THE POLITICAL PAGE
January / February 2009
The War on Gaza
Its Periphery and Consequences (part 1)
1. The course of action
The 10.000th missile since Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in August 2005, hit Israel at Christmas. Finally, Israel was being hit by 84 missiles per day. As a result, the secretary of defence, Ehud Barak, who always discouraged military operations, gave in in the cabinet. The decision for the Operation “Cast Lead" was taken. It meant a military attack against Hamas. Although, an optimistic solution for the conflict in the Middle East by the end of Bush's term in office, just one year after the Peace Conference in Annapolis , lead by president Bush, a new armed conflict had started.
On 27th December 2008, Israel started full and very precize air strikes against the Hamas. The trio Ehud Olmert / Ehud Barak / Zipi Livni announced to the media that this was an “intransigent" operation. It could last some "months" and would be fought to a "bitter end". At the same time, thousands of reserves were mobilized and stationed on the Gaza border together with armoured brigades. Was this an aggressive gesture or the preparation of ground operations?
On 5th January 2009, the ground operation against Gaza City was started from the North. Some time later, also from the South along the Egyptian border near Rafah to destroy smuggling tunnels. Even the coast was guarded by the Israeli navy.
On 6th January, the Israeli Army granted a ceasefire for three hours for give a respite to the population and to care for the victims. And they did the same thing some day later.
The scale of destruction was immense. Also the suffering of the 1.5 million citizens of Gaza. No food, no water, no electricity. The hospitals were overcrowded. There was a shortage of medicine and dressings. And in addition, the population lived with the fear of further attacks.
The Hamas leadership disappeared into underground bunkers. Their militia used woman and children as “human shields” and often placed their arsenals in or near schools, mosques and hospitals. The number of civilian casualties increased by hundreds. Israel tried to reduce casualties among civilians by making warning phone calls. The pitiable pictures of all these are now circulating the world. It is a cold-blooded and calculated “war of pictures“.Hamas has taken the population hostage, a population already in the control of those who control the Gaza Strip. On the other side, it has to be said that the Israeli Army overreacted, and that they used white phosphorous bombs. Thus the Palestinian population was crushed between the Hamas, who forced them into a war through their missiles, and Israeli military power, which replied to each attack uncompromisingly.
A hectic EU diplomatic round was started, there was condemnation from the Arab League and President Sarkozy hit the road alone. The UN Security Council drew up a resolution on 8 th January and requested both parties to stop the violence immediately. Both ignored the request. The German Foreign Secretary and Chancellor travelled to the Middle East. Even the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon appeared on the scene. The international pressure against Israel increased day by day.
Thus, on 17th/18th January, Israel announced an unilateral ceasefire. After shooting some more missiles, Hamas followed their example on 18th January.
The unilateral ceasefire with no contractual stipulations has the advantage of not binding Israel but allowing it to restart hostilities. The withdrawal of the army began immediately and was finished on 22nd January.
Over and over again, the question of “proportional response” was raised in demonstrations, talk shows and newspapers. On the one side, 32 Israeli were killed by Hamas missiles over 3.5 years; on the other side, 1,300 Palestinians during three weeks of war.
Joschka Fischer answered in an interview with the DIE ZEIT (no. 3, 2009, page 5): “But what does that mean? Are 32 dead people justifiable but 500 not? Then we would have a modern form of an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. No – the number of victims are terrible but they also show the catastrophic miscalculation of Hamas. Because they also express the military balance of power.”
Ulrich W. Sahm ( www.haGalil.com ) writes: “Only Israel is being accused of excessive violence but never the organisations, which are attacking Israeli cities with missiles and bombing buses and restaurants. In this sense, would the Israeli violence would be “proportional” if jet fighters were bombing buses and restaurants instead of the training centres of the Hamas and if they were randomly shoot missiles into Gaza?"
