Israel’s response to the abduction and killing of its soldiers is disproportionate and counter-productive, warns Antony Loewenstein
Israel is fighting on two fronts and against two forces it helped create. Hamas and Hezbollah gained their political capital by resisting Israeli occupation in Palestine and Lebanon. The past decades have proven that the harder Israel tries to destroy these movements, the greater their credibility and political power.
And what does Israel have to show for countless years of military opposition to terrorism? A region that supports growing Islamic resistance movements and Arab populations that when given the chance vote for them in overwhelming numbers.
Tragically for innocent civilians caught in the ideological crossfire, the escalation in the Middle East has taken a predictable path.
Terrorism is followed by righteous revenge. Israel views itself as the aggrieved party, the victim of unwarranted violence towards its soldiers and citizens. After the abduction of three Israeli officers by Hamas and Hezbollah, the Jewish state, backed by the Bush administration, has unleashed its military might against Palestine and Lebanon.
The ramifications of such disproportionate and illegal force are disturbing and potentially dangerous in this unstable region. In the short term, the moral case for Israel has taken an inevitable battering.
During the past week, civilians have been murdered by Israeli air strikes and artillery. Infrastructure, such as bridges, roads, power plants and airports, has been destroyed.
The Geneva Conventions specifically state that such behaviour is a war crime. Israel and its supporters ignore these legal niceties while demanding enemy forces abide by them. Many Western governments, including Australia, are ignoring this double standard but the Arab world has a long memory, and the stakes are higher than ever in the present geopolitical climate. The US and Israeli response towards the democratically elected Hamas Government in Palestine is clear: no negotiations, no financial support and relentless punishment of the Palestinian people for electing the wrong party.
The recent reoccupation of Gaza – although Israel never really left, controlling all sea, air and road entries into the territory – is aimed at destroying the newly elected Palestinian Government. The imprisonment of dozens of Hamas politicians inevitably will radicalise the Palestinian population. Is a siege mentality now endemic to the Israeli national psyche?
For the international community the Middle East is once again a hot spot: the local drama of conflicting national aspirations sits alongside the twin global interests of nuclear power and petro dollars. In this larger context Iran and Syria are volatile players. They are clear ideological soul mates of Hamas and Hezbollah and are using their proxies to battle Israel and the US. Although Arab governments have long used the Palestinians as a convenient political football, support for the Palestinians can only increase as the occupation continues.
After the abduction of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, the Western world was bombarded with information about his background and family. He was humanised. But what of the countless Palestinians imprisoned without trial in Israel jails or the numerous Palestinian women and children regularly taken from their homes in the middle of the night? The Israeli army is a people’s army; the Israeli state is founded on the principle of a freed people. By contrast, the Palestinian struggle for freedom is constructed as an illegitimate terrorist plot.
In any other retelling of the imperial-colonial story across the 20th century, the Palestinians’ struggle would be an honourable fight for freedom and independence. The suffering of the Palestinians is clearly now not worthy of examination. During the present crisis, it seems as if Israelis are the only victims of terrorism, that Hezbollah rocket attacks are unjustifiable aggression.
The Bush administration’s “war on terror” requires us to believe that the West must fight terror in Lebanon, West Bank, Gaza, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Africa, Asia and South America. According to Israeli spin, Lebanon is an “axis of terror” and the Jewish state is “fighting terror on all fronts”. The Palestinians are, as always, caught in the crossfire between Israel’s view of its place in the region and the Arab world’s indifference to their plight.
Israel and the international community are facing a moment of truth. Negotiations are the inevitable conclusion of the present violence, as is the release of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails in exchange for the return of abducted Israeli soldiers. With the UN Security Council becoming a toothless vehicle for the US to stifle any action against Israel, uncomfortable questions need to be asked. The West’s blank cheque towards Israel since 1948, primarily due to Holocaust guilt, can no longer excuse, justify and fund a supposed democracy that occupies a neighbouring state and bombs its civilians.
Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh recently wrote in The Washington Post that the American people should open their eyes to Israeli behaviour in the occupied territories. “If Israel will not allow Palestinians to live in peace, dignity and national integrity”, he concluded, “Israelis themselves will not be able to enjoy those same rights.”
It is now more than ever in Israeli and US interests to ensure a democratic and economically viable Palestine is constructed. For those of us committed to finding a just and peaceful solution, one that honours the legitimate national aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians, this is a matter of urgency.
Antony Loewenstein is the author of My Israel Question, to be released in August by Melbourne University Publishing.