Who am I?Where am I?

29 December 2008

Where is the Humanity?

My good friend, who goes by the alias 'The Cat', advised me not to write this and offend "the choosen people." I cannot not write this. I was working on a post about Somalian Pirates and another about Cricket, but this weekend kind of changed all that and my focus.

I am a fan of the underdog. I love the NCAA basketball tournament each March where almost annually, a small unknown school beats a roster full of future NBA players. I enjoy the world cup in soccer/football when a small team from a smaller country defeats a larger country like Senegal (defeating France) in 2002. In baseball, I root for the Toronto Blue Jays, against the New York Yankees, and for the team with the smaller payroll in the World Series. I can't stand Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, or Liverpool. I root for the team in England with the most English players on its roster, so this year, I'm a Hull supporter. I root against Brazil in football, Australia in cricket, and New Zealand in rugby. Thus, it's probably natural that I would support the Palestinians against Israel.

If this were a sporting event, I would be supporting the young Hebrew boy, armed with a slingshot who fearlessly walked out into battle against the giant aggressor. In this case, I would be supporting the Palestinians since they use the modern version of the proverbial slingshot against one of the most technologically advanced miltaries in the world. The only problem is that this is not a sporting event. This is real life. These are real people being murdered (over 300 as of this writing). Where is the humanity?

I will freely admit that I have many mixed emotions when it comes to Israel (and to the Palestinian cause to which feelings about Israel are inextricably linked.) First, history shows that during the years leading up to World War II, the United States did nothing to help the plight of Jews in Europe. Ships carrying Jewish refugees were refused entry into US waters and Jews onboard sent back into the clutches of Hitler's maniacal regime. Jewish leaders repeatedly asked military leaders to bomb railroad lines, which the Germans used to transport Jews to their deaths in concentration camps. Had these lines been bombed, which they could have easily been, thousands of lives would have saved. Roosevelt refused. Thus, it was perhaps understandable that American leaders, supported the creation of Israel after World War II. As an American now, probably as a result of a smidgen of collective guilt, I do think that the state of Israel has a right to exist. Secondly, if a people do not have rights to govern themselves, then often they are persecuted. History is fraught with examples of this, which further supports my belief that a Jewish state should exist.

Over the years, I have had one particularly good relationship with a Jewish carpenter (no...not Jesus), who really taught me a lot about life and helped me get to where I am now. For this, I will be eternally greatful. In South Africa, two of my closest friends are Jewish. I love celebrating Jewish holidays with them, just as I now enjoy celebrating Islamic holidays with Muslim friends, particularly now that I reside in the Persian Gulf. This is one side of the coin.
However, as I sat in front of the television this past weekend, watching Al-Jazeera do it's best to be neutral, and CNN and BBC make no effort to do the same, I was aghast on many levels. Where is the humanity? There is something inherently unfair about attacking buildings and positions with F-16 fighters when the opposition is either unarmed or has mortar rounds and rocket-propelled grenades. Why now? Is this just politics before an Israeli election. Historically, Isreaeli politicians have acted as though bombs exploding in the West Bank and Palestine were euphonious and could help them convince the Israeli public to vote for them. Sadly, they have normally been correct and their policies have won them the plaudits of Israeli voters.

Israeli politicians were repeatedly paraded in front of cameras over the weekend. They were beseeched with questions about why this was happening. Their only explanation for the actions of the government and military was that Hamas started this latest conflagration. This argument is not valid. We can go back to 1948 and engage in a vicious cycle of who started what. In the end, this was started by the dispossession of Palestinians from their land by the Israelis.

Regardless of who began this latest sordid episode, the Israeli reaction is akin to a child being hit with a pebble on a playground and turning around and shooting everyone on the school ground with an uzi. What defines "starting the fight" anyway? There was a 6-month cease fire, which was largely honored by both sides. However, during the past several months, Gaza was cut off by an Israeli blockade. It is arguable as to whether the blockade prevented arms from getting into Gaza but it is quite clear that food, medicine, and essential staples necessary to survive, were cut off. Hospitals have been bombed. Hospitals don't have medicine. An overwhelming percentage of Palestinians living in Gaza receive food aid. This has been cut off. In short, the world has abandoned Gaza.

