By Jim Miles
I can only witness the tragedy of Gaza from the knowledge I have gained from years of historical and foreign affairs reading, from the personal contacts and information that are readily available on the internet, and least significantly from the local evening news programs. That is more than sufficient to provide me with the overall context and the understanding of the language used in order to form a strong idea of what is really happening in Gaza.
The language used on the local news cast perhaps reveals more than is intended if one is aware of the context of Gaza history. World governments are described as reacting with “increasing alarm”. Those alarmed governments from the west try to salve their complicity in the Israeli atrocities, while the Arab governments are alarmed not so much in support of the Palestinians or against the atrocities, but because of their own insecurity against their own populations who tend to support the Palestinian people. According to the news report “Israeli politicians expressed sorrow” at the civilian casualties, no more concerned about that reality than their U.S. supporters are about all the deaths they caused in their invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. The Israeli “shock and awe” does not prove anything about Israeli military prowess as some reporters speculate, but does demonstrate that the Israeli state, again like its U.S. sponsor, is willing to blast away with overwhelmingly superior military force at a confined population weakened by its long imprisonment in an urban ghetto.
The attacks are described as “punishing” or as a “counter attack”, but in truth are well beyond punishment– which has already been inflicted on the population over several decades of occupation – and are totally inappropriate and beyond proportional and into the realm of brutal aggressive war against a mainly civilian area. All of which – occupation and aggressive warfare – goes against international law, such as it is. As for a cease fire, the call coming from the above alarmed governments, the chances according to the news are “highly unlikely,” followed by the concluding statement that “Israel’s war aims aren’t clear.”
Combine the overwhelming military force, including nuclear weapons if need be (although that would be reserved for neighbouring Arab states rather than an insurgency within their own territory), with the “alarmed” but tamed and chained rhetoric from other countries, and once again Israel will have its way with the Palestinian territory.
Sounds of Silence
What is unheard also speaks volumes. While I laud the U.S. for electing Barak Obama as the first black person as President, I have to wonder what that signifies beyond the further emancipation of the black people of the U.S. Obama’s foreign policy objectives so far indicate no difference from those of the administrations before him. Obama has said nothing effective about the conflict and while I am aware he is technically not yet president, the situation is such that silence in this case is damning. During his election he said he would, “always stand up for Israel’s right to defend itself in the United Nations and around the world". There has been nothing but silence from him about the current aggressions, a silence that only reiterates his campaign statement. It demonstrates that “change” and “hope” are only idle words tossed out for mass consumption, while the real motives of the U.S. government remain bound up in the compound interests of U.S. military control of the Middle East and Israeli dominance of the region.
A Different Tangent
The situation in Gaza reminded me of another historical occurrence of a similar nature. It is described as having diseases, food rationing, “unemployment was a major problem,” and “Smuggling was often the only source of subsistence.” Another parallel evidenced as “Despite the grave hardships, life…was rich with educational and cultural activities, conducted by its underground organizations. Hospitals, public soup kitchens, orphanages, refugee centers and recreation facilities were formed, as well as a school system.” All those phrases fit into the situation in Gaza, but they are from Wikipedia and describe the Warsaw ghetto.
Certainly this juxtaposition will immediately earn me the wrath of many as being an incomparable situation, but unfortunately the two situations are highly inter-related. They have the commonality of an ethnic population confined in a small space and surrounded by a superior and hostile military. The effects on the inhabitants of the ghettos are similar – formation of civilian structures by special groups to replace the lack of a good central government. They survive economically by smuggling food and goods. Both groups, within the Warsaw ghetto and within Gaza, are opposed by another ethnic group that is looking for their ethnic cleansing. Both have a Jewish connection, one as victim, the other as perpetrator, although Israeli rhetoric would have it that they are still victims of occupied Palestine.
One State…or Two?
The comparison can only be taken so far. Germany carried out an organized, industrially efficient form of ethnic cleansing against the Jewish people. In Israel/Palestine, time lines, media attention, reliance on the U.S., the ongoing rhetoric of peace, and the limited but morally powerful nature of international war crimes law have all slowed and diluted the process. The historical record as drawn from many Jewish sources and as recorded and reported by many historians and witnesses (Pappe, Cook, Reinhart, Baroud, Abunimah, Tamimi, Eldar to name a few) is the desire of the Jewish people to claim all of the land from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River as Eretz Israel. That same record also provides many sources indicating the need/desire to cleanse the area of its indigenous Palestinian/Arab population. Those same messages are still being heard today, some more strident than others, but always there.
That knowledge comes up against the ongoing argument about a one state or two state solution to the problem of Israel/Palestine. Could it be that events in Gaza are but another step towards Israel’s long stated solution – the removeal of the Palestinian people from land desired by the Israeli’s as their god given covenant? It is certainly a complex step, intermixed with the politics of Hamas and Fatah, with the occupation and daily repression of the West Bank and its ongoing slow but certain confiscation of Palestinian land and establishment of new Jewish settlements. The answer on that line of thinking is that it is neither a one state solution, nor a two state solution, but an ethnically cleansed state solution governing the territory originally envisioned by the state founders decades ago.
Is a humanitarian solution possible? Of course it is, theoretically. Is it probable? Not under the current world situation with the ongoing “war on terror” as an excuse for U.S. atrocities throughout the Middle East and its many manipulations extending through to India and Pakistan (another story with great expectations yet to explode). There already exists a body of common, civil, criminal, and international law that if applied could find just solutions. The problem rests with the world’s powerful military economies for whom “rule of law” is exhorted for others then ignored whenever it does not serve their own purposes. Past injustices will not all be corrected by the application of current law, but moving forward requires the acceptance and application of a set of humanitarian principles as set out in all levels of law, those that exist already.
There will always be historical memories on both sides of the story that can deny a full and true reconciliation (with the U.S. and its history of black slavery and then civil rights as an example of the time lines and remaining prejudicial animosities). The U.S. is not the only culprit, but it certainly is the main one, and its manner of pursuing its war on terror will only create more hatred and extremism towards both itself and Israel.
International law is well and good but ineffective – if the most powerful nations of the world ignore it, what can anyone else do? The U.S. remains solid with the Israeli right to occupy and control Eretz Israel. I wish I were wrong, but the current Israeli war on Gaza, given the current global situation, will some day be relegated to another footnoted battle against terrorists, soon to be dropped once again from the main media newscasts as soon as the “shock and awe” of it wears off and is no longer newsworthy.
– Jim Miles is a Canadian educator and a regular contributor/columnist of opinion pieces and book reviews for The Palestine Chronicle. Miles’ work is also presented globally through other alternative websites and news publications.