Gaza, South Lebanon, and Gaza again: Israeli revisionism of past atrocities, a blank check for present atrocities
To my knowledge no one has shown before, as described below, that 1) there is a pattern of Israel acting aggressively against civilians and political leaders before it withdraws from occupied territory in order to punish them for not giving in to its demands to sign illegitimate agreements that would reflect the imbalance in military power in Israel’s favor and 2) when it is time to withdraw from other occupied territory Israel conveniently forgets that in anticipation of earlier withdrawals it had engaged in extensive illegal collective punishment and falsely claims that withdrawal will invite attacks by its victims. Withdrawal does not invite attacks by its victims. Withdrawal without signing an illegitimate agreement that favors Israel invites savage Israeli attack against civilians and political leaders for not giving Israel the indications of legitimacy that it craves and will never get.
In reading analyses about Israel’s impending withdrawal from Gaza, one is struck by the repeated comparisons made to Israel’s withdrawal from the south of Lebanon about four years ago. The fact that the comparison is reflexively proposed by Israel is reason enough to suspect that the comparison is being misused by the Israeli government and that one would do well to analyze Israel’s hidden motivations for and concealed benefits derived from making this comparison.
Israel claims that, unlike its ‘peaceful’ withdrawal from Lebanon, it is being forced to act aggressively in conducting the withdrawal from Gaza. It goes on to say that it has to act aggressively now so that Hamas will not score a public relations coup or inspire others to believe that Israel was defeated, as supposedly happened after Israel withdrew from Lebanon. If Hamas were allowed to have the satisfaction of a morale boost, the effectiveness of Israel’s military deterrence would be undermined, an undesirable development. By mischaracterizing the past withdrawal as being peaceful, claiming that the past withdrawal was ineffective because it was relatively peaceful, and juxtaposing the mischaracterized past withdrawal with the present withdrawal, Israel hopes to rewrite history and give itself a blank check to act now in a manner as atrocious as it pleases.
The reality is that Israel acted aggressively in anticipation of its withdrawal from Lebanon and is acting aggressively in anticipation of its withdrawal from Gaza. Contrary to the conventional wisdom Israeli aggression in both instances has nothing to do with maintaining the effectiveness of Israeli military deterrence, but everything to do with punishing political opponents whom Israel expected to meet at the bargaining table and from whom Israel expected to receive an award in return for Israel’s withdrawal.
Before Israel withdrew from Lebanon, Israel approached Lebanon and Syria to give it something in return for withdrawing. Both laughed at the request because they knew it was in Israel’s interest to withdraw; so why should they be giving Israel a superfluous incentive to do what it already had sufficient incentive and self-interest. While Uncle Sam’s taxpayers give in to the water pistol at their head and pay Israel to do what it already has an incentive to do, Arabs haven’t reached that level of domination by the Israelis, but they are getting close. Given that Israel’s attempts at extortion failed, Israel understandably felt weak. What to do?
Israel began to think about what it could do now so that the next time it is in this position it can force Arabs to the bargaining table to give it a reward to do what it already has sufficient interest in doing. What to do?
The only thing Israel can do is act aggressively so that Arabs learn that when Israel invites them to make concessions they need to pull out their fancy treaty or parchment paper and start contributing generously: a little money for withdrawal by setting aside part of the Arab economy for strictly Israeli commerce, a mountain side here, a creek and river over there…or maybe a full blown peace treaty with liberal clauses renouncing Arab sovereignty over land, water, air, and trade. What does this have to do with deterrence? Recall that maintaining the effectiveness of Israel’s deterrence was the justification for acting aggressively when withdrawing.
