Saturday, 24 November 2012

Groundhog Day in Gaza?

The major violence in and around Gaza appears to be over; the ceasefire is holding.  This is to the good.  Unfortunately, multiple factors are still in place which will very likely make such horrendous bloodshed happen again.  Why?

None of the structuring or framing features of the Gaza situation which I drew attention to in my 'Eyeless in Gaza' blog-post are altered by the ceasefire.  The illegal Israeli siege and blockade on the Strip has not been lifted, though border crossing is meant to become easier.  The Strip remains a densely populated, semi-starved, non-sovereign ghetto, where half the population are minors and where more than 80% of the population are 'food insecure', according to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.  Gaza still remains technically under Israeli occupation, and Israel's legal obligations to an occupied territory and the population of that territory have not changed: collective punishments of such a population, whether by food and aid restriction, or by drone strikes, are war crimes under the terms of the Geneva Conventions.

'Conflict', as the mainstream Irish media quaintly like to call the hell unleashed principally on the Palestinians of Gaza over the last 10 days, will erupt again because Hamas and other militias in the Strip will come under pressure from their constituencies to show resistance to Israel - and it must be admitted that an occupied people is entitled to resist that occupation - and because Israel feels it has a free hand in meting out overwhelming violence to the people of Gaza.  

Yet Operation Pillar of Cloud has revealed a couple of things, militarily and politically, that make it a little different from Operation Cast Lead.  It has revealed the effectiveness of Israel's battlefield anti-missile missile system, 'Iron Dome' - Israel's main success emerging from Pillar of Cloud.  Otherwise, the bombardment has mostly shown that Israeli leaders will continue cynically to use violence against Palestinians as an election strategy, and that Israel has no other serious strategy vis-a-vis the Strip.  Regarding Hamas, the struggle has shown that it can fire rockets into Israeli cities, and that it can go on firing rockets even when under Israeli bombardment, even if many of those can be brought down by 'Iron Dome'.  But more importantly, Hamas has been able to take advantage of the new political cleavages and alignments in the region, an adjustment Israel seems as yet unable to make.  Hamas has worked effectively with the new regime in Egypt (being an outgrowth of the Muslim Brotherhood in its origins in any case), it has won implicit recognition by the United States (which still officially regards Hamas as a 'terrorist' organisation but which nevertheless negotiated with that organisation by way of Egyptian proxies) and it has wrested from Israel an abrogation of the policy of 'targeted assassination' (though it must be said that this was always illegal anyway).

Israel still thinks it can bestride the stage of the Middle East, and smack the Palestinians around when it pleases.  It has 'a right to defend itself', after all, as the New York Times likes to remind us.   But the ground is shifting under Israel's feet, and no amount of belligerence or naked brutality can alter this.  Adam Shatz has written about Israel/Palestine for the London Review of Books (one of the few British or American mainstream journals to take a seriously critical view of the Middle East and of the question of Palestine) for some years, and his column 'Why Israel Didn't Win' is well worth reading in full:

Eyal Weizman is one of the most striking and imaginative writers dealing with the Israel-Palestine conflict at the moment.  His books - A Civilian Occupation, Hollow Land, and most recently The Least of all Possible Evils - are fascinating and appalling accounts of the spatial and topographical logics of the discipline of detail that characterises the Zionist project of conquest, colonisation and politicide as it is practiced today.  'Another acre, another goat' used to be an old popular Zionist formulation of the colonial undertaking.  The technology has changed, but the ideology has not, and Weizman illustrates this in the most compelling way:


Friday, 16 November 2012

Eyeless in Gaza

Violence once more soars in and around Gaza.  This blog is not capable of offering sustained regular reporting or commentary on the situation, but I will put up some posts or links which I think will help people understand what is happening.

The first thing that needs to be said is that in a very real sense the Gaza Strip is constituted in violence: that is, violence is part of its structures.  By this I mean several things:

1) the great majority of the population of the Strip are refugees or the children and grandchildren of refugees of the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians attendant on the creation of the State of Israel in 1947-49;

2) Gaza has long  been a site of Israeli punitive violence, for example the raid in 1955 which 'punished' Egypt for its alleged sponsorship of Palestinian 'infiltration' of southern Israel from the Strip;

3) Gaza was for a long time the site of the institutionalised and incremental violence embodied in illegal Israeli colonisation, land confiscation, settlement construction, and population-transfer;

4) Israel's unilateral withdrawal of its settlers has not, in fact, altered the juridical status of the Strip in international law, which is still held to be that of occupied territory, towards which (along with its denizens) Israel as the occupying power has a legal duty of care and protection.  Israel has built a 'fence' around its entire border of the territory, and illegally controls and seeks to exploit Gaza's maritime industries and potential hydrocarbon resources in the Mediterranean;

5) Gaza has been under continuous siege since the creation of its Hamas government: that government has no sovereignty over Gaza's borders, over its territorial waters or its airspace.  The territory is routinely subjected to Israeli shellfire, airstrikes and incursions, mostly carried out with impunity.  In 2011 alone, over 100 Gazans were killed in such interventions;

6) By controlling all trade, movement of persons and of goods and food, Israel has reduced most Gazans to the condition of what the renowned Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben (who recently spoke at Trinity College Dublin) has termed 'bare life' - a largely inert, legally and discursively 'semi-human' population almost entirely without rights, deprived of basic human needs, and which it is possible to persecute, maim and slaughter with no serious risk of reprisal, either by Gazans or (even less) by the 'international community'.

It is within this barbaric framework that all that is currently happening in the Strip must be considered.

A great deal of discussion, even now as Israeli airstrikes shatter Palestinian lives and infrastructure, and as Palestinian rockets continue to be fired into southern Israel, turns and will continue to turn on the chronology of the breaking of the most recent ceasefire.  Adam Horowitz has published on the excellent Mondoweiss website information from the Institute for Middle East Understanding which clarifies this matter and which contextualises Israel's handling of ceasefires in the past:

Two new resources: Timeline of Israeli escalation in Gaza and Israel’s history of breaking ceasefires

I have invoked the name of John Mearsheimer, one of the most clear-eyed and brilliant contemporary American International Relations theorists, on this blog already.  In 2007, he and Stephen Walt authored a major study of the Israel lobby in the United States, The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy.  Mearsheimer and Walt underwent the usual barrage of criticism as anti-Semites for having had the temerity to challenge one of the most invidious and enduring pillars of American foreign policy.  Yet it should be stressed that Walt and Mearsheimer are not wild-eyed leftists; they are mainstream establishment academics.  Honorably and impressively, this has not prevented them describing the situation in the Middle East and its echoes inside the Beltway starkly and ruthlessly.  Mearsheimer has a short article on the current Gaza situation on the London Review of Books website:


John Mearsheimer: The War on Gaza