11 January 2009


No, we are not all Gazans now. Never were.
Samson that great city, his anatomy on fire
Grasping with gnarled hands at the mad wasps
Yet while his bearded rage survives contriving
An entelechy of clouds and trumpets.
There have been interpolations, false syndromes
Like a rivet through the hand
Such deliberate suppressions of crisis ...

- Ern Malley, 'Documentary Film'

My sympathies are with the Israelis. They've been shelled hard and often by Hamas, and now they've struck back. The idea that Israel is bound by international law while Hamas (and the Iranians) aren't, that dead Palestinians is more of a human tragedy than dead Israelis, is sheer bullshit and indicative of the sort of thinking that can only make the carnage worse.

Gaza is a dump because the people there have elected a Hamas government. Resources that should have been going toward schools, hospitals and other public utilities have actually gone to lobbing missiles into Israel. Now, inevitably, Israel has struck back hard, and have hopefully decapitated Hamas (it is too much to expect that Palestinians should be cowed by this show of force, any more than Israelis are). The always impressive Martin van Creveld has given grounds for hope that the Israelis have a plan and are working to it.

The Palestinian imam who said that Israeli children are 'now' a legitimate target is being disingenuous, because he and his mob have clearly always believed that. However, the Canadian commentator who claims that Israel is the new South Africa is being silly.
The best strategy to end the increasingly bloody occupation is for Israel to become the target of the kind of global movement that put an end to apartheid in South Africa.

No, the best strategy is for the Palestinians to stop voting for the Hamas platform of Heartbreak and Squalor. The parallel here is not South Africa 20 years ago but Northern Ireland in the last decade.

Toward the end of the twentieth century, when the people of Northern Ireland realised that Sinn Fein promised only Heartbreak and Squalor, they began to turn on them. The IRA had two choices: it could repress the people, or it could renounce the violent policies that led the people to Heartbreak and Squalor and adopt a statesmanlike approach that put people's lives ahead of tribal allegiances. The trouble Sinn Fein faced was that they lacked the resources of a state, so Gerry Adams took the only option open to him other than suicide.

Hamas don't appear to be afraid of suicide, or as afraid as one should be if one truly believes in Allah and that he is just. But let's set aside the protagonists for the moment and return to the font of silly proffered us by Klein:
In the midst of the assault roughly 500 Israelis, dozens of them well-known artists and scholars, sent a letter to foreign ambassadors in Israel. It calls for "the adoption of immediate restrictive measures and sanctions" and draws a clear parallel with the anti-apartheid struggle. "The boycott on South Africa was effective, but Israel is handled with kid gloves ... This international backing must stop." ... Economic sanctions are the most effective tool in the non-violent arsenal: surrendering them verges on active complicity.

The key to the effectiveness of an arsenal is not how big it is, but how well it is aimed. It is aimed at the wrong people. You can't launch economic sanctions against a community that produces nothing, nor target the sponsors (Iran) whose main export (oil) is easily disguised as to its origin. Thus, productive Israel can be and is targeted; while a community that can't get out of its way is neither hindered from doing harm nor helped to do something positive.
Since 2006 Israel has been steadily escalating its criminality: expanding settlements, launching an outrageous war against Lebanon, and imposing collective punishment on Gaza through the brutal blockade. Despite this escalation, Israel has not faced punitive measures - quite the opposite.

Being shelled all day every day from Gaza is 'punitive measures' enough. Yeah, I think the settlements are needlessly provocative but that's not a death sentence. Anyone in Gaza who allows a mortar to be launched from their home because their pissed off about Lebanon deserves what they get. If Hamas had thrown themselves on the mercy if international law in 2006, they'd be entitled to its defences now.
For instance, in 2007 Israel became the first country outside Latin America to sign a free-trade deal with the Mercosur bloc. In the first nine months of 2008, Israeli exports to Canada went up 45%.

