Stop punishing Palestinians for resisting oppression

Boy sits on rubble in front of makeshift tent amid destroyed buildings

How many times will Israel be allowed to wreak widespread destruction in Gaza?

Ramez Haboub APA images

Israel’s most powerful allies will never succeed in their aim of Palestinian surrender.

Yet they continue to empower Israel and prolong Palestinian pain in their grotesque treatment of an anti-colonial struggle for liberation as a conflict between two equal parties to be managed seemingly in perpetuity.

One of the cruelest aspects of this approach is the maintenance of the air, land and sea blockade on Gaza that has been imposed by Israel with the help of Egypt since 2007.

The siege has kept Gaza teetering on the brink of collapse and made life miserable and precarious for its population of more than two million Palestinians.

The International Committee of the Red Cross affirmed more than a decade ago that the siege on Gaza constitutes a war crime of collective punishment.

Yet there is no serious international effort to bring it to an end. World powers appear content for the siege to become as permanent as Israel’s military occupation as a whole.

The so-called Quartet and the states and bodies it represents – the United Nations, United States, European Union and Russia – made no demand on Israel to lift the siege after an unconditional ceasefire ended 11 days of bombing and terrorization of the coastal enclave last month.

Neither did the UN Security Council.

Instead, these powers fell back on well-worn calls for a bilateral two-state solution, calls that they have been repeating ad nauseum since the mid-1990s following the signing of the Oslo accords by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization.

In something of a novel twist, Russia welcomed with the ceasefire Washington’s renewed commitment to a two-state solution following the Trump administration’s ridiculed “Prosperity for Peace” plan.

That plan – informally known as the Deal of the Century – did not feign acknowledgment of Palestinian rights and national aspirations.

Critics said it envisioned a permanent state of military occupation, apartheid and Palestinian suffering.

Which is exactly the de facto situation today, made possible by the peace process charade managed by the Quartet.

Those most committed to this pretense stick close to the script: “both sides” bear equal responsibility for maintaining a ceasefire and relative calm, ignoring the essential relationship of colonization between Israel and the Palestinian people whose land it covets.

Sidelining Hamas

Though Israel has a new government, there is absolutely no reason to expect its longstanding policies towards Palestinians, and Gaza in particular, to change.

The managers of the peace process charade defaulted to envisioning a return to the pre-escalation status quo in Gaza before and after the ceasefire.

Tor Wennesland, the UN secretary-general’s Middle East envoy, omitted any mention of the siege during his briefing to the Security Council in late May.

He did say that “Palestinian national unity and the return of a legitimate Palestinian Government to Gaza is [sic] needed to move forward sustainably.”

This means the continued sidelining of Hamas, which governs Gaza’s internal affairs and leads the armed resistance there, in favor of the Palestinian Authority, which serves as an enforcement arm of the Israeli occupation by stamping out Palestinian resistance against it.

Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, said that “if we do this right, reconstruction and then relief for the people of Gaza — far from empowering Hamas — has the potential to undermine it.”

Israel also sees opportunities to advance its interests by imposing political conditions on humanitarian aid.

Its foreign ministry has suggested that it would use access to aid as leverage against the International Criminal Court’s investigation of war crimes in the West Bank and Gaza.

The ministry said working groups would be established to implement “civilian projects in Judea and Samaria” – the term Israel uses for the West Bank – “while simultaneously setting out demands [on] the Palestinians, including ceasing petitions to international institutions and stopping incitement.”

Israel’s targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure during its rampage in Gaza in 2014 is a primary focus of the ICC probe. Successive international commissions of inquiry have recommended targeted sanctions and other forms of pressure to avoid another episode of Israeli violence in the territory.

But those calls have gone unheeded and the prevailing situation of impunity has allowed Israel to attack Gaza yet again.

Yahya Sinwar raises arms in air and makes V for victory hand gesture while standing on stage

Yahya Sinwar, the leader of Hamas in Gaza, greets supporters during a rally in Gaza City on 24 May.

Ashraf Amra APA images

Israel is obliged by international law to provide for the humanitarian needs of the civilians living under its military occupation, including in Gaza.

But instead of seeking the respect and enforcement of those obligations, third states foot the bill for the reconstruction after each destructive confrontation in the territory.

Not only has Israel been exempted from providing reparations to Gaza, it controls what can be brought into the territory and when.

It limits or bans so-called dual-use items that might be used for military purposes and delays security clearance approvals on materials, taking years for projects to be completed.

Projects begun after the last war were not yet completed before Israel wrought a fresh round of destruction last month, as The Christian Science Monitor reports.

And where Israel does allow essential supplies into Gaza, its own companies reap profits by selling construction materials and others goods and services to international agencies.

Rebuilding will be painfully protracted and mired in restrictions. By contrast, Washington is rushing to replace the missiles that Israel used to destroy Palestinian lives and homes in Gaza.

The US State Department approved a $735 million sale of precision-guided munitions despite congressional opposition and calls for an arms embargo by human rights groups including Amnesty International.

Meanwhile, the UN is expected to continue to enforce the siege via the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism.

Under that mechanism, the UN gathers private information about Palestinian households to be passed onto Israel, which has a veto over which families get aid to rebuild their homes. This makes the UN an active participant in Israel’s crimes.

Conditioning rights on surrender

The aim of Israel’s siege on Gaza is the surrender of armed resistance to occupation and colonization – a right enshrined in international law.

By prioritizing the return of a “legitimate Palestinian government” to Gaza, the UN is conditioning the basic right to a dignified life on capitulation to colonial rule in Palestine.

Upholding the siege on Gaza is part of a broader strategy to punish civilian populations when their leaders don’t bend to imperial will.

