My longform article on Gaza and the shifting global balance

… is now up at the Boston Review website, here. The piece draws on a lot of the writing I did here at Globalities in the nine months of 2023 prior to October 7. The original title I’d given it was “Gaza at the Hinge of History”… Which I still prefer to the one BR gave it, though I realize I’d used “hinge of history” in the title of an essay here last April about the Arabian Peninsular. But hey, these hinges are definitely linked.

I hope you can read the whole of the new BR article. It opens with an intriguing (one hopes) anecdote/observation. The meaty substance comes down near the bottom:

The Gaza crisis, seventeen weeks old at the time of this writing, has not only brought West Asia (and the world) to the brink of a major war. It has sent shockwaves into the heart of a world order that United States took the lead in designing in 1945 and in which, since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, it has acted as hegemon. Netanyahu and his political allies have adopted an openly confrontational stand not only against the UN’s refugee agency, but also against the UN itself and its highest judicial body, remaining implacably opposed to all those fundamentals of the world system…

Anyway, since BR doesn’t have a Comments section, here is your chance to post any reactions or further thoughts you have about the article, in the Comments box below.

Israel’s latest shameful attacks on UNRWA

Above, an UNRWA school in Gaza serving as a shelter for thousands of Palestinians displaced by Israel’s assault

Let us be clear. Israel—a country whose entire existence is the result of the Partition Plan for Palestine that the United Nations adopted in 1947—has a long and serious record of defying U.N. resolutions. Then suddenly, on Friday, Israeli government spokesmen surfaced their accusation that 12 staff members of the UN’s relief agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, had been involved in some way in the Hamas-led breakout into Israel on October 7.

Think about it:

  • The existence those accusations was publicized on the exact same day the International Court of Justice was scheduled to announce its interim ruling on South Africa’s accusation that Israel is committing genocide in Gaza. Quelle coincidence! Hey, to the governments and government lackeys of the world: Don’t look over there at The Hague; Look over here! (Presumably, though, whatever “evidence” the Israeli authorities had been basing their accusations on must have been gathered many weeks ago and may also have been shared with the UNRWA head a while ago, too.)
  • The nature of the accusations has never been revealed. All that we have been told is that they involved 12 members of an UNRWA workforce in Gaza that totals 13,000 people (of whom, by the way, more than 150 have already been killed in Israel’s bombardment.) But neither Israel nor UNRWA head Philippe Lazzarini, with whom the accusations were earlier shared, has ever revealed any of the relevant details such as: what acts those staff members were accused of; what level of staff members they were; and whether they were given any chance to refute the accusations.
  • Instead, according to both Israeli officials and Lazzarini, Israel had shared the accusations—at some undisclosed earlier date—with him and his staff; and at some later date he fired the 12 accused staff members. We have heard no information from UNRWA, which is an international public body, regarding: when all that happened; what kind of an internal investigative process Lazzarini pursued, and how long it took; and what were the results of any such investigation. Hey, for all we know, the Israelis may have initially accused many more than those 12 people who lost their jobs, and UNRWA was able to refute many of those accusations? We don’t know. But doesn’t the global public that pays Lazzarini’s salary deserve to know all this?
  • So on January 26, immediately upon the Israelis revealing the existence of its accusations and of UNRWA’s firing of the 12 individuals, the U.S. government and half a dozen other “White”-country governments all decided to withhold their contributions to all of UNRWA, with immediate effect. This was kowtowing to the government of Israel of the very first order! One can only assume that all these governments were just delighted to have some Gaza-related news to react to (and to contribute to) that was not the ICJ’s very clear, anti-Israel ruling…
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To the people of Gaza: Empathy and admiration, not ‘pity’

The photo above, by Maureen Clare Murphy, shows a kite displayed at a memorial gathering held in Chicago for my friend the assassinated Gaza writer Refaat Alareer

I haven’t written much here recently. In the past two months I’ve been really busy with the book-publishing business, from which I’d earlier hoped I could start to retire. But my publishing company, Just World Books, has long had a strong list of titles on Gaza, and by Gaza-Palestinian authors, so there’s been a huge run on our books… Plus, on December 6, our wonderful author/editor Refaat Alareer, a professor of literature at the Islamic University of Gaza, was assassinated by Israel; and I’ve been doing what I could to defend his legacy and ensure that the works he edited (and contributed to) get as wide a distribution as possible.

I have also been working on a longer essay for a national publication about the clearly massive impact the Gaza crisis has already had, and will continue to have, on the dynamics of global power. Stay tuned for that… Oh, and with my dear Gaza-Palestinian colleague Dr. Yousef Aljamal and a talented new Irish pal called Tony Groves we’ve gotten our new Palestine-focused podcast, the PalCast, up and running. Hey, we’ve now released eighteen episodes of it! (Catch it at Apple, Spotify, or other good podcast platforms.)

