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A Palestinian-American's view of the conflict in Gaza

Ziad Amra gave me his take the other night on the tragedy in Gaza. Amra is a Palestinian-American, a lifelong Minnesotan, a banker, and often serves as spokesman for the local chapter of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. It was in that capacity that I met him years ago and came to rely on him for a local pro-Palestinian take to balance my stories about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. His view of the current crisis is a strong, bitter, mixture of sadness, frustration and anger. He directly disputed many of the main themes that have come through in mainstream U.S. media coverage of the fighting in Gaza. I will give it to you straight, without playing the he-said-she said game in this post, except for this warning that it is one person's view, and the view of a person who is on one side of a very complex debate.

But I will follow up to seek response/rebuttal from other sources in the days ahead.

Amra considers the Israeli invasion of Gaza to be "a war on the civilian population of Gaza and a war on the Palestinian people." He completely rejects the Israeli argument that the actions are a reasonable, measured response to the provocation of Hamas rocket fire from Gaza into Israel.

"The fact that one side shoots randomly at cities doesn’t give the other side the right to do the same thing, especially if the other side has high-tech weapons" capable of doing a lot more damage, Amra says.

When he hears the question raised, as it has often been raised in recent days: "How would Americans feel if someone in Canada was firing rockets across the border at U.S. cities?..." it makes him sick. And makes him want to say:

Would it make any difference if the entire population of Canada was under U.S. occupation? Would it make any difference if the United States was a country built on territory taken from Canada? Would it make any difference if the Canadians firing the rockets were refugees from their homeland, which was taken by the Americans? Would it make any difference if the United States held Canada in a state of siege that ensured widespread poverty, that left Canadians without reasonable access to food or medicine, that forced the majority of Canadians to rely on U.N. handouts, leading to malnutrition and permanent developmental deficiencies in many of their children?

Without those issues being raised, the analogy is completely out of context and seems designed to lead to a conclusioin that is predictable, simplistic and wrong, said Amra.

Are you saying that Hamas is justified in shooting rockets into Israel, I asked, aimed at Israeli cities, seeking to kill any Israeli man, woman or child they are lucky enough to hit?

Amra said he "isn't interested in justifying what either side is doing," (bit of a dodge there). "But what alternative did they [Hamas] have?"

He hears it said that instead of focusing on killing Israelis, Hamas should have focused on building a better life for the people of Gaza. But he believes that Israel has made this impossible by the conditions it imposes on Gaza -- conditions he portrays as a siege or an occupation from the outside. (Israel literally and directly occupied Gaza with its troops inside the territory from 1967 to 2005. Then Israel withdrew its troops and its settlements from the territory. But Amra's view is that the continuing level of Israeli control constituted a de facto continuation of the Israeli occupation.) The siege/occupation is itself an ongoing act of war by Israel against Gaza, so the cease-fire, that Hamas is blamed for breaking with its rockets, was never really a cease-fire because the siege was never lifted.

Israel claims that it wants a two-state solution with a democratic Palestinian state, Amra says. But when the Palestinians elected Hamas, this result was "disagreeable for Israel and for the United States." So the siege policy was ratcheted up to ensure that Hamas had no opportunity to make life better for the people of Gaza. The message to the population was: If you want any hope of a better life, rise up against Hamas.

Amra does not believe Israel is sincerely interested in a two-state solution. The world has long recognized the shape of the deal that is necessary to create a two-state solution, he says: withdrawal of Israel to the pre-1967 borders, removal of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, creation of an independent Palestinian state comprising the West Bank, Gaza and the Arab areas of East Jerusalem, and a fair settlement of the problem of Palestinians who fled their homes in what is now Israeli territory during the Arab-Israeli war of 1947-49.

The Arab League offered this deal, sponsored by Saudi Arabia, to Israel in 2002, and then readopted the offer in 2007, at a better-attended conference, this time with the support of every Arab state. In Amra's view, this is a serious offer to Israel of recognition and peace with the entire Arab world. "It’s been on the table for eight years," said Amra. "My question is: What does Israel want? I can only come to the conclusion that Israel doesn’t want that."

Amra does not believe Israel is meeting its obligations to minimize harm to innocent civilians.

