The Israeli air offensive over Gaza has been horrifying in both its share scale and disproportionality. Israel, being the world's only Jewish state, should look at its own history and that of the Jewish people to see that it is committing an erroroneous mistake in taking on Gaza.
The Palestinians of the Gaza Strip are being mercilessly pounded by wave after wave of incendiary bombs at the moment as Israel seeks to deliver a so-called 'devastating' blow to Hamas, the Islamic fundamentalist movement which has governed the Palestinian enclave since 2006. Israel is using the justification of wanting to suppress continuing long-range Hamas rocket attacks from Gaza as its reason for terrorising the citizens this part of Palestine. However, as various media, commentators and the United Nations have all pointed out over the past week, the Israeli attacks have been disproportionate in that over 400 Palestinians have been killed and an estimated 2000 injured while on the Israeli side four people are dead and only a few have been injured.
Reports from eminent media such as The Guardian newspaper (www.guardian.co.uk) suggest that Israel has been planning this offensive for six months, during which time a truce has been in existence between itself and Hamas. The Israeli Government, under outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Tipzi Livni and Defence Minister Ehud Olmert, have been planning this operation as a response to their growing uneasiness at having to live with an Islamic fundamentalist government on its southern border. Also domestic political considerations have come into play as Israel is due to hold early elections in February with Livni, the new leader of the governing centrist Kadima Party expected to go up against former prime minister and right-wing militant hawk Benjamin Netanyahu of the Likud Party. Opinion polls suggest that there could be a swing to the right with parties, led by Likud, who oppose the Palestinian peace process possibly having the upper hand post-election.
Despite all the planning, Israel now looks headed for another stalemated conflict and this almost three years after the last stalemated imbroligo ended with Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006.
What the Israeli leadership should learn from that and other aspects of Israeli and Jewish history is that it is attempting to suppress a movement with a great deal of grassroots support on the ground. Even though Hamas is an Islamic fundamentalist group whose primary stated objective is the destruction of the state of Israel and its replacement by an Islamic state, it must be remembered that its rise has been aided by the long and sometimes brutal Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Hamas first emerged as a major challenger to the predominant, more secular liberation movement, the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) during the late 1980s when the first Intifada (uprising) against Israeli rule began. The rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East following the Iranian Revolution fuelled popular challenges to what were perceived as increasingly corrupt regimes throughout the Arab world. The PLO, then in exile and led by Yasser Arafat, was becoming more corrupt and its leadership was also, more importantly, looking at ditching its long-held objective of crushing the Israeli state and replacing it with calls for a negotiated two-state solution. In 1988, in what became known as the Tunis Declaration (made in the Tunisian capital, Tunis, where the PLO was at that time headquartered), Arafat announced that the organisation recognised the existence of Israel and called upon it to honour UN Resolution 242 which calls upon that country to militarily withdraw to its pre-1967 Six Day War borders.
This change in tack from the PLO sent shockwaves through the wider liberation movement and indeed through occupied Palestine. Hardliners began moving away from the PLO and towards Hamas which grew in popularity. The movement, at around this time, began to expand their welfare networks within Palestine as well in terms of setting up health, education, housing and social services, in order to make Hamas look more progressive than the PLO. At around this time, Hamas under its first leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, began to advocate and practice armed struggle against the military occupiers of Palestine with the intent of seriously challenging Israel. This hardline response and the growth of Hamas provided social support helped to increase its popularity amongst Palestinians.
Meanwhile, the PLO concluded the Oslo Agreement with Israel in 1993 which called for negotiations aiming at a two-state solution and the creation of an interim Palestinian authority (that fell effectively under the control of the PLO's Fatah faction of which Arafat was head) that would serve as the embryonic government of a future Palestinian state based in the West Bank and Gaza. The conclusion of the Oslo Accords finally triggered the large scale rift between the PLO and Hamas.
Indeed the Israeli security services were very keen to foster these growing divisions within the Palestinian polity and, to this end (according to Wikipedia at www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hamas) the Shin Bet intelligence service gave clandestine support to both Hamas and Hezbollah in order to play off the PLO. Therefore, Israel has played a role in supporting the very organisation who it now says is a threat to its national security.
