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Today, I watched Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Meet the Press. Speaking to David Gregory, he claimed that the Palestinians are the obstacle to peace, and Gregory never once stopped him and said, “Hey, you’re factually wrong.” The Palestinians have in fact recognized Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state for about three decades. The Israelis have not recognized Palestinians’ right to exist even once. In the Occupied Territories, the Palestinian security forces have never had a tighter grip on security, thus making Israeli’s safe from potential attacks from terrorists who do not want peace. Furthermore, both President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad have gone above and beyond in structuring a functional government in the West Bank. So, the Palestinians have done their part, but Israel has failed to move an inch toward peace. Instead, Netanyahu lazily claims (lies) that Palestinians have not accepted peace or recognized Israel, both factually incorrect, but also not refuted by people like David Gregory. Netanyahu has also continued to build settlements, even during the period of time there was a so-called “moratorium” on settlement construction. This is why Abbas circumvented the Israelis and went straight to the international community. Netanyahu has simply not been a good-faith partner, so it would be a waste of time to return to the negotiating table until he stops the construction of all settlements. I don’t see that happening anytime soon, unfortunately.

Why They Hate Us

By Jose Rodriguez

The course of history was irrevocably altered by the tragic events of September 11, 2001. The horrific images of the World Trade Center towers replayed on television screens over and over again, like the recurrence of a frightening nightmare. The common refrain, in the following days, was the question, “Why do they hate us?” Those persons in power had a simple answer: these were evil people who hated American freedom and democracy. This explanation seemed to soothe the general populace, and placed the terrorist acts in a context that was black and white, and thus easier to comprehend. The true reasons are far more nuanced and complicated, and would force the American government to admit some level of guilt. The truth is that the attacks on 9/11 are a direct result of American foreign policy in the Middle East. It is the refusal to acknowledge these truths that has exacerbated anti-Americanism in the region and has led to an increase in terrorism around the world.

The concept of blowback is very controversial and it tends to cause heated debates. The idea that one’s own government is responsible for tragedy is abhorrent to many who would describe themselves as patriotic. However, the purpose of such discourse is not to say that America deserved the attacks, nor would any sane individual justify such attacks or apologize for them. Terrorism is reprehensible, regardless of the perpetrators, and regardless of the victims.  In a society such as the United States, with the advantage of the freedom of speech, it is absolutely imperative to allow discussions, such as this, so that the root causes of anti-Americanism can be determined and solutions found. It is in this context of openness that the rest of this argument will be placed.

There really should not be any confusion about why we were attacked on 9/11. Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the attacks, laid out his grievances in his declaration of war on August 23, 1996 (Bergen, 164). In that declaration, he has three grievances: the occupation of the Holy Lands (Mecca and Medina), the US-led sanctions imposed on Iraq, and the United States’ unwavering support for Israel’s brutal military occupation of Palestinian territory. This declaration is not some fanatical religious tirade, nor does he express any rage or contempt for American democracy and freedom. What he lays out is a clear and rational criticism of US policy in the Middle East. One “effective weapon” against the United States, he argues, is the boycotting of American goods and services (Bergen, 165). He reiterated these points on May 26, 1998 at a news conference in eastern Afghanistan with Ayman al Zawahiri, and urged his followers to conduct acts of terrorism against the United States (Bergen, 202). Not more than two months later, Al Qaeda carried out terrorist attacks against two US embassies in Africa. In retaliation, President Clinton launched cruise missile attacks against Al Qaeda, but failed to kill bin Laden, which only served to elevate his status in the eyes of the Islamic terrorist groups (Bergen, 219). Although he is a radical terrorist, many of his grievances are shared by the Arab world and his defiance is respected across the region.

Osama bin Laden’s hatred for the United States can be traced back to the beginning of the Gulf War. Indeed, even before the Gulf War started, bin Laden was one of the many mujahideen in Afghanistan that benefited from the support of the United States. US support was welcomed by the mujahideen as they were in an armed struggle to expel the atheist Soviet Union from their country. After the war, with the success of the mujahideen over the Soviet forces, the US packed up and left the country to suffer a horrific civil war that resulted in the rise of the Taliban government. However, the return of the United States to the Middle East during the Gulf War enraged and offended Osama bin Laden.

In the years following 9/11, many people tried to connect Iraq with Al Qaeda in a belated attempt to justify the invasion of Iraq. In reality, Osama bin Laden and his followers have been fiercely anti-Saddam due to the late dictator’s secularization of Iraq during his brutal reign. Jamal al-Fadl, a former Al Qaeda agent, testified during the 1998 trial against the seven men accused of the African embassy bombings that bin Laden had been very critical of Hussein and warned that, “one day he going to take all of Gulf area [sic].” (Bergen, 111) Khaled Batarfi, a former friend of bin Laden’s, recalls that in the months before the Kuwait invasion bin Laden had said, “We should train our people, our young and increase our army and prepare for the day when we are eventually attacked This guy [Saddam] can never be trusted.” (Bergen, 111) The warnings were prophetic as Saddam invaded neighboring Kuwait in August 1990. Osama bin Laden went to Saudi intelligence officials and proposed that he be allowed to gather 100,000 mujahideen fighters, trained in the Afghan war, in order to defend itself from Hussein’s expansion (Bergen, 112; Abukhalil, 77).

The Saudi royal family turned down bin Laden’s offer and opted, instead, to allow US forces to defend Saudi Arabia. This was a crucial decision and was opposed not only by bin Laden, but also by Muslim clerics and the crown prince, who warned “that US troops may never leave Saudi territory once they (arrive)”. (Abukhalil, 73) According to the Wahhabiyyah clerics, the presence of non-Muslims, especially when they are soldiers from a predominantly Christian nation, are strictly prohibited from stepping foot on the Holy Lands of Mecca and Medina. Yet, President George H.W. Bush deployed the military to the Holy Lands anyways. Despite being there to defend Saudi land from Iraqi aggression, it was the Saudi military that was responsible for expelling Iraqi troops. The arrival of US forces marked the departure of bin Laden from Saudi Arabia, his homeland. Since then, he believes that the American presence has caused the moral decline of the Saudi royal family. Bin Laden also viewed the presence of US forces as an attempt to establish hegemony over a country rich in oil, oil that belongs to the Arabs.

Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait ended his country’s privilege of being a client state and entered them into the category of “Rogue State”. During the eighties, the United States was providing Saddam with military and diplomatic support as they waged war with Iran (also a former client state). The weapons of mass destruction that the United States harshly criticized Saddam for having, came from the United States to begin with. The mass killings of the northern Kurds was  possible because of those weapons, and was later made possible by the refusal of the United States to acknowledge that the atrocities had even occurred (Chomsky, “Middle East Illusions” 201).  It was only when the client state got out of control and decided to act without US consent that Iraq became a “Rogue State”. Iraq had to be punished.

The US led sanctions on Iraq fueled anti-Americanism in the region and served as a daily reminder of American hegemony. UNICEF estimates that 1.5 million people died as a direct result of the sanction imposed on Iraq;  of those deaths were among children under five years of age (Chomsky, “Acts” 60). When confronted with these statistics on 60 Minutes in May of 1996, Madeline Albright said that, “We think the price is worth it,” when referring to civilian deaths. Iraqi hospitals were filled with people who were dying of illnesses that are perfectly curable, such as dysentery, and the flu. For those individuals with cancer, the only prospect was death. The sanctions prevented the importation of machines for hospital use, medicine, and ambulances (out of fear that they could be used as a troop transporter). Doctors in Iraq struggled to help the elderly, the children, and the chronically ill even without the basic tools they needed. It is difficult to imagine the frustration they felt as they watched, helplessly, as their patients died of completely curable diseases. With such poor conditions and limited tools, it is no wonder that so many people died in Iraqi hospitals.

The sanctions have also prevented Iraqi’s from having the basic necessities for life. Because of these sanctions, Iraqi’s are unable to have the tools or supplies (such as chlorine) necessary for purifying water, which has become filthy and disease-ridden. The conditions were so despicable that the UN’s Humanitarian co-coordinator in Baghdad, Dennis Halliday, resigned in protest, saying, “I don’t want to administer a programme that satisfies the definition of genocide.” (Chomsky, “Middle East Illusions” 200) His successor, Hans von Sponeck, also resigned in protest over the sanctions. The US, until after the US invaded Iraq in 2003, supported the sanctions, believing that they would weaken Saddam Hussein. On the contrary, all evidence suggests that the sanctions only strengthened Saddam’s control over the suffering Iraqi people. They argue that the sanctions are Saddam’s fault., yet the United States government persists in helping him devastate his own population (Chomsky, “Middle East Illusions” 201).

The central issue in the Arab region that inflames anti-Americanism, is the US’ unwavering support for Israel’s brutal military occupation of the Palestinian territories. The UN created the state of Israel as a Jewish homeland in 1948, creating some 1,380,000 Palestinian refugees (Reinhart, 7).  These refugees, to this day, have not been allowed to return to their homeland, even though a UN Resolution demanded Israel do just that. This was the beginning of a pattern. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has yet to be resolved because of American intervention. In 1967, Israel expanded its border by seizing the Sinai, Gaza, the Golan heights, and the West Bank, which created another wave of about 250,000 refugees (Reinhart, 8). The United States, watching the situation unfold, took steps to ally itself with Israel. Israel, the logic went, would be a formidable ally in the region and could serve as a base of operations against the Soviet Union. A 1976 UN resolution calling for a Palestinian state was vetoed by the US, a move which signaled to the Arab world that the United States had no intention of allowing the creation of a Palestinian state (Chomsky, “Hegemony” 168). So, the military occupation of the Palestinian lands continued with the full diplomatic support of the United States.

Over the next 40 years, Israel continued its hostile attitude towards the Arab people. In 1982, for example, the Israeli army invaded and occupied southern Lebanon, which left roughly 20,000 Lebanese  dead (Chomsky, “Hegemony” 167). However, hostilities actually began in 1976. The UN tried to stop Israeli aggression with a UN resolution, but it, too, was vetoed by the United States. According to Israeli sources, the purpose was to destroy the Palestinian Liberation Organization and to “persuade Palestinians to accept Israeli rule in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.” (Chomsky, “Hegemony” 168)  However, in 1987 the Palestinian people organized themselves into an uprising (intifada) against the military occupation of Israel. With this uprising was a formal recognition of Israel’s right to exist in its pre-1967 borders and a call for a free and independent Palestinian state (Reinhart, 10). The first intifada came to an end as both sides came together for the Oslo Accords.

There was an aura of euphoria and excitement as it seemed that peace was at hand.  There was rejoicing in the streets and many PLO militants put down their weapons in anticipation of what they believed to be an end to the conflict (Reinhart, 14). However, as the process got underway, it became clearer and clearer that the status quo was to stay the same. Israeli settlements continued unabated, and unemployment in the Palestinian territories increased. The promises made in the Oslo agreements by Israel were never met, nor did they really intend to meet those agreements.

In 2000, President Clinton convened the Camp David meetings in an ostensible attempt to bring about a peace agreement. However, the what the Israeli’s offered Yaser Arafat was nothing more than control over municipal affairs. The Palestinian lands were divided up into cantons that were surrounded on all sides by Israeli territory. In other words, the food, electricity, water, and freedom of movement would still be controlled by Israel. The offer was not acceptable to Arafat. Had he accepted it, he would have been renounced all across the Arab world as a traitor. The failure of Israel to offer anything substantial, the failure of the US to pressure Israel to comply with the Oslo accords of 1993,and Ariel Sharon’s provocative visit to the Temple Mount, led to the second Intifada.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict could be resolved quickly and easily, but there is no desire to do this. The United States has vetoed and rejected symbolic resolutions and treaties that might affect Israel. For instance, in 1987 the UN put forth a resolution condemning terrorism, but the US effectively vetoed the condemnation because it include a clause that gave the right of self-determination and the right to armed struggle against an occupying force. The General Assembly overwhelmingly supported the resolution, with only two votes against it: the US and Israel. Another similar vetoed occurred when the US rejected a Human Rights treaty made in Vienna that included a sentence declaring that, “foreign occupation is a human rights violation.” (Chomsky, “Middle East Illusions” 187) The tanks that roll through the streets of the occupied territories, and the helicopters that rain missiles upon the homes of civilians,  are all provided by the United States. The victims and their families all know this. The United States could withhold its economic and military aid (which is the most given to any nation in the world) from Israel until it agrees to the creation of a Palestinian state. This is unthinkable in Washington and would never happen.

The claims by some that the motivations behind the 9/11 attacks are religiously based miss the point entirely. Yes, the people use religious imagery and language, but so too does every other religious nation. The reasons for the attacks are clear. Bin Laden stated clearly that his grievances are with US forces on the Holy Lands, the Iraqi Sanctions, and the support of Israel in its occupation of Palestinian territory. These views are not unique to him, but are shared by virtually all of the Arab world. The only way to combat terrorism is to recognize the root causes of anti-Americanism and then find ways to solve those issues. Violence and the continued support of state terror is not going to end these feelings of resentment, but will only inflame them further. Instead of asking, “Why do they hate us?” we should be asking, “What can we do to help?”

 Works Cited

Abukhalil, As’ad. Bin Laden, Islam, and America’s New “War on Terrorism”. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2002.

Bergen, Peter. The Osama bin Laden I Know. New York: Free Press, 2006.

Carter,  Jimmy. Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. New York: Simon and Shuster, 2006.

Chomsky, Noam. 9-11. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2001.

Acts of Aggression: Policing “Rogue States”. New York: Open Media, 1999.

Hegemony or Survival. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2003.

Middle East Illusions. New York: Rowan and Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2003.

The Umbrella of US Power. New York: Open Media, 1999.

Power and Terror. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2003.

Reinhart, Tanya. Israel/ Palestine: How to End the War of 1948. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2002.

Zinn, Howard. Terrorism and War. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2002.

By Jose Rodriguez

Yesterday, September 24, 2009, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke before the United Nations. It was an impassioned speech, an angry speech, that he opened with a rebuke to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It was also a rebuke to the United Nations, who allowed Ahmadinejad to speak at the UN the day before. The Iranian President had recently denied the Holocaust’s existence, which prompted Netanyahu to spend a great deal of his time presenting documents proving the existence of the Holocaust, and even more time talking about the threat of anti-Semitism to Israel’s existence.

While Netanyahu is absolutely correct in demonstrating the truth about the Holocaust, and while he is absolutely correct in describing anti-Semitism as evil, he is wrong in attempting to portray Israel as an underdog, vulnerable to the evil Muslims and Arabs that surround them. The truth is that Israel is the strongest nation, militarily, in the region; and the truth is that Israel has the strongest ally possible: the United States.

A common theme appears in Netanyahu’s speech that is part of the Israeli psyche– that there is always the possibility that another Holocaust could occur. It is so indelibly burned into their collective consciousness, especially since Israeli politicians continually invoke those memories, that the Israelis live in perpetual fear. It does not matter that in every military engagement since 1948, Israel emerged victorious. It does not matter that the U.S. has, for the most part, delivered military weaponry to support Israel in its wars. The truth is that the Holocaust will never, never, be replicated because the world community, and the United States in particular, would never, never, allow such an horrific event.

Netanyahu rebukes the United Nations for allowing Ahmadinejad a platform to speak, as though it would be better to simply deny him an ability to speak at the UN, a right that every world leader has, whether we agree with them or not. Ahmadinejad’s speech, on the contrary, gave many countries the opportunity to get up and leave, demonstrating their solidarity with Israel and their disgust with the filth and lies emanating from Ahmadinejad’s mouth. The French delegation led about twelve other delegations, including the United States, in a walk-out during the Iranian President’s speech, symbolizing their extreme disagreement with Ahmadinejad and their unwillingness to dignify his speech with their presence.

Another chunk of the speech was dedicated to the Palestinians, who he described, as Abba Eban once did, as participants who willingly miss opportunities for peace. This is patently false, and extremely offensive. He began by citing the failure of the Palestinian leadership, in 1948, to accept the partition of Palestine into Jewish and Palestinian states. While this is an accurate statement, it nonetheless is false in its implications. The fact is that Palestine belonged to the Palestinians, and had belonged to them for 2,000 years (some Palestinians would argue that they have been there far longer, since they trace their roots to the land as far back as Abraham, as the Jews do). The Palestinians constituted a majority in Palestine— roughly 1.35 million Palestinians, whereas there were only 650,000 Jews. They had been promised, since the end of World War 1, their own state. The British Mandate was intended to provide the Palestinians the necessary guidance and support they would need in order to reach full statehood. However, there had been a substantial immigration of Jews into Palestine, who intended to take the land away from the Palestinians. As the Peel Commission suggested in 1937, and the UN carried out in 1948, the land of Palestine was to be divided without the approval of the Palestinians, who constituted an overwhelming majority of the population and had historical ties to the land thousands of years old. However, by 1949, the Palestinians had been driven from their land, and the Jews constituted a majority in a land where they previously had been a minority.

So, naturally, they opposed the partition of Palestine (especially since the UN plan allocated more land to the Jews than the Palestinians) on grounds that they had natural rights to statehood that were being usurped by colonial powers (i.e., Britain and the U.S.). But it was too late for the Palestinians. The full and horrific extent of the Holocaust came to light, and out of sympathy and guilt, the UN created a homeland specifically for the Jews, and ran roughshod over the inherent right of the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination in their own land.

I know that this is a topic that inflames people’s passion. In the U.S. we are so reflexively supportive of Israel that if anyone is even remotely critical of the state then they are accused of being anti-Semitic, or any other horrible pejorative they can think of. A great deal of this, I suspect, is that they do not know enough about the region or its history to intelligently debate the subject. So, they revert to name calling in order to cut off any discussion. It is wrong and it is not right. It is un-American, quite frankly. Ironically, in Israel, people have this debate every day and it is an honest and open debate, yet we in this country cannot.

Because people are so ignorant of the facts and of history, I put try to put it in the simplest of terms: How would you like it if the UN, without our consent, were to partition the United States? How would you feel if the UN said, “We’re going to give over half of the United States to the Native Americans, a quarter to the Mexicans, and the U.S. can live in the remaining quarter”? I don’t think too many Americans would appreciate that. In fact, if you think the TEA Party people are pissed, just wait and see how many more people would be equally pissed, if not more, if the UN did this to us.

And, again, he defended the actions of the Israeli Defense Forces, who waged an aggressive and indiscriminate war against the people of Gaza. Granted, as he stated, there were elements of Gaza (Hamas) who were firing rockets into Israel, threatening the safety of Israeli citizens. However, there is a prevailing rule in International Law regarding proportionality and protection, at all costs, of civilians. According to Israeli Human Rights group B’tselem, IDF killed 1,387 people, with 773 civilians killed, including 320 children under the age of 16 and 109 women over the age of 18. Only 330 people killed were active combatants, and another 248 were Palestinian security forces, most of whom were killed on the first day as a result of aerial bombing. B’tselem could not determine the status of 36 people.

Only 13 Israelis were killed during the war: 5 were soldiers in Gaza, 3 were civilians killed by rocket fire, 1 was a security officer in Israel killed by rocket fire, and four were killed in friendly fire. Though this is not to demean the lives lost, it is, nonetheless, an example of the disproportionate use of force by the IDF.

Part of the anger and resentment in Gaza stems from Israel’s blockade of Gaza, which has crippled their economy, stymied the freedom of movement, and denied Gazans important resources, such as medicine, food, and fuel. The Pope has even expressed his desire to see the embargo lifted: “Please be assured of my solidarity with you in the immense work of rebuilding which now lies ahead and my prayers that the embargo will soon be lifted.” This anger has, obviously, manifested itself in violence.

Be assured, this violence is not aimed at the overthrow or destruction of Israel, but is intended to show the Israelis the price of occupation. It is also, in their eyes, an act of self-defense.

And finally, Netanyahu asserted that Palestinians have never recognized Israel’s right to exist, which, again, is patently false. It is Israel who has never recognized the right of Palestinians to exist. It is hardly worth noting since it is so obvious, but I will list just a few examples to make the point.

* On December 14, 1988, after several attempts to satisfy the U.S.’s definition of accepting the right of Israel to exist, Arafat held a press conference in Geneva, Switzerland. There, he said, “We want peace…we are committed to peace, and we want to live in our Palestinian state and let others live.” He outlined several key points: The PLO accepted UN Resolution 242, the PLO promised recognition of Israel, and the PLO also renounced terrorism.

* In 1993, Yassir Arafat wrote a letter to then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. In the letter, Arafat, on behalf of the Palestinian people, formally recognized the right of Israel to exist. In the letter, Arafat wrote: “The PLO recognizes the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security.” That sounds pretty definitive and unambiguous. He went even further: “In view of the promise of a new era and the signing of the Declaration of Principles and based on Palestinian acceptance of Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, the PLO affirms that those articles of the Palestinian Covenant which deny Israel’s right to exist, and the provisions of the Covenant which are inconsistent with the commitments of this letter are now inoperative and no longer valid.”

* More recently, in 2002, President Bush made a feeble attempt at brokering a peace agreement through his “Roadmap for Peace.” As a pre-requisite for negotiations, the Palestinians had to recognize Israel’s right to exist. The fact that negotiations were undertaken proves that President Bush must have been assured that the Palestinians met that requirement. The Palestinian negotiators also put out this statement: The “Palestinian leadership issues [an] unequivocal statement reiterating Israel’s right to exist in peace and security and calling for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire to end armed activity and all acts of violence against Israelis anywhere. All official Palestinian institutions end incitement against Israel.”

The bottomline is that the balance of power is in favor of Israel. They have unlimited U.S. military and economic support, they have control over the territories, they are the ones who can simply pull back to the pre-1967 lines. The Israelis argue that a pull back would endanger them, and they point to Gaza as proof. However, if they were to allow the Palestinians to create their own state, as they are entitled to, then there would be no more grievance. Arab states all across the region, particularly Saudi Arabia, and including Hamas, have already stated that they would recognize Israel’s right to exist if they allowed Palestinians to have statehood and if they pulled back to their pre-1967 lines.

It’s that simple.

So long as there are hardliners, like Netanyahu, who keeping moving the field goal posts back, and insisting that any future Palestinian state must bend to the will of Israel, there can be no solution.

In the end, there may have to be an imposed settlement, whether they like it or not.

The Israeli/Palestinian conflict is the most misunderstood issue in modern times, yet it arguably evokes far more passionate and visceral emotions than most other issues. Misconceptions abound, but the claim that this is an ancient conflict is the most commonly heard. Most cite the Bible when they make the assertion: “When Yahweh, your God, has led you into the land you are entering to make it your own, many nations will fall before you… nations greater and stronger than you.” (Jerusalem Bible, Deuteronomy 7.1) Despite this rousing pronouncement (and similar ones found in the Old Testament), the conflict between Israel and the stateless Palestinians is a modern conflict, born out of renewed interest in Zionism at the turn of the twentieth century, exacerbated by confused policies and promises made by British imperialists, and intensified by the creation of the state of Israel in 1948.

The Zionists, who promoted the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine, argued that they had historical ties to the land, which gave them the right to pursue statehood. They cited the Hebrew people, a pastoral people on-the-go, who were the descendents of Abraham (of Mesopotamia) and eventually settled on the land of Canaan (later known as Palestine). These were not a people who appeared to be of European descent—these were people with a dark complexion, a natural defense against the intense heat of the region. Around 1250 BCE, the Hebrews found a leader in Moses, who freed them from their enslavement by the Egyptians and guided them through the desert to the Sinai Peninsula (Ralph, 76). Yahweh spoke to Moses at the top of Mount Sinai, where Moses was told that the Hebrews would be Yahweh’s “chosen people” – so long as they obeyed him (Jerusalem Bible, Exodus 19.5). As Moses and his followers waited in Moab, after their arduous journey, Yahweh renewed his promise to the Hebrews that they would be victorious over the people of Canaan, and that the land they were promised would be “fertile” enough so that they would “never go hungry or ever be in need.” (Jerusalem Bible, Deuteronomy 8.7-10) Whether it was through God’s grace or the Hebrews’ diligence, they eventually conquered the land of Canaan and began to establish a Hebrew nation under the leadership of Saul, who was their King (Ralph, 76). Under Saul, the Hebrews were able to fight back the Philistines, but it was under King David, Saul’s successor in 1005 BCE, who made the greatest progress, eventually reducing them to a small area southwest of Canaan. After King David unified Canaan under his rule, he began constructing a grand capital at Jerusalem, a capital worthy of its people. That project would be completed under the reign of his son Solomon, who used slave labor from their northern neighbor Phoenicia. Though Solomon’s people tolerated his rule while he was alive, they immediately broke away from the unified Hebrew nation after his death and created their own kingdom (Ralph, 78). The formerly unified state then consisted of two separate kingdoms: the Kingdom of Israel and the Kingdom of Judah. Their split weakened the Hebrews and left them vulnerable to outside attacks; in 722 BCE, the Assyrians captured the Kingdom of Israel and laid waste to every major city; the Kingdom of Judah, though they fared better only nominally, eventually was captured by the Babylonians in 586 BCE (Ralph, 78). Despite these setbacks, the Judeans (henceforth referred to as the Jewish people) would return to the land.

Over the next six hundred years, the land of Palestine, inhabited by Jews, was to be ruled by foreign powers. The Babylonians allowed the Jews to return to Palestine, where they enjoyed limited self-rule. However, the Babylonians soon lost that territory to the brash, albeit genius, King Alexander the Great of Greece; however, Alexander died at an early age. He was succeeded by several generations of Greeks, including Antiochus Epiphanes. In 168 BCE, Antiochus began a campaign of destruction, intended to wipe out the Jewish religion. However, the Jews defended their land and their faith by gaining control over Palestine, which they shortly lost in 63 BCE to Rome (Ralph, 80). Their efforts at revolt only succeeded in angering the Romans. After destroying Jerusalem and burning the Temple to the ground, the Romans gained total control over Palestine (Ralph, 80). Thus began the period of Diaspora for the Jewish people.

However, both Arabs and Jews share a history that goes back to their Semitic roots in Mesopotamia. It should not be forgotten, as our nation is engaged in two conflicts in the Middle-East, that civilization was born out of Mesopotamia, or modern day Iraq. Out of this fledgling civilization came the invention of the wheel, the lunar calendar, a written language, documented history, and literature (Ralph, 30-31). It was out of this civilization that Abraham was born. As mentioned earlier, people of the Jewish faith claim to be descended from Abraham, a native of Mesopotamia from a region known as Sumer. However, Arabs also consider themselves to be descended from Abraham, because he fathered Ishmael; Ishmael, likewise, is believed by Arabs to be the father of Arabia. Nonetheless, both people originated from the same land, from the same people, and from a similar culture. To argue that these people were in conflict over the land and shared a hatred of one another denies the fact that they were both people living in times of great conflict. Nations were constantly in battle with one another for dominance and control, as evidenced by the number of times Palestine was conquered by various powers, as mentioned earlier. During the period of time that Palestine was under the thumb of Rome, for example, monotheism was required. Many were forced to embraced either Judaism or Christianity, further tightening their shared history in the region.

After the death of Muhammad in 632 AD, Islam began to flower and spread across the Arabian Peninsula. As a military force, they conquered most of North Africa, parts of Spain, and most of the Old Roman Empire within a century’s time. In 638, Jerusalem also came under their control. Jews, who had previously been barred from entering Jerusalem, were allowed to return. The empires the Muslims defeated, such as the Byzantine and Persian empires, were exhausted from perpetual wars. Their populations, too, were tired of their old masters, and for the most part welcomed the fledgling Islamic empire (Ralph, 382). The new subjects of the Islamic empire, despite their religion, were treated with a fair amount of tolerance, especially compared to the way they were treated by their former masters. Accusations that the Muslim conquerors forced conversions are simply false; for the most part, many subjects converted voluntarily, but Islam was also a religion held dear to the Arab people, who were not eager to share it with non-Arabs. Other issues, such as taxation and local infrastructure, were favored by the subjects who felt overburdened by previous conquerors (Cleveland, 15). It would not be until 1453, when the Ottoman Empire captured the Byzantine capital Constantinople and renamed it Istanbul, that the Islamic empire would be recognized as a world power. The span of Islamic control over the Palestine lasted from 638 until 1922 (with exception to the brief period of time the Crusaders controlled Jerusalem from 1099-1187) (Ralph, 457). In short, the Arabs could also claim that they had long, historical ties to the land of Palestine.

World War 1 saw the end of the Ottoman Empire and the rise of Arab nationalism in Palestine. The Ottoman Empire spanned three continents at the height of its power and it succeeded in advancing civilization for hundreds of years. However, the decline of the Ottomans represented the culmination of European economic dominance and control over the Ottoman raw materials and markets, which undermined their economy and military strength (Cleveland, 49). However, external influences were not entirely to blame: the Ottoman’s had suffered under incompetent leadership for quite some time, which left them unable to fend off European influence in their markets (Cleveland, 58). They also lost their ability to maintain a military advantage in technology over their opponents, but the most damaging loss was the insubordination and self-interest of the Janissaries, the Ottoman army (Cleveland, 57). That the Ottomans were able to fight throughout the war came as a surprise to European powers, however, their demise was all but certain, which is evidenced by the Sykes-Picot agreement made between 1915 and 1916. Britain and France planned to divide up the Middle-East, but they did not expect to encounter the passions of Arab nationalism, nor pressure from Zionists looking to re-establish themselves in Palestine.