He sees evidence that Israel is targeting facilities where civilians are bound to be killed in large numbers, and have been. There are steps Israel could take to go after Hamas fighters with fewer civilian casualties, but it would require Israel to make less use of bombing and shelling, more use of soldiers on the ground. But that would put Israel's soldiers at greater risk. Israel is trading the lives of innocent Palestinian civilians -- a population that lives under Israeli control -- for greater safety of Israeli soldiers.

But even if Israel tried harder, the idea of minimizing civilian casualties makes little sense in the Gaza/Hamas situation, Amra says. It's not as if Hamas has an army or military bases. Hamas is a grass roots organization. Rooting Hamas out of Gaza "would be like sending an army into Manhattan to root out all the Democrats."

Why should Israel have neighborly relations with a terrorist organization that is pledged to the destruction of Israel?

Israel does not credibly claim that it recognizes the right of a Palestinian state to exist, Amra says. And Hamas' rejectionism is overstated, Amra says. Hamas has offered Israel a long-term truce, and Hamas has publicly said it will accept any agreement that the Palestinian Authority negotiates with Israel, as long as it is adopted in a referendum by the Palestinian people.

What about the terrorism piece?

What Israel and the West term terrorist tactics by Hamas can be viewed as acts of resistance to and defiance of occupation and oppression. Israel wants to end the resistance without ending the oppression. When Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for leading the African National Congress' resistence to apartheid, he was told he had to renounce terrorism. He replied that he would not do so as long as there was no other way to make his grievances heard, Amra said.

This piece is one-sided

It certainly is (this is me talking, of course, not Ziad Amra). And I will follow up with people who represent the other side.

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Comments (21)

Thanks for writing this. When people suggest that Hamas can be cajoled and/or bribed into moderation or sanity, this is a great piece to point into -- when even lifelong, presumably law-abiding Minnesotans are cheering them on like this, what are the chances?

Here's a better analogy.

How would Minnesotans feel if the Mdewakanton Sioux started firing rockets at Eden Prairie from Prior Lake?

Hamas and other fundamentalist Islamic groups need to join the 21st century.

Time to give up their blood feud and move on.

So you're saying that Hamas should open a casino?
There's a real point here -- Native Americans are integrated into the US economy, and in fact profit from a privileged tax status.
We're finally compensating them (at least partially) for their loss of sovereignty.
This is a stake that the Palestinians (for many reasons) lack.

People under attack always rally around whoever is in a position to defend them. That's how Bush got a 90% approval rate. It's why Israelis are rallying around the fools who run their government, and it's why Palestinians are rallying around Hamas. I doubt either side will be open to criticism of their leaders while the shooting drags on. It's sad to see the prior commenters just going back to justifying one side, missing the whole point.

We are quick to label as radical religious extremists and terrorists any group that resists Israel's Middle Eastern land-grabs, invasions, illegal settlements, its brutal siege of Gaza that has been in effect since Israel "left" Gaza in 2005.

Somehow, however, we fail to see that the militant, fundamentalist religious extremist Zionists who are in charge of Israel are themselves terrorists. One of Amy Goodman's guests the other day, a Jewish scholar who has changed his view of Israel over the years, defines terrorism as the intentional targeting of civilians in order to create fear. Hamas is therefore a terroristic group because of the rockets it sends into Israel. Israel, however, is a terroristic STATE, a much more serious form of violence that Hamas's resistance to its actions.

Because its original charter called for the destruction of Israel, Israel fears that "someday" Hamas will be powerful enough to do just that. (In reality, impossible.) It also fears that "someday" Iran will develop a nuclear weapon with which to wipe it out and asked the U.S. to help invade it recently before such a thing can happen. (In reality, the IAEA and our own intel services find NO evidence that Iran seeks weapons-level enrichment.)

Sounds to me like their fear (rational? irrational?) has overwhelmed Israel until pre-emptive violence is their preferred method of dealing with its neighbors. And our financial and moral support does not ease their fears but only abets their violence.

Listen to Amra.

Just some context:
Palestinian deaths in Gaza (about 1000 due to Israeli action) are less than .1% of the population of Gaza.
The firebombing of Dresden (a classic case of an attack on a civilian population) produced 25,000-40,000 deaths (initial estimates were much higher) out of a population about half of that of Gaza.
This is about 3.0% -- about 30 times as great.
It does not appear that a targeted attack on the population of Gaza has taken place, or the death toll would be a lot higher.

