Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Gaza - defiance and the discourse of defeat

Gaza - such an interesting place that we seem to have been conditioned to overlook, yet can never ignore. The name frequently pops up in the news and we quickly associate it with poverty, violence and occupation, a level of coverage disproportionate with such a small and mundane patch of dirt lying at the crossroads of Africa and the Middle East. Yet while one can be forgiven for underestimating it's importance, you cannot be forgiven for ignoring it. The Egyptians, Hebrews, Greeks, Romans, Persians Arabs and Israelis had all passed through there. Alexander was so frustrated with his seige of the city that he had it's entire male population slaughtered to the last when he finally managed to seize it. The Persian governer, who had managed to buy time for his king to raise a new army, was killed by being dragged around the city from a chariot. Insane in it's defiance, one could be forgiven for imagining that there was something in the water which would instil such quixotic bravery in her children.

Fed up with a corrupt Fatah, the Palestinians of Gaza had elected Hamas as it's government in a move which shocked the world - as well as Hamas. Soon afterwards, an American and Israeli backed plan to support a Fatah coup against Hamas backfired and again the world (and Hamas) were caught unawares by the success of Hamas in pre-empting the coup and seizing control of Gaza. It seems that Gaza's children are doomed to be the victims of their own stubborn refusal to (and success against) being subdued - so what are we to make of the latest chapter in her history?

There is no doubt that the lives of Gazans at the moment is nasty, brutish and short in a systematic siege and slaughter of a people who, in spite of their desperate poverty, still merit the full wrath of the Middle Easts most potent war machine. Yet the self declared "army that cannot be defeated" finds itself, like Alexander, frustratingly forced to deal with the realities of this small insignificant patch of dirt. It is inevitable for the human heart to ache at the sight of the human tragedy which is Gaza, but once the aching is done and gone and the tears have dried up, we still have to try and make sense of what is happening, and continuing there. Why can't these people just give up in the face of such overwhelming brutality? There are three trends at work here, the first two of which I will attempt to dismiss as invalid and show that from a third perspective, what is happening in Gaza is the inevitable response to the Palestinian struggle against the Israeli usurpation of their country.

A number of blog articles I've been reading recently have attempted to address just such a question, but from a perspective which is at times, subdued and fatalistic. Abu Kareem understandably questions the wisdom of Hamas' strategy, arguing that the price might be too high to pay. Syrian Brit echoes that sentiment and asks the question "Can a leader commit his people to a battle they cannot win?" arguing that it is only the people who pay for the follies of their rulers. But there is a problem with Syrian Brits (and Abu Kareems) argument, his perspective either consciously or unconsciously makes a distinction between rulers and ruled, as if Hamas came from some other region in the Middle East and not from amongst the Gazans themselves. This, in my opinion, is a mistake because it blurs the picture of what is happening in the region and creates a third party ( as understandable as this can be) of long suffering civilians, sometimes from both sides, who seem to be captured in a vicious cycle of violence. That somehow it is this third party which, if empowered, can bypass the traditional decision makers and warmongers and establish some solution to this conflict. This same mistake is also made by Yaman Salahi who argues that "It is up to us to escape the suffocating influence of state narratives and to create opportunities and possibilities for the future with our own hands.". Yaman assumes that the state narratives have been imposed by rulers who are impartial to the suffering caused by their policies and by their decisions. Yet he ignores the fact that it was the Israeli people who elected Olmert to protect them from the rocket attacks, and it was the Palestinian people who elected Hamas to address the problems that Fatah wouldn't. From this perspective the distinction between ruler and ruled fades away, eliminating a space where this potential 'third party' could take root and begin to grow. There is no escape from the state narrative and any attempt to remove it will place this third party at loggerheads with one side or the other, or as useful pawns in order to ideologically castrate an opponent. Rather than becoming a solution, his proposal unfortunately and unwittingly becomes part of the problem.

On the other end of the spectrum, the pro-Western blog Arabdemocracy manages to retain some sense of the context surrounding the Israeli assault yet, for obvious reasons, imbues it with a pessimistic view of the strategic implications of the events. For one thing, it is not clear what they mean by Hamas failing to capitalise on it's wresting of Gaza from under Fatah. Surely it's survival and continued resistance to occupation in the face of overwhelming sanctions is a feat in itself, not to mention last months courageous demolition of the barrier between Gaza and Egypt. Secondly, Iran is far from worried about either Iraq or it's nuclear program and on the contrary, someone with a modicum of political analysis would recognise that Iran holds the upper hand in both scenarios. Thirdly, the idea that Syria cannot respond to Israel's last two attacks is naive to say the least, simply because it is known what Syria is capable of doing indirectly to Israel. Criticise Syria all you want, it's foreign policy and intelligence are shrewd and capable, allowing it to punch far above it's own weight. Finally, I doubt Hezbullah see the USS Cole as anything but a bigger target and potential propaganda coup and the assassination of Mughniyeh, if anything, has made the pro-Western politicians in Lebanon even more fearful of their position.

