Rambo 3 should be made compulsory viewing on international relations courses. All you need to know about the film is that it was Hollywood’s offering to the world when the Afghan mujahideen were the “good guys.” The film glamourises the Taleban and reminds us of the time when America, Israel and Pakistan stoked the passions of these religious warriors in order to contain Russia’s influence. Similarly, it is often forgotten that it was Israel that helped and even encouraged Hamas to come into existence as a counterweight to secular parties like the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO). In those days Fatah were the bad guys. One of Hamas’ first incarnations was in the form of Mujama al-Islamiyyah, a charity officially recognised by Israel in 1979. After years of infighting between various Palestinian factions, Sheikh Ahmad al-Yassin, the famous crippled cleric, founded Hamas as an Islamic resistance movement in 1987. And the rest, as they say, is history.
[quote]Iran is an important factor in the current situation[/quote]
Today Hamas and Fatah have reached an accord whereby they have pledged to form a government of national unity. But this is an anathema to the Israelis, who have long played one faction off against the other, not unlike that old saying about British colonialism: divide and rule. This, combined with the current “offensive” in the Middle East, means that the assault on Gaza has less to do with the existential threat that the Hamas’ rockets pose to Israel and more to do with asserting Israel’s power. The potential Iranian-American entente over the nuclear issue, the rise of a rabidly anti-Iranian ISIS in Iraq and a pro-Iranian Syrian government under siege are all important factors in analysing the current situation. Of course the fact that various countries of the Arabian Peninsula and the Israelis now share a mutual enemy, Iran, is also an important added dimension. Gaza is unfortunately irrelevant, except perhaps as an obstacle to Israeli control over the off-shore gas reserves. With Egypt’s borders to the South, a concrete wall on all sides with checkpoints regulating entry in and out, and the Mediterranean in the West, Gaza has been contained.
This is what makes the current assault against Gaza particularly gruesome. If Palestinian accounts are deemed to be mere propaganda, then read Norwegian doctor Mads Gilbert’s letter from Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza. The fact is that Israel controls life in the Gaza Strip. It controls food and medical supplies, electricity, water, access in and out of Gaza, the airspace, the sea, international aid and virtually everything else that would provide a semblance of autonomy to a people. The Israeli complaint is that despite all this control, Hamas continues to pose a grave threat by shelling Israel, and that therefore Israel needs to protect its population. In response to questions about why it is targeting hospitals, schools and civilian areas, the line that has been repeated ad nauseam by Israeli spokespeople is that Hamas is using Gaza’s population as human shields.
Let us assume that Hamas is indeed using the civilian population as cover. If the Gazans are forced into playing this role then they are essentially hostages. In this case, even a child will be able to tell you that one has to negotiate in order to get the hostages released. However, in order to want hostages released, there has to be the recognition that the hostages are “worth” saving, which is why in most hostage situations there is no physical assault against the kidnappers. Operation Protective Edge by its very nature rules out this possibility.
Let us assume in the second scenario that the Gazans are willingly acting as human shields, something that is impossible to ascertain. The question that then arises is whether unarmed civilians can be deemed enemy combatants. International law, for whatever its worth, emphatically says no. Sadly, the second scenario has gained great traction with a lot of right-wing Israelis.
This view is perhaps best represented by Israeli MP Ayelet Shaked’s obscene post on her Facebook page:
“Behind every terrorist stand dozens of men and women, without whom he could not engage in terrorism. They are all enemy combatants, and their blood shall be on all their heads. Now this also includes the mothers of the martyrs, who send them to hell with flowers and kisses. They should follow their sons, nothing would be more just. They should go, as should the physical homes in which they raised the snakes. Otherwise, more little snakes will be raised there.”
[quote]Some Israeli right-wingers have even advocated learning from Hitler’s strategies[/quote]
What is striking about this excerpt is the complete dehumanisation of all Palestinians. Frighteningly, Shaked’s is not a solitary voice. The widely circulated images of young Israelis sitting on the beach and being entertained by bombs dropped on Gaza and the twitter comments by Israeli teens not just against Arabs but also against leftist Israelis are by now well-known. And it is terrifying to think that affluent young Israelis who now tweet statements such as “Hating Arabs isn’t racism it’s a commandment from God” will tomorrow be serving their mandatory time in the Israeli Army. Indeed, I could not believe my eyes when I read an article in which Israeli right-wingers advocate learning from Hitler’s strategies. In a recent column for Arutz Sheva news service, William A Levinson made the following observation: “If Hitler’s advice about how the world really works saves Jewish and other innocent lives, that would be a good form of posthumous justice for the Holocaust.”
However, it would be wrong to assume that these vile views are representative of all Israelis or Jews. Rabbi Jonathon Sacks recently wrote an obituary for the three slain Israeli teenagers for whom revenge is being sought in Gaza. In his article, Sacks urges his readers to never forget “the simple truth that those who begin by practising violence against their enemies end by committing it against their fellow believers. The verdict of history is that cultures that worship death, die, while those that sanctify life, live on. That is why Judaism survives while the great empires that sought its destruction were themselves destroyed.”
Today Israeli MPs like Ayelet Shaked and others of her ilk would do well to take heed of Rabbi Sacks’ words and in particular remember the prayer with which he ends his article. ‘Bila hamavet lanetzach: “May He destroy death forever, and may the Lord God wipe away the tears from all faces.” May the God of life, in whose image we are, teach all humanity to serve Him by sanctifying life.’