From Other Sources: News For And About Amherst. (#36). This Week’s Focus: The War In Gaza

Scene from the 2014 war in Gaza. Photo: Sharif Sarhan and Flickr.com. Creative Commons

This feature offers links to selected articles that might be of interest to Amherst readers. I favor in these postings, with a few exceptions, material that is not hiding behind a paywall. Hence, I have reduced my postings from sources like the Washington PostThe Wall Street JournalThe Boston Globe, and The Chronicle of Higher Education, which are doing some great reporting but which make their articles inaccessible without some sort of payment. But on occasion, an article seems too important to not mention, and in such cases I will post it, and leave it for the reader to decide whether to pay for access. If you have read something that is germane to what I’ve been posting in this feature, please share the link in the comments section below.

This week I focus on the war in Gaza and offer some analysis and insight to cut through the memes, shallow representations, and bothsiderisms that dominate most of the mainstream media.  I spent nearly 20 years working in Israel and Palestine from the mid 80’s through the early 2000’s.  My experience and my engagements with the residents taught me that the occupation of Palestine by one of the world’s most powerful military forces is at the core of all events in the region and must be central to any meaningful understanding of those events. Last week saw an unprecedented number of demonstrations around the globe protesting the occupation and calling for a free Palestine. This week’s readings offer a quick course on the history of the occupation, some insight into what has instigated the current assault on Gaza by Israeli forces, a brief look at America’s role in financing the occupation and violent military oppression of the Palestinian people, and a bit of insight into why global attitudes about the occupation are changing. And they prod us to consider how we in the United States are connected to this ongoing proliferation of human suffering.

Palestine / Israel 101. by Jewish Voice For Peace (no date). The violence between Israelis and Palestinians is often falsely presented as a conflict between two equal sides with irreconcilable claims to one piece of land. In reality, this is a conflict over territory between a nation-state, Israel, with one of the world’s most powerful and well-funded militaries, and an indigenous population of Palestinians that has been occupied, displaced, and exiled for decades. After watching JVP’s 101 video we recommend browsing the updated guide to having difficult conversations about Palestine/Israel, learning about the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, and taking a look at a more in-depth primer like Phyllis Bennis’ “Understanding the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict–A Primer”. (Jewish Voice For Peace)

Why Are Israelis and Palestinans Fighting In Gaza? The Gaza Doom Loop by Zack Beauchamp (5/13/20). Dozens have already died in the fighting between Israel and Hamas, and more will perish if the fighting continues to escalate. But there is little chance that the root cause of all this death — the long-running political status quo in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — will be altered in the slightest. Israeli-Palestinian warfare has become routinized; it follows a familiar script that repeats itself endlessly.Since Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, there have been three full-scale wars and numerous rounds of lower-level fighting. But the basic structure of the conflict — Israel’s blockade of Gaza and occupation of the West Bank, and Palestinian rule divided between Hamas in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank — has remained remarkably durable.It would seem as if the current round of violence emerged out of a complex series of events in Jerusalem, most notably heavy-handed actions by Israeli police and aggression by far-right Jewish nationalists. But in reality, these events were merely triggers for escalations made almost inevitable by the way the major parties have chosen to approach the conflict. (Vox)

The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Won’t Be The Same Again by Ishaan Tharoor (5/20/21). After the shooting war over Gaza wound down early Friday, it seems that the Israelis and Palestinians may be poised to return to their fragile, if febrile, status quo. Israeli officials are already claiming their military objectives were met after close to two weeks of relentless bombardment of the blockaded Gaza Strip. The Islamist group Hamas, which fired more than 4,300 rockets into Israeli territory from its bastion in Gaza, also declared a kind of victory. It is likely to emerge from the fighting as it has after previous rounds, battered but unbowed, and perhaps boosted in the eyes of some of its brethren for having confronted an Israeli state that maintains an unflinching occupation over millions of Palestinians. Never mind the hundreds of Palestinians and dozen people in Israel who lost their lives in the process.Yet to many analysts and close observers of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there may be no going back to the way things once were. The intensity of this latest round of violence took both the Israeli government and the Biden administration by surprise. It should not have. (Washington Post)

The Israeli Occupation of Palestine by Amnesty International (no date). There are some 3 million Palestinians and around 600,000 Israeli settlers living in the West Bank, an area which includes East Jerusalem.16 Israel captured the West Bank, as well as the Gaza Strip, during a war with its Arab neighbours in 1967.17 These areas are known today as the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). Since the start of the occupation, Israel has administered different parts of the OPT in different ways. In 1967 Israel unilaterally annexed East Jerusalem and included these Palestinian parts of the city, as well as a surrounding area of over 70km2, within the boundaries of the Israeli municipality of Jerusalem.The Israeli military governed the remainder of the West Bank, as well as the Gaza Strip, as occupied territory from 1967 onwards.This changed in the mid-1990s following the Oslo Accords. These established the Palestinian Authority (the PA, now known as the State of Palestine) and divided the West Bank excluding East Jerusalem into Areas A, B and C. The Oslo Accords transferred partial jurisdiction of some areas to the PA, while overall security remained under Israeli control. As a result, the PA obtained varying amounts of administrative responsibility over Areas A and B. These areas included Palestinian towns and villages where 90% of the Palestinian population lived. Meanwhile, Palestinian rural areas were classified as Area C, where Israel maintained full civil and security authority. A separate agreement saw the division of the city of Hebron into Palestinian and Israeli-administered sectors, known as H1 and H2 respectively.The Oslo Accords were intended to act as a “transitional arrangement lasting not exceeding five years”. However, its terms and implications remain in force today. (Amnesty International)