So of course this means I’ve continued to follow all the developments unfolding in (and swirling very broadly around) the Gaza crisis pretty closely. I’ve also been networking with numerous other individuals and organizations that are pushing for a speedy ceasefire there and the launching of a serious, U.N.-led project to end Israel’s occupation of Gaza, the West Bank (including E. Jerusalem), and Golan, once and for all.

In these contacts, I’ve encountered quite a few people outside Gaza who admit to feeling “hopeless” to effect change there; and many of those people, and others, frequently express pity for the situation of the 2.3 million people of Gaza. I’ve thought quite a lot about that stance, and my general reaction is as follows: #1, Hopelessness/despair cannot be an option, especially for those of us who are outside Gaza. #2, I’m increasingly of the view that “pity” is a patronizing, othering, and somewhat self-paralyzing kind of response to the situation Gaza’s people are facing, under Israel’s truly outrageous genocidal assault.

What I would urge is that those of us outside Gaza should instead view the situation of the people there with a radical and empowering form of empathy for all of them, and with admiration for the steadfastness and resilience they and their society have shown in the face of Israel’s almost unfathomable cruelty.

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The politics of ending Gaza’s misery

(The above charts are taken from UN-OCHA’s summary report of December 29, on the casualties in the Gaza-Israel crisis. The following essay was first distributed in my newsletter series for Just World Ed.)

The humanitarian crisis in Gaza of course should stay top of mind, but I’ve always been very wary of attempts to divorce intense humanitarian crises from the very real political factors that so often, as in this case, underlie them. The intense crisis that Gaza’s 2.3 million people are suffering is absolutely not the result of a “natural” disaster, but the result of very deliberate policies– political projects– pursued by the leaders on both the Israeli and Palestinian (Hamas-led) sides, as well as those pursued by influential allies including, on the Israeli side, primarily the United States.

Hence, the ending/resolution of the crisis requires political decisions, not just “humanitarian” action. (And as has been clear all along even the attainment of humanitarian goals in this crisis, such as the release of hostages/prisoners or the delivery of aid, requires clear political decisionmaking by many of the involved parties.)

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U.N. Security Council resolution on Gaza: text

At noon ET today, the Security Council finally adopted a (notably watered-down) resolution on the Gaza crisis, resolution 2720. Unlike the resolution passed by the General Assembly earlier this month, it did not call for a ceasefire in Gaza, or even (as an earlier draft of the UNSC resolution had) for a “suspension” of hostilities in Gaza. Instead, it called only on all parties to “create the conditions for a sustainable cessation of hostilities.”

Even with this highly watered-down version, the U.S. ambassador would not vote FOR the resolution. She abstained, citing as her main criticism the fact that it made no mention of “condemning” the actions that Hamas and its partners engaged in in Israel on October 7.

Thirteen of the SC’s 15 members voted for the resolution. Only two abstained: the United States and Russia. Russia had wanted a much stronger resolution.

You can read the UN news center’s account of the day’s events, and find the whole text of resolution 2720, here.

Here are the operational parts of the resolution (after all the preamble, that is):

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On the Gaza crossings monitoring mechanism

Yesterday, I wrote a fairly substantial Twitter thread on the freight-crossings monitoring mechanism that’s a critical point of contention as the UN Security Council this week attempts to pass a meaningful resolution on a ceasefire (or even just a “suspension of hostilities”) in Gaza.

It’s a bit of a wonkish, insidery issue but since it has acquired such importance at the SC, I took that deep dive into it yesterday. You can read the whole thread here. That’s where you’ll need to access it if you want clickable links.

By the way if you’re interested in Israeli controls of *people* needing or wanting to cross into or out of Gaza, go read this excellent thread that the currently exiled Gazan Sarah Ali posted yesterday.

Anyway, here’s the content of my thread from yesterday, non-clickably (with two typos corrected):

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The clocks ticking for Gaza (political and otherwise)

For the most of the 2.3 million Palestinians of Gaza, time has entered a horrifying and quite disorienting warp. How long since they were able to feed their children? How long to remain crammed into an insecure tent as winter’s rains lash? How long till the dysentery takes a loved one? How long since a father, uncle, brother was taken away, stripped nearly naked, and trucked to a distant prison camp? Above all: How much longer now till the crashing of Israeli bombs and bulldozers, the crack of sniper fire, the relentless buzz of drones all finally fall silent?

How long till a ceasefire? How long?

Pres. Joe Biden has, as we know, firmly blocked all the moves the Global Majority has taken to achieve a ceasefire in the Gaza-Israel fighting. Well-connected reporters in Israel have written that the message Biden’s National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan gave during the meeting he held yesterday with Israel’s war cabinet was that Biden could only “allow” Israel a few more weeks before he starts calling for a ceasefire.

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The record of Gaza’s ‘humanitarian pauses’

We are nearing the end of the sixth day (in West Asia) of the daily ‘humanitarian pauses’ that have been painstakingly negotiated between the Hamas military/political leadership and their Israeli counterparts, via a trail that goes through Qatar and Egypt, with the Biden administration also eager to take a lot of credit. The first of those pauses was agreed to be four days long, then there was a two-day extension. Right now there are reports that Hamas is offering a further extension of two or even more days, on basically similar terms.