Canada is not a signatory to Mercosur, which covers countries in South America.
Of course [Israel is not South Africa]. The relevance of the South African model is that it proves BDS tactics can be effective when weaker measures (protests, petitions, backroom lobbying) fail.

Shit, if BullDustStrategies don't work with Zimbabwe (another state that protects itself from economic sanctions by gutting its economy), what makes anyone think they are any sort of all-purpose protest vehicle?
Boycott is not a dogma; it is a tactic.

But it relies on dogma in order to be applied in this particular instance - including the dogmatic insistence that while Palestinians have suffered at the hands of Israelis, the reverse is either not true or not important.
The reason the strategy should be tried is practical: in a country so small and trade-dependent, it could actually work.

Work towards what? How is this bullying different from ... oh, never mind.
This one [Boycotts sever communication; we need more dialogue, not less] I'll answer with a personal story. For eight years, my books have been published in Israel by a commercial house called Babel. But when I published The Shock Doctrine, I wanted to respect the boycott. On the advice of BDS activists, including the wonderful writer John Berger, I contacted a small publisher called Andalus. Andalus is an activist press, deeply involved in the anti-occupation movement and the only Israeli publisher devoted exclusively to translating Arabic writing into Hebrew. We drafted a contract that guarantees that all proceeds go to Andalus's work, and none to me. I am boycotting the Israeli economy but not Israelis.

Our modest publishing plan required dozens of phone calls, emails and instant messages, stretching between Tel Aviv, Ramallah, Paris, Toronto and Gaza City. My point is this: as soon as you start a boycott strategy, dialogue grows dramatically. The argument that boycotts will cut us off from one another is particularly specious given the array of cheap information technologies at our fingertips. We are drowning in ways to rant at each other across national boundaries. No boycott can stop us.

In Klein's previous works, she has demonstrated this boomerang logic: seeking to prove one point she actually proves its opposite, ta dahh!! She didn't tell us what ends Andalus is activating towards, but she has demonstrated that all her activity in changing publishers does is create activity without necessarily creating progress - an accusation she levies against capitalism generally. Given how porous borders are, and given that Klein's offerings aren't exactly Lady Chatterley's Lover, she needn't have bothered.
Several days into Israel's Gaza assault, Richard Ramsey, managing director of a British telecom specialising in voice-over-internet services, sent an email to the Israeli tech firm MobileMax: "As a result of the Israeli government action in the last few days we will no longer be in a position to consider doing business with yourself or any other Israeli company."

Ramsey says his decision wasn't political; he just didn't want to lose customers. "We can't afford to lose any of our clients," he explains, "so it was purely commercially defensive."

Political, kind of - but gutless, definitely. Ramsey could have cancelled all of his Palestinian suppliers, as I said earlier, because there aren't any. And his Zimbabwean and Burmese ones, too.

While the Israelis could have managed this better, the idea that they are uniquely culpable in the Palestinian conflict is garbage. So is the idea (or tactic, dogma, call it what you will) that Israel should be subject to legal and economic sanctions which are irrelevant to their tormentors. Even if you accept that there are faults on both sides, as I do, the break in the cycle can only come with Palestinians recognising that Hamas make their lives nastier, more brutish and shorter than a loving god would have them be.

I can usually take BHL with a grain of salt but here he is excellent, on the moral dissymetry of Hamas and Israel and the fact that, well, the Palestinians have only themselves to blame.

Update: JM this one is for you:

Now stop commenting as I'm sick of you.


  1. Andrew, have you spent time in Israel? I went to Jerusalem for a week a few years ago and it converted me from vaguely pro-Israeli to strongly pro-Palestinian. Because a cursory scan of the streets made it very clear who were the oppressors and who were the oppressed, and the Israelis I talked to clearly did not consider any arab as having the same rights as them.

    The behaviour of the IDF in Gaza, like that in the West Bank and Lebanon, reflects those attitudes. You don't rain phosphorus and canister bombs on those you consider your equals.

    Now 50 years of a state of siege is a good explanation of why all this is so, but an explanation is not an excuse. Hamas' guilt cannot absolve Israeli guilt.

