If you're looking for the cause of the most recent
Israeli aggression against the Palestinians – over
300 killed so far, and many more wounded – forget Hamas.
The real casus belli is politics, in Israel and America.
On the Israeli front, elections loom
large. The current Israeli government is enormously unpopular,
and – with polls showing a massive
to the right – this latest "incursion" is its last attempt to shore
up their sagging power base. The rightist surge in Israel has been building
for a long time, with the settler
movement gaining momentum and the Likud Party likely the chief beneficiary
– in which case there will be no chance of a peaceful settlement of the Palestinian
question, no matter how evenhanded President Barack Obama turns out to be.
Speaking of Obama,
the real focal point of the Israeli assault isn't Gaza
– it's Washington, D.C. The whole point of this exercise in futility – which
will not create a single iota of security for Israel, will not topple Hamas,
and will not prove any more successful than the second
Lebanese war – is to set the terms by which the Israelis will deal with
the incoming U.S. president. Before he even gets a chance to appoint his Middle
East team, his special envoys and advisers, the Israelis will have sabotaged
the peace effort they can clearly see
coming – and put the Americans on
notice that whatever "change" is in the air will have to be to
Israel's advantage. In short, the Gaza
massacre is a preemptive strike against the prospect of American intervention
on the Palestinians' behalf, or, at least, a more evenhanded policy framework.
I won't bother answering the "talking points" of Israel's powerful
lobby in the U.S. – the Palestinians are terrorists, they deserved what they
got, those missile barrages fired in recent weeks (in which not a single Israeli
was killed) were ample provocation, etc. The whole world knows that none of
these have anything to do with the latest Israeli military action.
The entire operation is, instead, part and parcel of a long-standing concerted
campaign by the Israeli
government to further marginalize and drive out the remnants of the Palestinian
people who still cling tenaciously to what's left of their land. It is a policy
of military and economic warfare, aimed at making life impossible for the Palestinian
As the new Sparta
of the Middle East runs roughshod over the laws of morality and basic human
decency, Israel's amen corner in the U.S. is going into overdrive in an effort
to prettify one of the ugliest incidents in a decade of unmitigated cruelty
and brutality. All the familiar "progressive" voices – with certain
exceptions – are suddenly stilled: we hear nothing from our Democratic politicians,
those fabled agents of "change," except expressions of support for
Israel's war crimes. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi declares
that Israel has "the right to defend itself," without deigning to
inform us as to whether the Palestinians have the same right. Given her record
as AIPAC's most reliable
congressional ally, who can always be counted on to echo the Israel-first party
line, one assumes not. Powerful foreign affairs committee chair Howard Berman
does our about-to-be-sworn-in chief executive.
Appearing on Face
the Nation, Obama's chief adviser, David Axelrod, averred that "we
have only one president at a time" – a consideration that hasn't stopped
the world's most famous community organizer from publicly organizing the biggest
raid on the U.S. Treasury in American history. In any case, as the Huffington
it, Axelrod "did reaffirm Obama's commitment to the 'special relationship
between the United States and Israel' in a way that suggested general sympathy
for the Jewish state's actions."
For all those hysterical
ultra-Zionists in both Israel and the U.S. who thought Obama's election would
be disastrous to the Zionist project, and their own efforts to expand it beyond
its historic borders, let this be an object lesson in the danger of jumping
to unwarranted conclusions. If they'd listened before they jumped – or paid
attention to what they read on Antiwar.com
– they would have realized how utterly misplaced their paranoia would turn out
to be. Obama has been in the Israel Lobby's back pocket from the beginning,
as his speech to AIPAC
– a masterstroke of groveling – made all too clear.
Like all U.S. presidents since Bush
the Elder, this one is committed to maintaining and elaborating on our Israel-centric
Middle East policy, of which the
Iraq war was only the most
dramatic chapter. Obama may have opposed that particular
war, but he will
do nothing to reverse its consequences, the most dramatic of which appears
to be the unleashing of the Israeli military machine on the region. First it
followed by the buzzing of Syrian airspace and the bombing of an alleged "nuclear
facility" that turned out to be an ordinary weapons dump. Now we have
the end of "disengagement"
in Gaza and the opening up of a new front in Israel's relentless war of expansion.
