A Qassam rocket is displayed in Sderot town hall, next to pictures of residents killed in rocket and other attacks. (Tom Spender/IRIN)
The Israeli onslaught on Gaza should be halted. And if it is the Palestinian “futility rockets” that have provoked, and continue to provoke, the Israeli “defensive” retaliation, the firing of rockets at Israel should be halted too.
In this last phase of the war, the Palestinians have suffered, as usual, enormously, with nearly 50 dead and hundreds injured, mostly civilians. Damage to property has been devastating too. On the Israeli side, however, only one woman was killed in Sderot as a result of more than 200 rocket attacks. This does indeed attest to the ineffectiveness of the homemade, primitive rockets, often ridiculed by some Palestinian factions as “fireworks” and referred to repeatedly by the Palestinian Authority president as “futility rockets”.
Obviously, the “world’s fourth strongest army” has better laser-guided missiles, better delivery systems with ultimate precision, and F-16 fighter planes to attack defenceless Palestinians in their passenger cars or homes while asleep from the safety of the skies; and that explains, partly, the disparity in both the effectiveness of the tool and the outcome. But, with that equation so clearly evident, why should the Palestinians opt for any provocation that may precipitate such disasters? Why should they continue to behave in a manner that only confirms the overwhelming conviction that all Israel does to them is legitimate response to their pestering?
This question is valid, and one can count an endless number of other equally valid questions. Yet this line of logic is flawed from the beginning to the end. There is nothing further from the truth than this perception.
The Palestinian rockets may indeed be futile when compared to the superior Israeli military capabilities, but they still cause harm and panic, as stones did before. They are also likely to become more advanced and lethal, otherwise why should the Israeli retaliation be that intense and violent. The life of even one victim of 200 rocket attacks, on the other hand, should be valuable too, although continuing violence and wholesale murder in as many war theatres in the region has got us accustomed to undermining the meaning and the value of human life.
But this also misses the point essentially: if the Palestinians should stop firing because their rockets lack precision and effectiveness, would they be justified using them if, or when, they managed to overcome the shortcomings? And is it, therefore, the flawless efficiency of Israeli weapons that justifies the continuation of their use against Palestinian civilians? Is that a new standard of legality and justice?
The emphasis on the Palestinian rockets as the only cause of violence is wrong and misleading, and it can particularly mislead when it is so often repeated by PA President Mahmoud Abbas. When Abbas was elected to office in January 2005, he managed to secure the agreement of all the Palestinian factions, including Hamas, to a total truce. Israel never recognised that Palestinian unilateral decision to halt violence. Referring to it as an arrangement amongst the Palestinians, Israel continued its own provocations in the various forms of daily arrests, assassinations, house demolition and incursions, on top of the siege and the occupation. The collapse of that truce, which Hamas continued to strictly observe after it was elected to office, was not because of the Palestinian rockets, it was actually the direct result of the continued Israeli daily aggression.
When a recent truce was arranged for Gaza, this time between both Palestinians and Israelis, Israeli attacks continued in the West Bank, as if the West Bank were a different planet, and as if the Palestinians there were a different species. The few very hesitant and faint attempts to convince Israel that it was bizarre to expect any sense from an arrangement whereby violence would be halted against one Palestinian while it would be continued against the other have all failed. Israel never wanted to commit itself to any truce. It insists on its absolute right to pursue “terrorist” enemies under all circumstances, and it decides who is terrorist and who is not.
Only less than two weeks ago, the Palestinians offered to cease all acts of violence against Israel, including of course rocket attacks, if the latter agreed to reciprocate. This was rejected instantly, too.
Current efforts towards ending the Israeli-Palestinian violence in Gaza should indeed continue and intensify. The situation in Gaza is disastrous and is fast moving towards total breakdown and chaos. Egypt, and probably others, is playing an important role towards that end. Abbas, oblivious of his position as the leader, is using his good offices trying to mediate rather than decide. The problem though remains conceptual and deeply entrenched in the approach to the entire issue, an approach which is wrong and evasive. It ignores two primary factors. One is that the violence has been caused and perpetuated by Israeli actions and attacks, not by the Palestinian rockets. The other is that the Palestinians have always been ready to halt any and all violence if the Israelis agreed to do the same, and Israel never accepted such an offer.
The lack of guts on the part of all the peace mediators, including unfortunately the PA president and his party, to confront the Israelis with such salient facts has always ended up with blame for the victim, being the weaker side. While everything else is forgotten, the only thing on which all attention is focused is the Palestinian rockets, much the same as when everyone believed, and still does, that it is the Palestinian terror, not the Israeli open obstructionism, that has been blocking any progress towards a peaceful settlement since Madrid.
One can understand that such misconceptions, indeed deceptions, are being propagated by the Israelis and their supporters, but it is hard to believe that the Palestinian president is forcefully blaming his own people for the disaster that has been befalling them. It is hard to believe that Abbas is totally ignoring the fact that his people only respond to continued Israeli aggression with, indeed, the primitive weapons he and some of his supporters mock, and that the Palestinians are not initiating provocations and attack.
Has the time not come to determine precisely and fairly where the chain of events starts, in order to be able to accordingly determine who retaliates for what? Should one not start with the occupation? Are 40 years of continued, severe, harsh, oppressive and humiliating occupation not aggression? Who gave Israel the right to occupy the Palestinians and rule their lives for that long, in full contravention of international law and the simplest principles of human rights? Who gave Israel the right to leave Gaza but lay siege to it, controlling every movement of people and goods to and from, and to seek European help to participate in controlling the siege? When the starved Palestinians dug tunnels to break their isolation, they were condemned and punished worldwide. Who gave the Israelis the right to impose total financial and political boycott as an act of punishment for all Palestinians for practising their democratic right and electing a government which Israel did not like, and the whole world went along with this additional injustice, tightening the boycott indefinitely?
Any society which would be subjected to a fraction of what the Palestinians have since the catastrophe befell them 60 years ago would react much more violently, and would still be respected, supported and justified. One need not go far to find proof. When Israel destroyed much of the poor Gaza infrastructure, in June 2006, including power supply, water and bridges, in addition to tightening the siege and terrifying the people, it was acting “in self defence”, and therefore not blamed by the hypocritical world which regularly condemns Palestinian violence. Israel at the time was retaliating for the capture of an Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, who has not been harmed. Few paid any attention to the Palestinian claim that they, by capturing the soldier, were also retaliating for the detention of close to 12,000 Palestinians in Israeli jails, of whom more than 1,500 were children and women. Israel, it seems, owns the exclusive right to retaliate.
Having said all this, the idea is still not to encourage Palestinian violence or justify it, even when the rule of international law is entirely on the Palestinians’ side if they were to choose to fight for liberating themselves and their land from the illegal occupation. My point is simply to hope that facts are seen as they are, and the world stops blaming the Palestinians for firing useless rockets without forcing Israel to halt its ongoing attack by its most advanced F-16s and sophisticated missiles which never in history were used against civilian and human targets; not to mention the occupation itself.
The Palestinians may have behaved irrationally, and they may still do, but that is the inevitable consequence of the injustice and the abnormal conditions of the occupation.
EI contributor Hasan Abu Nimah is the former permanent representative of Jordan at the United Nations. This article first appeared in The Jordan Times.