Monday, 4 August 2014

Little Respite for the Defenceless, and No Rest for their Oppressors

Ceasefires seem to have come, gone and returned today in Gaza.  Israel has 'redeployed' much of its forces in the Strip in the last couple of days, but a redeployment is a tactical matter, and does not necessarily preclude a large-scale ground intervention re-occurring, or smaller operations continuing, as seems to be the case in Rafah.

Meanwhile the international reaction, at the level of states and governments, remains so low-key and somnolent as to be truly disgraceful and disgusting.  At least during Operation Cast Lead, in 2008-2009, we had one UN Security Council Resolution, which the United States did not seek to veto (it abstained).  This time, all we've got are various bleatings from Ban Ki-Moon, from President Obama, and from European leaders, nearly always framed or hedged around with the 'recognition' of Israel's right to defend itself.  What is forgotten in this is the right of the Palestinians to defence, and the fact that, as David Lloyd says in his Mondoweiss piece, the butchery of civilians is not a legitimate mode of self-defence.

On the wider front, commentators in journals such as the Irish Times like to meditate ponderously on how Israel, in its struggle with Hamas, finds itself in an alliance with Arab states against 'political Islam'.  But much of this pontification is ignorant or purblind also.  Israel certainly is benefiting from the hostility of the Cairo government against the Muslim Brotherhood.   The joke here is that previous Egyptian, and Israeli, governments have sought to make use of 'political Islam' and indeed of the Brotherhood.  Anwar Sadat tried to channel Egyptian Islamists towards the mujahideen jihad against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, in the late 1970s.  Israel's security service, Shin Bet, at least turned a blind eye towards, and quite possibly assisted, the rise of the Brotherhood in the Strip in the 1980s, as a way of splitting secular Palestinian nationalism.   From that movement arose the movement that Israel struggles to contain - Hamas.  A classic case of 'blowback'.

But the idea that Israel now, in allying itself with Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, is taking a stand against political Islam is truly laughable.  It takes us back to the pre-9/11 days, when the United States foreign policy establishment referred to Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf kingdoms as 'moderate' Arab regimes.  This designation was given these strikingly reactionary states, as against the putative 'radicalism' of the Arab nationalist regimes of Egypt (under Nasser), Syria (under the Assads, father and son) and Iraq (under its military leadership and under Saddam Hussein), which were opposed to Western imperialism in the region and which were prepared to make war with Israel.  But this is and was ludicrous.  The Arab nationalists at various times were armed or supported by the USSR, and to the Americans, this made them 'radical'.  But the Gulf sheikhdoms - always dependent on the West for armed support, and aggressively anti-commnuist - were and are much more conservative and dangerous in their political/theological structures, and are essentially quasi-feudal oligarchies, wedded to very conservative forms of Sunni Islam.  In the case of the biggest, richest and most powerful of these kingdoms, ruled by the House of Saud, we find a legitimating alliance between the royal family and a clerical regime of the most profound and dark conservatism, Wahhabiyya.  Taking its name from Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, a Sunni theologian of the late eighteenth century, this sect sees Islam as suffering from various political corruptions and moral weaknesses in the period of modernity.  Most radically, it promotes takfiri thinking, which casts most other Muslims as apostates, and permits their punishment or killing. It is this tendency that has seen Saudi Wahhabism issue in Salafi radicalism of the kind we associate with al-Qaeda, with the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and with ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

In other words, in allying itself with Saudi Arabia, no matter how hidden or implicit this alliance may be, Israel is colluding with the most violent, destructive, anti-democratic and intolerant ideology at work in the Middle East. This doesn't say much for the moral purity of the 'only democracy' in the region, and it makes a nonsense of the idea that Israel is opposed to 'political Islam'.

But then moral and ethical confusion is part and parcel of this struggle, and the Saudis do not have a monopoly on extremism.  Here, for example, is the case of the writer who has made the most shameful and disgraceful personal and political use of the legacy of the Holocaust, Elie Wiesel:

 Elie Wiesel plays the Holocaust trump card in Gaza

And here is a statement by a radical ultra-Orthodox rabbi here in Dublin:

Do Not Be Broken Or Afraid Of Them [Parshat Devarim By Rabbi Zalman Lent

In Israel itself, considerable and in many ways admirable freedom of the press allows the most extraordinary rightwing and racist Zionist opinions to be voiced and, alas, to gain such traction as makes them no longer exceptional.  More unsettlingly, this same press freedom seems less often afforded to Palestinian-Israeli views.  Here is an example of the former - an Israeli journalist pondering the times when genocide may be 'permissible':

Reprint of Yochanan Gordon’s “When Genocide is Permissible” (Updated)

And if one reckons a mere journalist to be less than fully responsible or representative, one can take the case of the Deputy Speaker of the Knesset, Moshe Feiglin:

"Concentrate” and “exterminate”: Israel parliament deputy speaker's Gaza genocide




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