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Israel/Palestine, Middle East

Israel, the Palestinian conflict, and the Gaza strip

The New Year has begun on a sour and bitter note. The Middle East, an area of the world notable for military conflicts and violence, has once again become a hot zone after a six month truce between Hamas — Gaza’s ruling political party and militant group, and the Israeli Government.

The truce, which had been mediated by Egypt, formally ended on December 19, 2008. Hamas was unwilling to extent the truce claiming that Israel did not follow the terms of the truce. On December 23, Hamas leaders reversed its previous position, and stated that it was willing to renew the truce. This was followed by rocket and mortar attacks into Southern Israel on the 24th. Israel formally resumed its military operations on December 27 by launching an airstike operation into the strip, bombarding alleged Hamas-controlled buildings and weapons storage facilities. Israel’s military and defence ministry has stated that the operation is in response to rocket attacks by Hamas and other Palestinian groups, and has claim that Hamas blatantly disregarded the truce by launching rockets into Southern Israel.

Over the decades of fighting between the Israelis and the Palestinian Arabs, both sides have claimed that their actions are done to defend their respective peoples and to ensure their survival. It is interesting to note that both sides are using the same rationale for their actions in their fight for a common piece of land.

Fatah, Hamas’ rival in Palestinian politics and the ruling party in the West Bank, has figured out how to deal with the Israelis without confrontation and violence. And although it has a long history of fighting against Israel and conducts actions that could be seen as terrorism, it has largely escaped the wraith of the Israeli military in recent years.

This could be attributed to the fact it has transformed itself into what might be considered as an upstanding citizen in the political world. Fatah has presented itself as a political force where its focus is now on governing the territories it controls, and to negotiate with Israel to create a Palestinian state. This is in contrast to Fatah’s militant past and to its rival, Hamas.  While Hamas has continued to refuse the recognition of Israel, Fatah has made it a point to recognize Israel and it has also become a nominal ally in the region.

It seems that Fatah has realized that the survival of the Palestinian people and for the creation of their own state requires compromise and taking the first step towards a peaceful resolution between the Israeli and the Palestinian peoples.

There has been a lot of blame and accusations going around concerning the situation in the Gaza, as well as the past incidents in the region. Many of this blame is directed towards Israel, especially by the media. The media, especially when looking at what’s happening in the Middle East, has always been biased and lopsided. Their objectiveness has been often lost when looking at the situation in the region. This is evident in some the articles and news stories on the region: the full picture is often not shown and the whole story is often not there. Both the pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli media are guilty of this.

There has also been talk of genocide and apartheid.

The Israeli Government and military have been accused by critics of Israeli policies of committing genocide against the Palestinian people. Genocide, as defined by international law, is “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life, calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; [and] forcibly transferring children of the group to another group”. This definition specifically excludes actions against political and economic groups.

The key phrase that defines genocide is “intent to destroy“.

Studying and analyzing the entire situation, the history and background of the conflict, one can determine that there was no genocidal intent on the part of the Israeli Government and the IDF. According to the Israeli Government and military, the basis for its military operations is self-defense and are conducted as a response to militant rocket and mortar attacks on its cities and civilian population. If there were an imminent threat against the survival of your country and your citizens, wouldn’t you take action to neutralize it? Although many would disagree with the methods used by the IDF,  one cannot ignore the fact that their military operations, no matter how brutal or destructive, is justified and it is well within their right to do so.

The Israeli Government has also been accused of implementing a policy of apartheid, and Israel and the Palestinian areas have been compared to South Africa during the white minority rule. While that argument is convincing due to the situation in the region and how the media presents the conflict, the Israel and the Palestinian region cannot be compared to South Africa. The primary reason is the fact that Israel has never based their actions on racial or ethnic reasoning and rationale, but has always been based on security concerns for its citizens and the survival of the country. Both Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs have the same rights as they are citizens of Israel. They both have members of their ethnicity represented in the legislature. And whatever rights the Israeli Jews have, the Israeli Arabs have as well. 

While Palestinians do not have the same rights as Israelis, their situation still could not compared to South Africa during the white minority rule. This is due to the fact that (1) they are allowed to participate in Palestinian Authority elections, political process, and government, (2) the Palestinians are given self-Government through the Palestinian National Authority, (3) the Israeli government does not have an anti-Palestinian agenda/policies.

It is interesting to note that the appearance of the term “Israeli Apartheid” in the mainstream media only after the Israeli withdrawal and evacuation of the Gaza Strip. The previous term used to describe Israel’s presence in the West Bank and Gaza as an “occupation”. Former Kadima leader and outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert commented on the changing terms stating “More and more Palestinians are uninterested in a negotiated, two-state solution, because they want to change the essence of the conflict from an Algerian paradigm to a South African one. From a struggle against ‘occupation,’ in their parlance, to a struggle for one-man-one-vote. That is, of course, a much cleaner struggle, a much more popular struggle – and ultimately a much more powerful one. For us, it would mean the end of the Jewish state.

Clearly the usage of the term “Israeli Apartheid”, as well as genocide in the context of Palestinians, is either a creation of propaganda or of misunderstanding (1) the situation in the region, and/or (2) specifically in the case of genocide, the legal definition under international law.

The conditions which the Palestinians live under is a result of continual war. The blame for this conflict can be solely place on militant groups such as Islamic Jihad and Hamas. If it weren’t for its persistent rocket and mortar attacks, as well as suicide bombers, the Israeli Government and military would not have to take the actions it has already taken, and the military operations it is currently conducting. Nor would it be necessary to build physical barriers.

Those who claim that Palestinians should have the same rights as Isrealis need to realize that they are citizens of an occupied (in some ways now, semi-occupied) territory, and are therefore not Israeli citizens and cannot be guaranteed or given the same rights as Israelis. As such, the apartheid argument is moot.

Although the hurt, pain, and suffering of innocent Palestinians cannot be ignored, there also needs to be a general understanding that Israel has only acted in self-defense to protect its citizens and to ensure the State’s survival. The hope is that a genuine sovereign Palestinian state can be established within the next decade, but such hope can be crushed if groups such as Hamas continues its attacks against Israel and its citizens.

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