The Gaza Massacre: A German perspective

After Israel’s military assault, Gaza was devastated: According to the Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem more than 1,300 Palestinians were slaughtered and 5,300 wounded, 40% of them women and children. Thousands of homes were destroyed.

Israel’s official goals have been discussed extensively. It was claimed that Israel had to defend itself against rocket attacks by Hamas.

According to the daily newspaper the Frankfurter Rundschau German chancellor Angela Merkel expressed it similar: Hamas bears all the responsibility for the recent "escalation" of violence in the Middle East. Israel had the right to defend its population and state territory, Merkel further added. She also admonished both, Israelis and Palestinians, to seek a political solution. The conflict could only be resolved during a political process which leads to a "two-state-solution" she said. Vice government spokesman Thomas Steg further added: "The chancellor emphasises that in an assessment of the situation in the Middle East, cause and effect should not be interchanged or fall into oblivion".

It would be fair to say that this kind of reasoning was the standard in German political, intellectual and media culture during Israel’s assault on Gaza. The following assumptions guide the "cause and effect" framework that German politicians and intellectuals generally apply if they speak about any issue related to the Israel-Palestine conflict:  

Israel has many rights, including self-defence, armament and military action. The Palestinians need to adjust to Israeli rights, due to their many responsibilities including disarmament and the recognition of Israel. Resistance to Israel is unjustified and terrorism. Hamas is a radical-Islamist-terrorist organisation. The Israeli government is a moderate ally and surely not a radical Zionist or militarist entity. Israel does not commit crimes. Both sides, the Israelis and the Palestinians, are at least equally responsible for any failed attempts to resolve the conflict. The US is a credible negotiator for peace. The conflict is extremely complicated, almost a mystery, and thus hard to resolve.

That’s why the Gaza Massacre could go by default and was not seriously condemned in Germany. But what about its background?

As we know today, the rocket attacks by Hamas and other militants where used as a pretext for the Israeli attack on Gaza: In November 2008, Israel had broken the ceasefire. Furthermore, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported, on 31 December 2008, that already six months ago, the Gaza-attack was in a planning stage. At that point of time, the last ceasefire had not even been agreed upon.

Also, an US lead destabilisation campaign against the Hamas government in Gaza, which was surely illegal under international law, was revealed by the US magazine Vanity Fair in April 2008. Not to mention the deadly embargo that Israel enforced on Gaza, with acceptance of the EU and Germany, and which the Israeli activist Uri Avnery described as an "act of war".

I wonder if these facts do not belong to the "cause and effect" relationship of the conflict?

Furthermore, we should consider the following: Nearly the whole world agrees upon a solution of the conflict, based on UN-Resolution 242, which suggests a two-state settlement: The recognition of Israel, inside the boarders prior to the Six-Day War of 1967, and the recognition of a vital Palestinian state.  

The resolution incorporates Israel’s full withdrawal from occupied territory as well as the dismantlement of all Israeli settlements. This proposal is supported by the Palestinians (including Hamas), the 22 members of the Arab League (and Iran) and has been agreed upon in numerous resolutions of the UN-General Assembly.   

The legal context is unambiguous as well. According to US-American political scientist Norman Finkelstein  

"The law is very clear. July 2004, the highest judicial body in the world, the International Court of Justice, ruled Israel has no title to any of the West Bank and any of Gaza. They have no title to Jerusalem. Arab East Jerusalem, according to the highest judicial body in the world, is occupied Palestinian territory. The International Court of Justice ruled all the settlements, all the settlements in the West Bank, are illegal under international law".

Unfortunately, there is a crucial problem: Israel and the USA are not supporting the international consensus and reject the rulings of the International Court of Justice. Every year, since 1989, they voted against the UN-General Assembly Resolution called "Peaceful Settlement of the Palestine Question".

And I wonder if these facts do not belong to the "cause and effect" relationship of the conflict?     

Now back to Gaza: As Finkelstein further argues, Hamas was signalling its willingness for a diplomatic settlement in accord with the international consensus: And in order to undermine this "peace offensive", Finkelstein writes, Israel "sought to dismantle Hamas".  

If you followed the discussions in Germany, Finkelstein’s arguments appeared to be incredibly. But any disbelievers could look for the facts themselves:   

Hamas has made multiple efforts to engage in serious peace negotiations on the basis of the consensus. About these initiatives you could read, for example, in the British newspaper the Guardian or, in November 2008, in the Israeli daily Haaretz. But until today, Israel and the USA have not been responsive to these offers.

And again, I wonder if these facts do not belong to the "cause and effect" relationship of the conflict?     

And there is another dimension: Instead of joining the international community, Israel has been out to create a solution according to its own terms. This solution is a stark departure from the international consensus and of what the Palestinians would be entitled to under international law: Israel’s long term goal has been to annex the resource-rich areas in the occupied territories.

As the political analyst Noam Chomsky wrote in his book The Fateful Triangle, Israel’s goal is to "avoid any political agreement until facts are created" [this statement is taken from the German edition] which then will lead to an agreement in accord with Israel’s terms (this is the kind of agreement that Merkel would celebrate as a "two-state-solution").

For a long time, Israel has enforced a policy of "disengagement". The people in Gaza are and remain trapped in an open air prison, while the continuous settlement of the Westbank increasingly pushes the Palestinians living there into smaller and isolated enclaves. Israeli political scientists Meron Benvenisti described the origin of these policies in the Guardian as a "Bantustan plan for an apartheid Israel" because they take any basis that people need to live a normal life.    

Hence, the attack on Gaza can be seen as another Israeli attempt to configure the political process in aid of its "needs". In the London Review of Books political scientist Sarah Roy describes this as follows: One goal of the attack was "to ensure that the Palestinians there are seen merely as a humanitarian problem, beggars who have no political identity and therefore can have no political claims".

According to official definitions, these polices could easily be described as state-terrorism. They include the dismantlement of Hamas, the democratically elected government of the Palestinians, which, at this point of time, could be seen as the major opponent of Israel’s illegal policies of annexation.

Israeli expansionism also goes at the expense of Israeli security because every population would resist such brutal and inhumane actions.

So finally, I wonder if, for German chancellor Angela Merkel, all these issues do not belong to the "cause and effect" relationship of the Israel-Palestine conflict?

Without acknowledging these facts any discourse on the conflict appears not only to be distorted but immoral. Hopefully, they will find their way out of oblivion and emerge into political and public discourses in Germany.    

As Germans, we have the duty to point to Israel’s violations of international law. But for obvious reasons, it is not easy for us to criticise Israel. Germans do not and never should forget the Holocaust and all other terrible Nazi-crimes. But our history should not undermine the responsibilities we have today.

I think, Norman Finkelstein gave a useful advice to the German people and how they could relate to Israeli policies in Palestine [the following is a translation from the German edition of Finkelstein’s book Beyond Chutzpah]:

"Those, who criticise Israel, even when it adheres to international law, can rightly so be described as anti-Semites. However, to label those as anti-Semites who criticise Israel because of its violations of international law, is bare cynicism. The late Edward Said cultivated to say that the Palestinian struggle might have been that difficult because the Palestinians are the victims of victims. For Germans, the outcome of this is the necessity to do the splits, namely to keep an eye on the German past, which demands reparation, but thereby not to lose sight of the human rights violations which have to be abandoned today. Allowedly, to follow this moral imperative may not always be easy. But the atonement for crimes of the past, must not lead to the toleration of actual crimes".

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