Sunday, February 24, 2008

Paging Israel: Let's have a ceasefire

For lack of a better way to end the constant assault on Sderot, Hamas is still putting the offer of a ceasefire for Israel to accept, despite the current casaulties that afflicts Gazans, as well as the relentless siege mentality that has left three dead today at Bein Hanoun, seventy injured at a non-violent protest in Bethlehem, and at least 170 people killed by Israel since the beginning of the Annapolis peace conference back in November. On top of that, Gazan life has become quite unbearable, with the power outages hurting not only the hospitals, but even the sewage system that has left Gaza "stinking", as Mohammed Omar put it.

"Sewage water is filling the streets... The stench is unbearable...

The amount of children who have been taken ill has increased considerably. Cases of diarrhea are mounting by the day. Even now, children continue to play outside amongst the raw sewage – where else can they go?"

What's also surprising is the fact that the Gaza siege is also destroying Israel's economy also. Here is an excerpt from an article in the Middle East Times:

"The West Bank and Gaza Strip constitute Israel's second biggest market after the United States. In 2006, the combined 3.5 million residents of the Palestinian territories imported over $2 billion worth of Israeli products, or more than 6 percent of all Israeli exports excluding diamonds. This is the same amount that Italy and France combined, two of the eight richest countries in the world, imported from Isreal.

Israel's business community has voiced its alarm. Ronen Leshem, head of the business department at Israel's Peres Center for Peace, wrote recently in an op-ed in The Marker, an Israeli business publication: "In a few weeks, the business sector in Gaza is going to collapse, and one of the big losers is going to be Israel."

Rather appalling when you have a government cynically putting their own people in harm's way, threatening normal citizens about the security of their job because they refuse to let them deal with a market that has been so sacred to them, and all for the sake of imagery: the big bad wolf Israel still has its might, and you Arabs better not have any thoughts about taking us on. We're still strong, we still have (nuclear) weapons, and our military budget is bigger than your's. Naturally, we'll bomb you without any provocation and perhaps even liquidate some of your peripheral (eventual) martyrs: this will show you Arabs who's boss.

Although one could conclude that this is all very silly, it is not when you partake in Middle East politics. In fact, this revealing article by Patricke Seale elevated Israel's need for "targeted assassinations" for the purpose of deterrence and strategy:

"[P]ossible explanation for the Mughniyeh killing is that Israel was keen to demonstrate to its regional opponents -- not just Hizbullah and Hamas, but Syria and Iran as well -- that its long arm can reach deep into their home territory. This seems also to have been the message of Israel’s air-raid last September against a military installation in eastern Syria -- an unprovoked violation of Syrian sovereignty and international law, which the Bush administration appears to have approved.

No doubt, such spectacular feats of arms are also intended to remind Washington -- and especially its intelligence community -- that in spite of the fiasco of the Lebanese war, Israel remains a valuable strategic asset in America’s ‘global war on terror'.There may well have been some reasons of internal Israeli politics for the assassination of Mughniyeh."

And we shall not forget about Olmert's own reasons for wanting to pummel Palestinians:

"Olmert may have felt the need to restore his prestige with the Israeli public after the Vinograd commission’s stern indictment of his leadership in the 2006 war."

But we're missing what's important here: sure, Qassams are a rather pesky nuisance for Sderot residents, but they have inflicted such tiny damage, which only is testament when one sees the total disparity between Gaza dead and Israeli dead: "at most one Israeli is killed for the death of some 40 Palestinians." I do not wish to minimise the launcher's intention: I assume it is to terrorise the Israelis; but what about the "daily raids and the cruel siege"? Do they not have the same intention to terrorise Palestinians into cowering humans, hoping that they would uprise against Hamas, the only organisation who seems to have their best interests at heart?

Back on the 18th, a UN official described the conditions of Gaza, saying

"Medical services in Gaza are deteriorating, private industry has more or less collapsed, and there are real worries about education. There is increasing dependence on international aid, which has risen very sharply over the last eight months."

He also hinted at a "humanitarian catastrophe" and said 73 percent relies on food aid. This is quite the comfortable living that Olmert has remarked at, "an affront to the dignity of the people" in Gaza as stated by Mr. Holmes of the UN. Apparently we have differing versions on what living comfortably really means. And this is omitting the simple fact that Gaza is stinking while being amongst the most densely populated place on the planet, all done with the support of the West.

Despite this gruesome reality, Hamas continues to lay down the ceasefire offer. I know many would say it's just another opportunity for them to build arms. So what? Would Israel not build more arms to counter that? Or would Hamas be the only one required to cease any military activity? Preposterous.

Hamas intention for opportunism should only be a sidenote from what truly matters: a cessation of hostilies that sees both Gazans and Israelis fearing the air. We're getting alot of commonsense from the local people who are suffering from the inept policies of Olmert and co., getting alot of groundbreaking work on blogs. It is with great pride that I do feature the blog that has one Gazan and one resident of Sderot doing their best to show that Palestinians and Israelis are not fated to destroy each other. And continuing on that same vein, February 23rd saw a "Gaza Siege Day", seeing "[p]eople in more than 30 countries from the four corners of the globe to protest the "inhumane" Israeli siege of the Gaza Strip." We can only hope for more activity along this nature.