As I watched this weekend, I remembered why I long ago had a poster of Yasser Arafat in my house and a Palestinian flag hanging next to it. Regardless of the circumstances that led us here, Gaza and the West Bank are occupied territories. They are occupied by an alien invading force. If my country was similarly occupied, I would fight for it with all resources at my disposal. I too, would fight the Israelis.

If one examines George Bush over the past eight years, one can see a microcosm of the Israeli state. After 9/11, Bush had the highest approval ratings in history, the sympathy of the world, and could do whatever he wanted (within reason.) He squandered this in a mis-guided war, obstensibly (according reports on what Condoleza Rice stated at the time) to establish a democracy in the Middle East. More on this in a moment. The Jewish community, post-1945, had the sympathy of the world and leveraged this to establish Israel. This sympathy has been squandered. I cannot sympathize with a nation that drops bombs from F-16s on hospitals. To do so would also be to sympathize with my own leader, who has done the same thing. Morally, I cannot do that. Israel is as wrong as Bush and their actions have only served to radicalize many segments of the populations in Palestine, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

According to reports, Bush's team had different reasons for wanting to invade Iraq. Condoleza Rice wanted to set up a stable democracy in one of the most un-democratic regions in the world. In case nobody understands this, the occupied territories are democratic. Hamas has been elected! Gaza and the West Bank are (with all due respect to Lebanon) the only truly functioning democracies in the Middle East. Israel denies citizens within it's territory the right to vote (since both of the occupied territories are presently within the country of Israel). People do not generally vote for organizations and parties that will lead them to self-annihiliation unless they see no alternative. The fact that Hamas was voted into power illustrates just how desparate the plight of Palestinians in Gaza has become. The West Bank, where things are more stable, has not voted for Hamas. Despite the fact that there are over 600 Israeli Army checkpoints, a wall that encroaches on Palestinian land and divides it's people further, and the daily harassment meted out by the Israeli occupying army, West Bank residents still have hope and have not voted for a radical organization like Hamas. Clearly, Israel has destroyed this hope in Gaza and the people have voted for an alternative. Has nobody posed the question: what caused this to happen?

As a student of African history, the liberation movement that most strongly correlates to the Palestinian cause is the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. Mandela, Tambo, Govan Mbeki, Steve Biko, Chris Hani, Joe Slovo, etc., were all viewed as terrorists because they were fighting for freedom against an oppressive and sinister force. So too are the Palestinians. The Israeli government has lost it's touch with reality and has completely misprized the will of the people of Gaza to fight on. Furthermore, it has completely lost the ability to think of Palestinians as fellow humans and continues to pursue an otiose and outdated policy bent on beating Gaza into submission. Lastly, it has recklessly murdered over 300 people in 48 hours (35% of whom are women and children). This is very similar to apartheid government policy, which ultimately proved futile.

On another level, the Arab governments in this region have demonstrated that they truly do not care about Palestine. Postponing the Arab League meeting until Wednesday illustrates this. How can the Arab world not issue a cohesive statement for at least five days after something as monstrous as this. These governments are not democratic and do not reflect the will of the people in this region any more than Stalin reflected the will of the Russian people.

One can only hope that the Israeli citizens realize emerge from their chthonic state, realize their mistake, and elect a new government before it is too late and world opinion has seriously weakened the ability of the Israelis to negotiate. This is not the place where I want to place too much faith at this point. This would be similar to placing faith in the white South African electorate between 1948-1994.
The peace process lingers at the edge of a staircase devoid of a balustrade. If it fails, more lives will be lost. The time is now! Free Palestine. End the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Remove the Jewish settlements from these areas. Get a solution to the city of Jerusalem. Get a peace deal now before more innocent lives are lost.


Yve said...

Mhmh…this is interesting. If there’s an issue that deeply inspires what I do today, it’s the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It’s very close to my heart. Anyway, hearts aside, my views will border on both the political and humanitarian. I should first admit that am a bit ignorant on the recent developments preceding the current offensive by Israel since I had locked out all news for a couple of weeks. I always find that my political and humanitarian sides are in a constant state of conflict. But as usual my humanitarian perspective prevails, and its anyone’s guess what that implies. Am a Palestinian sympathizer.