  2. Not yet, and no your week there doesn't trump that.

    I favour a two-state solution: part of which requires that Palestinians face up to the responsibilities of a state, one being to have enough civic self-respect not to live in a shithole, and take foreign aid only to engage in futile attacks on their neighbour. Phosphorous and canister bombs are what you get for not only harbouring destructive clowns but nominating them as your leaders. Only a people struggling to rid themselves of Hamas have the moral authority to complain about the IDF.

  3. "Gaza is a dump because the people there have elected a Hamas government. "

    Hamas was elected in what 2006? And in two years went from a paradise to a place where "schools, hospitals and other public utilities" are completely disfunctional?

    Jee that's quite an acheivement.

    Andrew, get a grip. Israel has had soveriegnity over Gaza (and the West Bank) for 40 years and have done three fifths of f*** all to look after those people.

    No. I'll change that. They have actively driven those people and their society into the ground.

    And now they've spent the last 3 weeks heavily shelling them and killing them in largish numbers (about 1000 I believe right now)

    What do you think is going to happen? Gaza is a perfect example of the efficacy and importance of government. A negative example, but a good one.

    And Hamas are not the people to blame. Tel Aviv is.

  4. "the best strategy is for the Palestinians to stop voting for the Hamas platform of Heartbreak and Squalor"

    You don't think their problems might have anything to do with being bombed incessently do you?

    Andrew. Your comments are ridiculous. And inhuman.

    Please, just step aside for a moment and consider what you are defending.

    You are saying that a state - Israel - has the right to shell a portion of its population (never mind the very unclear legal status of the Palestinians, Israel claims at least some responsibility for them by controlling their daily movements) because they don't vote the way the regime wants?

    Are you serious?

  5. JM, sarcasm doesn't help in getting your message across. What also doesn't help is a refusal to admit that Hamas, and the Palestinians who support them, are protagonists getting their just desserts rather than passive victims.

    "You are saying that ... Israel - has the right to shell a portion of its population ... because they don't vote the way the regime wants?"

    No, I'm saying that Hamas shells Israel, so Israel shells back. Every government in the world would do this if so attacked. The Australian government did this to the Japanese during the early 1940s, and they came around - here's hoping the Gazans wake up to themselves soon, eh?

    "Hamas was elected in what 2006? And in two years went from a paradise to a place where "schools, hospitals and other public utilities" are completely disfunctional? [sic]"

    It would be a mistake to call it a paradise - but a functioning state with social services, definitely. Taking resources away from those services and launching rockets into Israel - big mistake for which they are paying. Once you stop perceiving the Palestinians as innocent victims, the actions of the Israelis become a bit more understandable. The sarcasm won't help, JM.

    The Palestinians have shat in their own nests, and they've attacked Israel. I hope they wake up, as Northern Ireland woke up; when they get a proper Mandela-style leader rather than just another blowhard; then and only then will Gaza know peace. Can't come soon enough I reckon. Portraying Hamas as innocent victims can't and won't cut it.

  6. Andrew, Gaza in 2006 was *not* a " a functioning state with social services". What planet are you living on? Do you remember when Arafat was holed up in Ramalia with Israeli tanks outside? Was that a functioning state "with social services"?

    And no, I'm not using sarcasm, I'm just refusing to use circumlocution.

    "Taking resources away from those services and launching rockets into Israel"

    Rubbish, they didn't have money to run those services in the first place. And a few home made rockets don't cost very much so the redirection of resources argument doesn't have the legs to get out of the cradle.

    "a proper Mandela-style leader "

    Yeah, well there's only one Mandela and people like him don't come along very often.

    But if your standard is that a state can do whatever it wants with complete disregard for rights, justice or law until the victims come up with a saint .....

    Sorry, most of us are prepared to demand solutions that are negotiated and implemented by ordinary people and leaders however flawed.

    Remember Arafat? Abbas makes him look like Mandala and he wasn't good enough apparently.

