OPINION: Don’t Take the Narrow View of What’s Happening in Gaza

—  Wars and Skirmishes Don’t Occur in A Vacuum.

Shadi Hamid | The Atlantic 

As always in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, two narratives are vying for primacy. In one, Israel is simply defending itself against a fresh attack. In the other, Israel’s bombardment of Gaza is the latest example of a desire to punish and humiliate Palestinians.

These two narratives are not reconcilable, which makes reasoned discussion an exercise in futility. But any sophisticated argument must contend with the long, winding lead-up to the current crisis. Why is war in Gaza returning now, and why does it always seem to return, with stubborn, periodic insistence?         

Despite inching toward the Democratic Party’s left flank on various domestic–and foreign–policy issues, the Biden administration has fallen back on the usual formulas, offering robotic recitations about “Israel’s right to defend itself”. On Thursday, President Joe Biden said that he hadn’t seen a “significant overreaction” from Israel, while failing to mention a word about Palestinian deaths. In so doing, he gave Israel what amounts to a green light to intensify its bombing campaign. 

The White House has been eager to highlight Biden’s “unwavering support” for Israel, which raises the question of what, if anything, might cause America’s support for the Israeli government to waver even slightly. This question is worth asking sooner rather than later, now that more than 120 Palestinians have died, a quarter of them children — all in a few days — according to Palestinian officials.

Supporters of the status quo tend to focus on the fact that Hamas started lobbing rockets into Israel, and they argue that Israel has no choice but to retaliate, as any other country would. Some even suggest that the Israeli army is historically unparalleled in its efforts to spare civilian casualties. This line of argument, however, does not tend to offer many details on how this latest conflagration came to be.

Why is all of this happening now? Wars and skirmishes don’t occur in a vacuum; they are the result of an accumulation of actions and reactions over years, if not decades. 

A potential reputational cost attends even asking these questions. Those who do are often accused of justifying or supporting Hamas’s actions. But it should be possible to do two things at once — First, to note that Hamas is a U.S.-designated terrorist organization. This is not in doubt, and to my knowledge there isn’t a particularly large grassroots movement to eliminate the designation. Hamas’s rockets are indiscriminate and are designed to terrorize Israeli civilians. They might hit schools or hospitals, or they might not. It is this lack of knowing that makes them “effective”, despite their imprecision. These are war crimes, as Human Rights Watch has documented. Second, it should also be possible to recognize that the current conflict in Gaza didn’t appear from the sky unannounced, a product of random chance.

If we want to prevent violence or terrorist activity from happening in the future, then we have to understand what motivates violence or terrorist activity. This is a straightforward observation, albeit a fraught one. Shortly after the September 11 attacks, attempts to understand why were viewed by many as terrorism apologetics. Among scholars and analysts of violent extremism, however, it is close to an article of faith that contextual factors make resorting to violence either more or less likely. The goal is to understand what they are and, ideally, to try to address them.

Consider that even the George W. Bush administration made a rather sophisticated and somewhat original argument about the “root causes” of the September 11 attacks. President Bush and his top aides argued that citizens are more likely to resort to violence when they lack peaceful, constructive means to express their grievances. Accordingly, September 11 did not happen because Arabs despised our freedom, but rather because the Middle East’s stifling political environment bred anger, frustration, and ultimately hate. Part of the long-term solution, then, was to promote democratic reform and basic political rights. Later, when the Islamic State rose to prominence, in 2013, a whole literature emerged on the causes and grievances that led to the organization’s rise. When a white supremacist murdered 50 Muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March 2019, I argued in favor of assessing the arguments and motivations in his 74-page manifesto — not to give those views legitimacy, as some feared, but to understand the drivers of radicalization.

In the case of the current situation in Gaza, the objective is not to carefully assess Hamas’s “grievances”. The group’s behavior is not particularly mysterious. Hamas leaders see anger against Israel building among ordinary Palestinians, and they see an opportunity to weaponize it. They send rockets across the border and invite destruction because they wish to project relevance and rally domestic support after years of diminished popularity. Hamas is not a bunch of crazed lunatics. Selfish, self-serving, and cavalier toward Palestinian life, its leaders are acting according to a traditional rational-actor model. Whether or not we like it, Hamas believes they will benefit from the crisis — and they may, in reality, find themselves in a stronger position when this is over. 