Deterrence discourages actions not invites them. Threats and intimidation, words not used by Israel, invite action. Quite Orwellian, no? As indicated in previous articles, once one accepts the faulty framework established by an opponent one is doomed to make weak arguments and to needlessly grant the upper hand to one’s opponent. When some use the word “deterrence” they often mean the power of threats and intimidation to achieve a desirable and unjust goal. When “deterrence” is misused one should be alerted to the possibility that the one using the word is really a victimizer with a politically weak case but a strong military, and that one should refrain from using the word. Israeli cabinet minister Haim Ramon’s statement that the “[the guerrillas] will pay a price from Israel in order to make it clear to them Israel’s forces are leaving Lebanon” and the observation that the primary victims of Israeli aggression were civilians makes it easy to conclude that “deterrence” is a euphemism for intimidation of and threats to civilians (and ultimately political leaders).
As indicated above, the history of Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon has recently been stripped of its aggression, revised and repackaged along with a lesson: that ‘peaceful’ withdrawal was a mistake which encouraged terrorism and Arab military hubris, decreased the effectiveness of Israel’s deterrence, and worst of all inspired the second Intifadah. With the second Intifidah attributed to the withdrawal from Lebanon, the Israeli public and those sympathetic to Zionism-no matter how many lives it unjustly destroys-are now primed to accept even greater horrors than were committed during the withdrawal from the south of Lebanon. Three Hellfire missiles streaking towards a sexagenarian quadriplegic in a wheelchair is not a screen capture from a grotesque video game but the latest exhibition of Israeli punishment of Palestinian leaders for failing to recognize their ‘weakness’ and for failing to reward Israel for its withdrawal.
Having decided that additional aggression is necessary to teach the recalcitrant Arabs or Palestinians a lesson, who should be subjected to that aggression? It is not mere coincidence that Sheik Yassin a political leader was assassinated or that Lebanese civilians were killed and terrorized in anticipation of the withdrawal from Lebanon. It is they rather than military forces that need to be taught a lesson in anticipation of future encounters in which it is hoped that their successors will know how to behave when Israel demands that they appear at a negotiating table ready to sign what Israel hands them. Israel fought the military forces in the south of Lebanon and in Gaza to a stalemate. Hitting them again would have the analogous efficacy of adding table salt to the ocean or a hand trying to clap by itself. It is the political leadership or their civilian wards that must be taught a lesson, and predictably they have been struck violently. When military power is used against civilians or political leaders with no military authority but authority to reach binding agreements with the wielders of military power, the wielders of military power are demonstrating their power to intimidate and threaten. They threaten and intimidate others to give up rights rather than refrain from aggression.
Again, Israel and its supporters are abusing the word ‘deterrence’ to obscure the big club that it is wielding against political leaders and civilians who will not recognize their political weakness-that only Israel can see-or the military might of Israel (understandably because Israel has not been able to achieve more than a stalemate with Lilliputians).
While one may be tempted to think that experience of Lebanon provides clues as to what Gazans should expect, this is so only because in a shallow examination of history it appears that the withdrawal from Lebanon commenced before the withdrawal from Gaza. However, a deeper examination of history reveals that Israel wanted to get out of Gaza before it even went into Lebanon in 1982. This means that there may have been lessons to be learned from what happened in Gaza that would have helped predict Israeli behavior in its last few days in Lebanon. The remainder of this article examines the utility of 1) the Gaza experience for predicting Israeli behavior upon its withdrawal from Lebanon, and 2) the withdrawal from Lebanon plus the Gaza experience for predicting Israeli behavior in the imminent Gaza withdrawal.
Before delving into an analysis of the Gazan experience the part of history that reveals that the ‘withdrawal’ from Gaza commenced before the withdrawal from Lebanon needs to be explored. Some may know that Israel wanted to withdraw from Gaza soon after occupying it, and again as recently as 11 years ago, or more than 7 years before it withdrew from Lebanon. A former Israeli general and chief-of-staff, Moshe Dayan, may have been the first to offer to withdraw from Gaza. When a senior American diplomat told him that the offer is transparent by half-Israel benefits but what do Palestinians get out of it-Dayan without missing a stride-because he must have prepared himself mentally for rejection, the most likely answer-said “It’s okay, we’ll double-cross that bridge when we get to it.” In September 1993 at the White House signing ceremony attended by Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, and US President Clinton, Ilan Halevi, a Palestinian Jew, Palestine Liberation Organization member, and former Palestinian ambassador to the Socialist International stated that Gaza was offered to the Palestinians from the very beginning of the peace talks. Halevi’s reply to Israel was “Sure. But what will you give us in exchange.” A few months after the White House signing ceremony, Yitzhak Rabin, in reference to Gaza, said, “I wish it would sink into the sea.
