It doesn’t matter if Hamas ‘started it’, they’ve back Israel into a losing corner

3:59 am - July 22nd 2014

by Sunny Hundal    

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The other day, in a discussion among friends on Israel’s attack on Gaza (I generally avoid them, even on Twitter), one said Hamas started the latest round of shelling by bombarding Israeli towns and inviting a response.

I have no way of verifying this, so I shrugged. Its irrelevant who started it.

On social media I’ve seen Israelis blame Hamas and say they’re merely defending themselves, so they’re justified in attacking Gaza. Israelis ask “what would you do if someone attacked you with rockets?“. Its a really counter-productive question to ask, and it misses the wood for the trees.

Palestinians are a desperate people who live in an open-air prison camp controlled by Israel. Their lives are lived in squalor and poverty. This is beyond dispute; even Israelis know it. Israel blocks drinking water and proper sanitation even when its not attacking Gaza. It keeps building illegal settlements when there isn’t a war going on.

Palestinians aren’t stupid – they can see Israel wants to slowly annex their land until its too late for independence. In fact, its PM Benjamin Netanyahu stated quite explicitly in a (very under-reported) speech just last week that Palestinian weren’t going to get independence.

That makes it even more likely that Hamas will provoke Israel into an angry response. They see it as the only real option available to them.

Every time Israel responds it is goaded into spending money, becoming more extreme, killing more Palestinians children and becoming more isolated from international opinion.

Sooner or later something has to give. The Palestinians have little to lose by carrying on by goading Israel. They already live their lives in squalor and under occupation.

Israel on the other hand has over-stepped the mark already to the point it has alienated most of European public opinion. A few more missteps, coupled with the rise of social media, and American opinion could rapidly turn against them too.

Once that happens Israel really will face an existential crisis.

The question for Israelis shouldn’t be “what would you do?“, but “how do we break out of this cycle?“. But they’re not asking that. Benjamin Netanyahu has stoked up his country enough that the majority want immediate respite and instant revenge. They’ve lost sight of the broader picture.

Israel may be winning the battle on the strength of its military now, but Hamas is winning the longer strategic war.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments

1. douglas clark

Quite right.

You are however engaging with folk who have no real concept of what a victim actually is.

Victims are collateral damage in their world. It is utterly irresponsible, but there you go.

You can expect the usual ingenues from ‘Harry’s Place’ to appear sometime soon.

Tick Tock.

It’s a clever question. Most people answer, in reflex, send rockets back. It’s the sort of kneejerk response most of our politics is designed to evoke nowadays. We aren’t invited to think beyond instinctive bias. We could be invited to think: suppose we required Israel to obey international law and not occupy other people’s land, and not to terrorise civilians? (Of course then we would probably get the islamophobic “Arabs are ruthless terrorists who love killing infidels” reflex response so carefully nurtured in us as the fall-back position. And we aren’t thinking beyond that one either.) Another example is the Margaret Thatcher one of comparing the national budget to a shopping basket. If you can’t afford to put everything you want in it, what do you do? The reflex answer is: “Cut back on what you put in it.” But for countries the answer is different: countries have the means to raise their income. They can do that by taxing more effectively. Neoliberal countries choose instead to tax less and less effectively – to “incentivise” the entrepreneurial and aspirational – but we aren’t invited to think things through to that conclusion. And if we do, then the fall-back position is similarly in place. Poor people are shiftless and lazy and just want to take money and do no work. They could survive on two bananas a day (like blacks in imperial school textbooks) and be quite happy, if they weren’t forced to work.

The question is stupid, yes. Who ‘started’ it is also a stupid question because what is starting and what is ‘it’. However, Israel has a right and obligation to defend. Now we can, and should, question whether that extends to it’s current action, but it’s pretty easy for us to do that sitting at keyboards in London.

I don’t wish to sugar coat poverty in Gaza, but talk about it in facts and real terms rather than media friendly phrases, ‘open-air prison’ is one of those bandied around without much thought. Prisons don’t have cars, markets, shopping malls etc. Furthermore, Hamas bemoans the siege, yet manages to hoard obscene levels of rockets, and arms, whilst seemingly use their concrete supply on building tunnels to send militia in to Israel.
On top of that, the blockade is equally enforced by Egypt but the calls on them are rather different. Hamas is firing rockets at Israel, with it’s major demand being that the Egypt border is opened!

Netanyahu’s West Bank policies are a serious stumbling block, but Hamas aren’t engaged in this battle because of settlements. In the macro picture then reigning in settlements may have the effect of Hamas losing support in favour of the more moderate Fatah.

My pet theory is that Hamas are broke and desperate here, they won’t stop this round until they have something that they can claim as a victory. I don’t think they’ll get it this time.

then GAZA shouldn’t have started attack in the first place, Israel has a right to defend itself. Palestinians have no one else to blame but their own government for starting this stupid shit themselves. Israel is actually trying to protect its citizens.

“The Palestinians have little to lose by carrying on by goading Israel. They already live their lives in squalor and under occupation.”

I might once have agreed with that, and I agree the support for war from Palestinians comes fundamentally from the fact that Israeli peace terms offer them no future other than confinement, unemployment and dependency on UN food parcels.

But I don’t share your optimism about the outcome; at some point, you suggest, things will get so extreme that Israelis will have to see sense.