Let me attempt to thrash out the political thinking behind Israel’s actions. Well, there are all these many theories that scholars and think tanks (thank God I don’t consider myself one of them-I don’t like reading and thinking!) like to propound that could be used to explain the current and preceding developments in Gaza but I would like to talk about one in particular. What I clearly see being applied here by Israel is deterrence theory. As the name suggests, this simply means to deter or prevent. Deterrence is predicated upon the thinking that the possession and deployment of adequate weapons would deter an aggressor from challenging the status quo militarily. There is always an implicit threat that drives an aggressor to resort to force to deter a potential attacker. A lot of intelligence and strategic thought goes into making the decision on whether to attack or not attack. Decisions to attack are also based on balance of power such that if the aggressor sees that the potential attacker has similar military might and chances of a win are considerably reduced then the aggressor may opt not to go on the offensive. But if the aggressor sees that the balance is favourable and chances of a win are hugely plausible largely due to the military inferiority of the potential attacker then there is more reason to attack. I suppose that is the case between Israel and Palestine. Israel always anticipates an attack from its perceived “enemy”. On the other hand the Palestinians-Hamaz and predecessors (the perceived “enemies”) spend sleepless nights laying out strategies to surprise the enemy (Israel). That’s the world of conflict very very simply put. War is chosen only if its benefits exceed the costs and I would not want to imagine how much goes into Israel’s defence budget. I mean, states as entities are quite similar to humans more so because they are run by humans. So state behaviour more or less reflects human behaviour. Under normal circumstances, if you had knowledge of spates of burglary in your neighbourhood, would you just want to be caught unawares as a sitting duck? No, you may want to beef up your home security and maybe install iron burglars on the doors and windows, acquire a pistol for instance and do all other humanly possible things you can think of if only to ward off or holdup an impending attack.

Nom, I suggest that when you get the time, glean through Niccolo Machiavelli’s (an early strategic thinker) Art of War. Some politicians and some of the think tanks who advise them borrow quite from his writings. He articulates ideas like, war is an important activity in political life; the aim of war must be the total defeat of the enemy and wars must be sharp and short; everything possible must be done to ensure victory including the full use of forces even if the enemy seems of inferior strength. More interesting and one of the great books I have read by the same author is “The Prince”. He talks about state craft and any time I see a politician speak and act I always think they must have read that book or yet still, Machiavelli must have succeeded in going right through their minds.

The Israeli and Palestinian conflict also presents a case of asymmetrical war not as it is conventionally known since in this case a state with unfathomable military strength is always beating up on one with inferior strength. Surely, one cannot even start to compare the sophisticated conventional weapons at Israel’s disposal with Hamaz’s sometimes (mark my words-sometimes) home made grenades and hand made rockets and missiles that can hit within just a radius of 20kms. The elections are beckoning and also due to matters of strategic national interest (that states normally put first) Israel is hard pressed to show its citizens that it can indeed offer security to its people at the expense of other human lives lost in the process for as long as they are not Israeli lives. How ironical. When governments are elected, they normally get into a contract with their people and one of the terms of the contract is the protection of citizens. What good is a government that cannot protect its citizens? Clearly, it should not be voted back in. So these are some of Israel’s strategic MIScalculations that are doing nothing but compounding the already delicate situation. It is my take that Israel has never been comfortable with Hamaz coming to power and would do anything possible to either tack them away (and this is not possible I will explain why) or make them unpopular at home.

Israelis may think that the recent offensive has been or will be successful but honestly, what impression has that etched in the lives of young Palestinians? Such acts are counterproductive and other than the retaliatory response it will elicit, it will also produce another generation of bitter, hardened young Palestinians willing to galvanize themselves into stronger cells of AOMs and further champion for their cause. And can you blame them? No, I cant. I would like to take an undoubtedly biased position and look at Palestinians as the driving forces to change and Israeli’s as the resisting forces to change. When you use force to kill resistance you can only expect to produce more resistance, and that’s one lesson Israel is yet to learn. It may actually be something they have already learnt but have perfected the art of living with. This has become an unending cycle that the world gets periodically entertained to. However at some point, it may be in Israel’s best interest to soften its position and cede some ground and think about Hamaz’s demands. Agreements should not always be on their terms, sometimes approaching the negotiation table and making some compromises can yield something if not much, but its always a start. It’s really hard for me to say that because I know states have strategic calculations and a false step could in a case like this jeopardize Israel’s existence – it’s the case of the unknown, but again how do you know something is workable if it is not tested. But again haven’t there been many attempts at negotiation in the past? We all know that in these negotiations, there are always cards played under the table that get revealed long after yet another ceasefire agreement has collapsed since the rule of the game is not to flash all the cards at once. I reckon the beginning of change will take place when both parties approach the table with open minds (this is idealistic…let me stop there since high political stakes are involved and the thinking is largely military)… I wont prescribe anything.

