Picture: The Writer | Credit: Wikimedia Commons - Photo: 2014

A Hamas David vs. an Israeli Goliath

By Jayantha Dhanapala* | IDN-InDepth NewsViewpoint

KANDY, Sri Lanka (IDN) – After an earlier eruption of one-sided warfare in Gaza, I wrote a piece titled “Eyeless in Gaza” in December 2012 referring appropriately to an Old Testament story in the Bible, resonant with both the Jewish Israeli and the Christian Palestinian, and recalling Mahatma Gandhi’s warning that an eye for an eye will make us all blind. I concluded that, “A peaceful settlement of the illegal occupation of Gaza by Israel and an end to the scandalous conditions of its 1.7 million citizens is still very far away.”

Of course no peaceful settlement has taken place. Instead we have had brutal and relentless ground and air attacks by Israel and exchanges of fire finally ending after 50 days of suffering and destruction with a ceasefire on August 27. There is no guarantee that this will be a sustainable ceasefire unless the root causes are addressed.

As the UN Secretary-General said, “Any peace effort that does not tackle the root causes of the crisis will do little more than set the stage for the next cycle of violence. Gaza must be brought back under one legitimate Palestinian Government adhering to the Palestine Liberation Organization commitments; the blockade of Gaza must end; and Israel’s legitimate security concerns must be addressed.”

Additionally the newly appointed UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Prince Zeid Al Hussein said in his maiden statement on September 8 before the Human Rights Council in Geneva: “Another example of the need to end persistent discrimination and impunity is the Israel-Palestine conflict, with the recurring violence and destruction evident in the repetition of crises in Gaza. The most recent outbreak of armed conflict has had a particularly devastating toll in death, suffering and destruction, compounding what was an already precarious situation due to the blockade imposed by Israel in 2007. As of the first week of September, preliminary estimates are that 2,131 Palestinians had been killed during the latest crisis in Gaza, including 1,473 civilians, 501 of them children. 71 Israelis had also been killed, including 4 civilians.

“Current and future generations of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, have a right to live normal lives in dignity: without conflict, without a blockade, indeed without the wide range of daily human rights infringements that are generated by military occupation, illegal settlements, excessive use of force, home demolitions, and the Wall that continues to be constructed across the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The seven-year blockade must end, and there must be effective accountability for transgressions committed by all parties. On this point, I note that Israelis have a right to live free and secure from indiscriminate rocket fire.”

It is timely therefore to relate another old Biblical story which has its origin in the same land of Palestine – David and Goliath. Three thousand years ago on a battlefield in ancient Palestine, a humble shepherd boy felled a giant warrior with nothing more than a stone and a sling. Since then the names of David and Goliath have stood for battles between underdogs and giants. Malcolm Gladwell – the controversial but popular author – has used the story in his book “David and Goliath” to challenge how we think about obstacles and disadvantages. Israel has won the sympathy of the world for the Holocaust and its admiration for transforming desert land into an agriculturally rich and prosperous country in a hostile environment. They were the Davids fighting the Goliaths. No longer. The persistent violation of the human rights of the Palestinians has gradually alienated the support they once enjoyed – except of course with their main supporter the USA.

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Today, as newly declassified documents reveal how the U.S. actually agreed to Israel’s nuclear
program, the Palestinians are the Davids fighting against overwhelming odds to secure their rights of nationhood and a peaceful existence. Even victims of the Holocaust and their descendants placed an advertisement in the New York Times calling for an end to Israeli “genocide” in Palestine .The statement also condemns the United States for its financial and diplomatic support of Israel and “the extreme, racist dehumanization of Palestinians in Israeli society, which has reached a fever pitch.”

Archbishop Tutu the Nobel Peace Laureate from South Africa said it eloquently in an article published in the left-wing Israeli newspaper “Haaretz” on 5 September 5: “A quarter of a century ago, I participated in some well-attended demonstrations against apartheid. I never imagined we’d see demonstrations of that size again, but last Saturday’s turnout in Cape Town was as big if not bigger. Participants included young and old, Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, agnostics, atheists, blacks, whites, reds and greens … as one would expect from a vibrant, tolerant, multicultural nation.

“I asked the crowd to chant with me: ‘We are opposed to the injustice of the illegal occupation of Palestine. We are opposed to the indiscriminate killing in Gaza. We are opposed to the indignity meted out to Palestinians at checkpoints and roadblocks. We are opposed to violence perpetrated by all parties. But we are not opposed to Jews.’”

