Pervez Hoodbhoy


It seems there is no crime beyond the reach of Israeli state, which killed nine peace activists trying to deliver humanitarian aid to Palestinians locked in Gaza. [Also see second article on Israel]


By attacking civilian ships bound for besieged Gaza, Israel has repeated a message: foreign nationals and peace activists will be treated just as violently as the inmates of the “world’s largest open-air prison camp”.


The Israeli bulldozer that crushed Rachel Corrie, the 23-year old American-Jewish pro-Palestinian activist, stands ever-ready to crush challenges to absolute Israeli supremacy. That the peace flotilla was attacked in international waters, and that a Hamas leader was murdered by the Mossad in Dubai, send identical messages: Israel knows no boundaries.


With such a bloody-minded adversary, surely none of the 700+ persons on the six peace boats had illusions of a pleasure cruise. Nevertheless, they probably felt reasonably secure. After all, the world was watching – on board was a Holocaust survivor, white-as-lilies members of parliament from European countries, and even a six-month baby of unknown color and descent. So, even discounting those from Muslim countries, including three from Pakistan, the constellation of those calling for an end to Gaza’s blockade was impressive. The hope of a violence-free ending was reasonable. But that did not happen.


Why did Israel choose to murder nine peace-seeking foreigners in broad daylight? Although it claims otherwise, this had little to do with “restoring Israel’s deterrence” or capping the peashooters in Gaza. Instead, one must listen to Moshe Yaalon, then chief of staff of the Israeli Defence Forces, who said in 2002 that “The Palestinians must be made to understand in the deepest recesses of their consciousness that they are a defeated people”. By massacring the Mavi Marmara’s activists Israel wants Gazans to know that even the international community cannot save them.


In refusing to condemn the Israeli atrocity, the United States lost an opportunity to rescue its tarnished international image. Else, a vital US interest in Pakistan – that of fighting Al-Qaeda and Taliban – could have been immensely strengthened. This one act may have bought more security for the US than increasing its defense budget by 100 billion dollars. It could have made the world feel better about America.


But why has the US been willing to set aside its own security, and that of its allies, to pursue the interests of another state? Is it because of shared strategic interests or compelling moral imperatives? John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, two leading American academics, whose book caused a storm, argue that neither is true. Unqualified US support for Israel, they say, is unnatural and unnecessary. Far from being a loyal ally, Israel regularly spies on its principal patron. Moreover, Israel is racist while the US is democratic. Unlike the US, where people enjoy equal legal rights irrespective of race, religion or ethnicity, Israel was explicitly founded as a Jewish state where citizenship is based on the principle of blood kinship. Indeed, even Pakistan’s America-hating ulema still send their children to the US and pray for their Green Cards.


So, why the uncritical support? The explanation, say Mearsheimer and Walt, lies in the unmatched power of the Israel lobby. AIPAC was ranked second behind the American Association of Retired People, but ahead of the AFL-CIO and the National Rifle Association. Thus, during the bombardment of Lebanon in the summer of 2006, the House of Representatives passed a resolution of total solidarity with Israel by 410 votes to eight. The Israeli tail wags the American dog.


Noam Chomsky, my guru and friend, who was turned away from entering the West Bank some weeks ago, has long argued that Israel’s time is running out. Decades ago he wrote that “Israel is deliberately turning itself into perhaps the most hated country in the world, and is also losing the allegiance of the population of the West, including younger American Jews, who are unlikely to tolerate its persistent shocking crimes for long.”


Is Chomsky right? Maybe. America’s formerly unqualified support for Israel is now qualified. Polls show that Democrat voters are unwilling to give Israel a blank check anymore. And, a glance at the Israeli press shows that while President Obama refused to condemn the massacre, his clear disapproval has made him Israel’s enemy number-one.


But one must ask a deeper question: why are the Palestinians losing so badly when others have won against larger, more powerful, enemies? Vietnam lost a million people but won; Timor finally achieved independence from Indonesia; Cuba has withstood siege for 50 years; and Venezuela under Chavez is resisting America.


The usual excuses can be trotted out: grand conspiracies, disunity, and lack of firepower. But surely it’s time to get the real reasons before us. The first is that of poor tactics: the weak cannot behave as the strong do. The leadership made disastrous decisions in Lebanon in 1982, then Lebanon again in 2006 (Hasan Nasrallah admitted his mistake), and Gaza in 2009. In arguing Palestine’s case before the world, Palestinian leaders and diplomats have performed pathetically. American Zionists readily shot holes into them but they viewed men like Edward Said and Eqbal Ahmad with great alarm because, with passion and reasoned humanism, these stalwarts could refute Israeli propaganda in a secular idiom. Alas, these friends of Palestine are gone.


Human history is a long story of injustice and cruelty. In our times, nothing stands out more vividly than Palestine. But, tragically, this struggle for justice has been turned into a religious cause. This is a principal reason for why Israel continues to win, and the Palestinians continue to lose. When the secular PLO led the Palestinians, it commanded power and respect. After the 1982 debacle in Beirut, Hamas took over. Sending suicide bombers on Israeli civilian targets decimated international support, heightened Israeli repression, and led to The Wall.


The sad loss of life notwithstanding, the flotilla episode is a huge moral victory for Palestine and a defeat for Israel. Israel was shown up to be paranoid, dominated by fundamentalist nuclear-armed crazies, and trigger happy. The moral high ground has again turned out to be the Palestinian’s principal weapon. It must not be wasted by firing off a few toy rockets from Gaza. Israelis love war and fear peace. This is why the non-violent struggle for Palestine must go on.


(The author teaches at Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad)


(Dawn June 9, 2010)

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