The best explanation is that Israel's standing after the war in Lebanon was reduced considerably when it failed to crush, not a regular Arab army, but what is commonly referred to as a militia in the South of Lebanon. The "army which cannot be defeated" suffered from unprecedented losses to it's elite brigades, the usurpation of it's sacred Merkava tank as a strategic advantage, and the futility of it's formidable air power. Whilst they might have underestimated their enemy, Israeli planners are flexible and intelligent enough to learn from some of their mistakes and may now be feeling confident enough to try and eliminate it's enemies once again. However, it needs to test it's might against Hamas before going for the real target of Hezbullah and herein lies the opportunity. If Israel should also fail to eliminate Hamas what would become of it's standing in the region? If the Israeli army is incapable of eliminating threats to the Zionist state, if it is unable to protect the people in the town from even the threat of rocket attacks, let alone actual ones, what is to become of Israel?

The Palestinian population is growing, the Arabs are slowly awakening and it is becoming more difficult for Israel to maintain it's military superiority. Even the United States was unable to tilt the strategic balance and is itself trapped in Iraq, providing Iran with hundreds of thousands of
personnel as potential hostages and targets. The fact is, Israel has always targeted civilians whenever it became desperate and it continues to do so as a method of blackmail. Most colonial powers have always resorted to this method of brutality when facing successful resistance or insurgency, yet for Hamas to surrender now after so much has been accomplished, would be to betray the Palestinian people who are, in the end, their very own people and families. We, as onlookers who sympathise with their struggle, can do nothing else but back them to the hilt, even if the only weapons we possess are words.

History tells us that in many occasions, a people have chosen to struggle to the bitter end than surrender to overwhelming force. When Carthage was sacked, the final remnants resisting the Romans were holed up in a temple which was then set on fire. Amongst those who decided to run out were the Carthaginian general dragging his wife and children. The general's wife thanked the Roman commander for offering to spare them, then spat at her husband for his surrender. She then quickly ran back with her children into the burning temple with the other fighters as her disgraced husband looked on. Principle, it seems, can supercede the will to live and mocks us in our comfortable lives, challenging us to live by it and follow it through regardless of the consequences.

17 comments:

Arab Democracy said...

Since you cannot help yourself but soil your analysis with cheap labelling I will respong by saying that it is very easy to praise the determination of a people crushed between the might of the Israeli army and the incompetence of its leadership (Hamas and Fatah) from behind your computer desk in 'corrupt' England. Being Syrian I assume you never experienced being shelled or shot at.You never had to sit for days on days in a shelter with the screams of mothers, the crying of toddlers and the sound of heavy artillery in the background whether you would make it alive.
So yes Wassim the price of resistance is cheap from where you are and you can afford to wait while generation after generation is wasted.

We are not pro-West, we are the real pro-Palestinians while everyday u are sounding more and more live a covert Islamist.

Sincerely

Joseph

www.arabdemocracy.com

The Syrian Brit said...

Wassim,
I agree entirely that Hamas came to power through popular vote, and I, for one, was hoping that the World would give them a chance to prove their worth (See my post back from January 2006:
http://syrianbrit.blogspot.com/2006/01/ballot-box-is-mightier-than-sword.html)..
However, all they have been able to prove was that they are as bad as Fatah in their oppression of their adversaries and opponents.. That they were unable or unwilling to accept another opinion, just as Fatah was.. Therefore, in my view, they lost any legitimacy that the ballot box had given them..
Your example of the Carthaginian General's wife does not apply.. Nor would the example of Yousuf Al-Azmeh in Maysaloon.. Both have CHOSEN to die rather than surrender, which is the ultimate honourable act.. They both did it when all else had failed, and the outcome was all too clear.. A far cry from what is happening in Gaza.. What right do the Hamas leadership have to determine that the innocent people must die, rather than live to fight another day?...
The discussion is far from simple, and the boundaries are far from clear.. but there is no heroism in firing a few rockets into wasteland, and expecting in return the wrath of 'the Middle East's most potent war machine', as you call it..

p.s. You really must pay more attention to your apostrophes!.. You insert too many when you shouldn't, and miss them out when you should insert them!.. Sorry to be so pedantic, but it is always a bee in my bonnet!.. I recommend a book called 'Eats, Shoots & Leaves', by Lynne Truss.

