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Gaza: The Brutality of Political Inevitability


The tragedy unfolding in Gaza is a miniature of the tragedy of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As usual, because of internal political reasons, extremism and activism have been allowed to rule the agenda and "national unity" has drowned out voices of moderation and considerations of long-term policy.

The murder of two Israeli infants in the Israeli town of Sderot, inside the Green Line by a Qassam rocket attack was the trigger for a vast Israeli military operation that has cost scores of lives and resulted in widespread injuries and damage to property. The operation, dubbed "Days of Repentance" is not over by any means, and aims to capture a large "security zone" in the Gaza strip. Palestinian sources list all of the casualties without exception as "civilians," but Arab sources such as Al Jazeera document numerous instances of attacks on armed Palestinians fighting the Israelis, Hamas and other terrorist leaders, or Palestinians who were engaged in launching Qassams, even while echoing unsubstantiated Palestinian claims that most of the dead were civilians.

The Israeli right wants us to believe that the Qassam rocket attacks on Sderot are a result of Sharon's disengagement plan, while the Hamas pretends that they are a reaction to this or that Israeli action. In fact, the Hamas had been preparing Qassam rockets in Gaza for some time, unhindered by the PNA and virtually unremarked by the international community. The Qassam attacks and the Israeli reaction are an inevitable result of a perpetual internal political competition to determine who can be the most extremist and the most inhumane to "the enemy" and to gain leadership in the struggle against "the enemy."

Though the plans of the Hamas to disrupt any possibility of a peaceful settlement have been public knowledge for a long time, nobody took any steps to rein them in, even though steps against terror groups are a key condition of the Roadmap. The PNA was not interested in doing so, because confrontation with "heros of the resistance" would make the PNA/PLO lose its status as the "legitimate representatives of the Palestinian people." This dillemma leads to Kamikaze-style politics in which the Palestinian leaders and people find themselves backing "resistance" that they did not originate and probably do not really approve, even though they know it is harmful to their cause. The protests of minor leaders that these attacks are harmful to Palestinian interests are virtually unheard. Samir Rantissi, an adviser to the Palestine Authority admitted:

These rockets which harm Israelis in Sderot and in other places - and I am sorry for the Israeli losses - are only bringing back misery and a lot of suffering for a lot of innocent people who have lost their houses, livelihoods and lives because they are helpless and cannot prevent the young men from launching these useless rockets, which hardly have any effect against the Israeli enemy, from within their neighborhoods.

Everyone seems to have understood this a long time ago (except Yasser Arafat, who insisted that the rockets just made noise) but nobody in the Palestinian Authority, including reform advocates like Mohamed Dahlan, was willing to do very much about the Qassam rockets or the suicide bombings.

The Israeli government is not really interested in forcing the Palestinian Authority to take steps against the Hamas and other extremists, because if there were a truly moderate Palestinian leadership and a cessation of terror, the Israeli government would have to negotiate seriously with the Palestinians. The EU is not interested in suppressing the extremists, because because if there were a truly moderate Palestinian leadership and a cessation of terror, there would be a chance that the US - led peace process would be crowned with success. There is no percentage in that for the Europeans, who have been largely shut out of the peace process. The US would get all the credit. The US did not seriously pressure the Palestinians to act against the extremists and fulfill the provision of the roadmap, either out of deference to the wishes of Ariel Sharon, or because as is highly likely, US officials are too incompetent to understand what is in their own interests. Consequently, US pressure is limited to sending Colin Powell or the State Department Press Secretary to wave their finger at the Palestinian Authority and wring their hands about needless loss of human lives, a dog and pony show that should not fool anyone.

Every attack bolsters the prestige of the Hamas and gives them a better chance to get a share in the government of Gaza after the Israelis leave, or a better chance of leading Palestinian society after the demise of Yasser Arafat. In the long run, the terror must wreck the Palestinian National Authority, because the PNA is a creation of the peace process, and becomes increasingly irrelevant as it becomes increasingly obvious that there is no longer any hope for the peace process. The attacks in Israel are also consonant with the Hamas ideology, which insists that there is really no difference between "green line Israel" on the one hand, and Gaza and the West Bank on the other. They are all "Occupied Palestine," though the Hamas promises a temporary tactical truce ('hudna') if Israel withdraws from Gaza and the West Bank completely.