Israel is he only democracy in the Middle East, by western, constitutional standards. Therefore it is remarkable how Israel always equated the war question to the murdering of people. Israel has employed Asa Kasher, a professor of philosophy, as an ethics adviser to its armed forces. The permanent threat it faces forces this country to rethink the war and its ethical reasons like no other country before. Moreover the murder of adversaries requires a constitutional review according to Asa Kasher in his interview with DIE ZEIT on 15th January 2009. [http: //www.zeit.de/2009/04/Interview-Kasher]: […]
Kasher: Murdering is not the moral core, the core is self-defence. An equal war starts with the self-defence of the nations own citizens. Sometimes self-defence includes murdering, sometimes it is enough to stop the adversary or to fight differently against him. Therefore the question is: What is or is not allowed in self-defence?
ZEIT: Is the operation justified in Gaza?
Kasher: It is justified because it is covered by the criterion of ‘last resort'. The prerequisite of a war is the assruance that all other alternatives have been exhausted. Only if all other political and diplomatic means fail, are military means justified.
ZEIT: […] the many civilian victims are undisputable. How do you justify that?
Kasher: Let me say it clearly: Every single case in which one human being kills another human being hurts me. I am pro eternal peace, to say it as Kant said, and not for eternal war, as propagated by Hamas. […] But in the case of collateral damage, it has to be kept as low as possible. And we have methods, highly sophisticated methods, to minimise collateral damage.
ZEIT: How do you do that?
Kasher: Think about the operation of precision killing of terrorists, for example. A precision killing is a major state operation. Therefore, it requires first of all an extensive chain of approvals in order to put the name of a person on the list of possible targets. If we have the permission for the name, and the time has come, and if we identify who the person is and we can kill the person, we need even more permissions. Even before the operation starts, there are people who make long and complicated calculations in order to find out the right moment, the right equipment, the right kind of munition in order to increase the probability under that circumstances, to kill that person and in order to minimize the probability of killing another person.
Kasher: […] The criterion is: There has to be a necessity. And if you declare a certain person to be the target, then you have to make every effort to avoid collateral damage. For example, if you have the time, you call the neighbours of the target person and ask them to leave.
ZEIT: You call that person?
Kasher: Yes, that happens always. Sometimes we even risk an escape of the target person and hope we will get it next time. […] And, once again, collateral damage is really a consequence of Hamas' actions.
Here in the West we can talk easily about non-violence and conscientious objectors and ask tricky questions about hypothetic cases of conflicts. If our borders were being bombed by dozens of missiles by an obstinate neighbouring country, we would also rethink our defensive counter-violence for the protection of our citizens. In his time, Bonhoeffer had to think ethically about tyrannical murder, and decided to join the armed resistance. He used similar arguments to Asa Kasher about the need to protect others.
Conclusion: “Proportional response” is being thoroughly thought-out on the highest ethical grounds and at the national constitutional level.
3. Target of the War
Israel made thorough investigations into the reasons for their lack of success in Lebanon campaign. From that time on all, necessary corrective actions were taken.
Ehud Barak, a highly decorated soldier, became Secretary of Defence in the Cabinet. Gabi Aschkenasi, a man of highest competence, was favoured as General Chief of Staff and Head of the army. A book filled with possible targets was gathered with meticulous accuracy in case of a military action. Unlike the Lebanon war, Israel was now well prepared this time.
This was because of the survival logic of the state of Israel, with the target to restore Israel's superiority through a further war.
The obvious target was of course, the restoring of the security of the southern citizens, i.e. to end the rocket fire. This was very necessary because, as well as the short range Kassam rockets, Hamas started to use longer range rockets, which could reach Ashdod, Ashkelon and Beersheba.
It was known that these weapons had been smuggled into Gaza through tunnels under the Egyptian border. It was also clear that there were large weapon arsenals in Gaza. Thus the destruction of the tunnels and the weapon arsenals became targets of the war.
Israel was also interested in destroying the military arm of Hamas. At the same time, Hamas was to be destroyed only so far as to still allow them to control Gaza. If this was not the case, it would leave a power vacuum, which would have immediately opened the doors for even more radical groups.
It is not true that Hamas is reigning supremely in Gaza.
On the one hand, there are still Fattah-fans in Gaza despite the bloody fratricidal war. This has been proved by the arrests, torturings and executions of Fattah-fans during and after the war. They were blamed for traitorous actions and espionage for the enemy – which may have been true. Otherwise, how could Israel receive such precise information allowing them to kill Hamas leaders on the way in their cars? The information came from the population.