This is one step in the analysis, but it still doesn’t tell us much about why Palestinian anger had been rising in the first place. The progressive wing of the Democratic Party tends to emphasize the original “source” of the current violence. This source isn’t exactly a secret either. As The New York Times reported:

“The trouble started on Monday, when a heavy-handed police raid at Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa Mosque — the third-holiest site in Islam, located atop a site also revered by Jews — set off an instant backlash.” Yet while the police raid was actually unfolding — during the final days of Ramadan and at such a sensitive site — I found only minimal coverage in mainstream outlets. I relied instead on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook accounts that were covering the raid and its aftermath in real time, although many were censored for “sensitive content”.

The tragedy, upon other tragedies, is that the world seems to pay attention to Palestinians only when they use violence. Nonviolent activism goes largely ignored. 

Tensions had, in fact, been building for months, with the threatened eviction of Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem. Smaller protests in the area, taking place at a steady clip for some time, grew larger. But even these details don’t capture the broader context.

What is so important about Sheikh Jarrah, and why are Palestinian families being faced with eviction in the first place? As NBC News reported: “The expansion of Jewish settlements in Sheikh Jarrah, which is on land that helps form the final link in a settlement circle surrounding east Jerusalem — AN AREA THAT PALESTINIANS HOPE WILL BE THE CAPITAL OF A FUTURE STATE.” 

That aspiration matters, but seemingly not much to those who see Israel’s right to self-defense as the only truly salient issue. THEY DON’T SEE THE OCCUPATION ITSELF — AND WHAT HAS FLOWED FROM IT — AS THE ORIGINAL SIN. And because they don’t recognize the centrality of the occupation, they don’t acknowledge what is so obvious to the other side: THE BASIC FACT OF A LOPSIDED POWER DYNAMIC, IN WHICH ISRAEL IS THE AGGRESSOR AND PALESTINIANS ARE THE VICTIMS.

This imbalance ought to matter — and not just for moral reasons. American policy makers, regardless of whether they see Palestinians as fully deserving of rights and dignity, should understand that wildly unequal power and capabilities make peace all but impossible. Absent international pressure, the more powerful actor has few incentives to offer substantive compromises and concessions to the weaker party.

The Biden administration is acting as if the past several years – or decades – have not happened. It is repeating the same mistakes as its predecessors, while hoping that a cease-fire can bring an end to hostilities and a return to calm. But until fundamental injustices — and Palestinian national aspirations — are addressed by ending an occupation that has lasted longer than my own existence, the calm will prove uneasy. Maybe that’s good enough for Biden. But it shouldn’t be!

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Comments

  • Clyde Duncan  On 05/17/2021 at 12:27 am

    The U.S. Must STOP Being an Apologist for the Netanyahu Government

    Bernie Sanders | The New York Times

    “ISRAEL HAS THE RIGHT TO DEFEND ITSELF.”

    These are the words we hear from both Democratic and Republican administrations whenever the government of Israel, with its enormous military might, responds to rocket attacks from Gaza.

    LET US BE CLEAR. No one is arguing that Israel, or any government, does not have the right to self-defense or to protect its people. So why are these words repeated year after year, war after war? And why is the question almost never asked: “What are the rights of the Palestinian people?”

    And why do we seem to take notice of the violence in Israel and Palestine only when rockets are falling on Israel?

    In this moment of crisis, the United States should be urging an immediate cease-fire. We should also understand that, while Hamas firing rockets into Israeli communities is absolutely unacceptable, today’s conflict did not begin with those rockets.

    Palestinian families in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah have been living under the threat of eviction for many years, navigating a legal system designed to facilitate their forced displacement. And over the past weeks, extremist settlers have intensified their efforts to evict them.

    And, tragically, those evictions are just one part of a broader system of political and ECONOMIC OPPRESSION. For years we have seen a deepening Israeli occupation in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and a continuing blockade on Gaza that make life increasingly intolerable for Palestinians. In Gaza, which has about two million inhabitants, 70 percent of young people are unemployed and have little hope for the future.

