The Israeli bombing of the Baptist hospital in Gaza killing hundreds of innocent Palestinians may have been a turning point in the war on Gaza. The October 17 attack led instantly to mass protests throughout Palestine and the Middle East and forced the Egyptian, Jordanian and Palestinian leaders to cancel a summit meeting the following day with US President Biden.
The deadly bombing of the hospital was preceded by bombardment of a UN-run school on the same day, in which at least six people were killed. These tragedies have highlighted the humanitarian consequences of Israel’s genocidal war on Gaza, waged under the pretext of “self-defence”. Which mirrors its long history of pursuing maximum security at the expense of Palestinian lives, through disproportionate and indiscriminate use of military force.
Israel has tried to muddy the waters as it did after the assassination of Shireen Abu Akleh, by blaming the Palestinians for the hospital bombing.
It is easy to get lost in the midst of mayhem, death and destruction and forget how and why we have arrived at such madness. Disenchanted old-timers, like the baffled newcomers, find it ever more challenging to make sense of the perpetual bloodshed and the endless recriminations, and wonder if there is ever a solution to this protracted and tragic conflict, after dozen wars, countless peace initiatives and innumerable “creative” solutions failed to resolve the conflict.
That is why it is paramount during these chaotic times to zero in on the main contradiction driving and inflaming the conflict, namely the clash between what Israel claims is its “security” drive and what Palestinians demand as their rights under international law.
This primary contradiction has evolved over the years into a zero-sum conflict, as Israel has pursued maximum “security” at the expense of justice for the Palestinians.
Since its inception, Israel has defined its security all too broadly, in both military and nonmilitary terms that undermine basic Palestinian rights and freedom. After its establishment through terror and violence, the tiny colonial entity developed a formidable security doctrine that matches its heightened perception of threats – real and imagined – from a cynical world, a hostile region, and a defiant indigenous population.
From the outset, Israel focused on the relentless preparation for and pursuit of war; even when its state of affairs did not require it, its state of mind justified it. First and foremost, Israel pursued military superiority, strategic preemption and nuclear deterrence, to compensate for its strategic depth and small population, and to ensure the country does not lose a single war, believing any such loss would mean total annihilation.
Armed with an aggressive military doctrine, Israel went on to win three wars in 1948, 1956 and 1967, resulting in its permanent control of all of historic Palestine, including a perpetual military occupation of millions of Palestinians, all under the pretext of preserving its security.
Israel has perpetuated injustices against the Palestinians, incessantly breaking international law. After the Nakba of 1948, Israeli “security” has meant preventing millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants from returning to their homes and homeland in contravention to UN Resolution 194. It also led to the confiscation of their land in order to settle new Jewish immigrants and ensure Jewish demographic majority.
Likewise, after the 1967 war and the subsequent occupation, Israel confiscated Palestinian lands to settle hundreds of thousands of Jewish settlers, whose illegal presence became a justification for a greater, more repressive Israeli military deployment, rendering Israeli withdrawal in line with United Nations Security Council resolutions ever more improbable.
Even after Israel reached “historic peace accords” with the Palestinians in 1993, it continued to settle Jewish immigrants onto occupied Palestinian land, with the population of illegal Jewish settlers reaching 700,000 today.
It has had to massively expand its national security provision to include the security of these settlements. This, of course, was done at the direct expense of Palestinian life, land, dignity and well-being.
To safeguard its illegal settlements, Israel has also carved up and fragmented the Palestinian territories into 202 separate cantons, erecting a system of apartheid, and diminishing the Palestinians’ access to employment, health and education.
Like other settler colonial powers, Israel’s ideological approach to security has been no less dangerous than its strategic approach to its military doctrine. Security became the magic word that trumps all others; it explains all and justifies all. Its mention silences any criticism or dissent.
It is the answer to every question: why build here not there – security; why sustain the occupation – security; why expand the Jewish settlements – security; why carry out the bloodshed – security; why maintain a state of no war or peace – security.
Indeed, security emerged as the state ideology; it is Zionism’s answer to its colonial reality. It is no coincidence that what Israel calls security, the Palestinians call hegemony. In that way, security went beyond police, military, intelligence and surveillance, to an all-encompassing hegemonic, even racist concept covering demography, immigration, settlement, land confiscation, as well as, theology, archaeology, indoctrination and propaganda.
These became the essential and complimentary ingredients to Israeli military power, deterrence, prevention and preemption.
But Israel’s disproportionality in response to the Palestinian struggle for freedom has always failed to deter Palestinian resistance. The suffering of the Palestinian people has produced greater frustration and anger, leading to cycles of retaliations, as we’ve seen this month in Gaza.
Since it withdrew its several thousand illegal settlers and redeployed its forces outside the Gaza in 2005, Israel has laid siege, an unjust and inhumane blockade to the densely populated strip, making life ever more unbearable for its over 2.3 million Palestinians, most of whom are refugees from the southern part of what today is Israel.
Eighteen years, five wars, and tens of thousands of casualties later, Israel is back to bombing the ill-fated Palestinian territory, in retaliation for Hamas’s October 7 attack on its soldiers and civilians, and is preparing for a full land invasion of Gaza with incalculable cost to its residents. Israel’s insistence on the exclusive right to defend its citizens, while denying the Palestinians the right to protect their own civilians under military occupation and siege, has long backfired. This month, it backfired spectacularly.
The myth of Israel’s security and invincibility has been shattered once and for all. It is high time to pursue security through just peace, instead of pursuing peace through bloody security.
This is the reality the new self-appointed sheriff in town, Joe Biden, must address during his visit to the region, instead of egging Israel on as in its genocidal war in Gaza.
As my brother, seasoned scholar Azmi Bishara, argued in his recent book, Palestine: Matters of Truth and Justice, at the heart of the conflict lies not a dilemma in need of creativity, but rather a tragedy in dire need of justice.
Any decent mediator will have to find and maintain the balance between the two, starting with putting an end to Israel’s occupation and the colonial mindset that governed the conflict.
It’s not bothsidesism and it’s not whataboutism, it’s common sense and sober reading of the historical dynamic that governed the reality in the land.