A New Middle East is Born: But not exactly the one Shimon Peres had in mind

Smoke rises from the scene of an Israeli attack on a Lebanese port on the morning of July 17, 2006. (IRINNews/Peter Speetjens)

Six long, bloodstained days have passed since Israel launched its barbaric attack on Lebanon without succeeding in exacting a significant military toll on the resistance itself. Six days are exactly what it took Israel to deal a crushing and humiliating military defeat to the largely inferior armies of Egypt, Syria and Jordan in June 1967, and to subsequently occupy the Palestinian Gaza Strip and West Bank, including East Jerusalem, the Syrian Golan Heights, and the Egyptian Sinai peninsula. How the “Middle East” has changed in the past 4 decades! Indeed, thanks to the Lebanese resistance, and to an extent its Palestinian counterpart, this volatile zone is undergoing radical transformation from a region where Arab regimes — and societies, more or less — have largely internalized defeat and US-Israeli hegemony as fate to one that is palpably rebuilding its confidence in the future and its hope for an era of justice and peace, without colonial and racist oppression.

This is certainly not the “New Middle East” that had been on the agenda before the current Palestinian intifada broke out. Shimon Peres, the current Israeli deputy prime minister and one of the few remaining historic Zionist leaders, often spoke during the heyday of the Oslo “peace process” between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) of his vision for a new Middle East, where Israel and its Arab “neighbors” would live in harmony, peace and common prosperity. For the uninitiated in Zionist talk, this translates into an official Arab capitulation to Israel’s hegemony over the Middle East, opening up lucrative Arab markets to its advanced economy and to its insatiable desire for becoming a regional empire. Conspicuously missing from Peres’s grand plan was a just solution of the Arab-Israeli conflict which, according to international law, would entail ending Israel’s occupation and colonization of the Palestinian, Syrian and Lebanese territories occupied in 1967; recognizing the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their lands, from which they were ethnically cleansed to establish Israel on the ruins of their society; and ending Israel’s system of racial discrimination against its own Palestinian citizens, who are denied any semblance of equality in a state that not only discriminates against them in the provision of basic services and recognition of fundamental rights, but precludes them from its very self-definition as well.

After six days of Israel’s aggression against Lebanon — ostensibly to free two of its soldiers captured by Hizbullah in a stunningly sophisticated military operation at the Lebanese-Israeli border — and its deliberate, gradual massacre of innocent Lebanese civilians as a tactic to erode Hizbullah’s public support, the Lebanese resistance has not only persevered but has also dealt Israel some unexpectedly harsh blows that have already succeeded in lastingly changing the face of the Middle East. While the West chose to ignore the plight of Arab civilians who have fallen victim to these latest Israeli war crimes, the Arab world did not miss the blunt felling of several other “victims,” illusions and myths that have hitherto been perceived by many as facts of life.

The first of those victims is Israel’s “deterrence.” Israel explicitly admitted that its deliberate use of overwhelming — or “disproportionate,” in the West’s sanitized language — force was aimed at recovering its “damaged deterrence.” Its patent means for achieving this end is through indiscriminate killing and gratuitous devastation, both intended to reinforce Israel’s image in the collective “Arab mind” as an invincible, unrivaled power in the region, and, crucially, as a “mad dog” that knows no rational bounds to the exercise of brute force to achieve its objectives, as Moshe Dayan once advocated. From this perspective, instilling despair and utter fear becomes Israel’s weapon of choice in psychological warfare, the tools of which it has mastered for decades. Accordingly, hope among the oppressed must be crushed at any price lest it leads to upheaval and open defiance to the oppressive order. What Hizbullah did in six days, coming at the heels of six years of open Palestinian defiance in the occupied Palestinian territory (OPT), is nothing less than tearing down that “iron wall” of Arab hopelessness, thereby further undermining the foundations of Israel’s deterrent capability.

Another casualty of Israel’s double-aggression on Gaza and Lebanon is the official West’s claim to moral consistency, decency, or even respect for international law. Western governments have, by and large, openly or bashfully supported Israel’s invasion of Gaza and its ruthless bombardment of Lebanon as a form of “self-defence,” overlooking the standard definition of this notion and the limits set on it in international legal conventions. European submission to, or voluntary adoption of, the US doctrine that only Israel is entitled to the right to “defend” itself in this conflict betrays Europe’s collusion in reinforcing a key pillar in the US empire’s world view: might makes right, and international law can take a hike. As an editorial in the Guardian today rightly states, “Not calling clearly for a truce at once could suggest [Europe’s] complicity with what Israel is doing and the US is tacitly backing: using overwhelming force to defeat or cripple Hizbullah, whatever the consequences for Lebanon or the region.”

Furthermore, by expressing a nauseatingly unbalanced concern over loss of Israeli lives — military and civilian — while comparatively devaluing loss of life among Arab civilians in Lebanon and Gaza to little more than a nuisance that may potentially blemish Israel’s otherwise bright image, Western officials and most of the sheepish, corporate-controlled mainstream media in the West have betrayed a level of naked racism that many had thought extinct in these beacons of democracy and enlightenment. Reflecting this phenomenon, a recent New York Times editorial, for instance, describes Israel’s atrocities in Lebanon as “far-reaching military responses” that are “legally and morally justified.”

Of course this hardly comes as a surprise to anyone closely monitoring Western political and cultural discourse about the Arab world, as expressed by officials, pundits and media editorials. Still, the unmitigated disregard for the sanctity of human life in the “global south” in general, whether in Afghanistan, Iraq, Guantanamo Bay, Rwanda, Palestine or Lebanon, in comparison with Western — including Israeli — lives, is a disturbing reminder that racism, far from being an ugly memory of the colonial West’s past, is live and kicking and abundantly present in its corridors of power, singularly affecting its decision making vs. the Middle East. At the core of this resilient bigotry is a common view — not always overtly articulated — of non-whites as merely relative humans, lacking some of the basic attributes associated with “full” humans, i.e. whites. The essentially equal worth of all human life, irrespective of ethnicity, color, gender or faith, has again become among many Western elites a matter of opinion.

The latest fatality in Israel’s war of aggression is the Arab-Israeli “peace process.” The Arab League’s Secretary General, Mr. Amr Moussa, has officially announced its death in a press conference held right after the emergency meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Cairo on Saturday. Again, this is not news to any observer of this process of deception, which was carefully designed to legitimize Israel’s control over parts of the occupied Palestinian territory and its denial of some of the inalienable rights of the people of Palestine, as well as to dictate Israel’s terms for “peace,” namely unqualified Arab submission to its injustice.

Given all the real and virtual victims of Israel’s ongoing trashing of international law and mockery of the so-called international political system, purportedly headed by the UN, Arab civil society ought to struggle to further spread the reach and depth of the growing, progressive movement advocating a boycott of Israel, similar to that applied to apartheid South Africa. Ultimately, only such a morally sound, non-violent form of resistance can produce sustainable and practical pressures that can hold Israel to account and therefore give just peace a chance.

Israel embarked on its latest bloody adventure hoping to change the rules of the game. People of conscience everywhere can indeed hand it brand new “rules of the game”: turning it into a pariah state until it fully complies with its obligations under international law and starts treating its victims as equal humans who deserve full human and political rights, most crucial of which is their unassailable right to live in freedom and dignity.

Omar Barghouti is an independent Palestinian analyst.

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