This was a stinging rebuke to the Netanyahu regime and the false claims that every attack on Israel is anti-Semitic. Tutu’s strategy makes eminent sense. Unless and until there is an organized boycott of Israel there will be no impact on Israel’s repressive policies against the Palestinians. The Arab world is rent with divisions and cannot be relied upon to lead the Palestinian cause to victory. Others, especially the Non-Aligned Movement, must take on a leadership role but so must the European Union untainted by the influence of the American Israeli Political Action Committee (AIPAC).

Tutu correctly sees the parallels between the anti-apartheid campaign and the struggle for the liberation of Palestine: “At a certain point – the tipping point – the then-government realized that the cost of attempting to preserve apartheid outweighed the benefits. The withdrawal of trade with South Africa by multinational corporations with a conscience in the 1980s was ultimately one of the key levers that brought the apartheid state – bloodlessly – to its knees. Those corporations understood that by contributing to South Africa’s economy, they were contributing to the retention of an unjust status quo. Those who continue to do business with Israel, who contribute to a sense of ‘normalcy’ in Israeli society, are doing the people of Israel and Palestine a disservice. They are contributing to the perpetuation of a profoundly unjust status quo. Those who contribute to Israel’s temporary isolation are saying that Israelis and Palestinians are equally entitled to dignity and peace.”

The tinderbox

The grisly murder of three Israeli teenagers and a revenge killing of a Palestinian child were the sparks that ignited the latest conflagration even though the families of the children were ready to forgive and forget. Such is the tinderbox that is Palestine – and more especially Gaza – illegally occupied by Israel for 47 years since 1967. Predictably Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu used the moment to impose collective punishment against Hamas members and leaders throughout the West Bank proclaiming to the world that Hamas was a terrorist organization.

This ignores the fact that Hamas had been democratically elected and that the use of violence in seeking the freedom of the oppressed had indeed been practised by Israeli groups like Irgun, Lehi, Hagannah and the Stern Gang before Israel was established (Einstein denounced Begin as a terrorist!) quite apart from heroic freedom fighters like Nelson Mandela. They also ordered the banks in the West Bank not to transfer the salaries to Hamas governmental employees in Gaza and threatened the banks with sanctions. Israeli behaviour toward the Palestinians has involved tactics of ethnic cleansing and mass murder, often justified as “self-defence”.

In terms of the latest violence in Gaza, the United Nations estimates that at least 73 per cent of the fatalities inflicted by Israel were civilians. There is good evidence that Israel has been purposely targeting Gaza’s economic assets so as to impoverish its people. To this end Israel’s deputy interior minister, Eli Yishai, proclaimed that the “goal of the operation [code-named Protective Edge by the Israeli military] is to send Gaza back to the Middle Ages”.

As the statement from the leadership of the Nobel Laureate Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs said, “Conditions in Gaza must change. Keeping 1.5 million people in a virtual prison is unacceptable. Gaza should be open to people and goods. Building economic and political freedom in Gaza, lifting the siege of Gaza, and facilitating internal Palestinian dialogue are alternative ways to promote Israeli security that deserve much more attention among political leaders and in the media.”

Within Israel, despite Netanyahu’s propaganda the tide is turning not just because the number of conscientious objectors refusing to serve in the army is increasing, but also because the people see no end to the cycle of violence. An Israeli TV poll showed Netanyahu’s popularity sliding. However, following the ceasefire the Israeli government announced on August 31 that it would appropriate almost 1,000 acres of land in the West Bank that could be used to build homes for Jewish settlers. The Israeli group Peace Now, which opposes expansion of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, called it the largest land appropriation in 30 years.

With the ceasefire agreement both sides declared victory despite the more than 2200 killed  of whom approximately 2,100 were Palestinians, mostly civilians, with 70 Israelis and the destruction of Gaza.

To conclude, let me quote again from Archbishop Tutu: “Nelson Mandela famously said that South Africans would not feel free until Palestinians were free. He might have added that the liberation of Palestine will liberate Israel, too.”

*Jayantha Dhanapala is a former UN Under-Secretary-General and a former Ambassador of Sri Lanka. [IDN-InDepthNews – September 8, 2014]

The writer’s previous articles on IDN:

2014 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

Photo: The Writer | Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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