Gaza is an epic canvas of human suffering and misery that so saturates the consciousness that one thinks one will never notice anything else, and that’s true until one becomes acquainted with the will, bravery, and steadfastness of its people. Gaza is one of the most densely populated areas on earth and where illegal Israeli domination of the economy and restrictions on trade have caused unemployment to reach 50%. A United Nations Relief and Work Agency job posting for 8 garbage collectors resulted in 11,655 persons applying for the jobs. Produce rots because it cannot reach markets which Israel has reserved for itself. Industry is deliberately kept low-tech so that locally produced products cannot compete with Israeli products. People who are so poor that they cannot buy food are subjected to night raids by Israeli troops, not tax collectors, for non-payment of taxes. All of this can be found in 240 square kilometers of Gaza on which 1.2 million Palestinians live, 5,000 persons per square kilometer. Nevertheless, Israel uses 500 lb bombs and missiles to try to assassinate someone who is in the midst of dozens of bystanders. Sometime, shortly after the occupation began in 1967, Gaza became a slum, and even perhaps a ghetto that is most probably larger than any previous ghetto in history. However, today it is undeniably a concentration camp, a gulag by the Mediterranean, where Israeli soldiers lure tiny kids to come out into the street and then shoot them for sport.
While some may think Israel and Zionism are sadistic and their inherent sadism explains the resulting inhumane behavior in Gaza (or even the West Bank), whatever sadism exists in them cannot be the complete explanation for all the past misery in Gaza, (but may explain all of the future misery, as the last paragraph augurs). Long before countries and movements become sadistic they engage in conduct that is remarkably similar but because practical self-interest, even if illegitimate, is the motivation for an achievable goal, even if illegitimate, the conduct cannot be described as being sadistic.
If that is so, then what can be made from the aforementioned comments by Messers Dayan, Halevi, and Rabin? Their statements coupled with knowledge of the magnitude of underdevelopment in Gaza suggests that Gaza’s problems are too extensive and costly to fix. Furthermore, given the population density, Gaza was never a real prospect for long-term settlement by vast numbers of Zionist settlers. Consequently, Gaza is a product that has been sitting on the shelf since 1967 and is eyed by its Israeli ‘seller’ who wants to sell at an unreasonably high price and a buyer, the Palestinian Authority (or Egypt) who only wants it for ‘free’ (i.e., with rights of absolute sovereignty, as explained below). This is the case even though its people are ready to and have the right to assert control over their own freedom. The Israelis do not want to fix Gaza and want to get rid of it, but not by turning it over to its people. Without Israel recognizing the absolute sovereignty of the Palestinian Authority to govern and improve the situation in Gaza as the Authority deems necessary, the Palestinian Authority does not want responsibility for a Gaza whose severe underdevelopment cannot be fixed without the attributes of absolute sovereignty.
Well, what’s the only way to get rid of it if the only identified buyer will only take it in a form (i.e., with absolute sovereignty) that Israel is not willing to sell? Given Israel’s extensive experience with collective punishment, it did not take too long to hit on a sinister formula that seemed to make sense, but most probably never succeeded in history and doesn’t appear to be succeeding in the case at hand. Israel made civilian life in Gaza intolerable in the hopes that the Palestinian leadership in the diaspora or others, out of humanitarian concern, would rush to the negotiating tables and take responsibility for Gaza while allowing Israel to maintain all the attributes of sovereignty.
