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     Volume 8 Issue 53 | January 16, 2009 |

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When Realities Collide

Faruq Hasan

Listening to Israeli and U.S politicians makes me think we must live in alternate realities, something from a Twilight Zone episode where parallel worlds exist at the same time. As the death toll in Gaza exceeded a thousand, amongst which a significant number have been civilians including children, Condoleeza Rice's comments were, and I quote verbatim: “We are deeply concerned about the escalating violence. We strongly condemn the attacks on Israel and hold Hamas responsible.”

Someone should ask the U.S Secretary of State how the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) with their US supplied tanks, airplanes and guns are helpless “victims” against the tirade of rocks, bottles and homemade rockets hurled against them by Hamas and their henchmen. If this sounds like a déjà vu to some, then the feeling is well founded. It's been hardly more than two years or so since Israel invaded Lebanon in retaliation to Hezbolla killing six Israeli soldiers and capturing one of them who has since been held captive. Hezbolla claims to have won that war simply by surviving the Israeli onslaught, although the sight of thousands of Lebanese lives lost and Beirut laid to waste would claim otherwise.

A picture shows smoke and fire from Israeli artillery shells over the Gaza Strip town of Jabalia on January 9, 2009 as seen from Gaza City.
Palestinians collect belongings from the rubble of destroyed buildings following overnight Israeli air strikes in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip.

But the parallels to the Lebanon invasion are indeed startling: Hamas, like Hezbolla, are alleged to have instigated the massacre by launching rockets into Israel right after the six month ceasefire ended. Israel retaliates with overwhelming force, not because they hold a grudge against Palestinians living in Gaza mind you, but simply because it wanted to send a clear message and “deter” Hamas from killing Israeli citizens in the future (they had killed six in the past seven years with their rocket attacks). The pattern of warfare against Hamas in Gaza is also strikingly similar as the one launched against Hezbolla; air attacks allegedly bombing strategic military positions, followed by tanks rolling in and finally ground troops finishing the job. Having already established Israel's role as a victim and seemingly justified the strikes at least to themselves or their U.S allies, Israel is now at cross roads. Should they continue with the military strikes, and risk creating another Lebanon fiasco where Hezbolla garnered global sympathy and became a symbol of Arab pride over Zionist injustice? Or is there any hope of salvaging remnants of peace without further alienating its Arab neighbours, and indeed the whole world?

Israel's lesson from the war of attrition with Hezbolla should have been to abandon it's insistence of deterrence by military duress. Attacking Hamas (and Hezbolla) with all might and fury may have debilitated its military capabilities; but Hamas' strength was never its ability to fight Israel in conventional warfare. Indeed, Hamas and Hezbolla are seen by many as the only viable options left through which the powerless can voice their cries of injustice against the Zionists. Conventional warfare will not mute that voice. What could really render Hamas useless is the fear (real or imagined) that by using violence against Israel will alienate it from its support base.

How to go about doing this? The first step for the Israelis would be to switch from the parallel world that they are living imported from the late 60s and early 70s where they stood victorious over Arab invaders and proved their military might over far superior adversaries and into present time where they are no longer underdogs and are perceived as aggressors by the world, let alone the Arab population.

Israeli artillery shells explode over the Palestinian town of Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip as seen from the Israeli side of the border with Gaza. AFP PHOTO

In this world, organisations like Hamas and Hezbolla dominate the hearts and minds, not with guns and bullets, but with propaganda and promises. What Israel needs to do now is to immediately re-work a ceasefire on terms that allow both sides to save face. Israel should co-opt the weapons that Hamas had been using against it: promises to improve the living conditions of Gaza residents and provide them with basic amenities like food, shelter and medicine. By providing a situation where Hamas has more to lose by resorting to violence, Israel takes away the underdog and victimised aura that surrounds Hamas as things stand right now.

However, that's just the start. Israel ultimately has to undertake real dialogue with Hamas. They can no longer afford to view Hamas as a terrorist organisation which feeds on violence and fundamentalism. They have to realise Hamas is a part of Palestinian society and is emblematic of its dreams and fears, just as the more moderate Fatah represents another face of Palestinian society. This is tough for many in Israel to accept since Hamas stands on its pledge to destroy Israel, although it has stated many times that it is willing to consider a long term truce with Israel. But the alternative is more loss of innocent lives on both sides, more resorting to extremism and ultimately more trouble for Israel.

The US too has to understand that the age of unconditional support for Israel has to stop. The Obama administration can take a leaf out of the two most successful Presidents to have had any impact in the Middle East peace talks--Carter and Bush Sr.-- and sell a notion of tough love to Israel. It has to reign in Israel and convince the Olmert administration that a stable Middle East sans war and extremismis is mutually beneficial to both partners. If Israel remains stubborn, the US should stop its military aid and halt other financial support as well. When Hillary Clinton replaces the incumbent Ms. Rice, she should come across as a disinterested broker between the two fractions and not merely an ambassador for Israel. This should bring together two countries living in altered realities and yet with intersecting repercussions.

.Copyright (R) thedailystar.net 2009