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Thoughtful wishing: in the days of terror from the air, patriot acts on the ground

By B.A. Brown
Created 12/01/2009 - 12:39

B.A. Brown is a newcomer to Webdiary, having been seduced by his good friend Hamish Alcorn. He was a fixture on Brisbane's 4ZZZ radio through the 1990s, coordinating their 'Peace & Environment Program' and helping on Arts, morning and World Music shows for brief spells. He writes:

"this built on activism that outgrew student film-making in the 80s which began with an opinionated exploration of the bridge to Straddy issue. He still seeks maturity as a 'change agent' and returned to live on Minjerribah where he studies Language."

Thank you for this contribution, Baz - glad you decided to write it instead of going surfing yesterday ...


Thoughtful wishing: in the days of terror from the air, patriot acts on the ground
by B.A. Brown

From the ground on down, Gaza militants are an attractive bunch. They see themselves as patriots offering themselves as targets of yet another ‘scorched earth’ policy; one aiming to suppress an insurgency that burrows under the skin of the greater part of Israel. So attractive a target are these persistently wily patriots for Palestine, that the IDF chose to break a ceasefire that saw “rocket fire decrease 98% in the four and a half months between Jun 18 and Nov 4 in comparison with the four and half months preceding the ceasefire”. [1]I return to those figures in due course.

How the news is shaped, and how activists on both sides are rallied to attention is part of the conflict, perhaps its non-lethal complement.

Here is what the experienced correspondent for one of the most reliable English language news sources reported about Tuesday 4th November, (Gobama! Day):

Ceasefire under threat as six die in Gaza raid
Rory McCarthy in Jerusalem
The Guardian, Thursday 6 November 2008

A four-month-old ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza was in jeopardy yesterday after Israeli troops killed six Hamas gunmen in a raid into the territory.

Hamas responded by firing a volley of rockets into southern Israel, although no one was injured. The violence represented the most serious breach in a ceasefire agreed in mid-June. Despite the bloodshed, both sides suggested they wanted to return to a period of calm.”

That article has remained unchanged since then, but by the end of the year, the Guardian correspondent’s history of the ceasefire breakdown reads [3]:

“Eventually, after much mediation by Egypt, a ceasefire between Israel and militants in Gaza was again established in June. It ran until November, when it began to break down with violations on both sides, and collapsed in mid-December to bring the latest Israeli bombing campaign of Gaza, codenamed Cast Lead, which has so far killed at least 360 Palestinians.”

One strange benefit of heavily partisan “hacktivists” and history-writers going fact-for-fact on Wikipedia and Facebook (and even GoogleEarth, according to an Haaretz article) is that figures and facts are probably ironed into centre ground; beaten into shape by hourly to-and-fro refinement. Here is the current version of what happened to the ceasefire in the first week of November [4]:

“On 4 November 2008, Israeli troops raided a border area of the Gaza Strip, where the Israeli military claimed Hamas had built a tunnel which they claimed Hamas was planning to use to capture Israeli soldiers. Six members of Hamas were killed. Hamas considered this attack a ‘massive breach of the truce,’ and Hamas rocket attacks increased sharply in November 2008, approaching the pre-truce levels.”

So their intelligence was so solid that they could predict an action by a splinter group they assumed to be Hamas. Opposing combatant death ratios are about the same as the ratio of ‘rockets’ launched into Israel before and after the truce began (over 50:1).

Is that good politics?

Casualty table hits to the body politic (at time of writing) [5]


Casualty typeIsraeli side Palestinian side ratio Palestinian over Israeli
Total killed13854 65.7
Soldiers10550 (fighters)55
Total wounded1493,49023.4


Casualty type Israeli side Palestinian side ratio Palestinian over Israeli

The news filters through of daily atrocities from a behemoth, a Golem monster surging through a densely occupied subject peoples. Critics are many, including from liberal or secular, critical Israelis. One of the heaviest blows to the spin empire is from England-based Professor Avi Shlaim [6]:

“The resort to brute military force is accompanied, as always, by the shrill rhetoric of victimhood and a farrago of self-pity overlaid with self-righteousness. In Hebrew this is known as the syndrome of bokhim ve-yorim, ‘crying and shooting’.”

