Palestinians in Jabaliya in the northern Gaza Strip huddle around a fire next to their home destroyed during Israel’s 22 days of attacks on Gaza. (Wissam Nassar/MaanImages)
Because it is generally accepted by the so-called “international community” that Hamas is a major threat to Israel, and therefore to world peace and security, France has dispatched a frigate to participate in a new blockade of the Gaza Strip. The Sunday Times reported that United States naval ships hunting pirates in the Gulf of Aden have been instructed to track down Iranian arms shipments (25 January). Many other European states offered their navies to assist. Indeed, United Nations Security Council resolution 1860 emphasized the need to prevent illicit trafficking in arms and ammunition.
Unfortunately not one European country offered to send its navy to render humanitarian assistance to the thousands of injured, hungry, cold and homeless people in Gaza rendered so as a result of Israel’s attack. Perhaps helping children dying from white phosphorus burns, or just lack of clean water, would be seen as supporting “terrorism.”
The perverse assumption behind all the offers of help to Israel seems to be that Hamas and other resistance groups in Gaza fired rockets at Israel merely because rockets were available. Therefore, the logic goes, peace would prevail if the supply of rockets were curtailed.
Another strange assumption is that Hamas was freely importing rockets from Iran or elsewhere because Gaza’s borders were open and free of any control.
This ignores the fact that since Israel “disengaged” from Gaza in the summer of 2005, the coastal territory was never allowed any free access to the outside world. Gaza has been under varied forms of siege and blockade by land, sea and air. Fishermen were not even free to fish without constant attacks by the Israeli navy.
The Rafah crossing linking Gaza to Egypt was kept closed on Israeli insistence until a regime for strict Israeli proxy surveillance, with European monitors acting on Israel’s behalf, was established for it.
If Hamas, despite the blockade and total financial and diplomatic boycott managed to import so many rockets or the materials to make them, what level of further siege would guarantee an end to arms importation now?
But the glaring moral and legal question is why the “international community” is mobilizing its navies and political efforts to protect the aggressor, preserve the occupation, and deny the victims any means to defend themselves? If they do not want Palestinians to resist, why do they not themselves confront the aggressor and force an end to the occupation, the siege and dispossession?
In the better past when war broke out in a region the immediate response was often to impose an arms embargo on all sides. But when the defenseless population in Gaza were under attack from the region’s strongest army all calls were to prevent the victims from defending themselves. Meanwhile, endless supplies of sophisticated weaponry were sent to the occupier despite its already massive dominance and indiscriminate and criminal attacks on civilians.
Without objective and daring diagnosis of the conflict’s root causes there is no chance of any effective treatment. Sadly this lesson has never been learned, although it has been written repeatedly with much innocent blood.
When Palestinians started their first unarmed uprising in 1987, 40 years after their expulsion from their homes and 20 years after the brutal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip began, they had no rockets; they had only stones to confront heavily armed occupation forces. Israel used its guns and deliberate, sadistic bone-breaking against unarmed demonstrators killing almost 1,500 and injuring tens of thousands in its failed efforts to crush that uprising. Only with the 1993 Oslo accords was it possible to put an end to the uprising.
Hamas, as a resistance movement, was born in 1988. Israel, desperate to break the political monopoly of the Palestine Liberation Organization as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, tacitly allowed Hamas to flourish.
Before any Palestinian fired a single shot at the start of the second uprising, in September 2000, Israel had already gunned down dozens of unarmed demonstrators. Palestinians learned these lessons well: Israel will meet any peaceful challenge with lethal force so one had better be prepared to fight back.
We need to recall these facts to understand the pure folly and detachment from reality of international politics today. The tendency has been to choose as the “cause” of the conflict to be addressed only what is politically expedient and easy, whether it is wrong or right, just or unjust, legal or illegal. The starting point of history is chosen not from the origins of the problem, but from whatever point suits the narrative of the strong.
It is utterly misleading and dishonest to pretend — as so many now do — that the sum total of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is a confrontation over what expired Palestinian Authority President and Israeli puppet Mahmoud Abbas himself referred to as “silly rockets.” To pretend that stopping the supply of rockets will make any difference to the course of a conflict that results from the historic dispossession — the Nakba — of an entire nation, and its replacement with a racist rogue state that has exiled, occupied and massacred the survivors for 61 years is the height of delusion.
It is convenient for the occupier and aggressor to forget all these things and talk only of rockets. And it is convenient for the cowards who dress themselves in diplomats’ suits and don’t dare utter the truth.
Should we not acknowledge — if there is any real desire to resolve this conflict — that the resistance did not fire rockets just because they had them, and Israel did not carry out its barbarous massacres in Gaza just because it wanted to stop them? Should we not acknowledge the indisputable truth that Hamas did not break the truce, but Israel did when it attacked across the border on 4 November killing six Palestinians? Hamas did not refuse to renew the truce — as Abbas and Egyptian officials confirmed. All they asked was that the halt to killing be extended to the West Bank (which Israel refused) and that the starvation siege that was quietly killing Palestinians in Gaza be lifted. Have we not been all along taught that blockade is an act of aggression and that occupation legitimizes resistance?
The gunboats that Europe is sending to police the inmates of the Gaza Ghetto are not manifestations of strength, neither are they — or the recent shocking statements of European Union Humanitarian chief Louis Michel in Gaza blaming Hamas for Israel’s crimes on 26 January — acts of responsible diplomacy in pursuit of peace and stability; they are a new prescription, if not a clear endorsement, for further bloodshed and war crimes. They are signs of a moral weakness and corruption unparalleled since Europeans stood by silently at stations and watched as their compatriots were loaded onto Nazi trains. Who could have thought that in the 21st century such things would need to be said — and to those we thought had overcome their terrible history? But silence is not, and should not be an option any more. For years we have been told we should learn from the darkest episode in Europe’s history, but never make comparisons to it lest we diminish its enormity. But the horrifying atrocities in Gaza which an Israeli official proudly predicted last March would be a “bigger holocaust” compel us to cast our reservations aside.
There is a shortcut to calm, the elimination of violence and eventually peace. It is a lesson that should have been learned many years, and countless thousands of lives ago: justice.
Hasan Abu Nimah is the former permanent representative of Jordan at the United Nations. This essay first appeared in The Jordan Times and is republished with the author’s permission.