Saturday, December 27, 2008

Is trying to bomb an elected government out of power democracy or terrorism?

There’s a theory among ‘political scientists’ (an oxymoron if there ever was one) that one democracies don’t go to war on one another. If you needed evidence against this ‘scientific law’ then Israel’s continuing attempt to overthrow the democratically elected Hamas government by bombing and starving the whole population of Gaza provides another example of the fact that there are no scientific laws of politics.

Hamas incidentally were not only elected by Gazans but by Palestinians in the West Bank too – but the Israeli and Egyptian governments succeeded in carrying out a coup that put Fatah in sole power in the West Bank. In Gaza however Hamas gunmen defeated Fatah (gunmen armed by Israel and Egypt). Yet this is widely referred to as having been a Hamas ‘coup’. Both Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Palestinian Prime Minister Ishmail Haniyeh were democratically elected in elections declared free and fair by international obsevers, including EU delegations. Abbas is the leader of the Fatah party – which the late Yasser Arafat led. Haniyeh is a senior Hamas leader. Yet the Israeli, US, Russian, British and Chinese governments only recognise Abbas and Fatah as the Palestinian government and refuse to recognise Haniyeh or Hamas. Abbas has even appointed a new (unelected) government made up of Fatah members to replace the elected Hamas ones in the West Bank – which is against both the Palestinian constitution and the basic principles of democracy. Yet other governments and the media still refer to these appointees as Palestinian ministers. (click here for details and sources)- and also see here.

For decades Israel’s government condemned Arafat and Fatah as terrorists who could not be negotiated with. Since Hamas won the January 2006 Palestinian elections the Israeli government have referred to Fatah gunmen as ‘the forces of peace’. While claiming that they can’t negotiate with Hamas because some groups linked to it continue rocket and mortar attacks on Israelis they continue to negotiate with Abbas and Fatah – despite the Israeli foreign ministry’s own website listing killings of Israelis by armed groups linked to Fatah. after January 2006 (see e.g entries for November 19th 2007 and January 24th 2008 and three in July and August 2006 on killings of Israelis by Fatah’s Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade ) (1).

The reason is pretty obvious. The Israeli government aren’t trying to get peace – they’re trying to divide and conquer Palestinians – with help from the US government. (click here for details and sources).

Israeli spokesman Mark Regev, interviewed on the BBC’s News 24 today, claimed that the whole world had condemned Hamas’ ending of the ceasefire – omitting to mention that the Israeli government stated days before that it had never signed up to the ceasefire itself - which just goes to show that rewriting history is a never ending process. Israeli forces continued kidnappings and killings of elected Hamas MPs and indiscriminate bombing of Gaza just as much as Palestinian armed groups continued theirs against Israeli settlements. Both kill civilians – the only difference being that Israeli forces’ weapons are much more powerful so kill far more. Despite Israeli claims that they do everything to avoid civilian casualties the Israeli human rights group B’T Selem and others have reported every year that at least half the Palestinians killed by Israeli forces are unarmed civilians – and many are children (2). (also see here and here and here for more details and sources).

Regev said his government had ‘tried everything’ to end rocket and mortar attacks on Israeli civilians by Palestinian terrorist groups. Well that’s not quite true is it Mark? You’ve not tried talking to Hamas, even after dozens of offers of negotiations from Hamas. You’ve not tried accepting they’re the government the Palestinian people elected in 2006 – in fact your government has refused all talks with Hamas from the start and attempted to overthrow the government they elected by force or by trying to get Palestinians to replace them themselves to stop your own government continuing to kill them by the hundred through a combination of bombing and starvation.

(For anyone who claims Israel is supplying Palestinians with enough food perhaps they could explain why food shortages in Gaza under the Israeli blockade have become so bad that the UN Relief and Works Agency reports that many Palestinians are now forced to search through rubbish dumps for food. No doubt the reply will be the standard, unconvincing ‘it’s entirely Hamas’ fault and nothing to do with the Israeli government’. (3))

We have a word for it when we’re attacked by people who kill our civilians and soldiers in order to try to get our elected government to change its policy or else be replaced. We call it terrorism.

The most dishonest thing about the campaign to overthrow the elected Palestinian government is the pretence that the Israeli campaign aims to replace them with moderates in order to allow peace.

Did bombing Palestinians to try to get rid of Arafat and Fatah result in a government more acceptable to Israelis when Israel under Yitzakh Shamir, Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon tried it for decades? Of course not. It hardened Palestinians’ attitudes, the same way Palestinian terrorist attacks move Israeli politics to the right – and brought Hamas to power – just as the September 11th and July 7th bombings shored up support for unpopular governments and their unpopular foreign policies in the UK and the USA.

Anyone who tells you that continuing Israeli ‘military action to defend our civilians’ will have a different result and bring peace is incapable of learning from experience or else dishonest. Decades of Israeli raids and bombings have only continued the cycle of Palestinian and Israeli ‘revenge’ attacks killing each others’ civilians.

If they’re dishonest the plan may be to ensure there can be no negotiations with a representative Palestinian government – to divide and conquer Palestinians and ensure Palestinians elect a government even more extreme than Hamas, with the plan being that then Israel can pretend its justified to bomb and starve enough Palestinians to force the rest into exile. Then Israel can take back Gaza and – more importantly – the West Bank, with its abundant water supplies and farm land – both almost as highly valued as oil in the deserts of the Middle East.

So if it’s ok to bomb and starve Palestinians in order to try to force them to replace those elected members of its government Israelis aren’t happy with then what would the Israeli government response to other governments recognizing the Israeli President but refusing to recognise its Prime Minister and cabinet ministers be? What would it be if they also kidnapped Israeli cabinet ministers and MPs or killed them? And if it killed a lot of other Israelis, including civilians in the process? Wouldn’t that be terrorism?

Hamas certainly has an armed wing and some of them are involved in terrorism. The Israeli government also has an armed wing though – its military – and it and many current and former Israeli Prime Ministers, cabinet ministers and MPs have been involved in war crimes against civilians, including , in the case of Ariel Sharon for instance, deliberate massacres. There is no entirely right or entirely wrong side here.

More attacks by either side only strengthen support for extremists on each side and weaken those who want to negotiate – people who favour negotiations exist even in Hamas – like the elected Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh.

Both Israelis and Palestinians have a right to elect their own governments and to have those governments recognized. Neither Israelis nor Palestinians should die as punishment for what their government has done. It’s time our governments stopped their unquestioning support for Israel and recognized the government Palestinians elected too.

The plain fact is that trying to bomb an elected government out of power won’t bring peace – it’s terrorism and will only create more terrorism by the other side.

Source notes

(1) = Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs ‘Victims of Palestinian Violence and Terrorism since September 2000’,

(2) = B’T Selem press release 3 March 2008: Contrary to Israel's Chief of Staff, at least half of those killed in Gaza did not take part in the fighting,

(3) = Observer 21 Dec 2008 ‘Israeli blockade 'forces Palestinians to search rubbish dumps for food'’,

No comments: