Hey Feministe readers,
My name is Fauzia, I’m a recent graduate of New York University, currently living and working in Cairo. I guest-blogged here a while back (wow, actually, almost a year ago! Jeez, time flies). I’m back now, for a one-entry stint, to co-write about the situation in Gaza with my good friend Ben. If you look back at Cara’s entry, I commented a few times but ultimately became increasingly discouraged by some of the vile comments I came across. It became less about discussion and dialogue and more about saying mean and nasty things.
At the end of the fifth day of Israel’s attack on Gaza, the number of Palestinian deaths totals around 370, with about 1000 more wounded. 3 Israelis have died from rocket attacks coming from Gaza.
There are a million different sides, angles, and arguments that can be made here. I think history plays a key role in this conflict, but I’m not going to rehash my version of the events of the last sixty years. What I am going to do is condemn the amount of force Israel has used on the Palestinian people in the last four days. I’m going to outright say that what I think is being done in the form of collective punishment is outrageous and horrific.
I am, however, strong believer in Israel’s right to defend itself, just like any other state. While Israel has a moral right to respond to missile attacks coming from Gaza, what is obviously apparent and needs to be addressed is the difference in levels of power. When one group is firing F16s and Apaches while another is firing home made missiles…I think we can all agree that this “war” is a little lopsided. So Israel has a moral right to respond to missile attacks originating in Gaza. So what? Setting morality aside (yup), and ignoring useless discussion on the notion that Hamas and Fatah should recognize Israel’s right to exist, the geopolitical truth stands to prove that at no point in history has Israeli military action against the Palestinians improved the prospects for long term and lasting peace in the region. The waging of constant military action (not necessarily all out war, but definitely DAILY military action) within the Territories has done nothing but push Palestinians further into extremism.
What would Hamas’ recognition of Israel’s right to exist mean? It would mean that Hamas would almost immediately lose power and legitimacy, and a new, more radical government would take its place. The recognition is almost irrelevant to the peace process at this point, and is implicit in Israel’s military position and the backing of the United States, anyway.
So what does a promising solution look like to me? A promising solution and a hope for lasting peace in the region looks like this: the entire context of the conflict must be fundamentally shifted. That means changing public opinion in the Palestinian territories. Hamas didn’t win because Palestinians love violence and war and enjoy living in refugee camps and walking through checkpoints every day. Hamas won a democratic election because they created an extensive social-services network to help the needy independently of the Palestinian government. They provided schools, hospitals, and markets. Hamas was a strong alternative to the morally corrupt Fatah party, led by Arafat (and consequently taken over by Abbas after Arafat’s death). Hamas was the alternative to a party led by a man who used aid to buy bowling alleys in Long Island instead of food for “his people.” Hamas was the alternative to a party whose First Lady wore $120,000 shoes to the funeral of her husband while refugees in camps could barely afford to feed their children. Hamas was the alternative, unfortunately. And no, I’m not saying that terrorism and violence are ok. I’m not sympathizing with that wing of Hamas. I’m not ignoring the rockets launched into Israel and the deaths of innocent Israelis killed by suicide bombers. I don’t condone those actions. But I can understand why a family with six children, under the age of ten, struggling to survive might vote for the party that provided care for a sick mother or insulin for a diabetic child. When your options are a corrupt party/part leader with no benefit gained for the people or a party based on a violent mission but with a wing that builds in an infrastructure…it’s not an easy choice. But it’s a clear choice.
So what does changing Palestinian public opinion mean practically and specifically? Well, for one, it means unilateral concessions. Major unilateral concessions, coupled with a concerted international effort at a Marshall Plan for the Territories. This means bringing the EU, Gulf states, Canada, Egypt, Jordan, and the United States in on a massive economic development effort in the West Bank and Gaza. It means lifting the blockade and economic sanctions imposed on Gaza since the election of Hamas by Israel, the EU, and the United States. It means building schools and hospitals, roads and water processing plants, creating job opportunities for the Territories’ residents. It means opening trade with Israel.
But what will those economic efforts and unilateral concessions do? It stops the rocket attacks, for one. It creates enough of an impression that Israel is serious about peace to undermine public support for the efforts of militant radicals within Hamas (in Gaza AND Syria) to do things like, say, break the ceasefire. And once that happens, it gives leaders within Israel enough political capital to take the bolder steps necessary to establish a permanent two-state solution. Namely, withdrawing completely from the West Bank and East Jerusalem, removing (forcibly, if necessary) the religious fanatics who occupy its illegal settlements, and ensuring the cessation of construction on further settlements. Israel risks very little (it has the military capacity to reverse all of the above concessions, if necessary), but stands to gain greatly.
Barack Obama’s election is a unique opportunity for U.S. backing of these efforts. Obama will have a golden window of opportunity, once he takes office, to put the United States on a course of action that makes it a meaningful and neutral moderator in the conflict, instead of a decidedly pro-Israel force that pays no more than lip service to the need for the establishment of a Palestinian state. But that window will close rapidly as the status quo is restored in Washington, and the debate goalposts on the Israeli-Palestinian issue are restored to their accustomed place somewhere to the far right of center. The political capital Obama currently enjoys constitutes a chance that may not come again for quite a while. It’s a chance that Israelis and Palestinians are literally dying for.
For the last two days I’ve had online arguing matches with various Egyptian friends. Some believe that the Palestinians are “getting what they deserve” and some have use Quranic text to justify spewing hatred against Israel while hitting me over the head with their dogma and reminding me that I’m not a “good Muslim” if I don’t agree with them. It is not a secret that the Arab states have long used the plight of the Palestinians as a cause under which they can rally any and all Arabs and/or Muslims. Arab leaders neglect their own human rights violations in favor of endorsing more violence in the area. Mona Eltahawy writes brilliantly on this in her piece “Israel is the Opium of the People and Other Taboos.”
Finally, though, after all the potential solutions have been offered, I still believe that no matter what “side” of this conflict you’re on (if you’re on any side at all), what is happening in Gaza should be of concern to you if you care at all about human rights. This unprecedented use of force serves only to fuel the fires of hatred amongst Palestinians (and Arabs). It begins to lead us down a dangerous path that will undoubtedly send this region into complete and utter chaos. The suicide bomber on a bicycle in Iraq who blew himself up amidst a rally for Gaza is proof of that.
Some people commented on Cara’s post that they’d be interested in some reading materials. This is what I have to offer up from where I’m sitting (and I’d welcome suggestions as I’m always looking to add more to my reading list):
The best single piece on the Israeli occupation is Marwan Barghouti’s 54-point charge sheet against the State of Israel, read out in court, on October 3, 2002, in the course of the illegal trial constituted against him. It can be found here and here (in 2 parts)
Hanan Ashrawi, This Side of Peace
Phyllis Bennis, Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer
Mahmoud Darwish, Unfortunately, It Was Paradise: Selected Poems
Amira Hass, Drinking the Sea at Gaza: Days and Nights in a Land Under Siege
Rashid Khalidi, Palestinian Identity
Benny Morris, Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-2001 and The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949
Ilan Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine and A History of Modern Palestine
Edward Said, The Question of Palestine or any of his many other books
Lynd Staughton, Editor, Homeland: Oral Histories of Palestine and Palestinians
I’m going to do one more thing and hawk a great film called Slingshot Hiphop. The film is a documentary, which follows various Palestinian hip hop and spoken word artists in their own form of non-violent resistance in Gaza and the West Bank.