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Posts Tagged ‘Palestinian Authority’

Over the weekend I watched news coverage of the ground incursion into Gaza by the IDF.  Then, this morning, three very different articles caught my attention.  The first was this account by a Gazan journalist. The second was President Bush’s take on the situation in Gaza. The third was Andrew Sullivan’s analysis of the current conflict using the idea of “just war” and proportionality.

Taken as a whole, these articles summarize my own thoughts and concerns about the situation in Gaza.  Yet, another set of questions and ideas has also been on my mind… questions of cause and effect.  President Bush (and seemingly the Israeli government) seems focused on the immediate causes — the thousands of crude rockets that Hamas has sent into Israeli cities, towns, and villages.  As such, a response can be seen as justified.  Yet, are there other, earlier causes and responses that have played a role in bringing both sides to the present conflict?

Several years ago, I worked for an organization and in an industry where there was a requirement to minimize error and to understand what had happened when errors or failures occurred.  Now, humans are fallible, and all human activity is subject to error and to failure.  However, the consequences of some errors can be catastrophic, so it is important to understand what went wrong when errors and failures — even small, seemingly insignificant ones — occur.  The military calls this process a “lessons learned” exercise.  “Root cause analysis” is another term for the same process.  It’s important to make sure that the process results in identifying the right things and all the contributing factors that lead to the errors and failures. Essentially, that analysis consists of asking “why?” repeatedly until one has identified ALL the factors and failures that contributed to the event in question.  Virtually no event has a single cause — or a single contributing factor or failure. Root cause analyses can and should identify assumptions that may be an unconscious part of the thought process leading to decisions.

A former boss encouraged his staff to innovate, to think creatively in order to solve problems.  He knew that we would make mistakes in our efforts at improving processes — there are almost always unanticipated consequences to decisions.  But he was adamant that we learn from our mistakes, saying, “Don’t make the same mistake twice.  There are plenty of new ones to make!”  The idea that one can keep repeating the same action yet expect a different result is one definition of insanity.  It’s also a definition of alcoholism — which is seen by most recovering alcoholics as a form of insanity, albeit with genetic aspects.

There are those within the US military who believe that the majority of US casualties in Iraq are direct and unavoidable blowback from our abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and the “enhanced interrogation techniques” used on detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo, and at a series of so-called “black” sites.  If that’s the case, can we (or the Israelis) expect different results from their response to the attacks coming from Gaza?

In listening to the news coverage over the weekend, it seems to me that very few people are going beyond the most immediate cause of the current strife.  There isn’t time or space here or in news reports to trace far enough back through time to identify all those contributing factors dating back at least to World War I and possibly as far back as the Diaspora at the hands of the Romans.  However, as I continue with my Middle East tutorial, some of them will come into focus.

All sides agree that the solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict must be political, not military.  Hamas states as its goal the destruction of the state of Israel.  All but the most radical and intractable factions agree that is at least impractical if not impossible.  The vast majority of Israelis and Palestinians wish to live in peace.  The issue is, at its core, how to achieve that goal.  It would be an intellectually and emotionally challenging task to determine the root causes of the current conflict if the parties were willing to go through that exercise.  Both sides would have to face the consequences of their actions as well as of their assumptions about themselves and  the other side.

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I’ve been reading about the assault on Hamas sites in Gaza by Israeli military forces and the bellicose language coming from both sides.  First, let me point out that to fire rockets into another country is, by all international standards, an act of war.  So, I can understand why Israel felt a need to respond.  But that’s where the question of proportionality enters the picture.

The image that brought the issue of proportionality into sharp focus for me was of a Palestinian teen firing off a stone using a slingshot. A slingshot against smart bombs (provided to Israel by the United States).  While I don’t condone firing rockets into Israeli towns, let’s also consider that these rockets are crude tools of war — unguided missiles.  One fires them off in the general direction of a town, and they fall where they may.  They are small, creating chaos more than damage, fear more than destruction.  Periodically, they hit a building or a vehicle and someone is killed or injured.  These rockets have killed 11 Israelis in 2008.