    Open your eyes Andrew. Israel is a reasonably wealthy nation with perhaps the best armed forces in the world (who have some pretty good equipment) that is beating the living daylights out of ordinary civilians living in near 3rd world conditions.

    And your argument that those people "are protagonists getting their just desserts rather than passive victims" is called collective punishment.

    And it's a war crime.

    Be very careful of what you back.

    Just as an aside, I've been absolutely stunned over the last few days at what otherwise sensible people - such as yourself - are prepared to back. Here we have actions that if conducted by a bunch called something like 'Khmyer Rouge' or 'Nazi' (just to throw out a couple of made-up names) would be condemned from the rooftops. (Heaven knows what the reaction would be like if the leader's name was something like 'Castro')

    We're talking about a modern army shelling a civilian population because they didn't vote the right way. That's right isn't it? That's what you said?

    And that's supposed to be just ok? Really? Words fail me.

    And the casus belli for all this is a bunch of rockets that have killed like what like 10 people over the last 7 years? That were being fired by a bunch of freelancers before the election of Hamas and will very likely continue even if Hamas is ejected.

    And that justifies restriction of food and medical supplies for months, confiscation of tax revenues, restriction of physical movement and ultimately wholesale destruction of whatever infrastructure they have left and the deaths of around 1000 people in a few days? Just because they voted the wrong way?

    Gee, I'm not gonna vote for Labor next time round, I don't want the US marines breaking down my front door, trashing the widescreen and setting my barbie on fire.

    C'mon Andrew please, you have to recognize the barbarity of this.

  7. Once again JM, I'll filter out the sarcasm and address what's left.

    (sample of terms trapped in the sarcasm filter: "doesn't have ... cradle", "Sorry", "Remember Arafat?", "Just as an aside ... are prepared to back", "And that's supposed to ... fail me." "I'm not gonna ... my front door" - so much for "refusing to use circumlocution", fully half your posts are circumlocutory).

    The Palestinian Authority in Gaza and the West Bank ran schools, hospitals an other social services. Not to the kind of standards we'd expect in Australia, but true regardless of how convenient it may be for you.

    "Do you remember when Arafat was holed up in Ramalia [sic] with Israeli tanks outside?"

    Ramallah is in the West Bank, not Gaza - and strangely enough, schools, hospitals in Gaza continued to function during this time. It's a funny old world JM.

    "We're talking about a modern army shelling a civilian population because they didn't vote the right way. That's right isn't it? That's what you said?"

    For the second time, that's not what I said. Voting for Hamas wasn't the problem - indeed, the Bush Administration actively encouraged a free vote and this is what happened. Hamas was under no real obligation to act out on its rhetoric of attacking Israel, yet it chose to do that. In the first few days of the most recent phase of the conflict (i.e. the phase that made the media over here) the Israelis targetted Hamas leadership, and they were right to do so - until Hamas chose to use the entire population of Gaza as human shields.

    Hamas is being punished for Hamas' actions, and the people of Gaza are being punished for Hamas' actions. The latter is unfair, but as I've said the only real answer is for those people to first resist Hamas in order to properly resist the Israelis, and thus to take a rightful place among the nations. Yeah it's hard, heartbreaking, longterm work, but c'est la paix - If Northern Ireland and South Africa could have been solved with "a few home made rockets", statesmen like Mandela and Adams would/could never have arisen. I for one can wait. I want to see a Palestiian leader who shames the Israelis with their sheer propriety, and ultimately I think you do too.

    Be careful about using phrases like "war crime". You're holding Israel to standards of behaviour to which Hamas cannot be held, which is stupid and most importantly unconducive to any real longterm solution. Let's see what "war crimes" Iran is committing. That said, I wish the Israelis hadn't bombed the UN compound.

  8. Andrew.

    1. The PA did run hospitals and schools but corruptly and not very well. And without quite a lot of tax revenue that was confiscated by the Israeli's and so largely on the basis of charity from Europe.