He compares the disproportionate responses as “the logic of an eye for an eyelash.”

I have been watching the old classic on this subject of imperial ‘scorched earth’ policies. “Burn!” or “Queimada!” by Gille Pontecorvo in 1969 has Brando turning on his former comrades, burning out peasant villages and ferreting out the radicals among slave communities.

“Decimation” was first used in military terms for the Roman legions being toughened up, or freaked out, by every tenth centurion being killed; just counted off and killed. If the legend is true, it serves as an ironic example of disproportion in trying to toughen up the oppressed peasants of Gaza, such that they somehow break ranks in support of Israel’s desire for peace, and squeal on or close their door to anyone who might be a militant.

Here is an analysis of Gaza from that same article in the Guardian [7]:

Gaza is a classic case of colonial exploitation in the post-colonial era. Jewish settlements in occupied territories are immoral, illegal and an insurmountable obstacle to peace. They are at once the instrument of exploitation and the symbol of the hated occupation. In Gaza, the Jewish settlers numbered only 8,000 in 2005 compared with 1.4 million local residents. Yet the settlers controlled 25% of the territory, 40% of the arable land and the lion's share of the scarce water resources. Cheek by jowl with these foreign intruders, the majority of the local population lived in abject poverty and unimaginable misery. Eighty per cent of them still subsist on less than $2 a day. The living conditions in the strip remain an affront to civilised values, a powerful precipitant to resistance and a fertile breeding ground for political extremism."

It is not only critics of Israeli Right policies who enjoy quoting such views. Sadly, knee-jerk reactionaries hold such morsels close to their chest to open a path for espousing less informed, more habitual animosity to the whole Israel project; not just the military machine, the mad Zionists and the opportunists they attract. For this reason I am prompted to write this article as a discussion starter. Let us not fall into ritual response, but seek serious answers if not tomorrow, then within the week.

If we wish an end to terror, then we need to act to halt terror from the sky. Well-resourced airstrikes, slowly improving blasts from Gazan shanty-towns and mad mullahs invoking the gods; they all reign over terror, with innocent civilians too often on the receiving end.

Bearded cult-leaders from all three Apocalyptic or Messianic faiths have to be reined in. Their ill-considered orthodoxies, centred on out-dated doctrines damage children, be they blasted bodily as cost of war, or blitzed conceptually by head-rocking rote drills from holy scrolls of one era or another.

Who can affect restraint from the main aggressors on both sides? With the Bush dynasty enjoying the last days of global chaos-creation, many look to a new progressive intervention from Obama and his Secretary of State. The way is spelled out in an editorial titled: “Toward Peace in Gaza [8]for the first post-Inauguration issue of The Nation magazine:

“If Obama were to take swift and courageous steps toward peace once he took office, he would encounter resistance, but he would also find promising new wellsprings of support. J Street, the new Washington lobby that brands itself as "the political arm of the pro-Israel, pro-peace movement," has called for an immediate cease-fire and in general set itself up as a counter to the right-wing AIPAC lobby and its Christian Zionist allies. J Street is joined by other good activist groups, such as Americans for Peace Now and Jewish Voice for Peace. Most of Congress has been shamefully quiescent, but Representative Dennis Kucinich has spoken out courageously against the violence, as have several other members lauded by J Street. And on the first day of Israel's ground invasion, 10,000 Israelis took part in a massive peace demonstration.” (emphasis added)

The new administration would have the momentum that global goodwill carries, given Obama’s popularity. Moving with the times to shape the times, Obama’s team could embrace the Arab Peace Initiative [9], repeatedly endorsed by all 22 member states.

“In November 2008, The Sunday Times reported that American president-elect Barack Obama is going to support the plan, saying to Mahmoud Abbas during his July 2008 visit to the Middle East that ‘The Israelis would be crazy not to accept this initiative. It would give them peace with the Muslim world from Indonesia to Morocco'."

