On Gaza, genocide, and impunity

“Our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians” – Nelson Mandela.

Israel aims to preserve the status quo in Palestine, writes Abukar Arman [EPA]

In recent weeks, Israel has unleashed what amounts to the worst one-sided barbarism against one of the world’s most densely populated areas – Gaza. In the process, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pulled back the curtain to proudly show the world how, under his leadership, Israel has defeated North Korea for the rogue state par excellence award.

How else could one describe a state that is officially sustained by a belligerent apartheid system; a state that occupies the land of another and systematically carries out ethnic-cleansing; and a state that relentlessly demonstrates a rejectionist attitude toward UN resolutions, international law and institutions?

In its latest campaign of brazen aggression, Israel has caused colossal destruction of lives, homes and critical infrastructure.

The official Israeli line, often parroted by key international media groups, is that Israel had to carry out this brutal massacre as “self-defence” since three teenage settlers were kidnapped and killed by Hamas – a charge that the latter categorically denied.

Since then, it has emerged that Israel knew that Hamas was not responsible for the death of the three Israelis. Clearly Netanyahu’s government had concocted a plan to create an emotionally charged atmosphere at home and abroad to smooth the way for an attack on Gaza.

Since its founding, the state of Israel has enjoyed exclusive and, indeed, absolute impunity that shielded it from international law. Hence, Israel never experienced any repercussions for its routine manoeuvres outside international norms and legal constraints that protect weaker nations from the predatory tendencies of the stronger ones. This above-the-law status – secured mainly by the US – has emboldened Israel to become the most dangerous bully in the Middle East. 

‘Give this man what he wants’

Nowhere is context more important than in understanding the impetus that drives action and reaction in Israel and Palestine.

In September 2013, Presidents Obama and Rouhani had a historic one-on-one telephone conversation to discuss issues of strategic interests. Back then Netanyahu openly expressed his dismay of being sidelined.

Netanyahu, who expressed in no uncertain terms his eagerness to attack Iran at a 2013 General Assembly meeting, was hit in the face with the reality that his Western allies did not see such military provocation in their respective national interests. Instead, they opted for a diplomatic rapprochement with Iran – something that Netanyahu adamantly opposed.

In April 2014, despite Israel’s objection and threats warning against such unity, Fatah and Hamas signed an agreement to engage Israel in peace talks as a single Palestinian entity – an act welcomed by many nations including the US.

Despite Israel’s claim that it faces an existential threat from Hamas, the latter has on a number of occasions expressed willingness to negotiate a long-term truce with Israel within the framework of a two-state solution to the conflict. On each of those occasions, Israel had a way of torpedoing progress.

A month after Fatah and Hamas united, Pope Francis visited both Israel and Palestine. On May 25, the Pope visited the separation wall that runs through Bethlehem. The picture of him praying at the graffiti-covered wall next to a “Free Palestine” slogan dominated the news. This simple gesture reminding the world of the plight of the oppressed Palestinian people outraged Netanyahu and his ultra-Zionist political base. Israeli journalist Caroline Glick had the following to say on this occasion: “Until this week, the Catholic Church stayed out of the campaign to dehumanize Jews and malign the Jewish state.”

These three historical developments sent Netanyahu and his supporters a strong message that the world has grown profoundly impatient with Israel’s never-ending “peace” talks and that it was time to get serious about peace settlement with the Palestinians. 

So Netanyahu did what his mentor, Ariel Sharon, would’ve done under such circumstances: pull a violent trick from his hat. Israel’s illogical objective is to maintain the “status quo (minus Hamas rockets)”. In other words, keep the Gaza occupation, oppression, and systematic genocide to make life unbearable for Palestinians. Keep the economic strangulation and the ever-expanding land grab in the West Bank, while preaching to the international community about “the right to self-defence”. 

Genocide is something others do

Several years ago, I was invited by an interfaith group interested in bringing the Save Darfur “anti-genocide movement” to our local community. At our first brainstorming meeting, I raised a point that needed to be clarified.

I introduced myself as a Muslim who is profoundly pained by the atrocities committed against Darfurians by their own Muslim brothers in what was indeed genocide. Furthermore, I confessed my cynicism toward the political groupthink that galvanises people and lends them the moral clarity to selectively recognise genocide.

I talked about how the massacre in Rwanda was ignored internationally until the number of victims reached hundreds of thousands. I also pointed out the callous disinterest in the genocide in Palestine. So, I suggested we find an internationally accepted definition of genocide to get us all on the same page. Two of the committee members were assigned to find an official definition.

In our next meeting copies of the definition were distributed. I read it and I declared my unequivocal endorsement  and my commitment to be part of the movement so long as the group was willing to use that definition against any and all groups and nations that fall within its parametersn. Not all agreed.

To understand why what happened in Darfur is officially considered genocide and Israel’s brutal ethnic-cleansing of the Palestinian people is not, one must read Mahmood Mamdani’s The Politics of Naming. As he explains: “It seems that genocide has become a label to be stuck on your worst enemy, a perverse version of the Nobel Prize, part of a rhetorical arsenal that helps you vilify your adversaries while ensuring impunity for your allies.”

As much as Israel is trying to misrepresent what it is doing in Palestine and move away from the word “genocide”, it is clear that its strategy is failing. While Israel has Gaza in the cross-hairs, international public opinion has Israel in its cross-hairs as well. Netanyahu must accept the fact that the Palestinian people, like their cousins – the Jewish people – are too resilient in their drive to survive and reclaim their land.

Israel has three options to choose from: To allow a free and an independent Palestinian state to form and exist side by side with that of Israel; allow a bi-national state in which both peoples would have to learn to live together as in South Africa; or keep pushing the Palestinian people against the wall till the youth snap and their wrath explodes. Keep in mind that Palestinian youth are at ground zero and they have nothing to lose!

Ambassador Abukar Arman is the former Somalia special envoy to the United States and a foreign policy analyst.

Follow him on Twitter: @4DialogSK.