As the nasty little war between Gaza and Israel grinds into a new week I read a great deal of indignation in the Anglosphere. In some of the Anglosphere. In America. How is it, they complain, that Gaza’s rulers can chuck rockets higgledy-piggledy into Israel, while the world generally faults Israel for firing on the attackers?
At the same time nobody is putting serious pressure on Israel to stop its egregiously conservative rocketing of Gazan military targets. This creates indignation in an altogether different population.
No serious pressure means no superpowers breathing down Israel’s neck, no Security Council resolutions, not even a cancellation of the Iran-nuclear talks. The only cease-fire pressure came from Field Marshal al-Sissi, the Egyptian strongman who would quite like to see Gaza’s rulers buried in their tunnels.
The idea that Gaza is a place under Israeli occupation (which it technically is), part of the same Palestinian polity as the West Bank (which it technically is) in which an insurgent organisation called Hamas operates (which it does) has eroded over the past week.
Replacing it is a different view of Gaza. Gaza has become a state (though a weak one), governed by an elected government dominated by the Hamas political party (which it is) conducting warfare against Israel (which it is) in ways which violate the international law of armed conflict (which it does).
Hamas hasn’t held elections recently, but if Gaza went to the polls today in a free and fair election Hamas would be returned with a thumping majority.
Gaza has poor relations with its neighbours, but that is no distinction in the region. It is dependent on handouts from wealthy foreign governments and private donors. It is ridden with corruption. It is a dictatorship with a wretched human rights record. All this in the Middle East? Say it ain’t so.
Gazans share their passport and flag with the Palestinians ruled by Fatah. They share a currency and banking system with Israel. They rely on Israel for electricity. None of these is exceptional. Parallels can be found in Europe and the Americas.
Israel supplies Gaza with electricity while Gaza rockets Israel. Irony.
Gaza is no Mediterranean paradise, but the writ of law runs throughout the Strip, basic facilities and services are maintained by the government and its borders are secure. Not every state in the region can make those claims.
The people who run Gaza’s war machine command from concrete bunkers while their population suffers on the surface. Their weapons are concealed from reconnaissance until they are fired, which makes them less accurate. Their headquarters are close to population centres. Does this happen nowhere else?
Gaza has noncombatants packed closely with combatants making it nearly impossible for Israel to attack Gaza’s military capability without violating Israel’s and the international community’s norms of behaviour. Should they make it easy?
Gaza’s rulers are able to protect their strategic centres of gravity – themselves and their war making machinery – from attack, and they have neutralised a potential centre of gravity – their population – by making it clear they consider it expendable.
The way they do this offends laws of armed conflict designed to enable European States to make war at an acceptable cost.
So Gaza violates international law. Many states do. Israel does and so does Egypt. In fact, the only states that can claim to be without sin when it comes to its vagaries are the Northern European states which treat international law with a piety which far outweighs its legitimacy.
Is Gaza a ‘rogue state’? This label is sometimes applied by the US to states which operate outside the norms of international law, which use armed force unilaterally without mandate from the UN. Apart, of course, from the US which fits most definitions of a rogue state. Perhaps America is a ‘charming rogue’ state.
Gaza may be a rogue state. The international community can put it on a list of rogue states to be sorted out in some order of priority. Somewhere between Sudan and Syria.
Is Gaza part of Palestine? The Palestinian foreign minister was sent packing back to Egypt this week, suggesting that even the Hamas-approved unity government of Palestine hasn’t got anything to do with Gaza. Not to be rude, but the Palestinians of the West Bank have always considered themselves a cut above the Gazans.
In fact, the Palestinian government in Ramallah has put itself at no small risk in the past weeks by allowing its longstanding security co-operation with Israel to show more than usual. Palestinian security forces have managed to prevent rioting in the West Bank under what could be considered ample provocation. Abu Mazen’s government has done its best to show that Palestine can be a peaceful neighbour for Israel, and that best has been pretty good.
Gaza is seeking to achieve certain aims by coercion. They want currency transfers and they want some of their nationals released from prisons in Israel. To achieve this they seek to coerce Israel using armed force. They make war using crude means and with little respect for the way Europeans and North Americans, not to say Israelis, would wish war to be waged. C’est, as the French say, la guerre.
Do I attempt to create some kind of moral equivalence between Israel and Gaza? No. Perhaps God Almighty will forgive Gaza’s trespasses and perhaps He will forgive those who trespass against Gaza. Morality in foreign affairs is beloved of the Carters and Blairs, and they’re welcome to reward it when they find it.
Why does this state of affairs exist? To some extent it’s because Palestinians have been pushed around since the Turks arrived and people are ready to cut them some slack. To some extent it’s because Jews aren’t accorded the same right to statehood as some other peoples. Does that mean that there’s a double standard when people judge Israel and Arabs? Yes it does.
Over the past ten days Israel has conducted operations against Gaza with the general approval of the world. Gaza’s government has few friends, and none who are willing to stand up for them. The Muslim Brotherhood didn’t hold power in Egypt long enough to matter. Hamas’s principled repudiation of Assad and all his works has lost them the support of the Alawites and Shiites they hated. Gaza is independent, embattled, friendless and bankrupt.
Happy birthday, Gaza.