Israel Stuck on Repeat

By James Gundun

How many organizations must sound alarm before Israel gets the message? Ignoring Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International is easy, but B’Tselem and the UN too? Is it possible that all these groups are lying about the Gaza war and that Israel’s version is the truth?

The human rights controversy has become a treadmill – no matter how long Israel runs it can never elude the allegations.

Why doesn’t Israel realize it has more to lose by dodging than confronting the mayhem of Gaza?  Why does it overlook the benefits of ending this gruesome story? The questions never end, the doubts never end.  Israel can proclaim the IDF is the world’s most moral army as America nods approvingly in the background, but doing so ignores basic principles of counterinsurgency. Nobody is listening. 

Fundamentally Israel isn’t battling the UN or human rights groups, but the Palestinian people and Muslims at large. Israel inflicts damage upon itself in the eyes of Palestinians when it criticizes human rights groups for their bias.  In fact, Israel has cut itself numerous times in Gaza, another story stuck on repeat. The UN’s investigation is the latest example.

After three weeks of investigating, hundreds of interviews, and thousands of documents, a UN team headed by Richard Goldstone released its findings this week to little fanfare. The 574 page report devoted the majority of space to Israeli violations, immediately prompting condemnation from Israel and America, the only Western state to come to its rescue (another repetitive story.)  State Department spokesman Ian Kelly called the report ‘one-sided,’ but what else can be expected from a one-sided war? 

The war crimes report is likely to be one-sided as well.

In line with most figures, the UN team concluded roughly 1,300 Palestinians died, several hundred of them civilians. Israel itself admitted that hundreds of civilians were killed along with a majority of Hamas members. But four Palestinians are enough to overcome the three Israeli civilians killed during the conflict. Israel complained that the mission’s mandate, ‘was clearly one-sided and ignored the thousands of Hamas missile attacks on civilians in southern Lebanon that made the Gaza operation necessary.’

Israel, in its own mind, has become a master of comparing a dozen Israeli deaths over a period of years to hundreds of dead Palestinians in a month. Such logic destroys any remaining strands of its credibility in the Middle East. Furthermore, the UN panel said Israel refused to respond to a list of questions, but that Palestinian authorities in both Gaza and the West Bank cooperated. Israel, unwilling to validate the investigation, forfeited all possible influence in the process, guaranteeing the type of report it’s now condemning.

For a country surrounding by insurgencies, Israel seems to be extremely naive at times. The collective eight months of war crimes allegations isn’t an independent entity,  but an extension of the Gaza war and a continuation of guerrilla warfare. One battle ends and another begins, while the war never ends. Israel takes damage each time it condemns a human rights report or preaches a proportionate response proven invalid by the raw numbers. Hamas, much to Israel’s fury, isn’t judged by the same standard. But why does Israel insist on being judged like a terrorist organization in the first place?  There is no counterinsurgency in this standard.

Bringing up Lebanon is most foolish of all after its reaction to two rockets fired by an al-Qaeda offshoot. Israel cannot expect the UN to do anything in Lebanon when it ignores the UN in Palestine. The truth is plain. Even if Israel successfully evades international courts until the end of time, it will forever be judged as guilty by Palestinians and Muslims. There is nowhere to run or hide, and no legal defense has any impact. Israel is so concerned with staying out of a formal court that it’s drowning in the court of public opinion. As in Lebanon, Israel is unlikely to ever face a real judge and a real court, nor does this really matter. Muslims have already cast their judgments.

Since Israel won’t put an end to its futile flight, the UN urged the world to act in its place. One would assume that America has incentives to pursue allegations of Israeli war crimes. Doing so would give more credibility to prosecuting Hamas members, as charging one side without the other is doomed to fail. And is it possible to sign a two-state solution with Gaza still unresolved? Perhaps, but the process would speed up without this giant pothole in the middle of the road map. 

How to fill it then? Palestinians could exchange legal punishment of Israeli officials for an easing of the Gazan blockade. After all, they’ll never be tried anyway and many Palestinians believe the blockade is the true cause of the war. Walls don’t work – if anything, the blockade is the true war crime. The UN report recommended an ICC trial if the UN fails to act, but formalities are unlikely to combat insurgency as effectively as counterinsurgency. In light of Israel’s opposition to a settlement freeze, easing the blockade could be the only strategy to regain the trust of Palestinians, which Israel and America need to successfully negotiate.

Two arguments against the blockade contradict its purpose. 

First, the UN’s conclusion that Israeli forces engaged in a deliberate policy of collective punishment and ‘an overall and continuing policy aimed at punishing the Gaza population’ is no surprise. The explicit message of Gaza’s rubble was, ‘don’t vote for Hamas or support Hamas in any way.’  Though Israel claims to have learned from Lebanon, the plans were roughly the same. Punishing a population because of an insurgency contradicts basic counterinsurgency, where securing the population is the ultimate goal.

Second, the blockade isn’t stopping Hamas’s arms flow noticeably enough to impact its capabilities.  Israeli officials recently threatened obliteration if Hamas fires its 60 km missiles, a tacit admission that Hamas is still growing stronger. And during a recent visit to Sudan, Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal told President al-Bashir’s party in a pre-recorded speech, ‘Your brothers in Palestine, despite the blockade and the closing of border passages… despite the fleets from east and west, despite all of this, we buy arms, we manage to produce arms and we smuggle arms.’

What is the point of maintaining the blockade if it doesn’t deter Hamas from acquiring arms, doesn’t cause an uprising against Hamas, attracts international scorn, and sabotages a two-state solution? With Hamas and Fatah tentatively agreeing to an Egyptian unity-proposal with elections in 2010, the blockade has also failed to permanently isolate Gaza from the West Bank. 

In fact, the blockade seemingly has only one ability – a chance to end the repulsively repetitive story that is Gazan suffering.  Israel needs to forget about the legal battle and remember that it’s fighting a counterinsurgency in Gaza.

 – James Gundun is a political scientist and counterinsurgency analyst based in Washington D.C. Contact him at:

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