Anger, sadness and stupidity: the Gaza tragedy

By Harry Hagopian
24 Jul 2014

I am both angry and deeply sad about what is happening in Gaza: infuriated by all the deaths, injuries, human and physical rubble, as well as fear and trauma that have together permeated the psyches of Palestinians and Israelis alike. And within all my primitive feelings, I would highlight Albert Einstein's focus on stupidity that is one basis for most human actions.

Operation Protective Edge: here is a new military initiative that has fired up many Israelis, infuriated many Palestinians, left the Arab leaders once more in tatters of nonchalance or fragmentation and challenged the moral fibre of the West in terms of its support or opposition to this campaign. It seems to me that the popular streets alone have been clear in their reactions with huge demonstrations worldwide. But is it, as Einstein posits, fear or stupidity?

Writers, analysts, intellectuals and journalists alike have been expressing their opinions about the pros and cons of the Israeli punitive attacks on Gaza. Is it because of the abduction and murder of the three teenagers although we still have no clue of the culprits? Is it because of the rockets that flew over many Israeli cities and caused panic and a rush to shelters? Or could it be those labyrinthine tunnels that have been the economic backbone of the Gazan elites?

Or is it another bold – in my lexicon, perilous – attempt by PM Netanyahu's government to try and quash Hamas once and for all? Perhaps Hamas itself wishes to re-inflame the situation in an attempt to regain its shattered credibility and coerce Egypt to re-open the Rafah crossing as a necessary lifeline?

Even a majority of the Israeli 'Left' such as David Grossman, Tom Segev, Amos Oz or Avraham B Yehoshua have spoken out one way or another in favour of attacking Hamas. Mind you, there have also been consistent voices like Ilan Pappé, Shlomo Sand, Norman Finklestein and – in another higher world I am sure – the late philosopher Yeshayahou Leibowitz arguing against this war.

But let me be clear that the answer does not lie in another military strike against Gaza that kills hundreds of civilians on beaches and in hospitals as much as in hideaways and on the battleground, wreaks havoc, puts paid to all arguments about proportionality as I understand them from my law years, and then concludes balefully with a ceasefire that is not unlike previous documents. Human beings will die painfully, anger will create more radicalism and extreme positions will become more entrenched on all sides, with treachery or confusion abounding – until the next round.

The core problem is not, stricto sensu, one of tunnels, rockets or abducted teenagers. It is one of occupation under International law and the illegal acquisition of land. Until such time as Israel renounces its messianic, let alone expansionist, tendencies and decides to return the occupied Palestinian territories, there can be no peace. In fact, there will be no peace no matter the palliative solutions, soothing compromises, frequent flyer miles – or even Tony Blair's omnipresence. The Palestinian being cannot be unmade to disappear: so will Israel give the land back to its owners according to well-established parameters that are in most diplomatic drawers and stop hiding behind illegal settlements and millennia-old biblical exegeses to justify oppressing and colonising another people?

I have often argued – fervidly and not without reproach or ridicule at times – for a two-state solution that provides both Israel and Palestine with equal sovereignty, equal security and equal rights. I have also stated ad nauseum that the Palestinian identity and cause remain ineradicable despite the conglomeration of other bloody conflicts and uprisings. To my mind, this conflict constitutes one central hub for the Arab political pulse no matter the wishes of many politicians. So can we develop Gaza and the West Bank rather than destroy them, grant Palestinians the lawful right to self-determination rather than rule over them and in so doing disprove one of Einstein's statements?

I acknowledge that the Palestinian conflict is battered by many internecine disagreements, rabid opposition from the Egyptian authorities and extreme bias from parts of its media, a flaccid approach by the US Administration or the EU and a sense of fatigue by the UN and its international constituency. The anti-Palestinian animus has become so deep-rooted that some Egyptians are suggesting that Palestinians are selling their lands and so why bother with a state – allegations that Sherif Younis, history professor at Helwan University and the editor of the political monthly Al-Busla, has rebutted pointedly and statistically. However much we all might applaud the disengagement of 2005, let us also remember that Gazans remain under total siege and there is only so long that one can keep human beings in concrete cages.

So can the international community go the extra mile and re-visit Gaza honestly? And can it also re-visit the overall Palestinian conflict justly so that this painful flare-up becomes at least a catalyst for a more credible solution than a mere ceasefire whose terms will not witness any implementation again? Or am I barking up the wrong tree?

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© Harry Hagopian is an international lawyer, ecumenist and EU political consultant. He also acts as a Middle East and inter-faith advisor to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England & Wales and as Middle East consultant to ACEP (Christians in Politics) in Paris. He is an Ekklesia associate and regular contributor (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/HarryHagopian). Formerly an Executive Secretary of the Jerusalem Inter-Church Committee and Executive Director of the Middle East Council of Churches, he is now an international fellow, Sorbonne III University, Paris, consultant to the Campaign for Recognition of the Armenian Genocide (UK), Ecumenical consultant to the Primate of Armenian Church in UK & Ireland, and author of The Armenian Church in the Holy Land. Dr Hagopian’s own website is www.epektasis.net Follow him on Twitter here: @harryhagopian

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