    Further, we have seen Benjamin Netanyahu’s government work to marginalize and demonize Palestinian citizens of Israel, pursue settlement policies designed to foreclose the possibility of a two-state solution and pass laws that entrench systemic inequality between Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel.

    None of this excuses the attacks by Hamas, which were an attempt to exploit the unrest in Jerusalem, or the failures of the corrupt and ineffective Palestinian Authority, which recently postponed long-overdue elections. But the fact of the matter is that Israel remains the one sovereign authority in the land of Israel and Palestine, and rather than preparing for peace and justice, it has been entrenching its UNEQUAL and UNDEMOCRATIC CONTROL.

    Over more than a decade of his right-wing rule in Israel, Mr. Netanyahu has cultivated an increasingly intolerant and authoritarian type of racist nationalism. In his frantic effort to stay in power and avoid prosecution for corruption, Mr. Netanyahu has legitimized these forces, including Itamar Ben Gvir and his extremist Jewish Power party, by bringing them into the government.

    It is shocking and saddening that racist mobs that attack Palestinians on the streets of Jerusalem now have representation in its Knesset.

    THESE DANGEROUS TRENDS ARE NOT UNIQUE TO ISRAEL. Around the world, in Europe, in Asia, in South America and here in the United States, we have seen the rise of similar authoritarian nationalist movements.

    These movements exploit ethnic and racial hatreds in order to build power for a corrupt few rather than prosperity, justice and peace for the many. FOR THE LAST FOUR YEARS, THESE MOVEMENTS HAD A FRIEND IN THE WHITE HOUSE.

    At the same time, we are seeing the rise of a new generation of activists who want to build societies based on human needs and political equality. We saw these activists in American streets last summer in the wake of the murder of GEORGE FLOYD. We see them in Israel. We see them in the Palestinian territories.

    With a new president, the United States now has the opportunity to develop a new approach to the world — one based on justice and democracy. Whether it is helping poor countries get the vaccines they need, leading the world to combat climate change or fighting for democracy and human rights around the globe, the United States must lead by promoting cooperation over conflict.

    In the Middle East, WHERE WE PROVIDE NEARLY $4 BILLION A YEAR IN AID TO ISRAEL, we can no longer be apologists for the right-wing Netanyahu government and its undemocratic and racist behavior. We must change course and adopt an even-handed approach, one that upholds and strengthens international law regarding the protection of civilians, as well as existing U.S. law holding that the provision of U.S. military aid must not enable human rights abuses.

    THIS APPROACH MUST RECOGNIZE THAT ISRAEL HAS THE ABSOLUTE RIGHT TO LIVE IN PEACE AND SECURITY, BUT SO DO THE PALESTINIANS.

    I strongly believe that the United States has a major role to play in helping Israelis and Palestinians to build that future. But if the United States is going to be a credible voice on human rights on the global stage, we must uphold international standards of human rights consistently, even when it’s politically difficult. We must recognize that Palestinian rights matter.

    PALESTINIAN LIVES MATTER.

    • Brother Man  On 05/17/2021 at 6:27 am

      Why is the US giving Israel $4,000,000,000 annually? How much are they giving the Palestinians?

      Until the Palestinian people are given the right to self-rule and the freedom to live peacefully and autonomously without Israeli interference, these conflicts with never end.

      How can two nations coexist on such a tiny peace of land? To whom does that land legitimately belong?

      One solution could perhaps be to relocate Israel to another part of the world. How about Alaska or Montana? Those are sparsely populated states and then that land can return to it’s pre-1948 status.

      Brother Man

      • Dennis Albert  On 05/17/2021 at 10:56 am

        Actually, there were plans after WWII to relocate these “European Jews” to Argentina, Guyana, Madagascar or in a remote part of Africa. But they were mostly Russian Jews.

        I’m quite glad that they didn’t come to Guyana or Suriname or FG to be honest.

        Those “European Jews” are showing their true colours to the world, and they play the victim while murdering Palestinian children.

        I wouldn’t be surprised if those disrespectful CEOs of that illegitimate concrete factory have a lineage to the Russian land grabbers.

  • Clyde Duncan  On 05/17/2021 at 12:57 am

    Both essays are very insightful!!