Theodore Herzl

Ever since the Jews left Palestine, following the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, the Jewish people maintained the desire to return to their “Promised Land”. Theodore Herzl, with his publication of The Jewish State in 1896, launched the creation of political Zionism, which had the stated goal of creating a wholly distinct Jewish state. Herzl argued, quite forcefully, that anti-Semitism was so ingrained throughout the world that no law could undo the discrimination of governments and people against the Jewish people. So, Herzl demanded that “sovereignty be granted us over a portion of the globe large enough to satisfy the rightful requirements of a nation; the rest we shall manage for ourselves.” (Laqueur, 9) His zeal and passion galvanized the Jewish people in support of Zionism, which led to the first Zionist Congress in Basel (1897) where they adopted the goal of creating “a home in Palestine secured by public law.” (Laqueur, 10) However, Herzl died in 1904. His cause was continued by Chaim Weizmann, however, who was able to persuade many in the British government that a Jewish state in the Middle-East would benefit their long-term strategic interests in the region (Cleveland, 244). In 1917, Lord Rothschild received a letter from Arthur Balfour (Britain’s foreign secretary) which declared that the British government was in favor of the “establishment in Palestine of a National Home for the Jewish people.” (Laqueur, 16) However, this pledge contained one caveat: that “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.” (Laqueur, 16) This mixed message was but the first in a series of confused policies that would lead to conflict between the Jewish settlers and the native Arab population in Palestine.

Sherif Hussein

During World War 1, Britain and France (vis-à-vis a correspondence between Sir Mark Sykes and Charles Georges-Picot) planned to divide the Middle-East, while Britain was in simultaneous contact with Sherif Hussein (the Amir of Mecca) to allow the Arabs an independent state in exchange for their military support against the Ottoman Turks. Sherif Hussein, in a letter dated July 14, 1915, expressed the desire of Arabs to exercise their right to self-governance and independence, and he laid out several propositions, including: a proclamation from Great Britain acknowledging the creation of an Arab state, the right of Britain to have preference in economic enterprises, a military alliance, and a sunset provision for the agreement. While McMahon’s initial response was tepid, due to ongoing negotiations with the French, in a subsequent letter McMahon did promise to support the “independence of the Arabs in all regions within the limits demanded by the Sherif of Mecca [Hussein].” (Laqueur, 22) Without question, the boundaries for the promised Arab state included Palestine. McMahon also promised in the letter to support the Arab state militarily and to “recognize their inviolability.” (Laqueur, 22) The British government clearly supported the rights of the Arab people to construct their own state, but, as aforementioned, within two years of that promise they also recognized the right of Zionists to create a Jewish state. Unfortunately, both the Arabs and the Zionists wanted the same land to be the site of their future state, and both had been guaranteed statehood on that land by the British government. It should be mentioned that the promise was first given to Hussein, on behalf of the Arab people living in Palestine.

Chaim Weizmann

Shortly after the end of World War 1, Amir Feisal met with Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann to “(work) out the consummation of their national aspirations.” (Laqueur, 17) They agreed that the boundaries of an eventual Arab and Jewish state would be worked out by a Commission, and they also agreed that Jewish immigration into Palestine ought to be continued “on a large scale”, so long as it did not have a negative impact on the indigent Arab population. Religious freedom was another point of agreement between the two parties. In the event that they could not work out an agreement, they did, however, agree to refer the problem to Great Britain (Laqueur, 18). Amir Feisal concluded that the Zionists did not have designs on taking the whole of Palestine, and he reiterated that the Arabs and the Jews were “cousins in race” and as such they ought to be able to live as neighbors in “mutual goodwill.” (Laqueur, 19) Likewise, Felix Frankfurter, on behalf of the Zionists, acknowledged that the aspirations of the Arab people and the Jewish people “were parallel” and he welcomed the support of the Arab people. He also made a point of mentioning the great difficulty represented by their aspirations, but conceded that they could not “but live side by side as friends.” (Laqueur, 20) Though these words seem to convey optimism and partnership between the two communities, they were in for a reality check.

Winston Churchill

As Jewish immigration into Palestine increased, the Arab population grew increasingly hostile to their presence and feared that they would lose their right to establish an Arab state in Palestine. Their concerns were based on the Balfour Declaration of 1917, which the Zionists pointed to as evidence that the British government supported turning all of Palestine into a Jewish state. To allay those concerns, Winston Churchill issued the 1922 White Paper, which rejected the notion that the British government intended to make “Palestine… ‘as Jewish as England is English’”. (Laqueur, 46) Churchill argued that all of Palestine should not belong to the Zionists, only that their national homeland should “be in Palestine” and that all the people in Palestine would share citizenship as Palestinians (Laqueur, 46). The Jewish people, he argued, already constituted a nation and as such had a right to exist in the land that they were historically bound to. Therefore, the immigration of Jews into Palestine ought to continue unfettered, in his view. Churchill went on, to the dismay of the Arabs, to deny that the Arabs were ever promised an independent Palestinian state, which is nothing short of a lie, since it is clear in the McMahon-Hussein correspondence that the military efforts of the Arabs would be exchanged for a guarantee of gradual statehood. In the final analysis, the White Paper was a confusing and convoluted document that attempted to sort out the various promises made to both the Arabs and Zionists, but it only succeeded in adding to the confusion.

In 1920, the League of Nations assigned Britain control over Palestine through a Mandate, despite protests from the General Syrian Congress. The Mandate, which went into effect in September of 1923, outlined the rights of the British government in the administration of Palestine, while guiding the eventual self-determination of the Jewish people in Palestine. Article 11 outlined the rights of the Jews and the British government to “develop any of the natural resources of the country” for the benefit of the community (Laqueur, 33). It never mentioned that the Arabs should have an independent state, but it did lay out protections for freedom of religious exercise and from ethnic discrimination (Laqueur, 34). The General Syrian Congress in Damascus argued, before the Mandate was created, that they were ready for statehood, and therefore rejected the notion that they should exist under a mandatory power. This did not suit the imperialistic greed of the victorious nations following the war, so their complaint fell on deaf ears. They also, for the first time, rejected the ambitions of the Zionists, who clearly had every intention of creating a “commonwealth… (in) Palestine” and represented a “grave peril to (their) people from the national, economical, and political points of view.” (Laqueur, 29) From this Congress, the Arabs, who “shed so much blood in the cause of… liberty and independence,” posed a challenge to democratic nations to prove “their sincerity and noble sympathy with the aspiration of the weaker nations in general and (the) Arab people in particular.” (Laqueur, 29) This opposition should not have come as a surprise to Britain since the King-Crane Commission, which was established by President Woodrow Wilson in 1919, reported these sentiments of opposition and hostility to the Zionist movement and to Jewish immigration. The commission, upon meeting with Zionist leaders, discovered that the Jewish immigrants looked forward to “complete dispossession of the present non-Jewish communities in Palestine”. (Laqueur, 26) This admission, coupled with the near unanimous opposition to Jewish immigration among the Arabs, lead the commission to conclude that the goal of creating a Jewish commonwealth “should be given up” and that to create such a commonwealth would require a “force of arms… of not less than fifty thousand soldiers.” (Laqueur, 26-27) The commission also rejected the claim that the Jews had a “‘right’ to Palestine based on an occupation two thousand years ago.” (Laqueur, 27) Irregardless of the warnings, Britain went ahead with its Mandate to create a Jewish National Homeland.

The Mandate period was marked by conflicting policies regarding Jewish immigration and spikes of violence, all of which forced the British to give up their interests in the region. Every policy change regarding Jewish immigration was met with Jewish disapproval, and was followed with British assurances that they did not intend to halt immigration, altogether. One of these assurances came from James Ramsay MacDonald, who wrote to Chaim Weizmann in order to “remove certain misconceptions and misunderstandings” about “his Majesty’s Government(‘s)” stance toward Palestine. MacDonald, a Zionist sympathizer, promised Weizmann that Jewish immigration and procurement of land should continue, so long as it did not create a burden for the non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine, as stated in the Balfour Declaration (Laqueur, 54). By 1936, opposition to the Zionists had become so violent that the British government appointed a commission, headed by Lord Peel, to investigate the root causes of the violence. They found that the “forcible conversion of Palestine into a Jewish State against the will of the Arabs” was the underlying cause of the Arab riots. The Peel Commission, therefore, suggested a partition plan, since neither Jew nor Arab would have “any sense of service to a single state.” (Laqueur, 58) This conclusion received condemnations from the Arab and Jewish communities, as well as a subsequent commission set-up to determine the viability of a partition plan. This commission (created in 1938) found that it was “impractical” to determine boundaries for either an Arab or Jewish homeland, therefore, they argued, “the surest foundation for peace and progress in Palestine would be an understanding between the Arabs and the Jews,” which could be expedited by a meeting of Arab and Jews in London, where they could come to an agreement over future policies in Palestine (Laqueur, 63). Because these negotiations failed, and because the British government was more concerned with Nazi Germany, the White Paper of 1939 was issued. This White Paper conceded to the Arabs on a number of issues, such as immigration. The British government also conceded that much of the unrest in Palestine was a result of the ambiguities contained in previous policies and pronouncements (Laqueur, 65). The White Paper stated, unequivocally, that all of Palestine was not to be reserved for a Jewish Homeland; instead, that all of Palestine should be a state “in which the two peoples in Palestine, Arabs and Jews, share authority in government in such a way that the essential interests of each are secured.” (Laqueur, 68) This goal, they believed, could be met within ten years. The White Paper also contained provisions concerning religious freedom, protection of Holy sites, and it also restricted Jewish immigration to five years, allowing 15,000 Jews per year. This Paper met with fierce Jewish opposition and accusations that the British government had caved in to terrorism (Laqueur, 76). The Jewish agency threatened violence against “British policy” in defense of their “Jewish home and Jewish freedom.” (Laqueur, 77) This policy came at a time when Jews were fleeing Hitler’s grasp in Eastern Europe and were finding a safe haven in Palestine. Ben-Gurion famously declared, “We shall fight with Great Britain in this war as though there was no White Paper, and we shall fight the White Paper as though there was no war.” (Cleveland, 260) As Britain engaged itself in World War 2, the Middle-East conflict took a backseat to the Empire’s struggle to survive.