Like the Qassam rockets themselves, the Israeli reaction was devoid of any military or other strategic value, as pointed out in Ha'aretz. After Israel withdraws from Gaza, as it almost certainly will, the Hamas will be free to return and launch Qassams or anything else at will, if there is no political solution. In any case, they can eventually get Katyusha rockets with a longer range, or develop their own longer-range Qassams, which they are already doing. Not only does it do no good - the Israeli operation also does harm. Having first gained prestige from the attacks, the Hamas then gained from radicalization of Palestinian society that is caused by the Israeli response. Right-wing pundits can pontificate that Israel is not responsible for the casualties:

Palestinians who are harmed in IDF operations are paying for the murderous intentions of the terrorist
organizations. Their blood is on the head of their own leaders.

Nonetheless, each Palestinian child and each Palestinian civilian killed or maimed by the IDF is a victory for the Palestinians. In this war, he who kills the least people will probably win. As policy or military strategy, the IDF operation in Gaza is probably an unmitigated disaster.

However, the Israeli operation makes perfect political sense internally. The Qassam attacks were doubly infuriating. They reminded Israelis that the security fence, which has surrounded Gaza for many years, is not a perfect defense against terror, they gave right-wing critics of Sharon a chance to villify his policies as ineffective and cowardly.

The attacks make it increasingly difficult for Sharon to implement the disengagement plan. Evacuation from Gaza under current conditions would look like capitulation to the diktat of the Hamas. No wonder that Sharon and others in the Israeli government were furious. Sharon reportedly proposed an artillery bombardment, and had to be restrained from this plan by cooler heads.

Before the Israeli attack, the hawkish Debkafiles "analysis" Web site insisted that the IDF had no solution for the Qassams. Debkafiles proclaimed :

Forty-eight months into the so-called Palestinian uprising, an Israeli town was hit by 11 primitive missiles in four days and two small children murdered.

All the signs point to the fact that neither the Israeli army nor the Sharon government has a clue on how to defeat the homemade Qassam.

Debkafiles was talking about the same IDF and security apparatus that rescued the hostages in Entebbe, and that can pick off terrorist leaders in Syria or shoot the head off Ahmed Yassin with a missile. Astute analysts like the Debkafiles should have known better than to be so pessimistic about the capabilities of the Israeli security organization. Or perhaps they were purposely issuing a challenge?

Debkafiles continued:

A. For the first time, the Israeli defense establishment hitherto known for its relatively high credibility has begun to fall into the spin-doctor tactics employed by Sharon and his advisers. Thus far, IDF commanders have not caught the affliction. They kept silent after the Sderot attack, rather than joining the loud media chorus of what Israel had in store: "The prime minister said the rocket attack would be met by a harsh response" and "The Israel Defense Forces will shortly pour very large forces into the Gaza Strip and widen their scope of operation." There was also talk of employing drones to detect and target missile-launchers and the creation of a buffer zone.

By Thursday morning, the day after the two children were murdered, none of this had happened, save for the routine roadblocks that partition the Gaza Strip into three impassable sectors after every terrorist attack.

The operation with the large forces, the harsh response, the use of drones, and the creation of the buffer zone, all the things that Debkafiles wanted, and insisted wouldn't happen, all came to pass exactly as prophesied. Everyone got it right except the "experts" at Debkafiles. It was no spin at all. Debkafiles gets a big fat 0 in the self-appointed prophecy 101 course. It is hard to believe that Debkafiles' crystal ball was so badly shattered that they couldn't see it coming. That is what happens when "analysis" is based on political bias rather than fact.

The name of the Israeli operation is "Days of Repentance" in English, but in Hebrew it is called "Yemei Teshuva." Teshuva can mean repentance, but is can also mean an answer, retalitiation or a military solution. The right had charged, and the Hamas wanted to demonstrate as well, that the IDF had no military "answer" or solution for the Qassam rockets. Sharon could not leave the challenge unanswered. His reply was "Yemei Teshuva," days (or perhaps months) of "answer."