Hamas's victory in the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections was the culmination of growing popular support generated by factors including the increasing corruption within the Palestinian authority, the death of Yasser Arafat in 2004, and the often erratic and bullying behaviour of Israel which had sanctioned ongoing raids into the West Bank and Gaza to deal with what it called 'terrorist' threats from the suicide bombing campaigns that were undertaken against Israel by various organisations including Hamas, Hezbollah and the Al-Aqsa Matyrs Brigades. What must be remembered though is that acts of suicide bombing were viewed as the last and most desperate response that some Palestinians had to Israel's ongoing occupation of their lands which had seen more Jewish settlements illegally erected on Palestinian land while, at the same time, Palestinians were barred from entering Israel to reclaim the homes taken from them by Jewish settlers in 1948. The military, political, and economic control that Israel exercises over Palestinian lands is felt every day by its inhabitants and like other occupied peoples throughout history who have endured similar economic blockades, trade restrictions and restrictions on their freedom of movement, it is little wonder that, in many cases, resistance is engaged in.
Therefore, the Jewish people of both Israel and the wider world should look to their own tragic history as well to see that what they are doing to the Palestinian people is what has been done to them in the past. Although I admit that this historical analogy is a little stretched, the Israeli blockade of Gaza that has sustained Hamas can be seen as similar to that that the Jewish people of Warsaw experienced when the Nazis created the infamous ghetto there in the early 1940s. Although it is safe to say that Israel is not in anyway planning on the genocide of its Palestinian neighbours, it should remember that the surviving Jewish population of the Warsaw Ghetto bravely fought the Nazi occupiers because of the inhumanity to which they were being subjected. In the same vein, then, they should see that the Palestinian people of Gaza are fighting against the perception of their being subjugated to a blockade and restrictions on their freedom of movement. Another historical example is that of Stalingrad during the Second World War where the blockaded Soviet city held out against the Nazi war machine and won.
Therefore, the Biblical injucntion that 'do not do unto others what would you not hath done unto you' has escaped successive Israeli Governments for the last 40 years. They cannot see that even militant movements like Hamas have implicitly begun to realise that Israel (due to its military might and permanent Jewish settlement within Israel proper) is around to stay. In 2007, the Hamas leadership declared that they were prepared to compromise on their hardline stance by seeking to negotiate a truce with Israel and that they would put the idea of destroying Israel to one side for the time being.
What Israel must do is see this slight opening of the door by Hamas as an opportunity and, as the British did in Northern Ireland with Sinn Fein and the IRA, enter into direct and ongoing dialogue with Hamas, Hezbollah and other declared enemies of the Israeli state (in much the same way as they did with the PLO). This could have a positive impact in that in the same way as the IRA and Sinn Fein came to recognise the need to turn to non-violent political means to advance their cause, Hamas and other organisations could be persuaded to do the same. Furthermore, in the long term, this could lead to further compromise in that after a period of two co-existing independent states (Israel and Palestine) living side-by-side, a further step could be taken in that a negotiated bi-national merged state of Israel-Palestine (as advocated by left-wing intellectual Noam Chomsky who is of Jewish descent) could come into being where the rights of both Jewish and Arab citizens would be guaranteed and thereby satisfy what have been irreconciliable grievances from both sides. The one roadblock to this idea has been the racist fear of many Jews that they would be demographically overwhelmed by an Arab majority population and that, at most, they are prepared to accept a Palestinian state that is, at most, a client state of Israel.
Not all is lost within Israel in terms of trying to change the trajectory of public opinion which has manically swung between support for peace and war for over 60 years. In recent days, protests have been held within Israel, led by a growing peace movement and supported by a myriad of left-wing political parties, where Israelis have called upon their government to stop the Gaza invasion and initiate negotiations.
Despite these small glimmers of hope, the reality of a real and just settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is still some way off. Israel has to halt being the bully boy of the Middle East by looking at the past history of the Jewish people to see that the suppression of rights only ignites, not extinguishes conflict. What has to come about is a new understanding by Israel that injustice only breeds injustice. It can start by initiating an immediate ceasefire with Hamas and lifting the blockade of Gaza completely. Only then will it receive the co-operation of Hamas to stop attacks on southern Israel and from there a real and viable peace could, in the long-term, ensue.