Wednesday, January 7, 2009



6th January, 2009

By Opiyo Oloya

The Israeli invasion of Gaza is a case of a school-yard bully going after the little guy, pummeling him bloody just because he can. He knows that the onlookers will mostly do nothing about it, if not actively cheer the violence.

But whether it is the building of the so-called security wall, Jewish settlements or naked aggression, Israeli policies are designed to keep Palestinians forever off-balance, divided, weak and in perpetual subjugation.

In his book, Palestine: Peace not Apartheid, former US president Jimmy Carter makes the case against this policy of conquer-and-rule toward Palestine. That is not to downplay militant rocket attacks on Israel which have increased in frequency against Israeli settlements, and Israel has every right to hunt down the perpetrators and eliminate them—something it has done with great accuracy.

But the current invasion does not target only the militants who fire rockets but the entire population of Gaza, women, children and innocent Palestinian men.

Viewed from this perspective, the destruction of Gaza in the past week by Israeli planes and subsequent invasion should be seen as another drive to weaken the Palestinians, soften them up a bit. Yet, in the dance of the oppressed and the oppressor, you must wonder why the timing was now, given that Hamas has fired rockets at Israel with clockwork regularity for the past several years mostly with little to no effect on the other side.

Two things to think about here as the bloodletting in Gaza unfolds. First, Israel’s action in Gaza is born from internal Israeli political wrangling pitting hawkish Likud against left-leaning Labour and centrist Kadima parties– to show who has guts.

The cracking of skulls in Gaza, in other words, will show Israeli electorate that Tzipi Livni of Kadima Party who is the prime-ministerial candidate for Kadima-Labour coalition, as a woman with the nerve to wage a war, and win it too. Livni is facing a three-way election race against Benjamin Netanyahu of Likud and Ehud Barak of Labour.

With elections scheduled for February 10, the ambitious former foreign minister is battling the insinuation that she is weak on security matters. Meanwhile, current defence minister Ehud Barak, who was prime minister in 1999-2001 is trying to show that he has the right stuff to lead again. But Barak and Netanyahu, both former prime ministers have little to prove by way of being macho.

On the other hand, Livni’s security credentials became a going concern in light of the embarrassing retreat of the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) in the hands of the Hezbollah army three summers ago in Lebanon. Then Israel suffered the worst deflating and demoralising blow to its military ego since the surprise attack by Egyptian and Syrian armies during Yom Kippur in 1973. The never-say-die nation founded by the steely Golda Meir in 1948 needed to feel good, virile and capable by beating up on somebody soon, and that somebody was in Gaza.

The second possible reason for the Gaza invasion is keeping with Israel’s standing policy to keep Palestine forever weak and on its knees. To that point, Israel took full advantage of the current leadership vacuum in Washington, knowing well that lame-duck President George Bush was too pre-occupied with leaving office in 15 days and could care less.

Obama, meanwhile, is waiting to be sworn in as the next US president. In the intervening period, Israel felt it could hammer Gaza without waking up Washington. Furthermore, by invading Gaza now, Israel has betrayed its anxiety about the politics of the incoming Obama administration. Barack Obama is a staunch supporter of Israel and will never do anything to weaken it, but he has also shown independence in thinking about America’s standing in the world. One could imagine that, philosophically, Obama may no longer support carte blanche Israeli aggression toward the Palestinians in Gaza and West Bank.

Essentially, on the Israeli-Palestinian question, Obama could reverse the last eight years of President George Bush which was very successful in destabilising Palestinian unity, effectively creating a schism between those termed ‘moderates’ and the so-called ‘hard-liners’; the hapless Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was encouraged by the West as a reformer while Hamas which was duly elected by Palestinians was summarily dismissed as a terrorist outfit.

The reality is that Israel’s military might cannot break the Palestinian spirit, the one it has pummeled time and again, razing to the ground, but which, like the fabled phoenix, rises from its ashes to keep fighting.

Instead, with the Israeli incursion into Gaza, look not at Gaza but at the West Bank where, instead of feeling smug that it had been spared the Israeli bombs, the population will likely become angry, hostile, and even defiant toward Abbas, and move toward the hardliners. In other words, Israel may have just successfully reversed what was otherwise a fairly effective policy of divide-and-rule by uniting Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank into one again, a united Palestine.

If so, look at Mr. Abbas becoming the first political casualty in the wake of the invasion. In the short run, the invasion is good for Israel’s internal political show, and perhaps for Israeli politicians jockeying for power in the February election. But in the long run, the invasion may be the catalyst many Palestinians were waiting for, a banner to rally around and unite again.

Yes, there will be many deaths and destruction in Gaza, but watch the Palestinians rise again—you can beat the body, but it is hard to kill the spirit.