True to their word, the Jews in Palestine fought against the Axis powers, but many also began to undermine the British Mandate in Palestine through violence and by forming an alliance with another powerful nation. In 1942, the United States endorsed the Biltmore program, which called for the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine and chastised the British government for limiting Jewish immigration, effectively rejecting the White Paper of 1939. This largely came about through the efforts of David Ben-Gurion, who was looking to the U.S. to fulfill their hopes of statehood. In Palestine, however, many Jewish volunteers were gaining invaluable military experience by fighting in Europe alongside British troops; the Haganah, Jewish paramilitary forces in Palestine, was gaining experience and arms as the British were preparing to use them in defense of Palestine in the event of an invasion (Cleveland, 262). The Irgun, right-wing militants lead by Menachim Begin, used terrorism against British forces in Palestine, most notably the bombing of the King David Hotel in 1946, killing 91 people and injuring 46 others. The other group engaging in terrorism at the time was the Lehi, which was not as effective as the Irgun, but it was successful in assassinating the British minister of state for the Middle-East, Lord Moyne (Cleveland, 263). The Jewish community in Palestine was prepared, at the close of World War 2, to engage the British in open war in order to realize their dream of a Jewish Homeland. Fortunately, for them, the British government lost all interest in its Mandate and “referred the matter to the UN.” (Cleveland, 263)

The destruction of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem

Having been granted oversight of the Palestine Mandate, the UN immediately began to look for the underlying causes of the unrest. Its first step was to assign a commission, as though there had not been enough commissions and studies over the previous 30 years. They concluded that the best solution was to partition Palestine into an Arab state, a Jewish state, with an international zone in Jerusalem. Each state would have to have an approved constitution and declare that they would establish an “economic union of Palestine.” (Laqueur, 110) The UN General Assembly set a date for withdrawal of British forces—August 1, 1948—after which the Jews and Arabs would be able to proclaim their independence. The UN laid out, in great detail, the form of government that each state would be required to have, which included democratic provisions and rights for minorities. Also, as a subtext to the UN’s role, there was a tremendous amount of sympathy for the Jewish people, who had suffered horrendously during the Holocaust. In many ways, the powerful nations had feelings of guilt for either indifference or failing to understand the extent of Hitler’s destruction (Gendzier, 13). Nonetheless, the UN had done what the British Mandate had failed to do by creating conditions in which the Arab and Jewish communities could realize their aspirations for statehood. Unfortunately, the conflict was not over, by any means. By spring 1948, 400,000 Palestinians had fled the country after hearing news of the massacre of Dayr Yassin. The Irgun had massacred 250 Arab civilians (Cleveland, 266). This would trigger a series of retaliatory strikes, which would continue until present time.

David Ben-Gurion proclaims the state of Israel

On May 14, 1948, the state of Israel was proclaimed, and the next day they were invaded by neighboring Arab forces. That was also the day that the Arabs proclaimed their own independence, however, they also rejected the UN’s authority and they failed to recognize the right of Israel to exist. The Arab nations of Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Transjordan, and Iraq fought against the Jewish forces until December 1948. Not only did the Arab nations suffer a devastating defeat, but they watched as the new state of Israel expanded its boundaries (Cleveland, 266). The Arab invaders could not compete with the military superiority of Israel; the Israeli forces not only had military experience from their participation in the war, but they also continued to possess arms and technology they had stolen from British forces. By comparison, the Arabs were unorganized and their weaponry was primitive. Adding to that, Israel forces also seriously outnumbered the Arab forces, which were also under poor leadership. The facts of the war, often blurred by time and myth-building, do not support the claim that Israel was a David fighting the Arab Goliath; in reality, the opposite was true. By the end of the war, the Haganah began the process of forcibly removing Arabs from their villages, known as Plan D (Cleveland, 268). The massive flight of Arabs from Israel finally allowed for the existence of a Jewish majority, but it also created a burden on the neighboring Arab states who had taken in the Arab refugees. The Zionist dream had been realized, as the King-Crane commission predicted, through force of arms and at the expense of the Arabs’ dream of statehood. An article by Irene Gendzier quotes Yehoshofat Harkabi (former Israeli chief of military intelligence) as saying, in reference to the creation of the current strife between Israel and the Palestinians: “Because we took the land, this gives us the image of being bad, of being aggressive. The Jews always considered that the land belonged to them, but in fact it belonged to the Arabs. I would go farther: I would say the original source of this conflict lies with Israel, with the Jews—and you can quote me. But our attachment to this land is too powerful. The big problem, then, is not to start at the beginning but [to] find out ‘Where do we go from here?’.”

This is not an ancient conflict, but an all too modern conflict that is the direct result of the British government’s failure to bring a solution to the Palestine question. As detailed at the outset, both Jews and Arabs have historical ties to the land of Palestine; even more importantly, they share ethnic origins in Mesopotamia. However, while the Jewish people went into Diaspora, following the Roman destruction of Jerusalem, the Arab people remained and eventually, under the fledgling Islamic empire and throughout the Ottoman Empire, controlled Palestine for nearly 1,400 years. As the Feisal-Weizmann agreement demonstrates, the Arabs were willing to live side-by-side with the Jewish settlers in “mutual goodwill”. However, it became increasingly apparent to the Arabs that the Jewish settlers intended to take all of Palestine and make it “as Jewish as England is English.” The Arabs were vocal and clear in their opposition to this ambition, while supporting their own ambitions for statehood. In the end, the inability of the British to uphold the will of the majority and the subsequent failure of the UN to help create an Arab state or to solve the refugee problem, resulted in a perpetual and violent struggle for Palestinians to realize self-determination. Now that the world is in a post-9/11 mindset, and we face Islamic extremists who cite the Arab struggle against Israel as their primary motivation for hatred against the U.S., it is even more urgent that this conflict be resolved, not only for our own security, but for the very fact that this conflict represents the failure of democratic societies to facilitate self-determination for all people who desire it. There is no reason why these two people cannot co-exist peaceably on the land they both consider home.

Works Cited

Cleveland, William L. A History of the Modern Middle East. 3rd ed. Boulder, 2004.
Gendzier, Irene. “Palestine and Israel: The Bi-National Idea.” Journal of Palestine Winter 1975: 12-35.
Jones, Alexander. The Jerusalem Bible: Reader’s Edition. New York: Doubleday, 1999.
Laqueur, Walter and Barry Rubin, eds. The Israel-Arab Reader. New York: Penguin Books, 1968.
Ralph, Phillip Lee, et al. World Civilizations. 9th ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1997.

Yesterday, both Hamas and Israel brushed aside the UN Resolution calling for a cease-fire, and continued their violent campaigns.

Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert openly disregarded Resolution 1860, calling it, “impractical.” Israel, instead of accepting the Resolution, struck 70 targets. Israel now is preparing to move into “Phase Three” of the invasion, which will require more ground troops going into more densely populated areas, risking higher civilian casualties. So far, since Operation Cast Lead was launched on Dec. 27th, 10 Israeli soldiers have been killed in action, while over 820 Gazans have been killed, and over 3,300 have been wounded. While each death is tragic, one must remember International Law, which dictates that the aggressor must keep the rule of Proportionality in mind.

Mohammed Nazzal, a Senior Hamas Official, argued that, “Nobody consulted Hamas or talked to Hamas. Nobody put Hamas in the picture, and yet Hamas is required to accept it. This is unacceptable.” Hamas also wants to have Gaza’s border crossings open, to allow humanitarian aid and much needed supplies through. As of now, roughly one million people in Gaza are without electricity, and about 750,000 are without food or water. Gaza has a population of about 1.5 million people. In total, over the last two weeks, Hamas has fired about 500 rockets into southern Israel, which have killed four people.

Most Americans, who know nothing of the middle-east conflict except for what little information they gleam from the news, tend to think of Palestinians as a monolith. They’re all Islamo-fascist terrorists who hate Israel and want nothing short of Israel’s destruction. Well, while idiotic talk-radio hosts (like Rush Limbaugh or Michael Savage) might believe that and their unthinking and uncritical audience accept their ignorant tirades as fact, the reality is that Palestinian society is complex, diverse, and, unfortunately, at this crucial juncture, fractured. There are Palestinians who are Muslim, Christian, and Jewish (though, in Gaza, 99.3% are Sunni Muslims); there are Palestinians who are strong advocates of peace, while there are others who insist on destroying Israel; there are Palestinians who live in Gaza, while others live in the West Bank or abroad. And the differences go on and on.

Today’s climate in the middle-east is a direct result of President George W. Bush’s non-existent strategy for dealing with the peace process. Sure, he started a “road-map” for peace, but there was never any involvement from the administration, who felt that any peace-process was too “Clintonian,” therefore making it something they wanted nothing to do with. “If Clinton was for it, then it must be bad,” their logic went. From the outset, the Bush administration did everything in their power to undo everything Clinton had worked to achieve– beginning with the dissolution of the Middle-East Envoy position. Ari Fleischer, Bush’s first Press Secretary, essentially blamed Clinton for the Second Intifada, which began in 2001: “It is important to be careful in the region, to proceed at a pace that is achievable and doable, and not to raise people’s expectations falsely so high by trying to reach something that the parties cannot agree to themselves. Failure to reach that level created unmet expectations in the region and that resulted in violence.” In 2005, in an effort to “democratize” the middle-east, Bush fought hard for elections in the West Bank and Gaza, a move that was opposed by the Palestinian Authority. In a conference with Mahmoud Abbas in October 2005, Bush argued that, “The way forward must continue to include democratic elections. The upcoming elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council offer an opportunity to open the door to the next generation of Palestinian leaders. They’ll be responsible for building a peaceful and hopeful future for their country. In the short-term, the Palestinian Authority must earn the confidence of its peoples, by holding elections and having a functioning government…” Unfortunately, as Bush had been warned, the danger of a Hamas victory could tilt the balance of power in the favor Hamas, who openly calls for the destruction of Israel and the creation of an Islamic theocracy in a Palestinian state (which would include Israel). Of those who opposed the election and the participation of Hamas in the elections was Ariel Sharon, who (at the time was PM) threatened not to support the process if Hamas was allowed to particiapte. Bush and Condoleeza Rice nonetheless allowed the election to continue with Hamas’ participation: “We would hope that the elections can go forward and that everyone will cooperate to make those elections go forward because elections are fundamental to the continued evolution and development of the Palestinian process,” Rice said. The election of Hamas came as a total surprise to the Bush Administration.

