The 2014 Gaza war looks more and more like a sports competition between the leaderships of Israel and Hamas, to see who will emerge more stupid and evil. So far "my" side (that would be Israel) is winning, but it's a very close contest.
The bitter irony, known to everyone not blinded by either side's propaganda, is that Hamas flinging rockets into Israeli population centers has made Gazans far less safe. And Israelis would have enjoyed a far safer and more relaxed summer, had their government not leveraged - with unprecedented, jaw-dropping cynicism - the triple kidnap-murder in the West Bank (according to all signs, the act of a couple of criminals working alone) into an all-out jihad against Hamas in Gaza.
Of course, this bloodfest could have been easily been stopped short, had the Obama administration acted with even a fraction of the responsibility it had shown in previous iterations. For me at least, supporting this war marks the low point of Obama's tenure so far. But that's really a topic for an entire different diary.
Here I wanted to give some context for Gaza.
The indiscriminate jailing of Gaza's residents - all 1.8 million women, men and children - and their periodic slaughter by the hundred, are being marketed to the world, and staunchly defended by American politicians of all stripes - as an inevitable security measure.
Nothing could be further from the truth; this can be easily figured out just from the disastrous track-record of this approach in achieving the stated goal. The idiom defining insanity as repeatedly attempting the same thing and expecting a different result, applies here; unless the objective is not the stated one (which is what I suspect).
And then there's the history.
Those who make excuses for the treatment of Gaza by the world, would have you believe that Gaza's history starts in 2007, or in 2005. Attempts to go a bit further and understand what that place had been in recent decades, are met with snorts and suggestions to perhaps start 3000 years ago. But this being a reality-based community, I hope people are willing to try and figure out the 1's in the 1+1=2. It is really rather straightforward.
Consider, for example, this passage:
I hated Gaza and its inhabitants. Everything in the amputated town reminded me of failed pictures painted in grey by a sick man. Yes, I would send my mother and my brother's widow and her children a meagre sum to help them to live, but I would liberate myself from this last tie too, there in green California, far from the reek of defeat which for seven years had filled my nostrils. The sympathy which bound me to my brother's children, their mother and mine would never be enough to justify my tragedy in taking this perpendicular dive. It mustn't drag me any further down than it already had. I must flee!Is this passage from 2014? 2012? Perhaps 2009?
...When I went on holiday in June and assembled all my possessions, longing for the sweet departure, the start towards those little things which give life a nice, bright meaning, I found Gaza just as I had known it, closed like the introverted lining of a rusted snail-shell thrown up by the waves on the sticky, sandy shore by the slaughter-house.
...When I arrived my late brother's wife met me there and asked me, weeping, if I would do as her wounded daughter, Nadia, in Gaza hospital wished and visit her that evening. Do you know Nadia, my brother's beautiful thirteen-year-old daughter?
..."Nadia! I've brought you presents from Kuwait, lots of presents. I'll wait till you can leave your bed, completely well and healed, and you'll come to my house and I'll give them to you. I've bought you the red trousers you wrote and asked me for. Yes, I've bought them." It was a lie, born of the tense situation, but as I uttered it I felt that I was speaking the truth for the first time. Nadia trembled as though she had an electric shock and lowered her head in a terrible silence. I felt her tears wetting the back of my hand.
"Say something, Nadia! Don't you want the red trousers?" She lifted her gaze to me and made as if to speak, but then she stopped, gritted her teeth and I heard her voice again, coming from faraway.
She stretched out her hand, lifted the white coverlet with her fingers and pointed to her leg, amputated from the top of the thigh.
No. These excerpts are from Ghassan Kanafani's 1956 story, Letter from Gaza. The bloody incident referred to in the story is Israel's shelling of downtown gaza with 120mm mortars in April 1956. The Israelis claimed Egypt's military (then in control of Gaza) had fortified positions inside the city. Only decades later did Col. M. Bar-On, then General Dayan's chief of staff, admitted that it was a lie: there was a deliberate command to bomb downtown Gaza regardless of military targets (h/t Dr. Yehuda Shenhav-Shaharabani, who uploaded a Hebrew translation of this story and the context last week)
So no. This is not about Hamas, not by a long shot. Hamas are just the incredibly flawed messenger currently trying to make (in the worst possible way) Gaza's case against the world.
But really, when you've been deserted to your cruel fate, in broad daylight and plain sight, time after time after time after time after time after time after time - who is really the chief culprit here?
A bit more below the fold.
I'd been to the Gaza Strip numerous times in the 1980s and 1990s as an Israeli Occupation soldier. Actually, I've never gone to the Strip as a civilian destination. I remember passing through the Gaza Strip once, in 1975 (age 8 or 9) en route to a family trip to northern Sinai. That's all, and it's true for most Israeli Jews.
By contrast, substantial parts of the West Bank are have been used by broad sectors of Israeli society - for travel shortcuts, for shopping, even to live as settlers. But Gaza, despite being barely 50 miles from Tel Aviv, was always perceived as a place apart, a penal colony. The style and severity of punishment meted out to Gaza residents has varied, but its status as an Undesirable Ex-Territory was set in stone decades ago.
As soldiers, we were given the message that Gaza is something else. There was more license to be aggressive and brutal. Gaza, and people from Gaza when encountered elsewhere, have always been singled out for special treatment. I won't fatten this diary with numerous personal stories, but they are along the lines of this incident witnessed by Dr. Sara Roy around the same time (mid-1980s), and worse. You could always get away with doing stuff like that more easily in Gaza than in the West Bank.
How did Gaza become, so dense, so poor, so ill-fated?