    The Number One Suggestion that immediately came to mind:

    Relocate the U.S. Embassy from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv – NOW!!

    Shadi Hamid wrote:

    “The trouble started on Monday, when a heavy-handed police raid at Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa Mosque — ……. — set off an instant backlash.” Yet while the police raid was actually unfolding — during the final days of Ramadan and at such a sensitive site — I found only minimal coverage in mainstream outlets. I relied instead on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook accounts ……

    Nothing unusual about the “minimal coverage in mainstream outlets” ……

    I contacted a friend of mine in the UK after reading the following in twitter:

    “In response to a Home Office immigration raid during Eid, the people of Glasgow mobilised, fought back and got their neighbours released.”

    This was a dawn raid on people’s homes in Glasgow by Immigration Enforcers and Police Scotland Officers. The neighbours came out in force and stopped the Immigration Enforcement Vehicle. While dozens of Police Officers stood down – the doors on the vehicle opened and the captives were allowed to go free.

    My Buddy responded to me that there was no mainstream media coverage of the incident.

    Manzoor wrote: Thank you Glasgow, restores my faith in humanity after watching the Israeli terrorist atrocities on helpless people.

    A Police spokesperson said earlier:

    “Police Scotland does not assist in the removal of asylum seekers. Officers are at the scene to police the protest and to ensure public safety.”

    Campaigners have hailed a victory for Glaswegian solidarity and told the Home Office “you messed with the wrong city” as two men detained by UK Immigration Enforcement were released back into their community after a day of protest.

    Police Scotland intervened to free the men after a tense day-long standoff between immigration officials and hundreds of local residents, who surrounded their van in a residential street on the southside of Glasgow to stop the detention of the men during Eid al-Fitr.

    Another wrote: “We also need answers from Police Scotland about their involvement. We have already written to the home secretary asking urgently to clarify whether the decisions to carry out immigration enforcement raids, including dawn raids, represents a change in the policy by the UK government.”

    The reader may rightly guess that, in the instant case, the captives were non-European. But, there are other reported cases of Europeans being detained and deported.

    My friend wrote that we will hear about it when the Europeans retaliate.

    As they say, the mainstream media decides what we think about and talk about every day.

    I noted later that there was a report in The Guardian UK

    • Brother Man  On 05/17/2021 at 8:01 am

      Saturday 15 May, 2021 marked a sad anniversary for the Palestinians- Nakba.

      What is Nakba? It is the mass eviction and dispossession of the people of Palestine to make way for the creation of Israel, shortly after WW2.

      In a major way, Israel came about as a result of the genocidal action of Nazi Germany during the war.

      Brother Man

  • Dennis Albert  On 05/17/2021 at 10:51 am

    American man telling Palestinian woman that “If I don’t steal it, someone else will”

  • Clyde Duncan  On 05/17/2021 at 11:36 am

    Robert in Toronto wrote:

    Very intense discussion about which there seems to be no solution but all out war in those areas. You would think we have enough to deal with in COVID.

  • Clyde Duncan  On 05/17/2021 at 11:44 am

    Theodore wrote:

    There will never be peace between those two nations

  • wally n  On 05/17/2021 at 1:14 pm

    Outing fires in faraway places….when your backyard burning (D R)

  • brandli62  On 05/17/2021 at 5:33 pm

    Netanyahu needs the war to stay in power in hope of avoiding going to jail for corruption. Is it a really a coincidence that the violence at the Al-Aksa mosque started after Natanyahu failed to form a government? Hamas needs the war to stay in power, too. Since Hamas took power in Gaza, they have never staged elections again. If you were popular, you would not fear free elections, right?

    • brandli62  On 05/17/2021 at 5:35 pm

      After Years of Quiet, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Exploded. Why Now?

      A little-noticed police action in Jerusalem last month was one of several incidents that led to the current crisis

    • Brother Man  On 05/17/2021 at 7:57 pm

      “Is it a really a coincidence that the violence at the Al-Aksa mosque started after Natanyahu failed to form a government?”

      Al-Aksa? It is called Al-Aqsa mosque!

      No, it is a deadly diversionary and sinister move to avoid jail. This can be nothing less than war crimes for which The Hague is where he should stand trial. The Americans must stop being complicit in this never-ending humanitarian crisis!!

