By Dave Bradney
I finally became disenchanted with the idea of Israel during 2006, when the Israeli “Defence” Force rolled into and over the southern half of Lebanon, wrecking and slaughtering for a month, killing 1200, wounding 4400 and displacing one million.
Before the Lebanon War there had been three previous Israeli “incursions” into Lebanon. The pretexts for all of which I will not bore you with.
From then on I could no longer see Israel as a plucky outpost of civilisation and democracy, of light, culture, talent and recovery from attempted genocide, situated precariously at the edge of a darkling plain. The people that I had imagined could never have done those things.
I began to wonder where that mirage had come from. I began to wonder what I had actually been looking at all this time. I began to do some reading – starting with the Balfour Declaration of 1917, through which Britain more or less offered Jewish activists parts of the Middle East which it did not own and at that point had not even taken by force. If you are not already familiar with all this stuff, please do inform yourself about it.
I began to read accounts of the mind-sets of the “founding fathers” of Israel – about their vision of a land in which they could build their state, a land which had no people or at least no proper people; about seeing indigenous Palestinians as “the stones of Judea”, that is to say as obstacles to be bulldozed out of the way.
Apparently, around 90% of Israelis support the recent/current “incursion” into Gaza, which at the time of writing has killed 2000, wounded 10,200 and displaced half a million (30% of the total Gazan population). This is the third Israeli “incursion” into Gaza since the start of 2008. Along with the West Bank, Gaza was supposed to have been self-governing since 1994. Israel claims to be affronted by the term “collective punishment”, yet – apparently – a vociferous minority of Israelis now supports the pro-war and potentially pro-genocide slogan: “There are no innocent civilians in Gaza”. Clearly there is a large degree of historical continuity between the actions of Israel today and the views of its “founding fathers”.
Of course some of the Gazans are doing bad things. They dig “terror tunnels” into Israel, out of which commandos emerge to get mown down. They fire small, mainly locally-built, short-range rockets which are more or less unguided and do little damage. And yet, when you have stolen a family’s house and thrown them onto the street, just outside, assertions about your own future security and your right to defend yourself take on a rather hollow ring.
I began to stumble across disturbing ideas of my own. Writing an email to someone, I was surprised to find I had written: “They have become the thing that hurt them”. This is of course reminiscent of the phenomenon which psychiatrists refer to as “traumatic bonding”, in which victims of aggression subconsciously decide to adopt the values of their aggressors, in order to feel less threatened. But that is a concept normally applied to individuals, not to whole nations and societies.
Later, in a slightly heated discussion on a blog, I came out with this: “I speculate (no more than that, but you show me a more believable speculation if you don’t like this one) that a long-term aim of the Israeli state is to push the Gazans back into the sea. Notice that this is what the Israelis accuse Iran of wanting to do to them. `He who smelt it dealt it’, as a friend of mine is wont to say …
“Notice that Gaza is conveniently laid out along the seaboard, and Israel’s 3km buffer zone, which it says civilians should leave, presses them towards the half of Gaza that is closest to the shore. Israel has stated that for now it is no longer interested in ceasefires [this position was later reversed, but may well be reinstated], and even when it has withdrawn its ground forces it can rely on the Palestinian rockets continuing, so it will continue to pound and smash, and will even escalate that on the grounds that it is still seeking to achieve deterrence. The Gazan health services are already at the point of collapse, and the conflict is too dangerous to allow in outside help, which in any case will be blockaded. So this will soon resemble a massacre, which some will begin to call a genocide. There will then be an international humanitarian initiative to evacuate the bleeding remnants of Gaza’s population (but where? Tunisia?) …
“And when the Palestinians have gone, forces of the Israeli state will enter and secure the empty wasteland and begin to transform it into the kind of sanitised consumer paradise which the Israeli people seem to like. With casinos, and an Iron Dome. Job done, till the next snag appears.”
I had not realised that I could envisage all that. Yet only a few days later I discovered that such ideas were already in currency in Israel. According to one commentator: “There is a persistent narrative promoted by Israeli newspaper columnists and politicians which should raise eyebrows in the West. They are calling for the dismantling of Gaza and the relocation of its people …” (1) Admittedly this is a commentator well outside the bounds of mainstream opinion, but the piece seems coherent and well-referenced.