For many, the election did not come as a surprise. Hamas had been steadily gaining support for decades, as the failure of Fatah to reach a political settlement with Israel dragged on. Hamas’ militant stance attracted many people who felt that the political options had been exhausted. Many Palestinians also viewed the Fatah party with disdain and mistrust, as it had been corrupt for so many years under Yasser Arafat. Moreover, during the election, Hamas had made many promises to the Palestinians in Gaza, such as: fighting corruption in government, creating more jobs, and boosting their dismal economy. Hamas had a message of social reform and change that the people desperately wanted to hear. In Gaza, 81% of people lived below the poverty line (earning less than $2.20 a day), unemployment somewhere around 50%, and they were growing weary of the Palestinian Authority’s security crackdown. Hamas, on the other hand, extolled the virtues of its candidates and their participation in charities that provided food and supplies to desperate Palestinians. Though the destruction of Israel was part of Hamas’ platform, the people who elected Hamas were, instead, giving a vote against the Fatah party and in favor of a party that argued for social change and reform. Though some people certainly may have supported that platform, most people in Gaza were delivering a protest vote. Polling a month after the election demonstrates this to be true, with 43% of those who voted for Hamas (the largest group) doing so in hopes of ending corruption.

Polling a month after Hamas’s victory in Gaza demonstrated that two-thirds of Palestinians believed Hamas should “change its policy of rejecting Israel’s right to exist. Most also support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” A poll conducted by the Jerusalem Media & Communication Center (JMCC) found that “58 percent of Palestinians said they favor the two-state solution, while 22 percent favor ‘a bi-national state on all of historic Palestine.’ Three percent said they want an Islamic state.” The poll also found that 66.3% of Palestinians wanted Hamas to continue negotiations with Israel, while 29.6 believed that they should not continue negotiations. Also, 51.7% believed that Hamas should end its military operations against Israel, while 51.5% also see those attacks as counter-productive to Palestinian interests. 43.8% found the operations politically justifiable, though that is a significant drop from 65.4% in June 2004.

Both Hamas and Israel need to learn to live together. Despite their harsh criticisms of one another, they are very similar. Both believe that the land of Palestine/Israel belongs to their people, and are willing to use force to achieve their objectives, leaving innocent civilian populations to get the brunt of their violence.

Meanwhile, the U.S. is preparing to send a large shipment of arms to Israel, a move U.S. officials deny is related to the conflict in Gaza. Air Force Lt. Col. Patrick Ryder, a Pentagon spokesman, said, “The delivery of ammunition is to a pre-positioned U.S. munitions stockpile in Israel in accordance with a congressionally authorized 1990 agreement between the U.S. and Israel.” Missiles that had been sent to Israel in early December, according to the Jerusalem Post, have been used in the Gaza invasion. Israel, for its part, has already warned people in Gaza to prepare themselves for escalation via the use of leaflets. Tanks and soldiers are going deeper and deeper into Gaza, and are now getting accused by the group Human Rights Watch of “using white-phosphorus munitions in Gaza and warned of the risk to Palestinian civilians.” Not only is white-phosphorous munitions likely to cause sever burns, but it is also likely to start fires. They do acknowledge, however, that it appeared that the IDF was using the munitions to “hide military operations ‘a permissible use in principle under international humanitarian law.‘” The use of white-phosphorous munitions has been decried by human rights groups, who argue that its use should be banned. The U.S. used the same material during a military operation in Iraq and has since defended its use as being perfectly legal.

According to the Jerusalem Post, the UN is considering the use of international forces along the Gaza-Egypt border, where Israel claims Hamas is smuggling weapons into Gaza. The UN plan also would reinstate the PA’s jurisdiction over the Gaza Strip. This comes at a time when Mahmoud Abbas, whose term has ended, has insisted that he will not step down until there are parliamentary and presidential elections, as required by the PA’s constitution. His aides have indicated that he plans to create an emergency government, which will extend his term for one year.

And finally, a news report from the Gaurdian has been denied by President-elect Barack Obama’s team. The report indicated that Obama would hold negotiations with Hamas at lower levels, opting for clandestine meetings over direct talks: “The Guardian has spoken to three ­people with knowledge of the discussions in the Obama camp. There is no talk of Obama approving direct diplomatic negotiations with Hamas early on, but he is being urged by advisers to initiate low-level or clandestine approaches, and there is growing recognition in Washington that the policy of ostracising Hamas is counter-productive.” So, according to Obama’s spokesperson, he would indeed continue Bush’s policy of isolating Hamas. Brooke Anderson, Obama’s transition team’s chief national security spokeswoman, said that he “has repeatedly stated that he believes that Hamas is a terrorist organization dedicated to Israel’s destruction, and that we should not deal with them until they recognize Israel, renounce violence, and abide by past agreements.” Even Colin Powell, who endorsed Obama in the final weeks of the election, has argued that Hamas can no longer be isolated if peace is to be achieved– it must be dealt with.

In an open letter to President Bush and Condoleeza Rice, just before the Annapolis peace conference in 2007, signatories Zbigniew Brzezinski, Lee H. Hamilton, Brent Scowcroft, Theodore C. Sorensen, and others, argued that, “a genuine dialogue with the organization [Hamas] is far preferable to its isolation; it could be conducted, for example, by the UN and Quartet Middle East envoys. Promoting a cease-fire between Israel and Gaza would be a good starting point.” The letter also outlined parameters for a long-lasting and durable solution:

* Two states, based on the lines of June 4, 1967, with minor, reciprocal, and agreed-upon modifications as expressed in a 1:1 land swap;

* Jerusalem as home to two capitals, with Jewish neighborhoods falling under Israeli sovereignty and Arab neighborhoods under Palestinian sovereignty;

* Special arrangements for the Old City, providing each side control of its respective holy places and unimpeded access by each community to them;

* A solution to the refugee problem that is consistent with the two-state solution, addresses the Palestinian refugees’ deep sense of injustice, as well as provides them with meaningful financial compensation and resettlement assistance;

* Security mechanisms that address Israeli concerns while respecting Palestinian sovereignty.

This, of course, was not to be. If President-elect Obama hopes to bring real peace and security to the U.S., and to the middle-east, he would do well to heed their letter.

As day 14 draws to a close, world pressure to stop the violence in Gaza is mounting. What is occurring, on the ground, is a humanitarian crisis– one that journalists are unable to report. The information that leaks out comes from Palestinians in Gaza and from what Israeli officials report. The UN, nonetheless, fears an escalation of the crisis and is gravely concerned about the impact of the violence on civilians. Thus far over 770 Palestinians have been killed and over 3,100 have been wounded. Of those killed, 219 were children and 89 were women. Since the invasion, 14 Israelis have been killed.

Earlier tonight, the UN overwhelmingly approved of a Security Council resolution– only the U.S. abstained– which calls on both sides to agree to a truce brokered by Egypt, as well as allowing for the passage of much needed supplies into Gaza. The ultimate aim of the resolution is the removal of Israeli forces from Gaza.

The U.S. has continued to stand by Israel and its “right” to defend itself with an invasion of Gaza. In fact, the House of Representatives, according to Nancy Pelosi, is going to vote on a non-binding resolution which will support Israel’s invasion. Israeli officials, likewise, have continued to blame the invasion on the Palestinians and Hamas, who have been firing rockets into southern Israel. As the UN Resolution passed, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice still maintained that the best option was the cease-fire plan drawn-up by France and Israel. Despite the efforts of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Nicolas Sarkozy, neither Hamas nor Israel seem interested in accepting a truce. Hamas, strangely, feels that it has the upper-hand, though the people are suffering tremendously, while Israel (who does have the upper-hand) sees no point in backing down. In fact, Ehud Olmert has promised a “war to the bitter end”, and tomorrow the Israeli Cabinet will decide whether or not to accept the UN’s resolution, and whether or not they should move their war plans to “phase three”— sending more ground troops into densely populated areas. How much do you want to bet that they refuse to adhere to the UN Resolution?

Adding to fears that this war could escalate to include Lebanon, Israel launched five rockets into Lebanon, in supposed retaliation for an attack from Hezbollah. Four Katyusha rockets, to be sure, landed in the northern Israeli town of Nahariyah thursday morning, but the question of “who” has yet to be determined. Both Hezbollah and Hamas deny any involvement or prior knowledge of the attack, despite claims from Israeli officials. The Lebanese government, to the satisfaction of the Israelis, condemned the attacks, as well. Raafat Mora, a Hamas spokesman, denied the involvement of Hamas: “Hamas is pursuing its combat inside Palestine and our principle is not to use any other Arab soil to respond to the occupation. This is our firm policy.” The attack, I suspect, is probably a result of the call from Ayman al-Zawahiri, who called upon Muslims to fight Israel. At any rate, Israel’s retaliatory rockets were fired into an unoccupied valley, in order to prevent further retaliation from militants within Lebanon.

The UN has suffered greatly in Gaza, due to Israeli attacks. Today, Israeli forces attacked a UN convoy during a three-hour cease-fire, killing one person and injuring two others. The attack has prompted the UN’s Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) to temporarily halt its delivery of goods into Gaza, citing the failure of the Israeli military to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza. UN spokesman Adnan Abu Hasna said that the convoy was on its way to the Erez border to pick up supplies– a mission that had been coordinated with Israel. Chris Gunness of UNRWA added: “We’ve been coordinating with them (Israeli forces) and yet our staff continue to be hit and killed.” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has called for investigation into the attack on the convoy. Since the invasion, four UN staffers have been killed and two UN schools have been attacked, prompting UNRWA Director John Ging to state, “We are perfectly willing to take risks, but something has to change. If they give us the clearance to move, it is [unacceptable] that their soldiers are firing on us from the ground.”

