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 Houthi shipping threats

The above image shows a Yemeni Coast Guard vessel guarding the hijacked Israeli-owned vessel Galaxy Leader

This is a Twitter thread I posted Wednesday, about the (economic!) effectiveness of the attacks and threats that Yemen’s Houthis have been making against Israel-related shipping trying to transit the Bab el-Mandeb straits.

Just in case it’s not accessible there I have uploaded the PDF of that thread here. And below, you’ll find (non-clickable) screengrabs of those pages. If you want clickable, go to the first link I put above.

(Just an update Friday afternoon: Reuters reported that France, Italy, and Spain– all of which SecDef Lloyd Austin had earlier announced would be members of the counter-Houthi ‘Operation Prosperity Guardian’ coalition– had all declared that they would not be; but their navies would continue coordinating with the U.S. Navy under previously existing arrangements. France and Norway also seemed to be pulling back from Austin’s OPG bravura…)

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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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On claims of rape during Hamas’s October 7 breakout from Gaza

The high-profile former Meta exec Sheryl Sandberg headlined an event on this issue for the Israeli Mission to the U.N., December 4

Suddenly, a few days ago, and just as the Israeli military was resuming and indeed intensifying its operations in Gaza, Israel’s worldwide PR machine leapt into life with a large-scale campaign asserting as proven “fact” unproven claims that during the October 7 breakout from Gaza, the Hamas operatives had engaged in a broad campaign of rape and other forms of sexual violence against Israeli women.

What a coincidence. “Hey folks, don’t look at what’s happening to the civilians inside Gaza. Look over here instead!” (And a worrying proportion of Western media outlets did just that. Sigh.)

As a sometimes adventurous professional woman I’ve had to fend off a number of unwanted sexual advances over the years, on occasion a little forcefully. And I’ve done enough interviewing of survivors of rape and sexual violence in Rwanda and elsewhere that I well understand the grave harm that such acts cause. Obviously I would hate it intensely if my children or grandchildren were subjected to such harm.

But you know what? I’d hate it even more if they were killed. Murder is, I think, a very much graver harm than rape.

So first, a few facts. Al-Jazeera is now reporting that Israel has killed more than 17,000 people in Gaza since October 7. Most UN bodies estimate that about 70% of those killed are women and children. That would be ~ 11,900. Conservatively, let’s say that Israel has killed 3,000 to 4,000 women in Gaza. And those who are still alive are barely surviving amid the most God-awful circumstances imaginable.

Let’s think of each of those women’s lives lost or gravely harmed as being just as valuable as the lives of Israeli women?

And here are some facts and figure about the people killed in Israel during the Hamas-led breakout of October 7—which is what we can know about, with much more certainty than we can know about women (or men) who may have been subjected to sexual assault.

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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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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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The UN Security Council can end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Here’s how.

In the past 35 days, the Israeli military has killed well over 10,000 people in Gaza. It has reduced most of Gaza City and the extensive refugee camps that surround it to barren moonscapes of rubble. Meantime, Israeli settler extremists have gone on killing and land-grabbing sprees in the occupied West Bank, with great help from the Occupation Forces there. The currently sharp intensity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has considerably inflamed tensions along Israel’s northern border. And the high degree of the United States’ direct and indirect involvement in Israel’s war effort, which has included dispatching two aircraft carrier battle groups, a nuclear-capable submarine and other U.S. military forces and assets to the region, has further inflamed tensions in a swathe stretching from Western Iraq through Syria and right down the Red Sea to Yemen.

This madness needs to stop!

As do the series of intense and long-unresolved political conflicts that underlie all these tensions, with at their heart the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

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The United States. Must step aside. From Arab-Israeli ‘peacemaking’.

The United States. Must step aside. From Arab-Israeli ‘peacemaking’. It is that simple.

For 50 years now, Washington has dominated all the efforts that the world’s nations have undertaken in their search for a just and lasting resolution to the many strands of the Israeli-Arab conflict. That U.S. move to dominate the peace diplomacy was launched in late 1973 by Henry Kissinger, who uniquely combined the roles of Secretary of State and National Security Advisor. In the aftermath of the October 1973 war, Kissinger brusquely elbowed aside the Soviet Union, which had hoped to “co-lead” the post-war diplomacy.

From December 1973 until today, the United States has dominated all Arab-Israeli diplomacy, with the level of that U.S. domination rising to a situation of unabashed hegemony after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. And as I’ve written elsewhere, in 2005 Pres. George W. Bush even managed to subordinate the United Nations (and the EU, and a then-very-weak Russia) to Washington’s “leadership” of the diplomacy through an extraordinary arrangement called the “Middle East Quad.”

The results, for citizens of all the Arab states with the possible, partial exception of Egypt, have been disastrous. But the impact on the Palestinians has been particularly dire. They have seen Israeli settlers grabbing huge new areas of Palestinian land in the West Bank. They have seen the lives of all the Palestinians still resident in their historic homeland tightly constrained by Israel. They’ve seen Israeli forces and their allies commit unspeakable atrocities in the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. They’ve seen their freedom to worship in their holy places in Jerusalem, Hebron, and elsewhere attacked.

And what has Washington done? Washington has continued to shovel massive sums of money and soaring mountains of arms into Israel. It has protected Israel from any international accountability by using its veto at the U.N. Security Council. It has given formal recognition to Israel’s (quite illegal) annexation of Greater East Jerusalem and of Syria’s Golan. It has demonized all who tried to resist Israel’s continued violence and encroachments by calling them terrorists and wielding tough sanctions against them.

And now, in Gaza City and the surrounding Gaza Strip—and also in the West Bank—we see the culmination of all that fervent, intensely one-sided support that successive U.S. presidents and their officials, and the U.S. Congress, have lavished on Israel over the past 50 years.

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Yes, Joe Biden, you can stop Israel’s genocide on Gaza!

Sec. of State Antony Blinken traveled to Israel over the weekend to urge Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu to allow “humanitarian pauses” in the bombing and ground campaign against Gaza that has now killed > 10,000 people there Netanyahu publicly rebuffed that appeal. Today’s newspapers contain some somewhat anguished accounts about the White House’s “frustration” over Netanyahu’s rebuff.

For example, in the Washington Post, Yasmeen Abutaleb wrote,

U.S. officials had hoped there could eventually be regular bombing pauses so that humanitarian and aid workers could safely operate in Gaza, according to a U.S. official familiar with the discussions. But securing such an arrangement seemed further out of reach after Blinken’s visit…

Pres. Biden might want to take a lesson from his predecessor of 41 years ago, Ronald Reagan?

In June 1982, a previous Israeli PM from the Likud Party, Menachem Begin, sent his military deep into Lebanon and up to Beirut in an attempt to “eliminate” the PLO militias who had operated there for 12 years. By early August the Israelis were encircling the PLO’s last strongholds in West Beirut and bombing the heck out of that portion of the city, which included several large Palestinian refugee camps. Very disturbing images of that destruction were starting to fill the U.S. media…

Michael Deaver was Reagan’s deputy chief of staff at the time. In his 2001 memoir, A Different Drummer, he wrote about his misgivings over Israel’s attacks grew as the weeks progressed:

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