Politically, the affair of the Qassams is a great success for everyone who matters. Sharon has confounded his critics on the political right and can appear as a super-hawk who is restrained by the IDF. The Palestinians are rallying behind their own extremists. The Hamas has lots of new Shahids, who are presumably busy being entertained in paradise. The IDF can chalk up successes against "terrorrists." The Palestinians can complain about Israelis killing civilians. Reformists have taken the pressure for reform off Arafat in a show of national unity. The EU got a chance to criticize Israel, very important for improving its standing relative to the US in the Arab world. Everyone has benefitted except the dead kids, and, to paraphrase James Baker III,The kids they didn't vote for us anyway.

Ami Isseroff

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000300.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

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Replies: 10 comments

At the end of the day, nobody is going to benefit from the violence that is now occurring in both camps. The Qassam launchers under the auspices of Hamas wish to provoke Israel in retaliation and in this they are succeeding.

They know that if Israel kills Palestinians it would create support in the world for their cause. They just go to the UN with a hue and cry and at once Israel is condemned by a large majority in the world body. This, of course, adds legitimacy to their continued violence against Israel which is their purpose in their self-defeating stand of trying to demoralize Israel in the UN.

The US seems to be treading a very thin line in their attitude towards Israel's fight against Hamas terror. They ask Israel to use restraint. Where is US restraint against suicide attackers in Iraq? A threat to US existence is not even in doubt.

Posted by Shimon Z. Klein @ 10/05/2004 06:01 PM CST

Well I think that you completly miss out the point here, It is not Hamas that is deploying hundreds of tanks in Israel or using apachis and F16's lets be logical a little , we all know how terrorist is the Israeli governement except that no one describes it as that, there were more than 65 palestinians killed in these operations in three days, the only responsible is the Israeli governement and the people who has elected it if Israel realy wants to end violence it should stop the causes that make people rally behind extremists.....be just in your judgements

Posted by this world is injust @ 10/05/2004 07:44 PM CST

It occurs to me that a more important issue is being missed in this debate which focusses on the current casualty rate. If Hamas is able to survive the withdrawl from Gaza and hopefully subsequent withdrawl from the West Bank, it is likely to be the primary source of instability in the region. With the creation of a Palestinian state, Israel will have a reasonable expectation that Palestine is responsible for acts of violence launched from within its own territory. However if Hamas remains intact, and by appearing to have drive Israel out of Gaza etc heightens its standing, it will seek to prosecute its war aims of eliminating the state of Israel all together. Were this too occur and Hamas laucnhes attacks into Israel from Gaza or elsewhere, then Israel could assume this to be a defacto declaration of war. In many respects this would be a much simpler scenario for israel to handle and one where the IDF could legitimately deploy all its military resources to bring hostilities rapidly to an end. Given the chaotioc state of the PNA it is hardly likely to be able to match Isreal's military capabilities within the next few decades, and thus could not mount any meaningful defence. Were this scenario to unfold the level of casualties amongst the Palestinians would be extremely high indeed given the density of developments in Gaza. Further if war did erupt then Israel would not be obliged to factor in "civilian" casualties much into their planning.
Although the outbreak of hostilities might serve Hamas' peculiarly perverse sense of destiny, it would destroy any chance for the development of a stable and proposerous Palestine.
If I were an extremist Zionist I would welcome the rise of Hamas and other extremists, simply because no matter the maner in which Israel and Palestine progress towards a two state scenario, Hamas can be guaranteed to provide the excuse for the destruction of Palestine.

Posted by Rod Davies @ 10/05/2004 09:48 PM CST

I'm sorry to say this, but it does not take any outside effort to have Israel appear demoralized. For a nation which claims to seek liberation for its people, hypocrisy, sadly, is running rampant. How could the oppression, murder and massacre of Palestinians be considered "defense" and "retaliation" while desperate responses by a few palestinians are considered "terrorism" ....in my opinion, state-sponsored terrorism, that which Israel is guilty of, is much worse than terrorism committed by a few. Simply looking at the facts, nearly 4x the number of palestinians have died since 2000, than israelis. This does not make any of it right, and i wish there existed a simple and fair solution, however, no matter how the media tries to distort this fact, this conflict is the furthest from balanced and Israel cannot be looked at as "the victim" - that is simply absurd! - o and as for the actions of the US gov't ...i agree, they're not exactly showing much restraint, but at the same time, they are not expecting that from Israel anyway...best friends (who happen to have the same ends in mind) let each other do whatever they want...no matter how immoral, inhumane or unjust.

