful strikes and protests) were not sufficient in the face of apartheid. As a result the Umkhonto we Sizwe (“Spear of the Nation”) (MK), the armed wing of the ANC was formed in 1961. The analogy is not perfect, but in the face of desperation, but as a result of the terrorist attacks committed by MK the ANC was classified as a major terrorist organisation by many Western governments, including the UK and US, right up until the late 1980s.
One interesting and little known thing about Hamas is that there is actually alot of credible evidence that Israel, through its intelligence branch, the Mossad, are directly responsible for creating Hamas as we know it today. I’m not going to drown you with a bunch of links concerning this, but here is one to an article from the French newspaper ‘L’humanite’ in the original French and an english translation here. The basic premise is that Hamas would weaken the power of the relatively leftist and secular Fatah led PLO, thus undermining it, while also helping to reinforce the more superficial appearence of the Israel-Palestine conflict as being a religious one, a ‘clash of civilisations’ between democracy and Judaism versus radical Islamic jihadism, thus deflecting the issue away from the reality of neo-colonialism and popular liberation.
There are, of course, many more issues that need to be addressed here, especially the question of why we in Bermuda or Scotland, students or workers, should really care about whats happening over there in Gaza, beyond general human compassion when faced with evidence of the tragedies developing through civilian casulties. This essentially goes to the heart of the Israel-Palestine question from a class analysis and global imperialism. As there is alot to say on those issues, I’m going to try to tackle them in a separate post, Eyeless in Gaza – Part Three. As stated above though, if anyone has a particular question I didn’t touch on above, or wants to discuss some of what I’ve written, heck, go right ahead. Hopefully I’ll get Part Three up in a day or so, barring any other more urgent developments in the mean time.
One last thing though, and I think its quite important. I’ve spoken with a number of people on the march itself, and outside of it. People are rapidly being disillussioned with peaceful protest as a tool for change. I can’t say I blame them, its more symbolic than anything else. Look at the anti-war protests in the run-up to the Iraq invasion. Massive demonstrations, coupled with widespread popular opposition to the war in opinion polls, at least in the UK. It didn’t stop the war, it didn’t stop the UK being the US’ main eager ally. Nor will these demonstrations themselves. That doesn’t mean that people aren’t going to take actions that they feel will make a difference this time around. It just means that people are rapidly losing what little illussions they already had about the myth of democracy and peaceful demonstration as tools to effect change. Some will generally become nihilistic and inactive. But far greater numbers are concluding that more extreme measures may be needed. Can I blame them? No. Its hard not to agree with them. In fact, the question isn’t whether more extreme measures are needed to effect social change are needed. Its long past that. The question is what extreme measures will do the job. Its more or less proven now that while our ‘democracies’ are certainly improvements over ‘dictatorships’ we sure aren’t living in what people thought a democracy meant, and if our so-called ‘champions of democracy’ – the professional politicians aren’t going to help build that new society of popular participatory democracy, then we’ll do it without them.