But it seems to me that the debate in Israel is becoming less rational and more extreme with every flare-up of violence. Peace demonstrations are getting smaller, not larger. There is every possibility that the main winners from this will be people like Avigdor Lieberman and Naftali Bennett – and I suspect a similar escalation with either of them in a position of power would tend to result in a one-state solution reached through mass deportations and/or killings, not negotiations.

“tend to result in a one-state solution reached through mass deportations and/or killings, not negotiations”

Not only logistically impossible to deport everyone, but the mass killings required would almost certainly start a world war. I just don’t see it happening. The more extreme Israel gets, the faster we get to a crunch point where Israel has to accept its current path is a dead end.

7. flyingrodent

This is largely spot on Sunny. I’d suggest that the question of “how do we break the cycle” is largely one that interests the world outside the area, mind. Bibi is reasonably happy with “The cycle” as it is and those Hamas rockets are the only thing standing between him and achieving the very goals he went into politics for.

Everything about the Netanyahu government suggests that it knows that 95% of everything that Israel’s wacky militarist once-minority ever wanted is within reach, and that he only needs to keep the Palestinians divided, miserable and poor to get it.

Sadly, I think this round of insane destruction is only going to end with predictable results. That is, the world at large and a small faction of the Israeli public will see this battle as yet another bloody and unjust IDF police action aimed at imposing Tel Aviv’s will on the Palestinians, and will complain about it a bit. The rest of the Israeli population will stay mired in the current woe-is-us, we-can’t-even-bomb-heavily-populated-urban-areas-without-being criticised mindset and become even more determined to dick off all objections. Meanwhile, the Palestinians will stay fractious and bitter and will hoard more guns ‘n’ ammo for future battles.

As it stands, the only way to 100% guarantee an end to rocket fire from Gaza for good is to wipe out or expel the entire population – 1.7m people. The only partial alternative is basically unacceptable to Bibi & Co – good faith talks based upon mutual distrust and a willingness to accept deeply painful concesssions. I think we all know how likely that is to happen.

All of which will inevitably lead to precisely the demographic disaster that many are foretelling. It looks inevitable now – the Israelis are too deeply wedded to their belligerent, fuck-you self-pity and the Palestinians now have very little to offer Netanyahu except total capitulation, which is always going to be a non-starter.

Sadly, it looks a lot like the fork in the road has been taken, and taken intentionally with this end in mind, and no force on Earth is now going to alter the general direction of travel.

8. Churm Rincewind

I remember some years ago reading the memoirs of an Egyptian politician who’d been involved in many attempts to broker Israeli/Palestinian discussions, and his weary comment that all summit meetings required at least three days because the first two were always wasted on an acrimonious discussion of who “started it” – “You did!” followed by “No we didn’t, you did!” followed by….well, you get the picture.

It’s sad that nothing seems to have changed.

Sunny: “Not only logistically impossible to deport everyone, but the mass killings required would almost certainly start a world war.”

I’m not sure about logistically impossible. How did the Palestinian refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza and surrounding countries come about? How much more difficult would it be than moving Palestinians out of a 3km buffer zone, which previously included heavily built up urban areas?

I sincerely hope it doesn’t happen, not least because as you point out it would probably cause a far wider war, but it’s certainly not impossible, and makes that Hamas strategy you describe in your article look very dangerous indeed.

Grand plan to acquire more land? An old plan it is, but as they say “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it!”

How does Israel get HAMAS to cooperate on the Qabalah ritual friendly numbers for dates and numbers kidnapped or killed? (Were the BBC follow up coverage similarly riddled with multiples of 3’s?)

It’s symbolically similar to the Boston Bombing, it should be added, and it looks like Rik Clay may have been right about the UK getting whacked. (Here Sweden’s flag too is whacked.)

Gaza Base Baal?
1)”3 Jewish Boys Kidnapped”(9) on 6/12 (6)+(3)=(9)
Murderers reportedly given an hour head start before police responded to call. (Foot-dragging is how police were found to aid various anointed crimes, and child abductions in the US.(Johny Gosch case.)

2)3 Bodies are found 18(9) days later on 6/30 (6)+(3)=(9)

o Starts after the midnight,’witching hour’, [when demons/ etc. are active], on 7/1/2014(6).
o Name+Date(9)
o 3 DAYS BEFORE 7/4/2014(9) MM+DD(11), American date of independence.

That’s a pot full of 3s, multiples thereof and the obligatory “9/11”?

What are the odds this is random?

11. Robin Levett


“That makes it even more likely that Hamas will provoke Israel into an angry response. They see it as the only real option available to them.

Every time Israel responds it is goaded into spending money, becoming more extreme, killing more Palestinians children and becoming more isolated from international opinion.”

Read that back to yourself; do you really see that as an acceptable policy option for Hamas?

And if you, and they, do, do you understand why Israel has the greatest difficulty in accepting Hamas, with its charter obligation to destroy Israel and continual attacks on Israeli civilians, as a legitimate partner in peace negotations?

The wall should come down; illegal settlements should stop and indeed be withdrawn. Israel should broadly exist within a viable version of the 1967 borders; Golan is a major sticking point there, although not relevant to Gaza.

The blockade should be lifted (provided Hamas doesn’t use this to bring in rockets and components for the sole purpose of trying to kill Israeli civilians – the reason/excuse for the blockade).

But none of this justifies Hamas’s criminal and insane choice of policy options; seeking to kill Israeli civilians – men women and children – so as to provoke a response that they can put their own civilians – men women and children – underneath for propaganda purposes.

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