Posted by sawsan @ 10/06/2004 06:34 AM CST

I have been reading DEBKAfile's article this afternoon and it is pathetic that something like that can be considered intelligence. It is just a rudimentary attempt of spin aimed to justify brutal action against civil population. I've never seen an inteligence report talking from the standpoint of a relative of victims still unearthed. They acuse the IDF of what they do, spin as an american spin doctor. If they want to provide intelligence they should say that no army in the world is able of stopping Qassams from Jabaliya without killing a percent of innocent population, suffering in the process casualties and dishonour for him and for his country. It is evident that an accepted authority is the only one who can do. But it is difficult for them to find strategies of security once they rule out peace as a posibiliy. Then only bloodbath is an option and thus his melodramatic pseudo-intelligence speach is aimed to it. Message for Rod : If you were you would, and the ones who are they do. This is the key.

Posted by Aleph @ 10/11/2004 08:44 PM CST

It siometimes seems that we have all forgotten to ask why is that the Palestinians seem unable to develop another peaceful strategy to promote their national ambitions. By we I mean not the contributors to this dialogue but the greater world beyond.
If the IDF has no answer to Qassem rockets, it would have less answer to the peaceful resistor who holds out a flower to the oppressor. Yet the Palestinians seem not to even try this route.
Can it be that their society is so fundamentally corrupted that it can only engage in violence, even towards itself? Does it mean that even if a Palestinian state were to come into being, that the Palestinian violence would continue to rage against those that by mischance happened to be in its path? If so how can Israel ever make peace with this entity?
Is it that the Palestinian people are simply unable to comprehend and acknowledge the palpable failure of their national strategy. Thus being unable to accept their own history, they are doomed to repeat it ad infinitum? Does this mean that the Palestinian people are unable and unwilling to arrive at the kind of compromise necessary to obtain peace? Do they still aim to fulfil their 1948 war aims and eradicate Israel?
Or are the Palestinian people so riven with fear and division that they are unable to counter this onward march of violence? Do they lack the social maturity to form a cohesive civil society that is capable of promoting its interests over those of the "warriors"?
I have no answers, but watch this cycle turn and turn through violent episodes without end in a series of futile gestures of supposed defiance against the Israeli military and economic megalith.

Posted by Rod Davies @ 10/11/2004 09:30 PM CST

I agree that a civil pacific movement Ghandi-like would have had more chances than this absurd tactic of total war but Ghandi is famous because there are very few like him. Both palestinians and israelians are trying to do an imposible thing because II WW shows that a civilian population cannot be intimidated by random deaths. It was seen in Barcelona, London or in Berlin that once the planes went everybody goes out in high espirits. You can threaten 10 people but if you threaten 10 000 they will be not bent. Not to say millions.

