Israel’s self-destructive war and Arab politics

Published 22.07.2014 01:03

More than 500 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli shelling since Israel launched its attack on Gaza on July 6. On the night of July 19 alone, Israeli forces killed more than 70 people in the Shujaiyya neighborhood of Gaza, most of them women and children. The world is outraged but the Netanyahu government is determined to continue its assault on Gaza.

In the meantime, Turkey, Egypt, Qatar and the U.S. are working on an immediate ceasefire.

Given Western support for Israel and the ineffectiveness of the Arab response, Israel is likely to continue its carnage in Gaza. Why is this butchering happening now?

Egypt provides an answer. Some political commentators who support President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi in Egypt have supported Israeli aggression because it aims at finishing off Hamas. They blame Hamas for the Israeli shelling of Gaza. One Egyptian writer went as far as to state, "Thank you Netanyahu, and God give us more men like you to destroy Hamas!" Another says he will not support Gazans until they rid themselves of Hamas.

This is not a trivial matter and says something about the ease with which Israel attacks Gaza and kills women and children. Israel fights because it can. It knows that neither the West nor the Arab world is willing or able to stop it. Its actions cause outrage in world public opinion but it enjoys the comfort of the "protective dome" which is the political and military support of Western governments. No matter what happens, they end up blaming the Palestinians anyway. Yet, to justify its aggression, Israel paints Hamas as a terrorist organization and presents all Palestinians as Hamas operatives.

The calculation seems to be that if a deadly attack on Gaza can break Palestinian support for Hamas, this can destroy both Hamas and the newly established national unity government in one stroke.

But this is a miscalculation. Whatever the ugly realities of Arab and world politics, the Palestinians have learned how to be resilient under occupation. Every aggression on Gaza has made the resistance movement stronger. With or without Hamas, the Palestinian struggle for freedom and dignity will continue.

As long as the occupation continues, Israel will face all sorts of resistance including armed struggle, boycotts, sanctions and political isolation.

With the help of Western media outlets and its own propaganda machine, Israel has been good at covering its crimes in the occupied territories. It has sold the "Israel under siege" story to Western audiences when in fact the power disparity between Israel and Palestine has always been enormous. It is Palestine that has been under occupation for more than six decades and it is the Palestinians who are killed with Israeli bombs and bullets every day.

With its sheer military power, Israel makes short-term territorial and military gains. But every time it expands its aggression and commits war crimes as it is doing in Gaza at the moment, the global anti-occupation movement gets stronger. Since the recent assault on Gaza began, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets in London, Paris, Vienna, Istanbul, Rabat, Tel Aviv, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur and many other places to protest against the Israeli attack on Gaza.

A large group of statesmen, artists and intellectuals, including seven Noble Peace laureates, called for "a comprehensive and legally binding military embargo on Israel, similar to that imposed on South Africa during apartheid.

The letter signed by Adolfo Peres Esquivel, Alice Walker, Desmond Tutu, Betty Williams, Brian Eno, Etienne Balibar, Ilan Pappe, John Berger, Judith Butler, Noam Chomsky, Rashid Khalidi, Richard Falk, Roger Waters, Slavoj Zizek, Steven Rose and others compares the occupation of Palestine to the apartheid regime in South Africa. Given the large of number of civilian deaths, the situation of Palestinians living under occupation is worse than that of South Africans under the apartheid regime.

The boycott, divestment and sanction (BDS) movement, which aims to raise awareness about the horrors of occupation, is gaining more supporters by the day.

Stephen Hawking's boycott of Israel last year was based on his assessment of the Israeli treatment of Palestinians in the occupied lands. Many other prominent scientists and artists joined the boycott movement in their individual capacities. Furthermore, such prominent Israeli and Jewish writers as Gideon Levy, Uri Avnery, Ilan Pappe, Avi Shlaim, Alon Ben-Meier and others have been vocal in their condemnation of Israel's policies of occupation, dispossession and collective punishment.

But let's be realistic. A civilian boycott movement will not stop Israel. So the question is: are the powerful Gulf countries ready for a serious confrontation with Israel and its Western backers? If a handful of brave individuals and NGOs can start a boycott movement with a global outreach, why can't powerful and prosperous Arab governments with their money, companies, networks and lobbying firms?

The answer to this question says a lot about the state of Arab politics.

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