Beside this, a number of young militia members who thought that the truce with Israel last summer was something wrong, turned away from the Hamas and joined even more radical groups, which can no longer be controlled by the Hamas. Because of this the “tough guys“ were given their head and finally they broke the armistice on their own.
Among the population, and especially among those who do not support the Hamas, it is very noticeable that they face even worse times under the Hamas than the Palestinians in the West Bank under Fattah. Fattah did a deal with Israel. Israel has accepted Abbas, the President, and is making economic concessions, is freeing thousands of Fattah supporters from prison and is even making concessions regarding the course of the border. This is well known in Gaza.
Therefore Hamas desperately needs to maintain its influence.
Hamas knew it was provocing Israel and was expecting a military response. It hoped that the people would react as naturally as any other people and unite against an external attacked and thus overcome internal.
On the other side, the regime hoped that through the pictures of innocent suffering civilians, especially of mothers and children, the whole world would show its solidarity with the “poor Palestinians” who are being used without scruple as human shields. With these pictures they had always stirred up worldwide hatred against Israel.
Their demands are:
The last point on the list of Hamas targets is the complete destruction of the State of Israel.
4. Is Israel violating international law?
Ulrich Sahm from Jerusalem on 29th December 2008 writes:
“The Geneva Conventions forbids the deliberate killing of civilians. Thus the missiles Hamas shoots over Israeli cities are war crimes in any case. Human rights organisations mention this very seldom, by the by. The vast majority of the Palestinian people killed in the Gaza Strip are Hamas warriors. For the time being, Israel seems to be avoiding “collateral damage". According to the Geneva Convention, schools and hospitals are transformed into military targets if they are used for military purposes. During the next few days, the number of civilian victims will increase drastically. Accordingly, Hamas private households, which are hiding places for Hamas missiles and other weapons, will be bombed. The owners of these houses were warned by phone calls made by the Israeli secret service. According to international law they lose their status as “innocent civilians“ as they support the military war of Hamas.
Hamas' inhuman procedure of using the population as human shields therefore revokes the civilians' presumption of “innocence”.
Which targets were hit?
Thanks to their “picture war”, Hamas achieved a ceasefire from Israel, which means that hostilities were stopped and the ground troops withdrawn.
The opening of the borders keeps Israel dependent from the end of the missile shower.
The abolition of international sanctions depends on Hamas' willingness to accept Israel and to respect the international treaties and to stop the violence against Israel. Since Hamas is not ready to do so, it will never be accepted by the international community of nations.
But how should Israel communicate with Hamas under these circumstances and fulfil the vehement demands of world opinion? In this context once again very clear in Ulrich W. Sahm's words: who points to the consequences of such a step:
„“The autonomous authority in Ramallah is a self-administration by the grace of Israel. The PLO (Palestine Liberation Organisation) is the only official Palestinian negotiating party. The head of the PLO is also the president of the autonomous authority, Mahmoud Abbas. At present, a state is defined by its membership of the UN. Hamas is not ruling in a recognised state nor is it considered to be a "government" in its territory. Hamas is not even a member of the PLO and it took over the power in Gaza by an "illegal" putsch. No country acknowledges Hamas as ruler over Gaza. Discussions with Hamas would put in jeopardy the legitimacy of the PLO as the exclusive representative of all Palestinians. Also, the Oslo Treaty, which are not accepted by the Hamas, would have been invalidated. The Oslo Treaties however, form the legal basis for the existence of the autonomous authority and the Palestinian parliament. Beside the fact that Hamas refuses to talk with the "illegitimate Zionist thing", Israel cannot negotiate with an organisation targeting its national destruction. Added to which, Hamas is considered a terrorist organisation by the EU, the UNO and the USA as long as it doesn't renounce violence, acknowledge Israel as a state and accept existing treaties. Israel's discussions with Hamas would not solve the problems but give birth to new problems and certainly wouldn't bring peace.
The official discussion channel between Israel and Hamas is presently via Egyptian mediators. Nevertheless, it seems certain that “behind the scene, Israel already holds conversations with the Hamas”, just as happened before the withdrawal from Gaza, said Avi Primor, the former Israeli Ambassador in Berlin. Only officially direct talks are not allowed.
