Of course, there is always much, too much, to say about any war. And there are certainly things to say about this one. But before all that it feels necessary to emphasize how little is new, how much everything feels like repetition, how unsurprised any of the foreseen outcomes will be. At the same time, it is necessary to elicit surprise, to mobilize anger and outrage, because it may be only an uprising of world opinion against continued Israeli aggression that can prevent an even worse episode of war crimes than occurred in the 2008-2009 massacre in Gaza. In my heart I am worried less about another 2008 than a new 1982.
So what is the current situation, how is it most productive to frame the escalation? There is an election in “democratic Israel” in 7 weeks; military commanders are warning Mayors in Israel to prepare for 7 weeks of fighting. On one account, what is happening is a military escalation against a produced and manufactured threat that can succeed not so much in destroying the threat but in ensuring that the debate in the elections remains focussed on military and diplomatic issues (on which Likud is popular) and not on social issues (on which Likud is increasingly unpopular). The rise of social protests, “occupy” style encampments and mass demonstrations against austerity inside Israel by self-identified zionists who are not critical of Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians (“don’t call it an occupation” was a slogan used to keep the protesters from splitting apart due to the Palestinian question), has created a situation which is potentially very dangerous to the ruling class. This will not be the first war fought for domestic political reasons, nor the last, and this aspect is crucial to keep in mind when looking at the racism and nationalism being spun up by the war amounts the Israeli population.
On the Palestinian side, the important escalation occurred after the targeted assassination of one of their military leaders. We could talk about the initial events in this escalation – the Israeli tank fire against kids playing soccer, the PLFP attack on a legitimate military target, but these are less interesting because regardless of whether they paint Israel as the aggressor or not (which truly depends on whether you consider the targeting of civilians and military targets to be equivalent, and whether you think and occupied population has a right to military resistance against occupation forces under international law), they do not account for how the current escalation broke out of the quite small scale pattern of small escalation followed by ceasefire, usually with deaths of less than ten Palestinians, and only one or (usually) zero Israelis. So what is so distinctive about a targeted assassination? Targeted assassinations are extra judicial executions, illegal under international law but common practice by the Americans both in their support of the Israelis and in their own war in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Targeted assassinations are branded by Israel as “more humane” because they do not target civilians, although this defence is really of no value partially because Israel also targets civilians regularly, and because when you send a missile into someone’s apartment or car it’s normal for civilians to be also killed. However, targeted assassinations are not distinctive because civilians are also killed, but because they challenge key elements in the Palestinian movements, they threaten to bring chaos to the binds that hold Palestinians together and allows them to act with a single fist. It is in the interest of Palestinian movements to do whatever they can to deter Israel from committing targeted assassinations, because if they don’t they may quickly cease to exist, or at least cease to exist as a unified and strong front. Israelis know this just like any army knows that attacks on their enemies leadership will bring the strongest and most desperate attempt to create a deterrence against future similar attacks.
It is in this context that we can interpret the barrage of rockets fired from Gaza including the longer range rockets that hit outer suburbs of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. The fact that the rockets did not hit the centre of Tel Aviv or Jerusalem is less significant than the fact they reached the area – the Palestinians are clearly demonstrating they have a capability which they were not previously believed to possess. In this attack which also included many hundreds of shorter range rockets, three Israelis were killed, bringing the Israeli death toll up to a number I think lower than the number of Palestinian deaths which had already occurred prior to the targeted assassination. And yet, whereas America will never talk about the right of Palestinians to kill Israelis in “self defence” against the Israeli killing of Palestinian civilians, the reverse is the most common statement on lips of leaders all over the world.
However, hypocricy is not simply the answer to why the current escalation has happened, or why the response from America has been so one-sided. To understand why escalations like this happen we have to go back to the will of the Palestinian people, and the 2006 PLC elections where there was a resounding anti-Oslo vote, followed by a civil war resulting in Hamas taking control of the Gaza Strip. To get to the root of the continual breakdowns of the “peace process” one must understand that the rise of political Islam in the Palestinian movement has always occurred in reaction against unfair compromise, against leaders more interested in pandering to the Israelis than in achieving Palestinian rights. The rise of Hamas in the 80s was in reaction at first to the defeat in ’82, but also importantly in reaction against the recognition of Israel in ’88 and the signing of the Oslo accords in ’93. Recognizing that the basis of support for Hamas lies not in fidelity to Political Islam but fidelity to Palestinian rights allows one to understand not only the roots of the entrenched and repetitive conflict but also what would be sufficient for its resolution.
Who lives in Gaza? Gaza is still primarily populated by refugees, people pushed off their land during the Nakba of 1948. Why do Israelis who arrive as Jews from all over the world and are offered citizenship upon their arrival have any more right to live in the land of Palestine than the descendants of the Palestinians who were pushed off their land in 1948? To reflect on this question is to begin to understand the base situation from which escalations like the current one can arise. For how long will such escalations continue? After all, hundreds of years after the colonization of north america, no armed movements of first nations continue any military resistance against the colonizers of their land (although the six nations reclamation is a shining example of ongoing non-violent resistance against the breaking of treaties).
There have always been two possibilities for the Palestinian struggle – defeat of the indigenous people, as has happened all around the world in innumerable instances of colonization, or victory for the anti-colonial resistance and the anti-colonial movement and transformation – not only of Israeli society from a racist ethnocracy to a democratic state of all of its citizens, but a chance in mindset of the entire world which supports Israel against the natives to a de-colonizing mindset which will open doors to decolonizing transformations all around the world. The Palestinians’ choice not to accept defeat, not to stand down and accept their oppression and dispossession as the accepted status quo from which they can barter for better humanitarian conditions, is a gift, a form of charity to all the peoples of the world – both colonizers and colonized. The gift is the belief in freedom, in the institutionalized maintenance of the dream of decolonization, of the end of eurocentrism and racism. It becomes us as those who benefit from the privileges enabled by colonization to turn our eyes towards its ongoing violence and demand the end of ethnic privilege and legalized theft wherever our taxes subsidize the bullets and bombs which continue to collectively punish those indigenous people who refuse defeat.