If the above is an accurate description of the Gaza experience, what would one have expected Israel to do when it arrived at a military stalemate in Lebanon? Conceivably, one would have expected Israel to unleash its military to terrorize civilians and send to their leaders the signal that refusing to negotiate with Israel after a military stalemate has been reached has a cost that civilians (and their leaders) will bear.
The real character of Israel’s withdrawal from the south of Lebanon is congruent with and an extension of the Gaza experience. Despite Israel having reached a legally binding agreement in 1996 with Hezbollah not to target civilians and even though Hezbollah was acting in accordance with the agreement, Israel pursued a scorched earth policy in its last days in Lebanon and attacked civilians indiscriminately and combatants who had not attacked Israel in years. Israeli attacks were accompanied by Israeli foreign minister David Levy’s irrational outbursts in which he threatened Lebanese civilians and children if legitimate resistance to Israeli occupation continued. It was not enough to say the “soil of Lebanon will burn,” but in a Knesset speech he proclaimed that Israel will extract “Blood for blood, soul for soul, child for child.” Beirut’s power plants, which had recently been bombed by Israel resulting in 8 deaths, were bombed a few months and again a few days before the withdrawal resulting in 17 civilians being injured. With one power plant completely destroyed and another out of commission for 18 months, half of Beirut was plunged into darkness and the population was terrorized with repeated low over flights that shattered the windows of hundreds of homes whenever a sonic boom occurred. The destruction of the power plants, shelling of over a dozen villages, and the deaths of civilians and innocent Palestinian fighters who had not fought Israeli soldiers in more than a decade were not enough. Israel brought several tons of explosives to historic Beaufort’s Castle the site of a major battle in 1982 in which Israel received a bloody nose and Israeli soldiers came to respect the bravery of Palestinian fighters. The Lebanese Prime Minister, Mr. Selim Hoss, wrote an impassioned letter to world leaders, pleading for the castle to be saved and saying its destruction would be a crime against history. Who is to say that the inchoate crime of Ehud Barak and his Israeli government didn’t inspire the Taliban when they destroyed the centuries-old historical treasures in Afghanistan?
Israel terrorized civilians in Gaza and in Lebanon but did not succeed at bringing Israel’s opponents to the negotiating table. Domestic pressures forced Israel to withdraw from Lebanon before it could secure a favorable agreement. Economic pressures are now forcing Israel to withdraw from Gaza, the same Gaza it wanted to withdraw from more than 25 years ago. Israel has exhausted its ‘terrorize the civilians bag of tricks,’ and in doing so terrorized Gazans beyond the saturation point, but they are not willing to concede defeat because of the strength of their political, legal, and moral case and the irrelevance of their military weakness. Israel, through Benjamin Netanyahu, even tried the child’s trick of marketing something undesirable (Gaza with an approximation of sovereignty) as a desirable acquisition, by telling Palestinians that they have to give up the right to return to get Gaza. After the failures of state terrorism of civilians and embarrassingly stupid marketing gimmicks, what’s left for Israel?
A pervert petulant prime minister watching a little TV screen in a dark room and knowing that the enduring pleasure of victory, even an unjust one, is nowhere in sight so he must extract on behalf of his people-with whom he is to later share-the imperceptible, fleeting, and unsatisfying satisfaction that can be derived from momentarily reveling at the pain and death of a wheelchair-riding quadriplegic cleric who is returning to the home that the cleric left before sunrise to go with others to worship God.
See Peace & Its Discontents: Essays on Palestine In The Middle East Process, Edward Said, Vintage Books 1996. (In the preface there is a discussion about Israel’s attempts to get rid of Gaza.)
In memory of Sheik Ahmed Yassin and Yahya Ahmed Koussa, both born in Palestine in the same year, both lifelong indefatigable proponents of justice, and both deserving incomparable rewards that can only come from God.