So, enough of this first-person self-indulgence, what should we expect to happen and how should we prepare to respond? As you will gather I do not expect good things to come from Israel, but I would caution against seeing the speculation above as inevitable. At best it is something to be carefully borne in mind, at worst it is rampant paranoia, but I think a balanced view would be that it needs to be seen as one of a range of alternative scenarios that Israel wishes to keep available as a mid- to long-term option.
Meanwhile, we have a Gazan population and infrastructure that are – once again – battered, bleeding and traumatised, while international opinion is now distracted by the crises in Iraq and the Ukraine. The health service infrastructure is deeply degraded and any sustained lack of power and clean water will encourage epidemic diseases. Homes and public facilities need to be rebuilt. The whole economy needs to be restarted. The United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has pledged that Gaza will be rebuilt again, but has added that this must be the last time.
Clearly the fullest practicable access to international aid and assistance must be provided, yet direct entry by sea and air is in the iron grip of the Israeli blockade, which began in 2007. An international airport built with $86m of aid was opened in 1998, was bombed by the Israeli “Defence” Forces in 2001, and has not reopened. Plans to build modern port facilities have been stalled for two decades.
Clearly the humanitarian opening of the gates of Gaza cannot be left to the Israeli state, which to all intents and purposes sees the Palestinians as its enemy. The UN has been calling repeatedly for an end to the blockade since 2008, and this is clearly the place to start in what will be a long process of wresting the political initiative out of Israeli hands. The collapse of the recent truce negotiations simply underlines that an intervention from the international community is essential and long overdue.
With the help of Avaaz.org I have just set up the petition “UN to run Gaza’s border controls (sea and air)”, which states: “With international agreement, the UN should gently but firmly take the Gaza blockade out of the hands of the Israelis so that it can itself operate a humanised version of the blockade, in place of the present Israeli restrictions. The UN would hold an international conference at which it would seek everyone’s agreement to take over the running of the blockade from the Israelis. The UN version would not be called a `blockade’, it could be referred to as `internationally mandated border controls’, or something similar. The USA would use its authority as Israel’s main source of financial aid to ensure its cooperation.”
For simplicity I have not included land borders in the petition objective, since land borders are subject to two-state control. Sea and air borders, on the other hand, lead directly out into international waters and international air-space, and so movement across them should ideally be unproblematical.
The text of the petition goes on to list possible advantages and benefits which could flow from such a handover:
1. Humanitarian and human rights considerations would be built into the new border control regime, in a public and verifiable way. This would reassure the Palestinians.
2. Israel’s legitimate security considerations would be built into the new border control regime, in a public and verifiable way. This would reassure the Israelis [Israel will need to be convincingly assured that weapons and other military equipment and supplies are not being imported. Provided this can be demonstrated it is difficult to see what legitimate objections Israel could make to this proposal].
3. US involvement in the preparations for and implementation of this UN conference would be crucial, and would greatly improve the image of the US in the world [I am no fan of the US and its role in the world. It gives an annual $3bn in military aid to Israel, but I feel it is starting to sense that it gets very little back for that. Ideally for that amount of money you should be getting a strong regional proxy, but because of its regular “incursions” into other people’s territory Israel has achieved a near-pariah status that makes any constructive role on behalf of the US more or less impossible. An impression has been created that the tail is wagging the dog, and the US may feel that needs to be corrected].
4. This handover initiative would greatly improve the image of the UN in the world. If this isn’t the kind of thing that the UN should be doing, what is? [Israel’s behaviour over the years, including the flouting of many UN resolutions, has been a continuing source of embarrassment and humiliation for the UN, contributing significantly to its reputation for ineffectuality. I would argue that there is already a mood of impatience about this within the UN secretariat and General Assembly, fuelling pressure for some practical successes and achievements. Assuming responsibility for Gaza’s border-control arrangements might well represent a reputational coup for the organisation].
Please would you consider adding your name to this petition (2) and publicising it in any way that you can? Thank you for taking the time to consider this.
Dave Bradney, 22 August 2014
Dave Bradney is a retired journalist and former Green Party activist living in Wales (UK).