Before judging palestinians we must understand that they live side by side with a living proof that terrorism sometimes works. It is not a secret that jewish armed groups succeeded and palestinians have been mimicking this for decades. When this was reinforced with civil action during the first Intifada they were close to succeed too. However, the clumsy palestinian delegation in Oslo accepted the step-by-step concept without any final territorial layout. This give the iniciative to extremists of both sides who wanted to improve the position of his side before the discusion of final agreement arrives (or impeed the agreement). And here was the turning point because when Hamas that has been always against Oslo starts to kill isreali civilians, Israel blamed the NPA (Al-Fatah). From then on, the strategy of Hamas and the strategy of the block settelers-Likud converge. The attacks against NPA demonstrate that Oslo was a swindle in the eyes of palestinian population and the hegemony of Al-Fatah started to fade. Some people in Al-Fatah created Al-Aqsa brigades in a futile attempt to save its reputation. And here we are. As I said above both sides are commiting a horrible mistake trying to bend the other side by killing civilians, in the case of Israel by killing them carefuly to not kill too many and in the case of Palestinians killing only a few because they cannot physically kill more. The palestinian population, descendants of poor peasants who have only know violence and do not think that Israel is able of anything else, deliver themselves to the most horrible feelings of hate because the alternative is despero and for a human beeing the former is more attractive than the latter. Only Israel can brake this by showing that good feelings on the palestinian side can achieve something which is far from being evident. Instead of that, they have embarked themselves in the Bush fight against terrorism. There is too a certain suicidal feeling in this because is no way they can build Eretz Israel except doing things that they are not morally able to do. Probably this will last for generations until the rest of the world achieves a level of organisation that allows a sustained pressure on both sides to stop de nightmare or until both sides manage to infect the whole planet with his hate (what is very close to happen). Notice that at this point, peace will mean a civil war in both sides.

Posted by Aleph @ 10/15/2004 09:05 PM CST

Aleph is mistaken in his / her comparison with Barcelona, London and Berlin after the air-raids. Much of what is presented to us today is wartime propoganda about civilian action after the planes left. Further the scale of the bombing of these three cities, and many others, far exceeds anything that the Palestinians have been subjected to. In truth in WW2 civilians, if they survived, emerged exhausted and dazed, and far from jubilant.
Secondly the Palestinians have not learnt from Zionist terrorism. Zionist terrorism was fairly limited and the Zionists / Isrealis rapidly established a robust national structure with which to progress their war efforts. It is the palpable failure of the Palestinian political entity to recognise this that has left them so weak. Further in the Zionist struggle the armed wings remained almost entirely subservient to the civilian political leadership. The Zionists also positively sought an apolitical military structure for the Israeli state. Neither of these can be said of the Palestinian leadership or struggle.
In all revolutionary struggles, the fighters find that they lose power once the objectives of the revolution are attained. This is very difficult for them to accept and they frequently seek to prolong the revolution by extending its depth or scope. In this they pose a very real threat to the actual and potential post-revolutionary civilian governments - this can been seen in 17th Century England, 20th Century China and in nearly every other revolution.
For the Palestinians the challenge will the progression from revolutionary war to civilian peace. At present the outlook is not good.

Posted by Rod Davies @ 10/18/2004 08:41 PM CST

Before the civilian structure can control the warriors, peace must exist. In the current environement in the ocuppied territories there is no peace and only fanatic groups without fear can develop any public activity. In this context ask for civilian behaviour is ilusory. And this is currently the main goal of Israel : stop peaceful people in the palestinian side to have any role. We can blame palestinians for following so close Sharon's script but we must agree he also should be blamed.

Posted by Aleph @ 10/25/2004 03:56 PM CST

Dear Aleph - I disagree with you and think that what you believe it a commonly held misunderstanding. The Palestinians have since the 1920's set a very specific agenda, which the PNA follows closely. Sharon responds to that, he has no idea how to break out the cycle of violence and engage in a process that will deliver a meaningful peace settlement. But the same could be said of the bulk the present Israel body politick. Even Rabin & Peres were confounded by the failure of the PNA to develop a robust civilian government which could control its security forces.
As far as I am aware there has been no significant Palestinian "Peace Movement". Instead there has been internal suppression by PLO via Sumud(?) and a clinging to the 1947 War Aims. It is not entirely the Palestinians fault, they have been actively encouraged by various countries and blocs who have used the Palestinians as a tool to obtain other political objectives. Their "friends" have not subjected them to any objective criticsim, have instead frequently sought to mainatin a preculiarly skewed fiction in which they were the sole victims of this conflict.
If the Palestinians want a peace where they can hope to obtain an adequate standard of living etc, then they must start working on it now. The real danger for them is that if Israel unilaterally withdraws behind the 1949 lines then Palestine will be dead before it can even take its first breath.
At present the Palestinians are like teenagers, they want everyone to treat them like adults but they do not want to accept the responsibilities that adulthood brings.

Posted by Rod Davies @ 10/26/2004 09:38 PM CST

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