The Syrian Brit said...

..and what's more, TV polls are not worth the paper they are written on.. It is all too easy for people to say, from the safe comfort of their elegant houses and villas: 'Yeah.. go on, you Gazans!.. Carry on being bombed into extinction!.. We support your rocket attacks, even if YOU get killed as aresult!..'

Abu Kareem said...

Wassim,

Subdued and fatalistic my ass! More like angry and disgusted; but you wouldn't understand as you seem to be genuinely enjoying yet another round of futile blood and guts. Yours is a dichotomous world similar to that of George W Bush:"you are either with us or against us". Consequently you seek to pigeonhole us into your two categories making it easy for you to dismiss what we say without really trying to understand it.

Wassim said...

Joseph,
I'm not sure why you got very sensitive as that is mostly my opinion based on my readings of your posts. It's not intended to be a personal pun and in fact all of my criticisms were of your analysis of events in the region. Also I don't think I've ever been called a closet Islamist, though coming from you that probably means it was meant as an insult. Incidentally, a very pro-Western epithet nowadays..."Islamist".

Wassim said...

SB, Abu Kareem,
Btw before I reply I'd like to say that both your blogs are one of the better blogs I like following up on so this is all not personal, just a debate. Also, thanks a million for that book recommendation SB, I'm always paranoid about that particular problem and never been sure what to do of it.

SB I'm not sure why the blame is laid on Hamas when all they do is resist Israeli incursions and continued illegal settlements. I'm not trying to be an armchair general and I'm certainly not some warmongering psychopath, I just support the Palestinian peoples right to resist and reclaim their homeland. What I don't agree with is the claim that somehow it is Hamas that is responsible for bringing this on the people when it is Israel which is the occupier, Israel dropping the weapons and Israel doing the killing. I just wish to retain some sense of perspective here. I didn't mention Maysaloon, but I did mention the example of Carthage to show that even should the fighters stop, the people refused to surrender. Btw, I'm ordering the book you recommended right now ;)

Abu Kareem,
I think you've taken this a bit harshly. I'm still entitled to express my reservations about what you say and have to say that this was actually a very civil article. I understood what you were trying to say in your articles but I still don't agree with you and I thought my post included the reason why. I think you are being a little unfair on me.. :(

Wassim said...

Where is Yaman?

The Syrian Brit said...

Wassim,
Nobody is arguing against the right of the Palestinian people to resist and fight occupation, and no-one is taking away the blame from Israel as the occupier, the oppressor, and the genocidal power that it is.. All I am saying is that lobbing a few rockets onto empty spaces (or even populated ones) is not necessarily the right thing to do at this point in time.. Perhaps there is another way.. Perhaps it is time to re-consider tactics, as the price is too high.. way too high.. Perhaps it is time to say 'Today, we cannot beat Israel in this particular ugly game.. Let's look at other ways..'
Resistence can take any of many shapes and forms.. and there is a time and a purpose for each of these ways..

The Syrian Brit said...

As for the book, I am sure you will enjoy it.. it is not a text in the grammatical rules of the use of apostrophes, but more an expression of the frustration that sticklers like me encounter in every day's misuse of commas, apostrophes, and other punctuation marks.. It does, though, give a run-through the rules of usage of these punctuation marks..

A:) said...

Hey Hey Hey, everyone, back off. Wassim did not say anything wrong in this article. In fact, for someone who is usually very sarcastic, this is a very objective piece of work, that looks at the situation dispassionately and give balanced analysis.

SB, although I agree as you said
"Resistance can take any of many shapes and forms.. and there is a time and a purpose for each of these ways.."

However

This is not the time for other forms of resistance. Israel is escalating this conflict to "Teach" the Palestinians a lesson for supporting Hamas. I am not loyal to Hamas, (or else I wouldn’t be in UK typing comments on a blog, I would be fighting there instead), however, from both a tactical and a strategic point of view, if Palestinians want to get anything out from the peace process, or even have a chance at having there own lands back, they need first to show Israel, that with all its might, it can only lose if it tries to enforce its will through its military. Israel and its backers (mainly USA) are getting weaker, after 50 years of dominance in the region. If Hamas can withstand the Israeli onslaught, and come out smelling of roses, then Israel will have truly lost its total dominance. (the cornerstone of its plans for survival in the middle east) leaving it with the only viable solution which is to concede defeat, a give the Palestinians what they want.
Now this cannot happen overnight. Neither is the solution of this conflict through blood only. The ultimate closure will only come through peace negotiations. However, as with all negotiations, it is the strong who will get the bigger piece of the pie. Well, let’s show everyone who the strong is, then maybe we can negotiate on our term.

