This morning’s assault on Gaza and the massacre of 205 Palestinians (so far) was easy to foresee. First came the official lapse of the six-month ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. Then an Israeli incursion, and the Gazan response: firing dozens of home-made Qassam missiles at southern Israel. A little bit of damage was done to property as a result. Meanwhile, Hamas leaders said they’d be pleased to work out a renewed ceasefire deal. According to Haaretz, Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin understood this clearly enough: “Make no mistake, Hamas is interested in continuing the truce, but wants to improve its terms. It wants us to lift the siege, stop (IDF) attacks, and extend the truce to include Judea and Samaria (the West Bank),” he said.
Extending the truce, and letting the Gazans live, seem not to be on Israel’s agenda. It’s election time, and the mood for stamping out resistance has taken Israel in its arms.
In other circumstances it might seem strange that a population on the Mediterranean coast is being besieged and starved without a murmur from the rest of the world. But this is Gaza, Palestine, and the victims suffer alone. Reports say Mubarak had given his assent to a ‘limited blow’ before today’s blood; he’s been keeping the Egyptian border with Gaza sealed, keeping the ugly oppressed in their cage very effectively since they briefly broke out last January. Tony Blair – who should be in prison but is instead poncing about in Ramallah and Jerusalem – has been winking to Israeli journalists about necessary change in Gaza. No response to today’s crime is likely in Lebanon, or Jordan, or Egypt. The peoples of Europe and America are, by and large, silent.
This, in the land of Crusades, is a medieval siege. Gaza is walled in. Nothing passes in or out. More than fifty percent of the population are officially unemployed. The banks have closed. The strip’s only power station has shut down. The people are starved quite literally: most bakeries have closed for lack of heating oil. A Red Cross report describes “progressive deterioration in food security for up to 70 per cent of Gaza’s population.” It goes on: “Chronic malnutrition is on a steadily rising trend and micronutrient deficiencies are of great concern.” Which means, amongst other things, that this generation of children in Gaza are not receiving the nutrients they need for healthy brain development.
I quote from the Independent: “The report paints a bleak picture of an increasingly impoverished and indebted lower-income population. People are selling assets, slashing the quality and quantity of meals, cutting back on clothing and children’s education, scavenging for discarded materials – and even grass for animal fodder – that they can sell, and are depending on dwindling loans and handouts from slightly better-off relatives. In the urban sector, in which about 106,000 employees lost their jobs after the June 2007 shutdown, about 40 per cent are now classified as “very poor,” earning less than 500 shekels (£87) a month to provide for an average household of seven to nine people.
This is a deliberate, cruelly organised crime. And nobody notices.
This morning, with children in school, people on the streets and in offices, policemen at a graduation ceremony, the sky screamed and roared. There are reports of general panic, and of roads clogged with corpses.
I know the writing becomes a whine when these simple sentiments are expressed: but, again; imagine you are living, or dying, with your children, in such a place. And imagine that the world ignores you.
The Second Intifada was valiant, and to start with showed signs of succeeding. Like the First Intifada it was a spontaneous mass movement in which all sections of society participated. Not provided with any organisation from the top, the Intifada was self-mobilising, rapidly generating new organisations, leaders and methods of resistance. Marwan Barghouti proved himself a principled and intelligent leader, a more-than-worthy successor to Arafat. (Like the best of Palestinian leaders who are still alive, Barghouti is now held in an Israeli prison).
I don’t condemn the Palestinians for militarising the Intifada. In many respects, the armed struggle had become, again, inevitable. The Oslo ‘peace process’ had, according to its careful design, eaten up still more of Palestine and made a genuine two-state solution unviable. In the first weeks of protest after Sharon’s visit to al-Aqsa, hundreds of stone-throwing youths (and other civilians not throwing stones) were gunned down. The US media, meanwhile, wondered why Palestinian mothers didn’t love their children. What would you expect the shot-upon to do? Passive resistance doesn’t get you very far if neither the oppressor nor his friends have a conscience.
And attacks inside Israel brought the war to the enemy in a way that had never happened before. Whatever the morality of attacks on civilian targets (and I rankle at the moralising against the Palestinians, when Israel murders vastly higher numbers, when the Palestinians, the aggrieved party, have tried peace), and whatever effect calling these attacks ‘Islamic’ may have on Muslim and non-Muslim perceptions of Islam (AbdulAziz ar-Rantissi hinted at this when he said “In this conflict many red lines have been crossed, by both sides”), the attacks did what they intended to: Israel became, for a year or two, a country ‘occupied’ by fear. Many Israelis left; many avoided restaurants and markets; the economy slumped. Tourism stopped.
Globally, the Intifada sparked a new generation’s interest in Palestine. In the Muslim world this fed into the growing Islamist passion, and also into popular initiatives to boycott American goods. There were huge demonstrations in support of Palestine even in places where demonstrating was a new and illegal activity. In the West blogs and websites like the Electronic Intifada became alternative news sources for activists, and new Palestinian diasporic figures like Ali Abunimeh arrived on the scene. The Intifada at first shifted opinion in Europe, where there was a sense that something at last had to be done, that the contagious wound of Palestine had to be doctored.
Then came September 11th, then Afghanistan and Iraq, and the specific issue of Palestinian dispossession was overshadowed by the generalities of the ‘war on terror’. Israel and its friends worked very hard to transfer the medieval-Islamic-terror label to the Palestinians and Lebanese, to cast the struggle against ethnic cleansing, expulsion, occupation and apartheid as an atavistic spouting of anti-freedom bile.
Wahhabi-nihilists obligingly played their part: A non-client in power in Riyadh would have dramatically changed the balance in Palestine’s favour, but al-Qa’ida atrocities kept the al-Sauds in power after the invasion of Iraq. Massacres of commuters in London and Madrid, and the mindless barbarism of sectarian warfare in Iraq, convinced the mainstream European media of the Israeli narrative: Muslim violence has no relation to political causes, but is culturally inherent. Civilisation can only enwall and frighten these people.
Europe like America has accepted this now.
Israel destroyed the Palestinian Authority and fought its way back into the cities it had vacated during the Oslo years. It conducted mass arrests and made travel between West Bank villages not much easier than travel beyond the solar system. It built a huge barrier through communities on the West Bank, and entrenched the settlement system.
The Second Intifada was defeated, but not comprehensively. In its wreckage Palestinian society is poorer, less educated, more traumatised, more splintered. A collaborative class polices the West Bank on Israel’s behalf, thousands of young men are locked in Israeli prison camps. And Gaza starves.
The paradoxical victory is in Gaza; not much of a victory of course, perhaps just a hint at the possibility of victory. A popularly-mandated resistance organisation has kept control of the territory in the most difficult of conditions, and has started to transform itself into a guerrilla organisation, taking Hizbullah as its model. It remains to be seen if Israel will attempt a full ground invasion. If it does, it will be interesting to see how Hamas holds ground.
And if Israel reoccupies Gaza, what then? It was resistance that made it leave before, and resistance will be more ferocious now. Hamas, meanwhile, is constantly developing its missile capacities. The resistance may fall. If it doesn’t, it will grow in strength. Then both sides will be beseiged, the Israelis by time.
Sara Roy on the seige: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v31/n01/roy_01_.html