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Gaza: how Israel killed the spirit of peace

In announcing the ceasefire in Gaza, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert stated that Israel had “reached all the goals of the war, and beyond.” It’s an odd choice of words, but I guess the right words are hard to find when you have just committed one of the most shameless acts of genocide since the Second World War.

It gets worse. Apparently, Olmert and his generals were not acting against the Palestinian people. According to Olmert, they were actually saving the Palestinians from Hamas! They say love comes in different shapes and sizes, but I am yet to hear of that version of love that comes in the form of mass death. It sure is an odd way to “save” the Palestinian people by massacring over 1300 of them, including over 400 children according to the United Nations. Not to mention that, whatever you may think of them, Hamas were the choice of the people in one of the freest elections in Arab history.

But as members of the Israeli government reflect on the war’s supposed success, they should ponder one more statistic, one that I am witnessing in every conversation amongst moderate, liberal and progressive Arabs around the world. There is one more corpse lying somewhere in the rubble of Gaza today. It is the lifeless body of the spirit of peace.

Arabs of all walks of life have had it with the murderous arrogance of successive Israeli governments, and stand totally convinced now that the Israeli establishment has no intention of working for a real and lasting peace. This is a fact that can be tested in almost every Arab home. And I am not talking here of the homes in Gaza, the West Bank and Lebanon that have lost loved ones to the raging Israeli war machine. I am talking of the homes of liberal and business-minded Arabs in Amman, Cairo, and Dubai. These are the same people who dared think in the mid 1990s that Israel is seriously seeking a just understanding with its neighbours, and that perhaps, just perhaps, we were about to witness the beginning of a new era of peace in the region.

But there are limits to the forceful pull of hope. The death of Yitzhak Rabin was probably the most consequential moment in road to peace so far. I am no fan of Rabin, but many Arabs saw something in him that they have not seen in any Israeli leader before him or since. He realized a most basic truth: The best hope for Israel’s future in the region is peace with its neighbors. He realized that guns and tanks can only go so far. But his assassin’s bullets have seemingly killed that type of wisdom in all Israeli leaders.

Livni, Barak and Olmert are back to the old and failed formula: terrorize the Palestinians to death. That’s right. Occupy them for over 40 years. Close off their borders. Blockade them to starvation. Deny them their democratic choice. And when they dare to lash out of their prison with rockets, bomb them into oblivion. An eye for an eyelash.

Of course the Hamas rockets are wrong. But what is forgotten in some media quarters is that every breach of the ceasefire was actually caused by a sudden spate of assassinations committed by the Israeli government, and not by Hamas.

Sign reads: "In the name of all religions, please stop attacking, and conspiring against our families in Gaza"
Sign reads: "In the name of all religions, please stop attacking, and conspiring against our families in Gaza"

As the sense of outrage intensifies, the focus is shifting in the minds of Arabs away from the ever elusive and seemingly futile peace process, and towards the simple notion of human rights. Arabs in Palestine cannot be massacred with impunity. That is why Arab blogs and other forums are flooded with discussion of ways to bring Israel to account for the war crimes committed in Gaza. This is not the emotive type of talk that usually follows any war. This is a serious and practical discussion on what can be done to launch war crime claims against Olmert and others responsible for the murder of over 400 children.

Never mind the two state solution. We want a human rights solution. Forget the nitty gritty discussion of where the boundaries of a Palestinian state will or won’t lie, or what neighborhood of Jerusalem is Palestinian or not. What the Arabs want now is for the world to respect the simple rights of every Arab that lives either in Israel or in the occupied territories. And no one, other than a downright racist, can say that Palestinians are not entitled to fundamental rights just as the average Israeli, or any other human being.

This in turn is leading to a renewed discussion of the one state solution in the land of Palestine and Israel, where Christian and Muslim Arabs live side by side with Israelis in one democratic nation. The two state solution has been on the table for over 20 years, and it has led nowhere. Circumstances could never be more auspicious than they have been recently and yet Israel has reacted to the two – state solution with violent disdain. The current Palestinian leadership has done everything within its power to get Israel to accept the two state solution. Mahmoud Abbas is Israel’s favorite Palestinian and they could not have dreamt of a more obedient partner. The Arab League has offered Israel full and lasting peace in return for the two state solution. And how has Israel reacted to all those overtures and favorable circumstances? With Blood and tears.