Amre El-Abyad said...

"Iran is far from worried about either Iraq or it's nuclear program and on the contrary, someone with a modicum of political analysis would recognise that Iran holds the upper hand in both scenarios"

Wonder why you are not enraged about the Iranian occupation and crimes in Iraq. What IRAN IS DOING IN IRAQ IS WOSE THAN WHAT ISRAEL IS DOING IN GAZA

Arab Democracy said...

I didnt take it personal Wassim.
I wasnt the one who wrote the analysis and I dont necessarily fully agree with it. My tone was a response to your insistence on placing everyone who is not in total agreement with you in the 'unpatriotic' category at the service of the pro-zionists and the Bush administration. This attitude, also adopted by Hamas and Hezbollah is not productive and will lead to division and defeat.

If our website was pro-West I wouldnt have felt the need to respond to you. We are not anti-West but that doesnt make us less pro-Arab.

Joseph

Abu Kareem said...

Wassim,

My "ass" comment was to emphasize that I was not subdued or a defeatist (did it work? ;). But, again, just like Joseph, I don't like labels because it blocks objective thought and analysis.

qunfuz said...

Syrian Brit - the Qassam missiles are no match for Israeli firepower, of course, but they don't all fall in wasteland either. They have succeeded in making daily life very abnormal for the Israelis of Sderot, and now Ashkelon. Quite an achievement for a bunch of poor refugees without an army, facing an enemy that for years (until the second intifada) was able to keep the war beyond earshot.

I agree with Wassim here. Like him (I expect) I'm not addicted to war and I'm not averse to realistic compromise. I will support a real peace process as soon as one exists, but everything we've seen since Sadat signed peace with Israel suggests to me that negotiation in the current context will not succeed. I support resistance. As Norman Finkelstein recently told Future TV, Israel needs to suffer a defeat.

I also am not happy with everything that Hamas has done in Gaza, but I fear that SB misunderstands the pre-emptive removal of Dahlan's men from Gaza. As even Vanity Fair now tells us, this was not a 'coup'. It could much more accurately be described as a protective action, to save democracy.

I'll tell you in advance - I'm miles away from Gaza, very safe and comfortable. I'm not telling the Palestinians what to do, but I support their right to resist if they are ready to bear the consequences. And Hamas remains very popular in Gaza despite all.

Now, in solidarity with Syrian Brit, I'll offer a punctuation lesson to Wassim: In "its importance" there should be no apostrophe, even though we say "the dog's bone," because 'it's' means either 'it is' or 'it has'.

Lirun said...

sorry to burst your bubble guys but we have had palestinian violence in our very backyards and have seen cafe-loads of people blow up in our faces.. it still doesnt make us yield to palestinian demands that we negotiate under fire..

im not saying that we have been angels but this has been a bloody tango that has been fully danced by two unwilling partners..

you can reframe it all you like.. but once you decide to wake up and smell the arak you will realise that (a) neither we nor the world nor the palestinians consider israel to be defeated.. (b) this activity doesnt work.. (c) the stick/carrot hamas/fatah mrhyde/drjeckle act isnt persuasive and we're a tiny bit more sophisticated than that.. (d) time isnt in a friend of the arab world (right now)..

yaman said...

Wassim,

You don't seem to understand that the state narrative is not imposed in my account. In some respect, it is, but there is no conscious imposition. More importantly and more dangerously it is internalized to the point that people believe it is permanent (like yourself), when it is not permanent, it just happens to be the environment we live in today. You say people voted for things as if this legitimizes it (strange that now of all times you invoke voting and democracy as legitimizers), but the point is that people will vote for it, and people will support it (the state narrative). That is why it is so powerful--it is not imposed.

Suggesting that there are alternatives is not naive. I am not arguing that we ignore the state narrative and pretend to live in an imaginary world with no divisions. I am saying that we have the ability to create alternatives.

Wassim said...

I think you deliberately misinterpret some of what I am saying. I think a closer look will point out that what I am saying is very similar to what you yourself referred, albeit you took that as me legitimising democracy somehow, which was not the case.

Surprisingly, it seems that your reading stopped at that point, for if you continued you would have seen that the problem I had, and still do, with what you propose remains a valid one and you have not considered it. You are also still remarkably vague about this alternative you believe in. I fail to see how, apart from stating the obvious in a tortuous and convoluted argument, you are bringing anything new to the analysis.

Basically I understand what you are saying - but I still disagree with you both with regards to viability and even validity.