    The situation hasn't changed much since Hamas was elected. Tax revenues are still withheld and the Palestinians still have to rely on handouts (to the extent that they can get them).

    If there's any shortage of money in Gaza - and there is - it's not due to any redirection to military equipment.

    2. Hamas ran freelance services (where they did not require fixed infrastructure) - that's why the won the election. They showed that they were much more effective administrators than Fatah.

    3. Winning the election gives Hamas legitimacy. In fact quite a lot of people, including the Israeli government, opposed the election because it would give Hamas legitimacy. The Bush government eventually overrode those objections.

    Live with the consequences.

    But this gets back to my central point.

    Your statement of (more or less) "they voted for Hamas so they can suffer" horrifies me. It is collective punishment and it is a war crime.

    I can't understand (really I can't) how you can justify it.

  9. I'm no fan of Israel, but share much of Andrew's analysis above.

    At the end of the day this tit-for-tat stuff does nothing.

    If you read that book Deliver Us from Evil by William Shawcross he makes the point that someone has to ultimately win or lose a war. The Palestinians don't accept they are beaten and can't move to the next stage.

    I see the best play out to be:

    -Palestinian warlords surrender
    -Israel then gets its peace from rocket attack, but are denied recognition of any control of the occupied territories by the international community
    -Palestine then acquires the trappings of a nation state, including the ability to withhold the revenge instinct.

    True peace takes generations, and involves symbolic acts such as when Helmut Kohl went to Poland and signed a proper treaty declaring that Germany would never, ever, claim land to its east again.

    This went again hundreds, yeah thousands of years of German instinct to claim 'ancestral' lands around Danzig and Koernigsberg. Hitler was the most obvious manifestation in recent times of this push but it has been around since mediaeval times.

    But someone has to stop it.

    Turning 2000-3000 years of squabbles over Palestine will take even longer. But it can only happen when a) Israel is given its security b) when Israel is then prevented from claiming more land than the 1948 deal and c) when the Palestinians settle on the nation state.

    If Arabs want to do better within the 1948 borders of Israel, all they need to do is breed. Then they WILL become like South Africa (the analogy will hold better) and the Jews will either need to come to an accommodation with them, or emigrate, or live on permanent siege within their borders.

  10. Thanks Riccardo. A bit of historical perspective does wonders, taps us into our common humanity and gives a bit of perspective on what is otherwise awful suffering.

    "The PA did run hospitals and schools but corruptly and not very well."

    Depends what you mean by 'corruptly', JM. Not in accordance with strict Koranic teachings? This is the basic political divide in all Arab states: a secular party, who can make things run but everyone's cousin gets a cut, versus Koran-bashers who offer rectitude and rhetoric and fuck-all else. Seems like Palestine is no different.

    No apostrophe in "Israelis", btw. An apostrophe signals ownership whereas you were trying to indicate plurality.

    "If there's any shortage of money in Gaza - and there is"

    Make your mind up!

    "it's not due to any redirection to military equipment."

    Yes it is. You can't claim to be helping matters if scarce resources are being diverted away from social services in order to provoke the inevitable retaliation that we saw in recent weeks. Indeed, deliberately provoking such a reaction is itself criminal behaviour.

    "Winning the election gives Hamas legitimacy."

    My point exactly, but the wrong tense. Winning the election gave Hamas legitimacy, which they have since squandered by attacking their neighbours, a tactic to divert attention away from their own failings (like Mugabe does when he bags Gordon Brown, for example).

    "Live with the consequences"

    Yeah - Hamas bloody and brokem, and the Palestinians know that all that Koran-bashing makes things worse, not better.

    "Your statement of (more or less) "they voted for Hamas so they can suffer" horrifies me."

    It's not my statement, it's yours, so you're getting all horrified at your own statement. I'll leave you to it. I've denied it thrice fella, take the hint.

    "I can't understand (really I can't) how you can justify it."

    I've done my best. I wonder why you bother coming back.