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December 29, 2008

The Politics of the Gaza Massacre


Forget Hamas – it's all about the home front

by Justin Raimondo

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 swing 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 helots.

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 sterling 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 concurs, as 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 Post put 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 was Lebanon, 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 with American 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 are unbowed.

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 state.

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 – shot 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.

 

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  • Jorge Hirsch is a professor of physics at the University of California San Diego.

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