Essentially, it is one big refugee camp. Palestinians displaced from central and southern Mandatory Palestine - as far north as Jaffa (from which they were evicted by boat directly to the Gaza port) and as far south as Bir A-Sab' (now Be'er Sheva) and beyond, deep in the desert - were gradually crowded into the Strip, where eventually the UN helped set up refugee camps intended to be temporary.
Anyone paying attention to Israel-Palestine is familiar with the recriminations surrounding the Nakba and its refugees. One often overlooked fact, is that it is universal - and rather normal - human behavior, when a war front rolls into your town, to pack up and leave to a safer location until things get better. Quite a few Palestinians were actually kicked out, there's plenty of documentation for that; but even those who left "voluntarily" (grabbing your family and running away from a war zone is not exactly the perfect example for free will), did not forfeit their right to return by doing so.
The vast majority of refugees flowing into Gaza, came from regions with scarcely any Jewish presence. In 1947, major Jewish villages and towns ended about 20 miles south of Tel Aviv. Further south, the Zionist enterprise only had a dozen or so scattered, recent, semi-militarized localities manned by youngsters. Everything else was Arab towns and villages. So the Palestinian residents had good reason to believe that after the dust settles, they will be able to return home regardless of who's the new rulers. After all, even in living memory some of them had lived through the Ottomans then the British, with the World War I front rolling through in 1917, prompting a similar temporary displacement for a large chunk of the population.
Alas, this time around the refugees were betrayed. Ground Zero for betrayal was the little-known, seldom-mentioned 1949 Lausanne Conference, convened specifically to resolve the Palestinian refugee situation. The 1948 war had just concluded with the Jewish side (now called Israel) victorious. But even the Israelis themselves, as a fledgling and almost totally dependent nation, and considering the facts on the ground, generally expected the outcome to be - and were willing to live with - the repatriation of nearly half of the 700,000-750,000 Palestinians displaced from inside the territory they now controlled (78% of Mandatory Palestine).
None of that happened. The Israelis returned home with their country achieving broad international recognition, and without committing to accept a single refugee back (according to historian Hillel Cohen, later on, Palestinians who remained in the country as second-class citizens, succeeded via courageous civil action, to repatriate some 25,000 refugees as family reunification). I'm not an expert on the "inside baseball" of that disastrous conference - the play-by-play of how and why it ended with the worst possible outcome accompanied by "Just move along, nothing to see here" - but it's a moot point. The powers that be decided to ignore the dire warnings on the ground about a time bomb for years to come, and punted the Palestinian problem into the future. Palestinians were not even allowed to be a side in that conference.
Nowhere was this felt as strongly as in Gaza, a narrow strip of land then under Egyptian military occupation. Its original population was overwhelmed by a flood of refugees 2-3 times its size. Some Israeli officials had predicted that Gaza's refugees would simply starve to death. They did not.
Instead, their numbers quickly increased, because Israel interpreted - correctly, I guess - the 1949 Lausanne conference as a green light to "complete the job". Inside Israel around Gaza there were still many thousands of Palestinians, whose rights to remain on their lands were "guaranteed" by the 1949 Israel-Egypt armistice. But in 1950-1951, these towns - most notably Majdal (now Ashkelon) and Al-Faluja - suffered night-time military attacks and other forms of intimidation, until they were either forced to leave or forcibly evicted to Gaza, in blatant contravention of the said agreements.
At the same time, Gaza refugees' nocturnal forays through the still-porous border into their former lands, often only a couple of hours' walk away, in order to salvage crops or redeem food and equipment, were increasingly framed by Israel as "Terrorism" (a small minority of them were) and treated with deadly force and "response" raids into Gaza.
Soon Gazans became a football kicked around between Israel and Egypt, leading to the deadly shelling referenced in Kanafani's story, and then to Israeli occupation in 1956-1957 and again, a much longer one since 1967. Besides military oppression, Israeli governments did not care to invest much in Gaza. Instead, they preferred to exploit its male population as day-laborers in the Tel Aviv region, or as extremely cheap labor for the Israeli settlements set up on expropriated land inside Gaza.
Now in 2014, in the midst of dozens of Gazan civilians being killed every day, Israel's UN ambassador mendaciously washes his hands of any responsibility to Gaza. Gaza's plight is now supposedly all Gazans' fault, because Israel removed its few thousand Gaza settlers and remaining military posts inside the Strip in 2005. This learned man apparently doesn't know any of Gaza's history, and is oblivious to the fact that we still control Gaza's entries, exits, commerce, currency, population registry, power grid, telecommunications, airspace and waters.
Or else, Israel's UN ambassador is a filthy racist liar. You be the judge.
And the world continues to punt Gaza into a worse and worse future.
Before you point a finger at Gaza's residents for their radicalization and militancy, you better first list out the many ways in which you and your government have been complicit in, and continues to uphold, their insanely inhumane, unacceptable-on-any-level treatment - and what you can do to change this reality.
It is simply unbelievable to me, that the Western world in the late 20th and well into the 21st Century, has colluded so deeply in what has been a generations-long campaign of dispossession and torment on a massive scale, culminating in 7 years of the hermetic jailing of 1.8 million souls. And people in the West still think they have the right to lecture Gazans about morality!
I strongly recommend Joe Sacco's brilliant and touching graphic novel, Footnotes in Gaza. Besides providing more Gaza context from a mid-2000s vantage point, it tells the story of massacres that apparently occurred during the brief Israeli occupation of 1956-57, massacres that have been denied by Israel and forgotten by the world.
Forgotten just like Gaza itself, whenever it doesn't shoot rockets.
Please do contact the White House, and your representatives, to stop this madness, stop the bloodshed and free Gaza's residents.