Forget talk of boundaries and geography. Our people in Palestine and Israel are not to be slaughtered at will to win a few cheap votes in the Israeli election. We want justice. We will try every international law forum, every UN agency. We will stand up and won’t be cowed by murder in broad daylight.

And there lies another unintended consequence of the Israeli Government’s Christmas madness. Two days ago, the children of Gaza went back to school. There were images broadcast of several classrooms with missing children, killed by Israel, whose seats were left unoccupied. A simple note was left on their empty bench, with the name and age of the slain child.

I focused on the faces of those left behind, the children of despair in Gaza. My initial instinct was to feel sorry for them, for what they have gone through. But then I saw something else. A spirit of pride and defiance. The spirit of that unique indomitable character that shines through and guides the victims of injustice to victory.

That same spirit that guided the founding fathers of the United States, the anti-apartheid campaigners in South Africa, and many others who have come through the worst injustices to claim their rightful place in history with pride. The Israeli aggression on Gaza of 2008 / 2009 has given the Palestinians their Leningrad. And just as the mountains of bombs that the Nazis rained on that city could never dent the Russian spirit of pride and resistance, so it shall be in Palestine. From the ashes of Gaza, a new future beckons.


Nasser Ali Khasawneh

Nasser Ali Khasawneh graduated in law from Oxford University, and holds a Masters in Law (LL.M) degree from University College at the University of London. He is a lawyer and writer.

16 thoughts on “Gaza: how Israel killed the spirit of peace

  1. Perhaps it’s people like you that will never allow peace. Perhaps it is your sheer arrogance against a country that simply wants to be left alone, and people like you, who cannot allow peace in that region. While you pour filth into your articles, I wonder why you don’t use your education for something. Maybe help people. Maybe be something useful instead of spreading what I believe to be terrible opinions to a mass-and sometimes very susceptible-population. You blame Israel, who spent an excess of money and did the best it possibly could in a war zone to take out only Hamas targets. Hamas’ response? Fire at civilians. Fire into the city. Kill whoever it takes to stop the very, very, tiny country of Israel from “threatening” the middle east. You support genocide. Not supporting Israel in it’s fight to maintain itself is simply supporting it’s destruction, genocide, the entire eradication of a group of people.

    It’s a shame that you could be so misinformed, or so blinded. Yes, tons of things were done hastily and are still creating problems. Israel should always have been made, but it was rushed, it was dropped into a territory that it was not easily suited for. We can’t fix that now, but Israel is doing the best it can. How can you claim it’s being too aggressive? That guard, let down at all, simply ends in more Israeli deaths. You and I both want peace for the region, but you want it through a sacrifice of Israel, and I want it though the result of good men and woman working together.

  2. Dear Jason,

    I have a question after reading your comment: how do you propose after all that’s happened in Israel and the occupied territories (which by UN Resolution means territories occupies against the rule of the International law) to resolve the “misunderstanding”? And please also explain to me how in your vocabulary the death of thousand of civilians qualify?

    Tell me Jason, if I lyie down in front of you 400 hundred dead children; you know the one you may have at home, or those you see in the street going to work, or school of wherever you go to: how would you feel? 400 dead bodies can feel a soccer fiel… that’s a lot and this is without counting their mothers (you know that person that loves you more than everything else in the world), no? Even for the stand of a little country to live.

    You know what Jason? I grew up in Europe and read with tears in my eyes the horror of the holocost. I thought this kind of atrocities where never to happen again, ever! And do you know what? When I watch today news on Gaza, I see the same masacre: just killing of people, the color of their blood is the same and the cry of the people who cares for them is the same. So tell me Jason: where is Nasser’s arrogance?

  3. Jason aside, I feel the need to qualify/supplement your last two paragraphs Nasser. Any attempt at weaving a victory narrative out of the Gaza carnage has to be tempered by a nuanced analysis of reality. We need a sober analysis of the products of both armed resistance as well as peace negotiations looking at relative “successes” and “failures” (including underlying variables) of these two policy options, and culminating in an intelligent strategy synthesis that would rally all Palestinian factions behind. Only then can we say “from the ashes of Gaza, a new future beckons.”