The essentials are converging for a real new deal for just and lasting peace. Even old Cold Warriors agree the time is now:

“On November 21, 2008, Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski supported the initiative [10]in an article in the Washington Post, in which they wrote that:

‘The major elements of an agreement are well known. A key element in any new initiative would be for the U.S. president to declare publicly what, in the view of this country, the basic parameters of a fair and enduring peace ought to be. These should contain four principal elements: 1967 borders, with minor, reciprocal and agreed-upon modifications; compensation in lieu of the right of return for Palestinian refugees; Jerusalem as real home to two capitals; and a non-militarized Palestinian state. Something more might be needed to deal with Israeli security concerns about turning over territory to a Palestinian government incapable of securing Israel against terrorist activity. That could be dealt with by deploying an international peacekeeping force, such as one from NATO, which could not only replace Israeli security but train Palestinian troops to become effective’.”

Before the latest shaky ceasefire was broken, all channels were aiming for convergence around this deal:

"Support for the Arab Peace Plan was also expressed by Andre Azoulay [11], a Jewish adviser to Moroccan King Mohammed VI. On October 28, 2008, Mr Azoulay said at a conference in Tel Aviv that: 'I am a Jew with a commitment,' said Andre Azoulay. 'I'm an Arab Jew. I advise the king of Morocco... The Arab mainstream sees Israel as the party responsible for preventing peace, not the Arabs. [...] [The Peace Plan] is something that the Israelis hoped for ten years ago. But who knows about it in Israel today? Who will take the initiative and explain it? The momentum will not last forever. This is a dangerous situation. Tomorrow something could happen in the West Bank and blow the whole deal, and we'll have to wait again'."

Since then, of course, history has changed. But the fundamentals remain in place. Perhaps the next threat to embracing this way forward is the wretched detour taken in Iraq and, to a certain extent, Afghanistan. UN security provision may be harder to rally after the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld debacles. How to police provisional borders as a viable new Palestinian state is established next to the old enemy is the key question for Israel. How to build a stable nation from the wreckage after decolonisation is the quest for the Palestinian side of the 1967 Green Line (with its minor and agreed wobbles). Massive funds invested on a matching dollar/Euro basis would have to flow in from key players to compensate those caught between history’s wheezes.

The USA, the UN and the EU all played a role in supporting the rise of an Israeli State, so they can fix what they or their precursors (The League of Nations) delivered onto the Palestinians. They could add to Israeli supporters of funds for West Bank Settlers who leave the Palestinian State, buying their infrastructure where not damaged. If IDF conscripts supervise the great dismantling, then they should be joined by the religious youth of the Ultra-Orthodox sects or Parties who typically escape such service to their State. More buildings and grounds could then be re-used by returning Palestinians. In some cases, complexes could be assigned for use as new, generously-funded secular boarding schools.

The Arab State supporters could match donations from their constituents and allies and compensate the refugees who miss out on “right-to-return” guarantees and have to establish themselves in new communities in a free and secure Palestine. Foreign Affairs and Defence would have to be handled by the likes of Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, and, hopefully, Lebanon. Syria may regain the Golan Heights, or be duly compensated in return for a truly complete withdrawal from Lebanon. There IS goodwill around the basic framework of the A.P.I. Here is a Guardian editorial [12]:

“In London last week Mr Peres praised the Arab League's peace plan, which was originally proposed by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia in 2002, but has recently regained currency. Israel would get full recognition from the Arab world in return for a full withdrawal from the territory it captured in 1967, including East Jerusalem, and a solution to the refugee problem. Mr Olmert, who belatedly declared that anyone who still believes in Greater Israel was deluding themselves, is on a similar mission in Washington today…a settlement based on the 1967 borders should be exactly that, with as little deviation as possible. If the Palestinians concede Israel's boundaries for Jerusalem (an area which extends into the heart of Bethlehem) in return for a land swap in the Negev, that is all of the post-1967 territory they should be expected to give.”

The facts on the ground remain as: occupation is unpopular, expensive and counter-productive. The Settlers and their Texas Taliban supporters among the Evangelical Right are more to blame for the turmoil around this situation than the Hamasniks with their main path to glory being provided by the likes of “Bibi” Netanyahu and his shadowy Ultra-Nationalist and Ultra-Orthodox backroom boys. Their agenda can only be supported in democratic Israel while a siege mentality prevails. Clear the West bank of transmigrants and look to the skies. Let there be no more Quassam trails, no sonic booms or other terrifying F-16 sorties.

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