Sunday, January 11, 2009

An Open Letter to an Israeli Friend

by Samir El-youssef, a Palestinian living in Europe

Dear Friend

Yet again we find ourselves on opposite sides of a divide where people believe that their own action is totally justified while the reaction of the other side is sheer aggression. Yet again we find ourselves resorting to silence fearing that what we might say could be interpreted as a statement of disloyalty to either one’s own people or to one’s friends on the other side. And yet again we face the challenge of envisaging a language that could spare us both the shame of silence and the accusation of treason; a language that in spite of everything would up hold our hope for peaceful co-existence.

Indeed, the question, is it possible still to speak about peace- and I am not talking here about the meaningless ritual of ‘going back to the negotiation table’- when all this happening? For, let’s face it, what’s happening in Gaza is as ugly as hitting a disabled person. Yes, this disabled person could be a belligerent neighbour from hell; still, battering him is ugly and so is bombarding Gaza, precisely because it is Gaza, where daily life has for many decades been punishment enough without being the target of mass bombardment.

But then- let me ask the question on your behalf- what should Israel do? Wait until this disabled person (to go on with the analogy) possess weapons dangerous enough to kill hundreds or even thousands of Israeli civilians?  No- and here I switch back to speak on my behalf- but without the Israeli siege of Gaza there would have been no justification for rocket attacks in the first place. To which you are bound to respond: Gaza has been under siege because Hamas is an illegitimate power; and it is a fascist organisation of which the destruction of Israel is a major aim. And I could reply and you could reply back and so on, each sitting safely in the lap of his tribe, praising its wisdom and condemning the other’s. Thus, rather than defending the hope of peace, we could easily end justifying the war and the continuation of the state of war. So what is the alternative language and approach, if there’s any?

We have long agreed that to believe realistically in the possibility of peace in Palestine/Israel one must be able to sustain an enduring, hard, and possibly disparate hope; so disparate that sometimes it could only be seen in the most causal of statements and tinniest of signs. And that’s how it seems now; hope need to be dug from under the rubble.  First we need to ignore the shamelessly game-like visual coverage of the media; and let’s for a minute forget the fanatic ideology of Hamas and the cynic agenda of the Israeli Government (rather than protecting Israeli citizens from Hamas’ rockets, it has been widely claimed, that this military operation is a part of the Kadima Government’s election campaign to win voters by proving to them that it could be as tough as the right wing parties.) let’s ask: could we see anything positive or good behind all this?

The answer is yes, but only if we see it in terms of real politics, that’s if we see the actions of both parties not so much in terms of declared ideological or political goals but as an attempt to hold on to their political power. I believe that each Hamas and the Kadima Government of Israel wants the other to deal with it prudently; that’s to deal with each other’s existence without the dictates of ideology and rhetoric. Both Hamas and Israel want to remain sworn enemies, but only on the conveniently ideological and rhetorical level, while in reality each wants the other to allow it to operate within its own domain without hindrance.

Like any political power Hamas wants to enjoy being in control; war would only spoil their fun and that’s why they have been offering truce to Israel. But Israel and its allies, including the Palestinian Authority of Fatah, have been making it hard for Hamas. The Kadima Government of Israel, on the other hand, wishes to stay in power through fulfilling its promise of reaching peaceful solution through the disengagement plan. Judging by the recent, and daring, announcements of Israeli Prime Minster Ehud Olmret, the Kadima party believes that if Israel withdrew from all the occupied territories, its neighbours would probably leave it in peace. Lunching rockets from an area which Israel has evacuated, Hamas, therefore, doesn’t only endanger the lives of Israeli civilians but also damages Kadima’s ambition. To put it all simply, what both Hamas and Israel want is to have the kind of a long prudential arrangement that has always existed between Syria and Israel; they are sworn enemies but their common borders are the most peaceful borders between any two countries in the Middle East.

This exactly what Israel has accomplished on the Lebanese-Israeli borders since its war with Hezbollah in the summer of 2006. Contrary to wide spread belief, Israel didn't then fail completely. True, Israel didn't manage to destroy Hezbollah and nor to retrieve the kidnapped soldiers but Israel, albeit, indirectly, forced the leaders of Hezbollah to behave prudently. It's not surprising that for two years and a half, Hezbollah has respected the cease-fire, nor is it a mystery that Hezbollah in spite of its enflamed rhetorical support of Palestinians in Gaza has not taken the expected step of attacking Israel in order to lift some of the pressure off Hamas' fighters.

Hezbollah has not abandoned its fanatic destructive ideology, nor does it lack the military capability to attack and inflict great pain on Israel. It is now the strongest military power in Lebanon and probably the most influential political party (I personally believe that Hezbollah is the real government) and precisely because it is so powerful, and wants to remain so, it can not afford the risk getting into a new war with Israel. Hezbollah knows that attacking Israel wouldn't stop the Israelis from battering Hamas; at best it would only defy Israel’s sense of security and for which Lebanon will end paying dearly. But for Lebanon to suffer yet another massive destruction for no other purpose but to defy Israel is bound to be seen by Lebanese, including Hezbollah’s constituency, as irresponsible. The party of God can not afford to compromise its position among the Lebanese and therefore can’t be seen irresponsible. 

Similarly in Gaza now. Israel has learned its lesson from its war with Hezbollah and has no longer boasted about destroying Hamas. Still, it seems even the declared, and justifiable, aim of putting an end to Hamas’ rockets is not achievable. Israeli Government must know it, yet it continues, not out of stubbornness but because, I believe, it has another idea in mind, to show Hamas the price of the rockets, to tell them: “Every time you throw rockets that’s how much you’d have to pay back? Can you afford it? And is it worth it?” Hamas, on the other hand, will not stop not because they are under the illusion that they could militarily defeat Israel, and not particularly to show the Israelis that they have failed, but rather to remind them that the situation hasn’t changed; Gaza is still under siege and as long as Gaza under siege rockets firing will continue. The solution, which would come eventually through a cease-fire agreement, is to agree on a Syrian-Israeli like prudent arrangement; Israel and Hamas agree to remain enemies but without fighting; Israel lifts the siege off Gaza and Hamas stops rocketing Israeli cities; a truce for the foreseeable  future.

Prudence is not peace but it’s the best available chance to stop the killing of civilians and destruction and perhaps to save the wounded hope of peace from the rubble of Gaza, possibly for only a short time until the next round of bloodshed; but we must never give up!

Your Palestinian friend, faithfully.

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