  4. Re Mr Nasser Ali Kasawneh’s Gaza:How Israel Killed the Spirit of Peace. This is propaganda, not journalism. The writer should at least give a nod to the truth instead of bloviating about Israeli agression. Maybe we read different sources but wasn’t it Hamas that broke the truce six months ago and started the rocket attacks? I would love it if the Middle Eastern crisis were as simple as Hamas=good, Israel=bad, but that’s not how it is. Or maybe you just were stating the prosecution case against Israel since you’re a lawyer. I don’t know, but if that’s what you’re up to, you should be up front about it. Tell us you’re either a anti-Israeli proagandist right off the bat, or that you’re merely presenting a prosecution case. We’d understand. What I can’t understand is where you get off passing your article as fact. It’s not fact. Oh, and it’s also wrong about a dozen issues, it uses propaganganda techniques ( loaded language, one size fits all, falsehoods etc ) and it’s only your opinion. Screaming bloody murder about Gaza just doesn’t cut it. Personally, I’d like to hear the truth – or something close to it.

  5. It’s sad, isn’t it? That the world can’t set aside it’s differences. That religion, something that is supposed to be peaceful and help humanity, is often the reason for conflict. I’m not sure why you bring up the point of 400 bodies. It is a terrible tragedy, let’s look at the civilian death count from just the rockets Hamas fired into buildings. Rockets with no strategic objective, unless bodies of civilians is strategic.

  6. I think that arrogance, Jason, is the belief that you can achieve a peace by blockading and bringing a population down to its knees.

    I didn’t like the WWII comparison actually, but reading the comments here I’m surprised to see that Arabs are (apparently) not allowed to register any outrage or emotion on this tragedy. They must be crazy propagandists if they do anything like that.

  7. You know, if I’m going to be completely honest…

    ..This reminds me of how black people are treated in the USA. You can’t be too “uppity,” you can’t be an “angry black woman.” That would be too radical. Nice white people are allowed to have more emotions than that, obviously.

  8. I am frankly amazed at the level of hostility by Steve Smith and Jason. As Captain Janeway says, it seems that as Arabs we are not allowed to be outraged at the death of over 1300 people, of which over 400 were innocent children. This is according to the UN. But perhaps Steve and Jason think that the UN is biased like me!!

    But apart from that, I am surprised as to Jason and Steve’s attempts to paint my article as full of hate and venom. It is the absolute opposite. It is both of you who are playing propaganda of the worst kind. So in the interests of integrity, I would greatly appreciate your direct response to the following questions. What precisely outraged you about the following statements in my article:

    1. Palestinians deserve basic human rights. Do you or do you not agree with that statement?

    2. The long term interest of Israel lies in the pursuit of peace. Hence, my comments re Rabin. Do you or do you not agree with that? Or do you also view Rabin as an anti-Israel propagandist?

    3. My statement: “This in turn is leading to a renewed discussion of the one state solution in the land of Palestine and Israel, where Christian and Muslim Arabs live side by side with Israelis in one democratic nation.” Which part of that do you hate so much? Were is the filth in that?

    4. My clear statement: “Of course the Hamas rockets are wrong.” Where did you see the “Hamas=good” point in that Steve? Did you read teh same article? Or is it, as i suspect, that you saw a headline that was critical of Israel, and you immediately got on your high horse and started name-calling?

    The whole point of the article is that modern progressive Arabs, who have always championed peace, are dismayed by Israeli tactics which have killed over 400 children. Nothing justifies that. And frankly, if you think that anything can justify this, then you are a racist and it is futile to contiunue the discussion.

    If you Jason and Steve want to have a civilized and reasonable discussion, then I expect you to answer directly all of my above questions. If you don’t, then you are playing the worst type of propaganda game and I will not engage in it.

  9. I think it would be great if we Arabs really began to think of human rights right across the board. Darfur, Palestine, Egypt, Iraq, Syria and the Occupied Territories. Would be a wonderful start to 2009.

  10. I see two distinct levels to the Gaza issue: Israel’s strategy for the Levant and the broader global confrontation between the West and Islam. For both, Gaza is being exploited as a convenient laboratory in which to conduct experiments.