Israelis may want to root out radical Hamaz (radical is relative here) elements but surely, not with the piling numbers of civilian casualties that the world has witnessed. Am sure that collateral damage of that scale and magnitude on Israelis by Hamaz would not have escaped severe international condemnation quickly followed by secret beefing up of defence support to Israel. But why isn’t the international community taking a stronger stance on Israel? I guess this takes us back to the ideological wars yet again and national interests. It would be interesting to see what the deliberate or in-deliberate targeting of civilians will achieve. Would it by proxy achieve other ends for Israel? Will it weaken Hamaz’s popularity at home since Hamaz had promised better living standards and protection, promises that it has not been able to deliver? Will the high number of soft targets in this latest incidents instead endear Palestinians more to Hamaz and more so for lack of a better alternative? Will the incoming Obama administration signal a shift in America’s Middle East foreign policy? These are questions I grapple with. On Saturday when I caught a short glimpse of the news coverage on Al Jazeera I was shocked to hear the Israeli spokesman say that they are trying to make the operation as surgical as possible. Yea right. I guess by the time they are done, over 6900 Palestinians will be in dire need of surgery that they may never have timely access to.

My positions have changed a lot over the years on the Israeli Palestinian Question and my analyses have always been contextual, based on what is happening at a particular point in time. It’s the one issue where my position swings like a pendulum. Mhmh… but they say it’s only a fool who does not change his mind. One thing for sure is that am not willing to sympathize or speak in favour of a state that is (and has over the years) openly exercising imperialist ambitions until it shows determined resolve to treat its neighbours as humans by showing respect for civilian lives that are not necessarily Israeli. Who is a human being? Its easier said than done but Israeli intransigence should stop now.


Richard the Nomad said...


Several things:

1. Did you mean the Art of War by Sun Tzu?

2. I love having intelligent people reading this blog and as always thanks for the comments.

3. Essentially, though you may swing back and forth, I think you will agree in principal with my main point that Israel's "logic", which you eloquently hashed out, is fundamentally flawed.

4. As always, thanks for stopping through, reading, and commenting. Your comments about Somali piracy in a previous blog was the impetus for the upcoming entry on that topic, so thanks for expanding my horizons and engaging in intellectual discourse.


Yve said...

Nom, yes there is the Art of War by Sun Tzu which I also found interesting. And there is also Art of War by Niccolo Machiavelli. There are edited versions.

I agree with your main point that Israel’s strategy or lack thereof is largely misguided. You articulated that very clearly.

On the Somali blog, I had actually written something two months ago. When I say write, I mean I literally picked a pen and wrote on a book. Haha! I was in a workshop then and had been locked out linguistically so I pretended to be furiously taking notes all the time. But when it came to typing my fingers got lazy. I type with a record two fingers. If you post something I will be more than willing to comment.

Thanks for the compliments! Am looking forward to more of your interesting posts. And especially the rib-cracking ones! I may not comment but I sure do always have a good laugh! Everyone loves to have a good laugh. Or is it just me?


Anonymous said...

I must say that Israel's attack on the Gaza is a horrific act of war that will make Hamas emerge stronger. It will also radicalise more moderate muslims to join the attacks against Israel.
Gaza was one of the territories taken from arab nations during the six-Day war. This war started in 1967 with a pre-emptive attack by Israel. At the war's end, Israel had gained control of the Sinai, Peninsula, the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Height as well as Gaza.

In the past, the US has supported Israel over this Holocaust. One would think the Jewish people, having experienced the Holocaust in World War 11, would not have started their own on Muslim nations and the Americans would not be supporting this with money and missiles.

Like David Relin, the author of Three Cups of Tea, I would love to see a new year and a new US presidency bring some justice to the Middle East.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.