A Primer On The Palestine, Israel and Arab-Israeli Conflict by Joel Benin and Lisa Hajjar (2014). The conflict between Palestinian Arabs and Zionist (now Israeli) Jews is a modern phenomenon, dating to the end of the nineteenth century. Although the two groups have different religions (Palestinians include Muslims, Christians and Druze), religious differences are not the cause of the strife. The conflict began as a struggle over land. From the end of World War I until 1948, the area that both groups claimed was known internationally as Palestine. That same name was also used to designate a less well-defined “Holy Land” by the three monotheistic religions. Following the war of 1948–1949, this land was divided into three parts: the State of Israel, the West Bank (of the Jordan River) and the Gaza Strip.

It is a small area—approximately 10,000 square miles, or about the size of the state of Maryland. The competing claims to the territory are not reconcilable if one group exercises exclusive political control over all of it. Jewish claims to this land are based on the biblical promise to Abraham and his descendants, on the fact that the land was the historical site of the ancient Jewish kingdoms of Israel and Judea, and on Jews’ need for a haven from European anti-Semitism. Palestinian Arab claims to the land are based on their continuous residence in the country for hundreds of years and the fact that they represented the demographic majority until 1948. They reject the notion that a biblical-era kingdom constitutes the basis for a valid modern claim. If Arabs engage the biblical argument at all, they maintain that since Abraham’s son Ishmael is the forefather of the Arabs, then God’s promise of the land to the children of Abraham includes Arabs as well. They do not believe that they should forfeit their land to compensate Jews for Europe’s crimes against Jews. (Middle East Research and Information Project)

Israel’s War On Palestine: A Collection of Essays. by Various Authors.  May 19,2021. To shed badly needed context on the current crisis, we compiled some of our most searching essays on Israel’s occupation of Palestine. Contrary to Israeli claims of self-defense in response to acts of terrorism, these crises reflect decades of brutal Israeli aggression in Gaza and the West Bank. Above all, these pieces speak with moral clarity about the extreme imbalance of power between Israel and occupied Palestinian territories, the ongoing humanitarian crisis under Israel’s domination of Gaza, and the far-right militarization of Jewish supremacism in Israeli politics. Reflecting on his experiences as a solider in the Israeli army, philosopher Oded Na’aman disputes official Israeli claims that an ethical occupation is possible, while the late Rabbi Ben-Zion Gold discusses the responsibility of American Jews to hold Israel accountable.

Several essays stress the primacy of politics alongside moral exhortation. A forum with Palestinian legal scholar Lama Abu-Odeh makes the case for binationalism, while other pieces scrutinize the limitations of a one-state solution, the relationship between civil and political rights, and enduring obstacles to two states. Other contributors explore the uses and abuses of historical understanding, emphasizing how it is both essential for peace and liable to distortion. In two feature reports from the late 2000s, Middle East correspondent Helena Cobban tracks in great detail how the rise of Hamas and the decline of the Israeli peace movement transformed Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy. A final set of essays mines other forceful visions of Israeli-Palestinian life, from Israeli and Palestinian novels and the work of Edward Said to the largely forgotten Jewish territorialist movement, which imagined forms of Jewish self-determination beyond statehood in Palestine. Together they offer an indispensable guide to the current crisis and the movement for peace. (Boston Review)

Settlements And The Israeli / Palestinian Conflict: Background Reading by Eric Schewe (5/19/21). After a relatively dormant period, the Israel-Palestine conflict erupted into open war last week. Hamas in Gaza and the Israeli army are engaged in the first sustained exchange of rocket fire and airstrikes in seven years. The near-term cause of the fighting was a series of recent disputes over the usage of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and nearby Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, as Israel’s national holidays conflicted with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Moreover, both the governments of Israel and the Palestinian Authority are weak in 2021, discouraging either side from compromise. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu once again needs to attract far-right wing politicians to form a coalition government in Israel’s parliamentary system. The President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, recently canceled elections to avoid a potential loss. This emboldened Hamas, which broke with Abbas’ party Fatah in 2007 and has remained in sole control of Gaza since that time. However, the most important long-term factor has been the continuing Israeli efforts to displace Palestinian residents of the occupied Palestine territories and to settle Israeli citizens in their place. Israel occupied the Palestinian territories of Gaza and the West Bank in the 1967 war, which had been formerly under the administration of Egypt and Jordan, respectively. Israel has permitted hundreds of thousands of settlers to make land claims based on pre-1948 ownership in these territories, and to establish entirely new communities on land claimed by the state in the intervening decade. The UN has formally denounced this policy as a violation of international law.
(JSTOR Daily)

Why Does The United States Support Israel? by Jason Farbman (5/17/21). The ethnic cleansing of Palestine is one of the great crimes of the last century. It has been made possible by Israel’s utility to US imperialism.  (Jacobin)

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