A Ceasefire, then what? Israeli-Palestinian conflict returns to square one

Published July 16th, 2014 - 01:26 GMT
More than 200 people have been killed in the past nine days as Israeli forces continues strikes on the Palestinian Strip and Hamas sends retaliatory rockets into Israeli territory (AFP)
More than 200 people have been killed in the past nine days as Israeli forces continues strikes on the Palestinian Strip and Hamas sends retaliatory rockets into Israeli territory (AFP)

Beyond the hundreds of lives lost, perhaps the worst aspect of the predictably one-sided conflict between Israel and Gaza is that once a ceasefire is in effect, it will be back to square one.

When it comes, the cessation of hostilities will, of course, be highly welcome. But it will also be the beginning of just another interlude that will end with their resumption. It could be a few months down the line, or a couple of years at best.

That pattern is unlikely to change in the absence of dramatic developments on a much broader scale — such as Israel being held to account for its actions by its allies and sponsors. Some of them are, no doubt, seeking to counsel restraint. But Israel is confident there will be no price to pay if it turns a deaf ear to their polite entreaties, which are anyhow accompanied by assurances that of course Israel has every right to defend itself against missiles fired from Gaza.

The Hamas missiles play into Israel’s narrative of coming under attack from forces bent upon its destruction, never mind the fact that they have never been capable of doing much harm. Only a relatively small proportion is claimed to have been thwarted by Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system; the rest, too, have inflicted little noticeable damage, unlike the supposedly retaliatory Israeli air strikes.

The missile launches would be stupid even if they weren’t so demonstrably futile; their ability to claim Israeli civilian casualties, which is the ostensible aim, would in fact render them even more morally reprehensible. Their impotence, though, is hardly worthy of being ignored — even though that is exactly what numerous western news outlets routinely do by suggesting that the ongoing hostilities are in some way a contest between equals.

As Gideon Levy puts it in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, “The only way the besieged Gaza Strip can remind people of its existence is by firing rockets, and the West Bank only gets onto the agenda these days when blood is shed there.”

The BBC’s bias in this respect has lately been questioned by some commentators in Britain, although it is by no means the worst offender. One particularly insidious aspect of recent western coverage has gone largely unremarked, though. On July 7, for instance, the BBC reported that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had “promised to bring to justice” the murderers of Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khdeir, adding: “Police believe there was a nationalist motive to the killing…”

A few days earlier it had reported that Israeli police were investigating whether the murder was a criminal act or one motivated by nationalism. No such dichotomy was attempted in earlier reports about the murder of three Israeli teenagers.

Both murders were undoubtedly heinous atrocities. It has been said that the Israeli teens were kidnapped with the probable intent of exchanging them for Palestinian prisoners, and their captors shot them dead in a panic when one of the boys managed to get through the police on a mobile phone. That does not reduce the viciousness of the crime.

The same goes for the retaliatory nature of the Palestinian teenager’s victimization; he appears to have been abducted with the intent of being put to death, and to have been set on fire while he was alive.

The context of the agony he suffered is obviously not irrelevant. But then, nor is the broader context whereby Israeli security forces routinely target Palestinian youngsters, who end up brutalized, tortured, imprisoned — or dead.

Neither that, nor the fact that the young Israeli victims lived in illegal settlements, can even begin to justify their adduction and summary execution. At the same time, there can be no justification for the Israeli government’s retaliatory measures, given the credible accusation that it knew more or less right away that the boys had been murdered, as well as the identity of the culprits — who are believed to be associated with Hamas, although there is thus far no evidence their crime was authorized by the organization’s hierarchy.

As American commentator Max Blumenthal recently explained it, “From the moment the three Israeli teens were reported missing last month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the country’s military-intelligence apparatus suppressed the flow of information to the general public. Through a toxic blend of propaganda, subterfuge and incitement, they inflamed a precarious situation, manipulating Israelis into supporting their agenda until they made an utterly avoidable nightmare inevitable.”

Had the known facts been revealed right away, there would have been little excuse for the collective punishment that followed across the West Bank, with the Palestinian Authority (PA) administration of Mahmoud Abbas collaborating to the best of its ability, and Gaza, with Hamas retaliating with a demonstration of its seemingly pointless firepower.

Israel took the formation of a Palestinian unity government last month as a personal affront, even though it was largely a concession by Hamas that could have led to the re-establishment of the PA’s remit over Gaza.

That was not to be. And as civilians in Gaza bear the brunt of Israeli attacks, we are told that the perpetrators are decent enough to warn their victims in advance of impending air strikes. How polite. At the same time, there is widespread analytical consensus that Israel has no desire to destroy Hamas, because it fully understands the alternative may well be radically worse.

And so the cycle of mindless violence continues. To appreciate its absurdity, line up images of the four murdered teenagers, and perhaps those who have been killed before and since on both sides. And try to guess the difference.

By Mahir Ali

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