On the plus side, we're getting two major calls to talk with Hamas from important posts. The Israeli Mayor of Sderot himself has indicated that he "would say to Hamas, let's have a ceasefire". Now this isn't some fringe member of society here that is either an anti-Zionist, post-Zionist or even a dove, but the actual mayor of the town being terrorised is wanting to negotiate with "the devil", ie Hamas. He even refers to Hamas as "the devil": now there can be no threats of a pro-Palestinian here, can there be?

But maybe he's just seeing what all of us is seeing: that Hamas should be engaged with. This is precisely what a former Mossad chief has suggested Olmert should do. Again, this is not some left-wing nut who wants to appease the Palestinians and go back to the 67 borders such and such, but "Efraim Halevy received the prestigious CIA Director's Award from then-director George Tenet for his assistance to the U.S. intelligence service". He's been described as "a hawk", and his interview is one that must be read by everyone who believes that Hamas is an entity that should be ignored.

"Hamas is not al Qaeda and, indeed, al Qaeda has condemned them time and time again. Hamas may from time to time have tactical, temporary contact with al Qaeda, but in essence they are deadly adversaries. The same goes for Iran. Hamas receives funds, support, equipment, and training from Iran, but is not subservient to Tehran. A serious effort to dialogue indirectly with them could ultimately drive a wedge between them."

This means that Hamas is not some extremist regime that wants to stifle any effort for normalisation. It is not a terrorist faction: it is the body that was voted by the Palestinians to represent them. They have a voice which should be heard. They were voted in for a reason. Hamas "has demonstrated that they are more credible and effective as a political force inside Palestinian society than Fatah", and "[i]t makes sense to approach a possible initial understanding including Hamas—but not exclusively Hamas—at a time when they are still asking for one. No side will gain from a flare up leading to Israel re-entering the Gaza strip in strength to undo the ill-fated unilateral disengagement of 2005."

And the ridiculous precondition for Hamas to recognise Israel's "right to exist" is ludicrous. The intent is for a ceasefire, you do not need to recognise anyone's right to exist to halt attacks. You just need to negotiate a treaty that both parties can agree to. Having Hamas cave in to the demand is "an a priori renunciation of ideology before contact is made. Such a demand has never been made before either to an Arab state or to the Palestinian Liberation Organization/Fatah."

Halevy also testifies that Abbas is weak, and the US and Israel have done nothing to empower his movement. He seems rather neutered, and creating a Palestinian satrap has been a large failure so far. Halevy ends the interview with a very pessimisstic view:

"It appears by all indications that neither Israel nor the United States are prepared to contemplate such a test of alternative strategy."

And how can we say that he is wrong? We've got Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John McCain as the options for Presidency. Many want to back Barack, but he's shown no real indication that he can do what no other President since Eisenhower has done: take on the Zionist Lobby. He seems more like cosying up to the old Jewish establishment to reassure them that Israel is safe in his hands. Some change. Nevertheless, he is taking a battering in the smear column.

But what is Olmert to do now? We know that he has to look strong, reeling from the defeat of the Lebanon War: hence the actions at Syria and the slaying of Mughniyeh. He also has to keep Hamas off the legitimacy table, considering he is unable to stop Qassams from landing in Israeli territory. Someone has to die for Qassams being launched; what kind of a lesson will that be for Israelis? We talk to our enemy who wants us dead? I don't think so.

For too long we've been ignoring the fact that Hamas wants to talk, and it wants to engage with the rest of the world. Why do we continue to sideline them and pretend that they are not serious in their intention? Why are we stuck in a paradox where the only way to talk is to "not talk" and provide action that only decreases the possibility for justice and peace? Alastair Crooke analyses the failings of the West to engage in dialogue with Islamists, that

"Unless there is this questioning and awakening in the West [about Islamism] - and I use the word deliberately - an awakening - then I think that the West will remain unchanged...

Talking therefore, in terms of the title of this talk, is not overdue. Sadly, at this stage, the West cannot hear."

It's still xenophobia and ignorance that prevents the West from normalisation with the Orient. Israel may want Hamas to go away by their own rules, and by the delaying tactics that would only encapsulates their policy of maximisation of land into Israeli control and the monopoly of arms and power in the region; the West accepts the ideology that Hamas and Hizbollah and all the rest are just backward people who cannot be trusted when they talk of "peace" because their just disingeniune and are merely playing possum so they can destroy civilisation and turn it all into Sharia law. Or to put it plainly, "the devil". But even we have to talk to "the devil" himself some day. Why not now when they offer to stop terrorising Sderot for a very long time? Are Halevy and Sderot Mayor Eli Moyal's cries to talk to "the devil" going to go unheard? Or are Sderot residents left to rely on the aid that charities give them because Israel just uses them as an excuse to continue their siege of Gaza?

Are we going to listen? When soldiers are "Breaking the Silence" by exhibiting the toll Occupation has, do we continue to deflect the call to look amongst ourselves when we remain silent about all of this?

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