Sweeping sanctions have been imposed on Iran and Syria, impeding post-war rebuilding and the provision of humanitarian relief in the latter.

Parallel to the impact of Israel’s siege on Gaza, the Congressional Research Service acknowledges that economic sanctions have not “altered Iran’s pursuit of core strategic objectives including its support for regional armed factions and its development of missiles.”

But they have made it difficult for families to make ends meet while undermining Iran’s ability to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Venezuela has been targeted as well, with a UN human rights expert determining that the US, UK and EU-backed sanctions “constitute violations of international law.”

The Palestinian experience has demonstrated that surrender will not result in any gain. The Oslo accords only brought about more land theft and tightened Israeli control.

And this is why Palestinian groups in Gaza resist, with broad public support, despite the asymmetry of power between them and Israel.

Israeli military doctrine makes no distinction between combatants and civilians and its forces deliberately target civilian infrastructure in a cruel and fruitless attempt to generate public opposition to the resistance.

High cost

The cost of maintaining a Jewish settler-colonial state in Palestine has always been high, paid for with countless Palestinian and Lebanese lives.

Gaza has shouldered the burden of this unbearable cost in recent years. But the equation of power has shifted.

The resistance in Gaza, with the support of Iran and Hizballah in Lebanon, has increased its capacity with each confrontation with Israel.

The latest episode resulted in an effective defeat for the latter.

After the ceasefire was declared, Hamas’ armed wing said it “humiliated the enemy.”

A commentator in the Tel Aviv daily Haaretz called it “Israel’s most failed and pointless Gaza operation ever.”

The chief of the Israeli military acknowledged that little if any deterrence against the resistance was achieved.

After launching thousands of rockets, Hamas said that it still had enough in its stockpiles to keep firing towards Jerusalem and Tel Aviv for several more months.

Rocket fire from Gaza shut down traffic at Israel’s main international airport near Tel Aviv, and then its backup airport near Eilat after projectiles reached that area.

Though still vast, the gap of power between Israel and the armed resistance is narrowing.

Israel’s military avoided the boundary with Gaza this May after it proved deadly for its forces in 2014.

Israel claims that Hamas is “developing an electronic jamming system to be used against the Iron Dome defense system,” as Gilad Erdan, the Israeli ambassador to the US, told media.

Erdan attempted to justify Israel’s targeting of the tower housing the agency by asserting that it was being used to develop this technology. AP said it has seen no evidence proving this claim.

Cryptocurrency transactions beyond the reach of the US Treasury department allow Hamas to fundraise while circumventing international sanctions.

Perhaps even more worrying for Israel than the increased strength of the armed resistance in Gaza is Palestinian unity throughout their occupied homeland.

Israel was quickly overwhelmed last month by various forms of resistance throughout historic Palestine: rocket and anti-tank fire from Gaza, confrontational protests and firefights in the West Bank, rebellions in Palestinian communities inside the Green Line where police-backed settler mobs chanted “Death to the Arabs.”

Israel may well find itself even more quickly overwhelmed in any future military confrontation.

Hasan Nasrallah, the leader of Hizballah, which forced Israel to withdraw its occupation from Lebanon in 2000 and defeated it militarily in 2006, warned in late May that the next Israeli attack on holy sites in Jerusalem could mean a regional war.

Yahya Sinwar, the leader of Hamas in Gaza, said earlier this month that resistance factions only used “half of their force” in the May confrontation and the next one would “change the face of the Middle East.”

The Israeli military knows this isn’t mere bluster.

An Israeli military ombudsman said this month that “hundreds of sorties and hundreds of planes dropped thousands of precision munitions costing billions of shekels” but were unable to halt the firing of rockets and mortars from Gaza.

“Hamas and Islamic Jihad continued launching … as if nothing happened, and they apparently could have continued to do so for a long time,” he added.

The ombudsman projected that in a future multi-front war, “thousands of missiles and rockets will be fired at Israel … relentlessly in all directions. … Every day, thousands of missiles and rockets will be fired at the population centers … missiles whose destructive power is 10 times that of Hamas’ rockets.”

Man wearing kuffiyeh around his neck holds up T-shirt reading F*CK the Oslo agreement

A protester repudiates the Oslo accords during a demonstration in front of the Norwegian parliament on 19 May.

Ryan Rodrick Beiler ActiveStills

A regional war will bring untold bloodshed, destruction and suffering. Those who have fostered a culture of impunity and armed Israel unconditionally will shoulder much of the blame for it.

All forms of resistance against colonization in Palestine have been branded illegitimate by Israel’s powerful friends, whether it be seeking remedy at the International Criminal Court; through the global boycott, divestment and sanctions movement; or armed struggle.

The UN secretary-general has not publicly supported the ICC investigation.

Instead, he has welcomed normalization agreements between Israel and nearby authoritarian states, which former US President Donald Trump’s secretary of state has confirmed were glorified arms deals.

Israel has been lavished with weapons and funding while international expressions of solidarity with Palestinians are repressed and criminalized.

Sinwar recently pointed out that when Palestinians held massive unarmed protests and were gunned down by Israeli military snipers, the world looked on and did nothing.

Armed struggle is necessary when the behavior of an oppressor – and its international allies – makes it so, to paraphrase the South African revolutionary Nelson Mandela.

Fourteen years of Quartet-backed siege and multiple military offensives have not and will not force Palestinians to capitulate and surrender the cause of national liberation.

Yet Israel’s powerful allies seem willing to risk a regional war to maintain the peace process charade in service of a Jewish settler-colonial state in Palestine.

And for everyone else outside of Palestine who wants to help defray the cost of liberation: Boycott, divestment and targeted sanctions are the floor, not the ceiling, of solidarity.

Maureen Clare Murphy is senior editor of The Electronic Intifada.