Compare that to launching 100 tons of bombs in a single day into a crowded strip of land. Over 1.4 million people live in Gaza, an area of less than 140 square miles.  As a point of comparison, that’s approximately the size and population of the city of Las Vegas; twice the area and triple the population of Washington, DC.  Among the targets were the security headquarters of Hamas, the Interior Ministry, an Islamic University, mosques.  The death toll is over 350, with women and children among the “collateral damage.”  Israel has massed tanks along the border, and Egypt has sealed its border with Gaza.  The civilian population cannot escape.  Now, realize that this comes after a months-long siege that has made food and fuel scarce, medical supplies almost non-existent.  And after years of policies that have put increasing pressure on the residents of Gaza.

Israel’s goal seems clear — regime change.  They want to oust Hamas from control in Gaza.   And if Israel can oust Hamas, Fatah, the faction of the Palestinian Authority that controls the occupied West Bank, gets what it wants without having to take action on its own.  It can condemn Israel, support the Gazans, and come out the winner. Likewise, Arab countries who are trying to deal with their own radical movements are willing to pay lip service but otherwise turn a blind eye.  Unlike the conflict against Hezbollah in Lebanon, this time the Israeli campaign is being run by people with more military experience.  So, the planning and execution can be expected to be more professional.  We know there was a disinformation campaign designed to lull the Hamas security forces back into their headquarters where they would be more easily targeted.  But Hamas political leadership and symbols of Hamas power are included in the targets.  And since these targets are disbursed among the civilian population, we can expect more “collateral damage” even with the use of “smart bombs.”  For example, a bomb hit a mosque in one of the refugee camps in Gaza, but the debris crushed the home next door, killing several children.  Today there is talk of a cease-fire — or a ground assault should Hamas refuse.

Hamas came to power because it won election victories.  Their electoral success was due to several factors — among them that Fatah ran multiple candidates for the same post in many instances while Hamas ran only one.  But we also need to look at how Hamas gained the political support it did, because the tactics have been and are being used by radical Muslim groups in other countries as well, with similar success. Many of these groups — Hamas, Hezbollah, even the Muslim Brotherhood and the Taliban — understand that they can benefit by keying in on the basic needs of the people whose support they seek.  So, rather than trying to sell the people on a particular form of government or political ideology, they establish schools and clinics.  They provide food to people who are hungry, jobs to the unemployed.  Until people’s basic needs — food, shelter, clothing, healthcare, jobs, education — are met, they are relatively unconcerned about the form of government or economic system that ensures that they can meet those needs.  Both Israel and the Palestinian Authority understood that’s what Hamas was doing.  That’s why both urged a delay to the elections.  But the Bush Administration insisted that they be held as scheduled.  In their singular focus on bringing democracy to the Middle East, they failed to understand that Hamas’ radical political agenda was secondary in the minds of the thousands of Gazans who have been living in crowded refugee camps for generations — camps that lack many of the most basic needs of clean water, sanitary living conditions, adequate schools, clinics, hospitals and jobs.

In previous decades, Gazans were able to travel into Israel proper daily to jobs.  Over the years, successive Israeli governments have, in an attempt to prevent suicide attacks, instituted increasing restrictions on Palestinians’ movement from both Gaza and the occupied West Bank into Israel itself, thus effectively rendering these people unemployed.

It’s so easy to sit over here in our modern, well-constructed cities, with our freedom of movement, our relative wealth and lives of ease — even in these uncertain economic times —  to criticize Hamas, the other radical Muslim groups, and the political situation in the Middle East.  If we read only the accounts in the mainstream US media, it’s very easy to see the conflict as one-sided, with Israel always in the right and the Palestinians always in the wrong.  That may have been at the core of Karen Hughes’ remark that she couldn’t understand how Palestinian mothers could support their sons becoming suicide bombers.  Interestingly, there is far more lively discussion of the Arab-Israeli conflict, reflecting a wider range of political views, in Israeli papers than in American ones.  I will be continuing to work on the Middle East tutorial as the weeks go by.  In the meantime, I encourage you to read Juan Cole’s blog “Informed Comment” along with alternative US news sources and English-language sources from both Israel and the Arab countries.

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