It is a war that has been financed by U.S.
tax dollars and fought
weapons, with the active
collaboration and support
of our government. We have paid for the radical expansion of the Israeli "settlements"
by armed bands of ultra-nationalist
fanatics, Israel's version of the Taliban. Indeed, Israeli opinion is moving
rapidly in the radicals' direction, and the victory of Benjamin Netanyahu and
the far-right Likud Party in the upcoming election is virtually
assured – with even more
extreme elements waiting in the wings for their moment.
As the leaders of a settler colony implanted in the midst of Arab lands, the
founders of the Israeli state were faced with a conundrum from the very start.
No matter how enlightened
and progressive the early settlers considered themselves, they could not
escape their status as unwanted interlopers, the advance guard of what was essentially
a foreign invasion.
Living in their utopian kibbutzes and thinking they were constructing an egalitarian
paradise, what they were really building was a rigidly hierarchical society,
a caste system with the settlers and their descendants at the top, arranged
in tiers according to their origins in the "diaspora," with the Palestinians
at the very bottom – a displaced underclass forcibly segregated and routinely
subjected to Israeli state violence.
Like a caged
lion, grievously wounded, which nevertheless manages to roar and occasionally
strike out – however ineffectually – at its tormentors, the Palestinian people
The Israelis – and the U.S. – rail against Hamas as a gang
of terrorists, yet most of the governments of the region started out as
"terrorist" gangs. Two were called the Irgun
and the Haganah, the
revolutionary movements that carried out attacks on civilians, including the
British as well as the Arabs, in their battle to establish the state of Israel.
Hamas will do no more, and no less, in their bid to establish a Palestinian
If nothing else, this fresh paroxysm of Israeli aggression ought to debunk,
once and for all, the neocon
talking point that democracies never go to war with each other. Yet here
we have a country that styles itself an island of Western-style liberalism in
a sea of Oriental despotism going to war with the only other democratically
elected government in the immediate vicinity. Whatever the military outcome
of the present conflict – in all likelihood a stalemate – this is a big
political victory for Hamas, which ordinary Palestinians see actively defending
them against the rampaging Israelis. The moderates on the West Bank are undercut,
once again, and that has always been the Israeli strategy.
Their first target was the decidedly secular
Palestine Liberation Organization, which they did everything
to destroy and undercut – even to the point of providing legal
status and covert funding to Hamas. These followers of radical Islamist
preachers began as a religious association, formally registered with the Israeli
authorities. Hamas was encouraged as a potentially more compliant competitor
with the PLO. Another case of blowback, with a vengeance.
Having given birth
to the monster of Hamas, the mutant offspring of occupation and dispossession,
the Israelis will be forgiven if they refuse to acknowledge the family resemblance.
Yet it is unmistakable. Both Israel and Hamas-stan are the spawn of religious
and ethnic exclusivism and messianism, their leaders fanatics armed with state
power. There are differences, of course, a major one being that one side is
funded to the tune of $3
billion a year and supported unconditionally by Washington, while the Palestinians
at by their fellow Arabs as they try to cross the border into Egypt – stand
pretty much alone.
This latest bloody chapter in the tragic history of the region is being written
because all the main protagonists benefit: the Israelis, Hamas, and radicals
of all stripes, especially those groups aligned with al-Qaeda. As in the case
of the Iraq war, bin Laden's narrative
of an Israeli-Crusader invasion intent on stamping out Islam is seemingly verified
as blood flows freely in the streets of Gaza.
The Israeli rampage is not in our interests, and the longer it continues the
more it threatens the already tenuous
position of U.S. troops in Iraq, endangering them by inflaming the local populace,
which is vehemently pro-Palestinian. The Israeli blitz is sending shockwaves
through the region that could upset several apple-carts of U.S. construction,
including the regime in Egypt,
the pro-U.S. Jordanian
monarchy, and especially
our rambunctious Iraqi protectorate, where anti-U.S. sentiment is not
so quietly building.
Quite naturally, the Israelis care not a fig for any of this. That's what's
so "special" about the much-vaunted "special relationship"
between Israel and the U.S., in which Uncle Sam plays the part of the henpecked
husband who always gives in to the demands of his battle-ax of a wife, no matter
how extravagant or unreasonable.
If American interests in the region are to be served, then this unhealthy relationship
has to change. Yet it won't change until and unless the
political power of the Israel Lobby is broken on the home front. If it takes
the prospect of World War III to bring us to that point, it will be far too
high a price to pay – yet one that seems increasingly unavoidable.