      Brother Man

  • Clyde Duncan  On 05/17/2021 at 6:17 pm

    Biden Administration Approves $735 Million Weapons Sale to Israel, Raising Red Flags for Some House Democrats

    Jacqueline Alemany | The Washington Post

    Congress was officially notified of the proposed sale on May 5, three people based on Capitol Hill familiar with the notification told my colleague Karoun Demirjian and me.

    THAT WAS NEARLY A WEEK BEFORE HAMAS, the terrorism-designated organization that controls the Gaza strip, BEGAN INTENSE ROCKET ATTACKS AGAINST ISRAEL that have reportedly killed at least 10 Israelis.

    The rockets have been answered with ongoing Israeli airstrikes that have left nearly 200 Palestinians dead and sparked worldwide calls for diplomatic action.

    The crisis is the worst since a 2014 Hamas-Israeli war that lasted nearly two months.

    Even Israel’s defenders condemned Israeli military actions over the weekend:

    Robert Menendez released a statement on Saturday after an airstrike targeted and destroyed a building housing the Associated Press and other media outlets in Gaza City.

    • Brother Man  On 05/18/2021 at 12:43 am

      To use a medical analogy-

      The situation in Gaza can be likened to a smoker’s lungs where COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) is in an advanced stage.

      In this case, the lungs are struggling
      mightily to perform the basic exchange of gases (through the inhalation and exhalation processes) because of the onset of hypoxemia and hypercapnia, where there’s a limitation of oxygen trying to get into the lungs versus a toxic buildup of carbon dioxide which cannot be easily exhaled.

      In short, it’s an unsustainable situation where the patient in living on borrowed time.

      Brother Man

  • Jo  On 05/18/2021 at 11:16 am

    Any person who believes that the US is “as Ronald Reagan emphasized, a shining city upon a hill whose beacon light guides freedom-loving people everywhere” is smoking weed. It is the leading Western country in the undermining of democracy and power to the people..witness the latest attempt at suppressing the votes of BIPOC voters and gerrymandering voting districts. And we’re not even mentioning appointing politically like-minded judges. It has been silently complicit as Israel’s war crimes, ethnic cleansing, genocide and settlement facts on the ground, establishes what it wants in the Middle East..an outpost for itself..a so-called democracy which answers to its need to keep the ME potentates at bay. Why else spend so much to arm Israel to the teeth? The USA is a disgrace each and every day of its existence.

    • Dennis Albert  On 05/18/2021 at 1:36 pm

      Israel is an extension of white supremacism. The land grabbers are as white as snow.

    • Chris  On 05/18/2021 at 1:44 pm

      America is a spent empire entering its death throes. With a rise in denialism, populism, assault on truth, voter suppression and gerrymandering, the US is heading full on toward totalitarianism to join the ranks of China and Russia. The attacks on the Capitol Building in January is a mega-giant red flag signalling what lies ahead.

  • Dennis Albert  On 05/19/2021 at 2:14 pm

    Listen to this hysterical madwoman with Russian-Asiatic Siberian features:

  • Thaaer Alrajab  On 05/22/2021 at 1:18 pm

    The Biden administration is planning on signing a $735 million aid package to Israel, something to note. Nice article tho, how long have you been blogging?

  • Dennis Albert  On 05/24/2021 at 4:20 pm

    Kaieteur News believes that the “Israelis” are the oppressors of non-whites:
    https://www.kaieteurnewsonline.com/2021/05/21/guyana-and-gaza/

    • Chris  On 05/24/2021 at 6:14 pm

      DA, thank-you for sharing this bit of history. I had no idea that the colonial powers had considered Guyana as a possible candidate for Jewish resettlement. It blows the mind. Whoa! Guyana could have been Gaza!!! In that case, oil would have been discovered by the Americans decades ago.

      • Dennis Albert  On 05/25/2021 at 2:35 am

        Hugo Chavez expelled the Israeli diplomats in 2009, got cancer and died a few years later.

  • Dennis Albert  On 06/01/2021 at 2:35 am

    Atheists using the Bible as a land deed to steal land from Palestinians:

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