The Red Cross is also growing increasingly agitated with Israel’s failure to respond to the humanitarian crisis. The International Red Cross released a statement accusing Israel of not allowing aid workers access to wounded people in certain areas. When they were finally allowed access to an area that they had been attempting to enter for several days, they found“four small children next to their dead mothers in one of the houses. They were too weak to stand up on their own. One man was also found alive, too weak to stand up… In all, there were at least 12 corpses lying on mattresses” in one of the houses. According the IRC’s statement, Israeli forces forced them to leave. Pierre Wettach, ICRC head for Israel and the Palestinian territories, said, “The Israeli military must have been aware of the situation but did not assist the wounded – neither did they make it possible for us or the Palestinian Red Crescent to assist the wounded.” The Red Cross has decided to restrict its movements within Gaza city after one of its convoys had been attacked by Israeli forces in Netzarim. Though nobody was killed, one driver was injured.

The BBC also reported an incident on January 5, 2009 in Zeitoun, which is being investigated by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), in which Israeli soldiers rounded up 110 Palestinians (half of whom were children), moved them into a single shelter, and then told them not to move. According to OCHA, within 24 hours Israeli forces shelled the building, killing approximately 30 people. An OCHA spokesperson called it the “gravest incident” since the beginning of the invasion. Those who survived then had to walk over two miles to receive medical attention.

In all, according to the World Health Organization, 21 Palestinian medical workers have been killed and 30 have been wounded.

I think the word proportionality comes to mind. Israel, like any other nation, has a right to defend itself. The issue is proportionality. While Hamas militants’ violence is horrible and cruel, and must stop, it in no way justifies the large scale invasion that Israel has undertaken. Civilians– particularly women and children– who have done nothing wrong at all are taking the brunt of the assault. No argument (even the irrational “human shield” argument) can account for the level of violence. Air strikes, home demolitions, destruction of infrastructure, tank firings, and ground troop movements, are not proportionate to the rocket fire from Hamas militants (which are limited in range and effectiveness). International Humanitarian law demands that armies must distinguish between civilian and military targets, but that is not happening in Gaza. Where the risk to civilian populations outweigh the military goal of destroying a military target, international humanitarian law dictates that the military operation cannot be carried out. Instead, they must find alternate means of taking out the military target. Israeli forces must also remember that, since Egypt has closed its border with Gaza and there is no escaping into Israel, the people in Gaza really have no place to flee. Their only option, really, is to remain in their homes, where they have no electricity, water, food, or other supplies, and they have little access to humanitarian or medical assistance. Hospitals are being flooded with victims, but doctors are overworked and are running low on supplies. Some doctors in Gaza are estimating that 20-30% of their patients are children.

While Israel is certainly to blame for much of the destruction in Gaza, Hamas also carried a lot of blame. Like many governments, they fail to heed the wishes of their people, opting to follow their own interests. Hamas is no different. The former Prime Minister of Gaza, Ismail Haniya, stated that, “The Israeli aggression will not achieve its goals even if it fully destroys Gaza strip and leaves no Palestinian alive. Hamas will not give in.” Essentially, he’s promising the self-immolation of a people who do not want to be wiped from the face of the earth. The leaders of Hamas are sacrificing all the people of Gaza for their own self-interests. What Hamas should do is halt the firing of rockets into Israel– not only because it is the right and moral thing to do, but also because it would then put the ball in Israel’s court. Israeli officials all along have maintained that this invasion is about Hamas militants firing rockets into Israel. So, if the rockets stop falling on Israel, wouldn’t Israel lose its ability to maintain the siege? Either they would leave Gaza, or they would continue the siege, suggesting other motives. Seems to be a no-brainer to me.

And, finally, the Pope, who has been planning a visit to the Holy Land, may be canceling the visit in light of the attacks. The Pope has been wanting to visit the Holy Land since he was elected, but the increasing violence has forced the Vatican to reconsider their plans. Just two nights ago, Pope Benedict called for peace in the Holy Land: “(M)ilitary options are no solution and that violence, wherever it comes from and whatever form it takes, must be firmly condemned.” The Pope is a strong advocate for a negotiated settlement. Another monkey-wrench in their plans was the statement from Cardinal Renato Martino, head of the Vatican’s Office for Justice and Peace, who compared the situation in Gaza to a “Nazi concentration camp,” which, needless to say, really offended the Israelis, who had this to say:
We are astounded to hear from a spiritual dignitary words that are so far removed from truth and dignity.” Though he does eventually intend to visit the Holy Land, his visit, previously a voyage of faith, may now become a voyage in search of peace.

We are now at the end of day 12 of the Israeli invasion of Gaza. Remember that the June 1967 war lasted only six days. In that war, Israel was able to defeat Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and a few other Arab states that contributed some troops to the war against Israel. Israel’s quick victory demonstrated to the world, and to the United States in particular, that they were mightier than they were in 1948. The victory not only crushed Arab Nationalism and unity, smashed Nasser’s political relevance, and gained them huge territorial gains, but it also earned them the support of the U.S., who wished to use Israel as a bulwark against any possible Soviet Union incursion into the middle-east. Israel took the Sinai peninsula, the Golan Heights, and they also took control over the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem. This war and the ongoing occupation has continued to influence the conflict in the region.

In the last few days, the violence in Gaza has escalated. An Israeli attack on a school in Gaza where the UN was sheltering about 350 civilians has resulted in the deaths of 40 people, injuring dozens more. This has been the third attack on schools in Gaza in the last twelve days. Most of those killed were civilians, according to paramedics, though Israel maintains that Hamas militants were using the school to fire rockets into Israel. Israel Defense Forces spokesman Brig. General Avi Benayahu said, “We face a very delicate situation where the Hamas is using the citizens of Gaza as a protective vest.” The UN will begin investigations into the school bombing. John Ging, director of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), said that the UN schools were all “clearly marked” with UN flags and that Israel had been given the global positioning coordinates of all school locations. Ging went on to say that, “We’re demanding full accountability in accordance with international law and the duty of care that the parties to the conflict are obliged to adhere to.” He also denied Israeli assertions that Hamas militants were using the school, saying, “So far we’ve not had violations by militants of our facilities.” He insisted that the UN had vetted all civilians requesting shelter.

So far, nearly 600 civilians have been killed and roughly 2,750 have been wounded in this war. There are conflicting reports over whether or not this Israeli operation was given a green-light from the Bush Administration. Vice President Dick Cheney denied the assertion on CBS’s Face the Nation, saying, “They didn’t seek clearance or approval from us, certainly.” An Israeli website–— however, reports that Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud received a green-light from Presidet Bush, who approved “Israeli air, sea and ground operations against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.” According to the site, Bush also promised Olmert that “the US would veto a resolution condemning Israel at the UN Security Council meeting next Monday.” Bush also reportedly assured Olmert that President-elect Barack Obama was being updated regularly on the ongoing conflict. Texas congressman and politcal rabble-rouser Ron Paul has also expressed his belief that the U.S. provided Israel with a green-light: “Israel depends on us; they depend on us economically, they depend on us for their military power and all their weapons and they really got a green light from our administration.” In another setting, he added, “No matter what they do, it is our money, it is our weapons, and they are not going to do it without us approving it.”

There have also been some reports that Israel has made some crossings into southern Lebanon, sparking fears that Israel might extend its war into Lebanon. There’s speculation that this might be a way of provoking Hezbollah, who has already promised retaliation for Israel’s assassination of a Hamas commander, Imad Mughniyeh. It is doubtful, however, that Israel would want to open a second front with Lebanon during the current conflict. Israel is still smarting from its failed attempt to crush Hezbollah, a radical/militant Shiite group in Lebanon with tremendous influence in the region (and backed by Iran), in July 2006. The incursions into southern Lebanon, more than likely, was Israel’s way of warning Hezbollah to stay out of the fray. Hezbollah, for the most part, has been staging protests against Israel’s invasion, Egypt, and the U.S. The July 2006 invasion of Lebanon was also Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s political Waterloo. He is now being forced out of office and elections are being held this February for a replacement.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, along with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, has again put forward a cease-fire plan, which both men hope Hamas and Israel will take. Though many in the UN applaud this plan, Condoleeza Rice, on behalf of the U.S., has not supported the plan: “We need urgently to conclude a cease-fire that can endure and that can bring real security. This would begin a period of true calm that includes an end to rocket, mortar and other attacks on Israelis and allows for the cessation of Israel’s military offensive,” she said. The current plan, she fears, would lead only to a return to the status-quo. However, after a meeting with Sarkozy, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad has announced that Hamas is willing to accept the terms of the truce, saying, “They are ready [to make a deal]. They were ready, they are ready.” The Russian Foreign Ministry has also confirmed that Hamas is willing to agree to a cease-fire, after having met with Hamas’ political leader Khaled Mashaal. According to Mashaal, they would stop the rocket firings if Israel would lift the 18-month blockade that has crippled Gaza’s access to basic neccessities, like food, water, and medical supplies.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak meets with Israeli Foreign Minister and PM hopeful Tzipi Livni

However, Egypt, particularly Mubarak, has earned the scorn of Arabs across the region. They view him as someone who has colluded with the enemy at the expense of the Palestinian people. This attitude towards Egypt goes as far back as the U.S. brokered Camp David Accords of 1978, when Egypt and Israel signed a peace agreement. They also are angered by his refusal to open the Egyptian border with Gaza to let refugees out and supplies in. Though he has “slammed” Israel’s invasion of Gaza, he blames the invasion of Israel on the failure of the Hamas government to renew the truce, which expired December 19, 2008. He also criticized groups such as Hezbollah, who, he argues, the “plight of the Palestinian people” for “political capital.” Because Egypt is the only “Arab” (though technically Egypt is in Africa) country to border Gaza, many Arabs feel Egypt has an obligation to protect and support the people of Gaza in this desperate time. They feel that Egypt has failed in that regard.

