For Israel and its unswerving American benefactor, even the adverse outcome of a vote — at the United Nation’s 129-nation General Assembly — that could’ve been worse, is seen as a victory.
Last week, in a blow to Washington and Israel, a US-drafted resolution, put forth by outgoing American Ambassador Nikki Haley, condemning Hamas for firing rockets into Israel, won a majority of 87 to 57, but failed to pass because it did not reach the required two-third backing. Still, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was delighted, saying pitiably that although a two-thirds majority was not achieved, this was the first time there was a “sweeping majority of countries” that had “stood up” against the Gaza fighters.
Haley was also delighted, proclaiming gleefully that “the tide has turned, it is a new day at the UN”. And United States President Donald Trump, on the phone with his envoy, fumed against those member-states that had voted against the resolution and reportedly demanded: “Who do you want me to yell at, who do we take their money away?” This was a rebuke reminiscent of former US president Harry S. Truman hollering at his ambassador to the international body, Warren Austin, in November 1947, that “there will be hell to pay” if resolution 181, formalising the creation of Israel in Palestine, did not pass.
To be sure, in the context of the asymmetry between Hamas’ “rocket attacks” and Israel’s history of violence against Gaza, the former is a joke — a thigh-slapper, if you wish — since these rockets are more like fireworks that cause more disruption and instil fear than kill and maim.
Consider this: Over an entire decade, from 2004 to 2014, these rockets, crude, short-range and mostly ineffectual, have killed, in all, according to a report by B’Tselem, 27 Israeli civilians, five foreign nationals and five soldiers — and that, let’s face it, is roughly how many Palestinians Israelis kill on a slow weekend. Recall, if you please, May 13, a day that coincided with the opening of the US Embassy in Occupied Jerusalem, when Israeli forces, poised at the Gaza boundary fence and using live ammunition, killed 64 unarmed Palestinian protesters. No society, with any pretence at being civilised, would be able to find words to justify such a monstrous act. Americans are still to this day searching their souls in an effort to explain away “the Kent State shootings”, the killing on May 4, 1970, during a mass protest against the war in Vietnam on the Kent State University Campus, in Kent, Ohio, by National Guardsmen, of four students and the wounding of nine others.
But the sad fact is that violence against Palestinians by Israeli occupation forces — and Gaza, according to the UN, remains Occupied Territory — has become, after all these years, so routine that it elicits an expression of nauseated disbelief.
In this debate, to be sure, few Palestinians will hold a brief for Hamas, a group that continues to lose popularity among Gazans for its crackdown on dissent, arbitrary arrests of critics, abuse of political prisoners and, on a less ominous level, the provincialism of its leaders. Nor are Palestinians in the West Bank holding a brief for the Palestinian National Authority either, whose own leaders, smug in their sense of entitlement and satisfied with their abundant privileges, have caused their people to suffer one diplomatic defeat after another and endure one act of social grief after another. As far as cynical Palestinians are concerned.
Back to that tormented strip of land we call Gaza.
A legendary figure
Look, I do not want to glorify the revolutionary violence of oppressed people, as have done, say, French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre and the Martiniquais psychiatrist and radical theoretician Frantz Fanon — most notably in his 1961 iconic work, Wretched of the Earth. I see something lyrically ironic about these crude, short-range and ineffectual rockets fired against Israel by Gazans. You see, these rockets often contain white phosphorous that is said to be recycled from munitions that had been used by Israel in its three deadly wars against the Strip. And they are called Qassams, after Izz Al Deen Qassam, who led a guerrilla war against the Mandate and Zionist forces in 1930s Palestine, before he was ambushed and killed by British soldiers in 1935. Soon after that, he went on to become a legendary figure in the historical imagination and in the history books of the people of Palestine.
In the context of the asymmetry between Hamas’ ‘rocket attacks’ and Israel’s history of violence against Gaza, the former is a joke — a thigh-slapper, if you wish — since these rockets are more like fireworks that cause disruption and instil fear than kill and maim.
Israel drops its bombs on Gaza, Gazans transform them into rockets that they fire back at Israel — complete with a message from Palestinian folk wisdom: We shall fight our colonisers till the end of time, till the sun dies.
Fawaz Turki is a journalist, lecturer and author based in Washington. He is the author of The Disinherited: Journal of a Palestinian Exile.