These arrangements have four well-known components: a strong bilateral restriction on conducting hostilities; Hamas’s release of an agreed daily number woman, children, and non-Israeli captives; Israel’s release of an agreed daily number of Palestinians women and children captives, on a basis of 3-to-1; and Israel’s “permission” to aid organizations to send an agreed number of aid trucks into Gaza, in a greed manner, each day.

The fact that these terms have been largely met by both sides for six days is very significant. Primarily, it shows that Hamas’s command-and-control apparatus in Gaza remained fundamentally intact even after the extreme pounding (bombing from land, sea, and air, use of large tank and other ground-force formations, etc) that Israel inflicted on Gaza for seven weeks prior to the start of the ‘pauses’. Hamas showed it was able to abide by the ceasefire provisions and impose discipline on other Gaza groups that might have sought not to. Hamas showed it was able to organize at least one release of hostages from within the (northern) environs of Gaza City, which the IDF had previously encircled and on which it had inflicted a terrible, Dresden/Stalingrad degree of damage.

I also want to give a strong and awed shoutout to the resilience, dignity, and commitment of the people of Gaza. They have suffered almost unimaginable harm over the past 54 days. The Government Media Office there reports that “more than 15,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, including about 6,150 children and 4,000 women.” Untold thousands have been injured. 1.7 million Gaza Palestinians have been displaced. Most of the Strip’s hospitals and many other public-use buildings have been destroyed. Schools have been turned into refugee camps (and several of them also destroyed.) The ‘pauses’ allowed many Gazans to go out and about and to see the extent and degree of the physical damage, and also to see the remains of unburied corpses on the streets and in pancaked buildings. Despite all this, there have been very few mass melees around arriving aid trucks. On the day that cooking gas was delivered to a station in central Gaza, Gazans arranged their families’ gas canisters in an orderly line that reportedly stretched for two kilometres.

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Yes, Israel’s whole 56-year occupation of Gaza has to end. Now.

As diplomats from the Global Majority start to gather in Beijing (shown above) and prepare to hold a virtual BRICS summit on the Gaza crisis starting tomorrow (November 21), here is a recapitulation of some of my thinking on how this urgently needed crisis-ending diplomacy should proceed…

Many voices worldwide have been talking about what comes after a ceasefire. A loud chorus inside Israel is urging their military to stay in as much of Gaza as possible, and to rebuild there an even stronger presence of the (always quite illegal) colonial settlements that existed prior to 2005… Pres. Joe Biden, who has given Israel unstinting support for its assault on Gaza, has murmured that after the fighting ends it should withdraw back to its side of the 1949 Armistice Line. In the intellectually thin and bombastic WaPo column that he penned yesterday, Biden wrote that after Israel withdraws, the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority (PA) should take over in Gaza…. Other Washington voices have suggested that an international force of unspecified origin and authorization be sent in to do that…

But the head of the PA has made quite clear that he and his colleagues reject being parachuted in to Gaza in that role and the heads of the Arab states most often mentioned as part of that elusive “international force” have all likewise refused to be drafted into it.

The quandary of “how to rule over post-ceasefire Gaza” shows that American power in the region is now coming up against unprecedented limits.

Internationally, the call for Israel to withdraw all the ground forces it has had rampaging around inside Gaza will grow louder and louder over the weeks ahead.

But the United States has shown that it cannot on its own cobble together any plausible “coalition of the willing” able to go into Gaza to oversee the massive tasks of relief, reconstruction, and emergency “governance” that the whole Strip requires. In today’s world, it is only the United Nations that can achieve this.

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Elements of an effective, UN-supervised ceasefire in Gaza

There is a broad and growing global campaign for a ceasefire in Gaza. (U.S. Pres. Biden has countered it by calling for one or more much briefer “pauses” to allow for humanitarian operations. But still the pro-ceasefire campaign continues to grow.) The Israeli government and military and their supporters worldwide have argued very strongly against a ceasefire, saying it would “reward Hamas”, or would be “a surrender to Hamas.”

Many supporters of Israel also use arguments like, “How can we have trust in a ceasefire? After what Hamas did October 7, how can we ever trust them to abide by a ceasefire?” This argument, unlike the two recited above, is worth examining. Its proponents usually refer to the series of ceasefires that Israeli governments concluded with Hamas (through third parties) that brought to an end the previous rounds of fighting between the two parties—for example, in 2009, in 2014, and 2021. One first observation is, of course, that each of those ceasefires did lead to a halt in the active fighting for a number of years. So they were not worthless. However, none of them led to any indication that the suffocating military occupation that Israel has maintained over Gaza since 1967 was on its way to coming to an end. Hence, the tight, concentration-camp-like pressure cooker of Gaza’s 2.3. million rights-deprived people was just put back on to the stove to boil.

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