    The militarist elite that controls Israel has followed a consistent strategy for the last generation of absorbing the best parts of the West Bank. This would leave to Palestinians a Bantustan that can never constitute a truly independent country. The Israeli elite has no intention of accepting Palestinian independence, which would entail control over its land, control over its own foreign policy, and the possession of an army capable of providing security against Israeli attack. As far as Israeli strategy concerning the Levant goes, the attack on Gaza was about destroying Palestinian society.

    As for the broader Western-Muslim confrontation, Gaza is unfortunately being used to test ideas about how to win victory rather than how to reach accommodation. I don’t see much evidence yet that anyone in a position of power is learning the lesson that accommodation is the correct way forward.

  11. Nasser, Don’t worry about people like Jason and Steve. We’ve all been hearing those ignorant arguments for years. The best one is from Jason when he says Israel wants to be left alone. Its like saying I’m going to come into your house, occupy it by force, kill members of your family, claim that its mine because some Old testament says it is, and when you fight back, i will call you a terrorist. Of course Israel wants to be “left alone” after stealing other peoples land. However, history teaches us that most occupations, or land grabs do not survive unless you totally destroy the indigenous population like in the US and Australia. Unfortunately for Israel, they cannot do that to the palestinians in this age of 24 hr TV and the internet. The second argument of tiny Israel against all the arabs. In war, technology counts more than numbers and size. Israel wins simply because of its arms superiority, and the ultimate deterrant of its nuclear weapons. What’s promising, is that unlike the US politicians who have proven to be sipneless when it comes to Israel, regular americans were horrofied from the pictures from the Gaza massacre. You could see it in press commentary which was more often against israel. Hopefully that can achieve some political pressure from the Obama administration on Israel to try and consider peace.
    I agree with you that the crimes commited in gaza should not go unanswered, I just hope that this initial enthusiasm doen not simply disappear.

  12. i dont understand how you can claim the palestinians want peace and the israelis dont.

    israel has many times voted for left wing leaders who support the two state solution- when they feel there is a partner for peace. the official stance of all israeli leaders is support for two state.

    the official stance of hamas is we will not support the two state agreement. in fact a two state will lead to a 10 year truce and then an escalation of violence as has happened in gaza.

    a secular one state is also not what hamas wants- they want a religious islamic state. and that version of human rights leaves much to be desired.

    And the most important question to ask is why did hamas fire rockets from civilian areas into civilian areas? why could they not fire rockets from deserted areas? what could they want to achieve? maybe they wanted to achieve a response from israel- where israel attacks the people who fire rockets and kill civilians and children in the process.

    the children become martyrs and die for a cause. and they get to demonise israel. and then ppl write articles about how bad israel is and hamas wins. They win by using their own ppl as human shields.

    and the more people support hamas the more they support the killing of innocent civilians.

    why does hamas not get demonised for firing rockets at schools and hospitals? why are they not up for war crimes? and why do you not find their actions disgusting?

  13. Nasser,
    We are the perfect examples of a Sunday New York Times article of February 8 which says essentially that the two sides in this Palestinian-Israeli conflict can’t even hear eachother when the other speaks. My problem with your article was that I saw it as propaganda and you did not mean it that way, apparently. And before we move on, I am critical of your article, not of you. You and I are just a couple of guys who want peace and plenty in the Middle East where now there is war, atrocity and hunger.
    You want me to answer four question you pose regarding your article. To answer your questions would to allow you to control flow of ideas. I won’t do that. I will tell you, however, that I believe that everyone deserves human rights and I know that certainly in Gaza that’s not the case. Further, I too advocate the one-state solution in Palestine/Israel, but I’m not under any illusions that this will happen in the 21st century.
    Now, how about you answer a few questions yourself. I know you want to play fair. This is one way to do it. First, in your very first paragraph you accuse Olmert and by extention all Israelis, of deliberatly being the perpetrators of having committed ” the most shameless acts of genocide since the Second World War.” Are you counting Bosmia, Ruwanda and Cambodia in that equation? Second, you note that every breach of the ceasefire is “actually caused by a sudden spate of assassinations” by the Israeli government.
    Every breech? I just can’t accept that as the truth, although I must admit I don’t know the reasons behind each and every breech of the peace. Maybe no one does.
    Peace in the Middle East will only come when the two sides start hearing the otherside’s argument. I hope that you and I can agree to disagree but continue talking at a lower decibel leveland without the vitriol.

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