We can learn nothing new from analyzing the particular details of the savage attacks that Israelis and Palestinians are carrying out against each other this week. All this has happened many times before in the last 47 years, without any meaningful accountability or deterrence for either side. Hundreds or thousands on both sides have been killed and maimed — many more Palestinians killed by Israelis, given the disproportionate strengths of their military forces — but the cycles of death, resistance and revenge resume with the clockwork regularity of the seasons. This is because like the seasons of nature, the equation of violence in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict operates according to certain inviolable laws: Occupation begets resistance, and resistance prompts a more vengeful and violent occupation.
We can learn some things, however, from these attacks that mostly target innocent civilians on both sides. The first thing is that the power of military technology on both sides essentially has become irrelevant because it does not achieve one’s own long-term goals or change the behavior of the other side. The second is that the dismal quality of political leadership in Israel and Palestine has reached unprecedented lows that leave both peoples in perpetual insecurity, fear and vulnerability.
The Israelis suffer the added new problem of slowly expanding international criticism and sanctions for their occupation policies, reminiscent of the global anti-Apartheid boycotts that help to bring down the racist South African system years ago. The Palestinians for their part suffer the agonies of continued national fragmentation as the Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem and the West Bank remain largely disconnected; and refugee communities in countries like Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Egypt endure fresh horrors, including death by siege and starvation in Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus.
The fundamental cause of these repeated cycles of destruction and savagery — and political failure — is the unresolved clash between Jewish Zionism and Palestinian Arab nationalism. The history of this battle since the early 1900s has seen the Israeli military machine grow into a formidable force and a world leader in high-tech killing, while the legacy of Palestinian armed resistance has now been confined to a few thousand armed and determined young men in the Gaza Strip who refuse to acquiesce in their perpetual exile, siege, colonization or surrender.
The much more powerful Israeli armed forces seek once again to pummel the Palestinians into submission, attacking at will a helpless civilian population from the air while laying siege to them by cutting off imports of essential supplies. Israel now threatens to move into Gaza with ground forces, which is a sign of Israeli military failure and political confusion more than anything else — for Israel has repeatedly attacked, occupied and laid siege to Gaza for nearly half a century, and the only result of its heavy-handed militarism is a Palestinian resistance movement with greater technical proficiency and political will.
I find it astounding that a people as intelligent and diligent as the Israelis — especially the military among them — can display such profound stupidity and ignorance in perpetuating decades-long military attack policies against Gaza that have only expanded and fortified the Palestinian resistance movements — to the point today where Palestinian rocket launchers are better protected and concealed than ever before, and the small rockets being fired at Israel have reached Haifa, Tel Aviv, Ben Gurion Airport and the Dimona nuclear reactor area.
The cornered Palestinians for their part defiantly brace for more attacks against them, saying they would rather die fighting than live in perpetual bondage to Zionist colonial conquerors. So the battles we witness are the drama of failed warriors whose proven will to fight to the death is not matched by an equally impressive political will to resolve their conflict and live in peace in two adjacent states with equal rights.
The dominant Fateh political movement in Palestine has tried for decades now to negotiate a peace agreement with Israel, without success. This is primarily because Israel refuses to accept the internationally agreed principles related to ending its settlements, withdrawing from occupied lands, sharing Jerusalem and acknowledging refugee rights. Hamas and other smaller armed resistance groups carry on the armed struggle, but their strategy has no more chance of success than Fateh’s.
Armed struggle is a natural and admirable mirror of a people’s determination to be free, but in the case of the Palestinians it regularly only brings savage aerial bombardments raining down on their heads from Israeli warplanes and drones. One must admire Hamas’ resolve and technical proficiency, but they have no significant political results to show for their heroics, and they seem to promise their people only perpetual war.
This is the tragedy of what happens when determined warriors and mediocre political leaders on all sides meet in the arena of clashing nationalisms. This will happen again and again, with the same results, until one day a way is found to end the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands, and secure mutual recognition between states in Palestine and Israel that can live in peace because they enjoy equal sovereignty and security.
Rami G. Khouri is Editor-at-large of The Daily Star, and Director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut, in Beirut, Lebanon. On Twitter: @ramikhouri.
Copyright © 2014 Rami G. Khouri—distributed by Agence Global