The halo of the Israeli Army has been restored impressively as being highly specialised and powerful.
Even the missile shower stopped. Only a few mortal shells were still flying which triggered an immediate response by the air force through the bombing of the launching area. Unfortunately the ceasefire is very very shaky.
The destruction of many tunnels was successful. But unfortunately not of all tunnels were touched. There are hundreds left. Each one belongs to someone and the families depend on the commerce with smuggled goods. Immediately after the ceasefire the owners started to repair their tunnels, and to build new tunnels. It is practically impossible to control the tunnels.
The end of arms smuggling is a core issue of the Israeli demand. The arms smuggling is being financed by Iran tolerated by Egypt and controlled by Bedouins. Who will control the smuggling at the Egyptian border, which is only 14 km long, in future? Especially the smuggling of weapons? Israel is ready to accept an international troop. Hamas is not.
Israel's most uncertain war target was the destruction of the military structures of Hamas. Achemd al-Dschabaari, the military commander of Hamas, has 15,000 armed Kassam warriors. He had to go underground in order to escape Israeli precision hits but he still seemed to be pulling the strings. The control structure seems to be weakened but not destroyed.
1. Who's the Hamas?
Hamas is actually an abbreviation of “Hakaret al-muqawama al-ismaija“, which means “Islamic resistance movement”. Their coat of arms shows two crossed swards, the Dome of the Rock and a recent map of Israel including the West Bank and Gaza. Between these borders, Hamas wants to establish an Islamic theocratic state and therefore constantly refuses to acknowledge Israel as a state.
It has not always been like that.
For as long as Gaza belonged to Egypt from 1948 – 1967, the radical-Islamic Muslim brotherhood was forbidden on both sides. Through the six day war in 1967, Gaza was attached to Israel. Israel gave these religious fanatics under the leadership of their founder and leader Ahmed Jassin their head. While the secular Fattah warriors demonstrated and made assassination attempts, Jassin and his religious troops looked after their youngsters and went about their prayers. Within 20 years, the number of mosques increased to more then 1,300. The development of a social work, in which Hamas looked after the refugees in the camps, gave Hamas the highest esteem in the population. Israel used Hamas to control Gaza. In time the “Mudshamaa“ (community) also formed gangs of thugs, which since about 1980 fought, in the name of Allah, against the communists, then against the alcohol trade , against bars and drug dealing.
In 1987 the first Intifada was launched. And only from then on, after the formulation of the Hamas Charter in 1988, hasIsrael's destruction been on Hamas' manifesto. Israel didn't notice that Jassin did nothing since 1968 that was not on the 5-point programme of the Muslim brotherhood:
Everything is being subordinated to the aim of the expulsion of all Jews from all Israel and the establishment of an Islamic theocratic Palestinian state. Article 8 of the Charter says: “Allah is our aim, Mohammed our role model, the Koran our constitution, the Jihad our way and Death for god's sake our supreme desire.”
It is very clear that out of such a group of self-committed people the offspring of suicide bombers cannot be stopped and that every successful attack is being celebrated as heroic deed... It also becomes clear that it is very hard, yes, even impossible for such a deep religious and politically dedicated group to capitulate under the demand of the community of states and to acknowledge Israel on a Palestine territory which belongs to Allah. This would be like a mental collapse.
In 2004, Achmed Jassin was killed by an Israeli air strike. Since then it is not clear who's leading Hamas. There is a council of 60 elected members. Khaled Maschal who lives in exile is considered to be the head of the politburo. His instrument of power is the money he receives from Iran and his diplomatic contacts with the outside world. However in Gaza there are tensions between the commander of the militia, the hardliner Achmer al-Jabaari, and the elected head of government, Ismail Hanija, who would also be willing to find an accommodation with Israel. Even Hamas insiders admit that they don't know who has the last word.
In parallel with the politicization of Hamas, there was a steady decline in the moral standards of the controlling Fattah party under Yassir Arafat. They only cared for their own people and the officials, including Arafat, stored huge amounts of money on private accounts abroad. They could do this because the donor countries, including the EU, were of incredible naivety. A thoroughly corrupt regime ruled, and all Palestine of course knew about this.
Thus in autumn 2005, ,Hamas decided to line up for re-election on 25 th January 2006 as a political party against the Fattah. Hamas won the election with an absolute majority of 74 out of 132 seats. Fattah only had 45 seats.
This was a shock for Israel and for the whole international community because, for the UN as well as for the EU, Hamas was and will remain a terrorist organisation. Communication with terrorists is and should be forbidden otherwise their political status would be enhanced and they would be acknowledged as interlocutors.
And this is the core of the problem. Who or what is ”Hamas”? Today we have to say:
Hamas is an Islamic, deeply religious and Allah-dedicated movement with people who are ready to make death sacrifices. It has developed three eeffective manifestations.
Through out the years since 2006, and also after the devastating Gaza war, the world raises the question: How can we help the suffering population without politically enhancing Hamas? The most successful way is through the UN distribution centres and other such independent welfare organizations like the NGO's.
The biggest problem of the Palestinians at present, however, is the civil war between Hamas and Fattah. Although Hamas has the majority in parliament, only Fattah with President Abbas, that is the PLO with Fattah as member, is acknowledged by Israel and the international community. Israel had already accepted the PLO as an official representative of the Palestinians in the 1990's.
The tensions between the two groups increased in such a way that bloody fights between the parties occurred in the Gaza Strip. Hamas won and controls Gaza since then, Fattah controls the West Bank. Before reaching a peace solution with Israel, the Palestinians have first to overcome their internal divisions. This is only possible if the pragmatists in the Hamas around Hanija assert themselves. They need to achieve a settlement with Fattah which acknowledges Israel's right of existence and is aiming at a two-states solution.
2. Election in Israel
Due to accusation of corruption against the PM Olmert, a national election will take place on 10 th February 2009 for the parliament (Knesset) with its 120 seats. During the last election campaign on 28th March 2006, the Kadima party (meaning “Forward”) with 29 seats was ahead of the Labour party with its 19 seats. Likud, the right wing party shrank from 38 seats to 12 seats in 2002.
After Ariel Sharon's, the founder of Kadima, lapsed into a coma in January 2006, Ehud Olmert took over the leadership of the party, and of the government on 4 th May. He formed a coalition involving Kadima (29 seats), the Labour party (19), the Pensionary party (7) and the religious Shas party (12).
On 13th July 2006, the Olmert government started a war against the Hezbollah in Lebanon after the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers on 12th July. For the first time since the inauguration of the state, Israel wasn't victorious in the war. The investigation that followed revealed serious deficiencies in the government and the army and damaged the reputation of the Olmert government.
Since then the missile shower of the Hezbollah over Israel has stopped but Hamas started to bomb the whole South of Israel from the Gaza Strip with thousands of Kassam rockets.
This motivated Benjamin Netanyahu, the chairman of the Likud-Party, a known hardliner, to accuse the Olmert government of being incompetent and of not being able to protect its citizens effectively. 80% of the Israeli citizens finally approved a military operation against Hamas and the popularity of the Likud party became very obvious. Opinion polls suddenly showed that at present the Likud party would have 31 seats, Kadima only 24 and the Labour party only 14 seats.
Of course this internal situation was also a factor in the decision to start a war in Gaza. Thus Ehud Barak, the head of the Labour party and Minister of Defence was able to upstage Tzipi Livni, the head of the Kadima as foreign secretary, and Benjamin Netanyahu.
This was also important when choosing the right moment: it was during the last days of President Bush's - term who was clearly on Israel's side. At that time, President Obama's intentions weren't known. And punctually, three days before his inauguration, Israel declared the war as being unilaterally finished. Even though the destruction of the military arm of Hamas remained uncertain.
We need to wait and see the position of the new president of the USA. In any case, already in the first week of his term, he has appointed the experienced diplomat Mitchell as special representative for the Middle East who has already started his attempts to mediate.
Fischer Weltalmanach 2007 and 2008, DIE ZEIT from 31th December 2008; 8th January 2009, 15th January 2009, Rheinischer Merkur no. 1/09, no. 2/09, Stuttgarter Zeitung from 7th January 2009, F.A.Z. from 8th January 2009, 9th January 2009, 15th January 2009, Information from talk shows; flyer and the internet
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