To complicate matters, the spokesman and deputy chief of Al Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, released a ten minute taped message blasting Egypt, the U.S., and President-elect Barack Obama. He attacked Mubarak as a “traitor” and a “partner” in the “siege and killing.” “At the time when Israeli planes drop their bombs from the air, he closes the borders with his forces so that the plan of the killing of believers in Gaza is fulfilled,” al-Zawahiri said of Mubarak. Al-Zawahirir also blamed Barack Obama for the conflict in Gaza, adding that the conflict was a “gift.” He labeled the attacks a “crusade against Islam and Muslims” and blasted Obama for his silence and his inaction. Al-Zawahiri also encouraged Muslims everywhere to strike back at the aggressors “everywhere.” The recording was posted on several militant Islamic websites, along with a picture of him holding a gun. Osama bin Laden, the 9/11 mastermind, has not been heard from in quite some time, prompting some in the intelligence community to wonder about his health, or whether or not he is even alive.

Barack Obama, who is adverse to drama, has had to deal with the Blagojevich scandal and the subsequent attempt to appoint Roland Burris to Obama’s vacant senate seat, the stepping down of Bill Richardson as Obama’s Commerce Secretary nominee, Diane Feinstein’s public criticism of Obama’s selection of Leon Panetta to head the CIA, coming up with a stimulus package, determine his policy on cap-and-trade, plan for tax cuts, and now he has to brace himself for the conflict in Gaza. In the taped recording, al-Zawahiri criticized Obama for his efforts to portray himself as “the savior who will come and change American policy” during the U.S. election but is now “killing your brothers and sisters in Gaza without mercy or even pity.” Obama issued a statement in response to al-Zawahiri: “Starting at the beginning of our administration, we are going to engage effectively and consistently to try to resolve the conflicts that exist in the Middle East.” He also added that he was “deeply concerned” about the loss of life in Gaza. Al-Zawahiri is prematurely blaming Obama for the violence in Gaza, a sign that they did expect Obama to be more proactive when it came to the middle-east. It might seem a bit counter-intuitive, but it could be a sign that the war on terror is going to change as Bush leaves office.

On Monday, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told a delegation of European foreign ministers that “Before the military operation, the equation was that Hamas targets Israelis whenever it likes, and Israel shows restraint… This is not going to be [any] longer the equation in this region. When Israel is targeted, Israel is going to retaliate.” This would come as a surprise to many in experts in the region who have criticized Israel’s long military occupation of the Palestinian territories.

On Saturday, January 3, 2009, Israel launched its ground offensive into Gaza. There had been talks of establishing a truce: Hamas wants the 18-month blockade lifted; Israel wants the rocket firings to stop.The failure of Hamas militants and Israeli leaders to halt the violence has precluded any such progress in that direction. In the meantime, tanks and ground forces entered Gaza, quickly taking Gaza City. Suspected militant sites have been shelled and most of Gaza’s infrastructure is in shambles. Israeli military officials have also claimed to be striking tunnels (used by Hamas for smuggling weapons), and weapon caches. Hamas has fought back by launching rockets into southern Israel. Three Israeli civilians have been killed, and many buildings, including schools, have been destroyed by Hamas rockets. Since the Israeli ground invasion, two Israeli soldiers have been killed.

Despite Israel’s claim that they are not targeting civilians, the Palestinians in Gaza have suffered tremendously. Since the begining of the Israeli onslaught in Gaza, over 530 Palestinians have been killed– 82 since Saturday. Of that, over 100 deaths have been women and children. In addition to the deaths, over 2,600 people have been injured, and thousands more have fled their homes in order to escape the violence. Humanitarian agencies, such as the UNRWA and UN’s World Food Program, have had difficulty trying to bring food and water to civilians caught up in the violence. Many civilians are stuck in their homes without running water, without electricity, and a dwindling food supply, which they are unable to replenish. In all of the Gaza Strip, there are only two bakeries still open, and there are long lines of people trying to get what little food they can for their families. Hospitals are being overwhelmed and the few medical supplies that they have are being diminished. Some doctors on the ground insist that the body count is much higher, but they cannot get an accurate count because the conflict presents grave danger to ambulances and rescue crews. One ambulance, reportedly, was shelled by an Israeli tank as it was evacuating victims. One paramedic was killed while the other lost his foot.

So, what’s their aim? Well, according to Israeli officials, they want all rocket firings into Israel to stop. But Israel also wants to topple the Hamas regime, which does not recognize Israel’s right to exist. They are attempting to dismantle their weapons supplies, while at the same time castrate their political power. Also, remember that Israel has elections in February. They certainly aren’t forgetting. This is not the whole story, however: right-wing extremists, who have been in control of Israel’s government since its inception, belive that Gaza (and the West Bank) is rightfully theirs, according to God’s promise. Little by little, there is the hope that they will leave the region altogether, assimilate into neighboring Arab countries, and leave all of Palestine to Israel. Settlers continue to build on Palestinian land, homes are demolished, and Palestinian land continues to be taken. What Israel needs to remember is that the more violence it spreads, the more deaths that are caused, the longer the suffering occurs, the more they are pushing the population of Gaza into the Hamas corner.

The violence of the last ten days, or so, stems from the failure of both sides to adhere to the terms of the Egyptian brokered truce, which expired December 19, 2008. However, one must recall that Hamas abided by the terms of the cease-fire until Israel’s November 4, 2008 air strike into Gaza that killed five people and wounded many more. As always happens in this region, tensions and violence escalated through a series of retaliatory strikes.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who has been pressuring both sides to accept a truce, is now in the middle-east. He made stops in Egypt, the West Bank, and Israel today. He met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, where he gave a press conference condemning both Hamas and Israel. Meanwhile, U.S. UN Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad has been instructed by State Department Officials (probably including Condoleeza Rice) to torpedo any efforts by the Arabs to request assistance from the UN Security Council. While French President Sarkozy has been even-handed in his criticism, President George W. Bush has continued his unflinching support for Israel: “I understand Israel’s desire to protect itself. The situation now taking place in Gaza was caused by Hamas.” President-elect Obama has been silent on the issue of Gaza. He has continued his mantra: “There is one President at a time.” True, but, like Representative Barney Frank, I think he “seriously overestimates the number of Presidents we have.” I think that since he is going to be President in… 15 days, it matters what he thinks. Since the Bush camp has decided to sit on their hands, he should at least voice an opinion. Perhaps he does not want to express an opinion that is at odds with the current President, thus undermining anything Bush says, but I think that the violence is such that it requires a response.

Yesterday, Israel launched air-strikes against the Hamas governed Gaza Strip. F16’s and Apache helicopters rained missiles down upon 150 targets yesterday and today, killing at least 280 people and wounding about 600 people (though some estimates are as high as 700). Israel’s Defense Minister (and former PM) Ehud Barak said that the operation (‘Operation Cast Lead’) in Gaza were going to continue and expand: “This will not be a short operation. The war on terrorism is an ongoing one, and we will have to stand firm in order to change the situation in the south.” The breakdown of the 6 month Egyptian-brokered truce ended December 19th, which Hamas failed to renew because of Israel’s failure to uphold the terms of the truce. A tit-for-tat, eye-for-an-eye, escalation ensued, resulting in the violence over the past few days. Whereas there have been massive Palestinian casualties, only one Israeli has been killed and 4 have been wounded from the 110 rockets that Hamas militants fired into Israel.

A Palestinian envoy to the UN, Ambassador Riyad Mansour, argued that the ongoing Israeli aggression in Gaza is unjustified, since it punishes the 1.5 million Palestinians living in Gaza for the actions of a few. He urged action from the UN within the next two days. The disproportionate response from Israel only further highlights the disparity between the Goliath Israeli forces and superior military weaponry, versus the David Palestinians. The violence has sparked protests all across the globe, with calls for a halt in violence coming from the UN, EU, and the Vatican. UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon called for “an immediate halt to all violence,” and expressed his alarm at the sudden violence. The EU President “condemns the disproportionate use of force” in the Gaza strip. Pope Benedict, in his weekly Angelus prayer, said ‘I implore an end to the violence which must be denounced in all its forms and a restoration of the truce on the Gaza Strip. The terrestrial homeland of Jesus cannot continue to be the witness of such bloodshed which is repeated ad infinitum.’ In cities around the world, such as London and Tehran, protesters stood outside Israeli embassies to denounce their aggression in Gaza.

The White House has issued a statement that echoes Israeli claims that all the violence being wrought upon the Palestinians in Gaza is their own fault. This is a classic example of blaming the victim: like saying a victim of rape is at fault because her skirt was too short. U.S. UN Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad called on Hamas to end the rocket attacks, as though that gesture would persuade Israel to stop its campaign. He also urged people not to “point the finger at Israel.” A Bush spokesman, Gordon Johndroe, also laid the blame at the feet of the Hamas “thugs” who have been launching rocket attacks into Gaza. Again, the people in Gaza were not responsible for the attacks, yet they are taking the full brunt of the violence. To her credit, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice has called on both sides to resume the truce and for all “concerned to protect innocent lives and to address the urgent humanitarian needs of the people of Gaza.” Israeli officials, such as Barak and Foreign Minister (and PM frontrunner) Tzipi Livni, have also blamed the air-strikes on the Palestinians. In response to the calls to renew the truce, Barak argued, in an interview on Fox News, that asking Israel to accept a truce with Hamas would be like asking the U.S. to accept a truce with Al Qaeda, further evidence that Bush’s War on Terror has set a dangerous precedent. Livni and former PM Benjamin Netanyahu are both running for PM, and both are promising to topple the Hamas government in Gaza.

PM Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are preparing for an overwhelming invasion of Gaza. Some 6500 reserve soldiers have been called up, while Israeli tanks have lined up on the border between Gaza and Israel. There is no doubt that both the Israeli government and Hamas militants are engaged in terror: they both use violence against property and human life intended to coerce a civilian population to influence the policy of the government. Unfortunately, the Palestinians suffer.

Meanwhile, President-elect Obama, while on vacation in Hawaii, has been in contact with officials like Condoleeza Rice to determine the facts. Unfortunately, for the Palestinians, though Obama has pledged to make peace in the middle-east one of his top priorities, he has also pledged to “forge an unshakable bond” with Israel. In other words, any hopes of an evenhanded policy in the middle-east are unfounded.

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