I am sure that if Hamas would accept peace in exchange for exclusive gaming rights in Israel, we would have a deal.

That's the point, it has finally dawned on everyone that Hamas will not accept anything short of the destruction of Israel so what's the point of trying to talk to them.

But will Israel accept a viable Palestinian state?

Hamas started firing rockets after the Israelis refused to lift the blockade. Israel and America tried to break Hamas from Day One. Israel had no interest in any ceasefire agreement.

For Hamas to accept something, Israel has to negotiate. Something they will never do. Why ? Because then they have to stop taking land. Therefore it is in Israels best interest to keep a low intensity conflict going so that they can keep claiming "Look we have no partners in peace".

An Editorial in the Washington Post.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/01/16/AR200901...

"One way Mr. Obama can convince them is by sending a clear message before Israel's upcoming election that he will expect the new government to negotiate seriously with the Palestinian Authority about issues such as the borders of a new state, the disposition of Jerusalem and a solution for Palestinian refugees. He should insist that the next prime minister follow Israel's own laws and commitments in curbing Jewish settlement activity in the West Bank."

This clearly points to the great untold story in the conflict. As I have stated in the previous post. Israel does not negotiate in good faith. Because any such negotiations would lead to the question, "Where is our Land ?". That is a question Israel clearly does not want to answer.

Now why does the Washington Post point to laws and commitments regarding settlements. Because Israel has continuosly taken land for settlements. Before, during and even after the Oslo, it has taken land for settlements.

At some point quit pointing fingers at Hamas when Israel has never ever kept its part of the bargain.

There's a good discussion in today's New York Times
(http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/17/world/middleeast/17israel.html?hp)
about what constitutes a war crime under international law, and the actions of Hamas and the IDF.

Hamas rejected the framework set up by the Oslo Accords and refuses to accept the existence of Israel.

I am pointing a finger at Hamas because that is where it should be pointed.

They have in fact demonstrated that they do not want a negotiated peace with Israel.

That is a fact.

Mr. Brandon: No targeted attack? At least a third, and probably more, of the people killed in Gaza are women, children, elderly and otherwise completely civilian. The infrastructure of their entire country resembles nothing more than rubble. This morning (Jan. 17), the BBC reported that an Israeli TANK fired upon a United Nations school. Another "accident?"

The 9/11 attack on New York City killed roughly 3,000 people, destroyed a chunk of valuable real estate and infrastructure, and plunged America into a state of fear. George Bush used that fear to get Congress to approve a War on Terror that would require traveling to the ends of the earth, if necessary, to find and kill or imprison every terrorist on earth. DHS and other intel/justice services have used that War to attack our civil liberties.

The percentage of New York's approximately 8,000,000 people killed: .000375 percent.

Not important???

Ms. Vetsch,
Hamas fired 5,000 rockets into Israeli civilian populations. Should Israel fire 5,000 rockets into civilian areas in Gaza? Should they be penalized if they are more effective than the Hamas rockets? Should it matter that Hamas intentionally draws fire on its civilians? Which came first, the hatred of Israel and the West or the anger at a disproportionate response?

Mr. Kane

Which came first. The economic blockade or the Hamas rockets. Should it matter that Israel intentionally blockades a civilian population. While u talk about "hatred of Israel", what do u call Israels policies towards Palestinians ?

No, Mr. Kane. Israel needs to realize that its land-grabs, illegal occupations, illegal/immoral siege and ongoing destruction of Gaza in spite of ceasefires, wars against the civilian populations of Gaza and Lebanon --- all these and more will arouse resistance. What else can Israel expect?

No country in history has accepted the unwanted occupation by another and no country ever will.

Possible answer? Israel must return to the pre-1967 borders and must end all military operations and efforts toward occupation of another country and theft/illegal settlement of its land. The U.S. must stop its financial and arms-sales support of Israel's illegal actions or it will continue its illegalities without fear of being held to account.

Raj-
I call a blockade to try to stop weapons flow to a country controlled by a party, Hamas, that has as part of its platform your total and complete annihilation self-defense. And so do most others, which is why no one is doing anything about this current Israeli action. Hamas has to effect that it is at odds with the entire developed world. Not a winning hand. Maybe time to reexamine.

Bernice-
I am encouraged you are willing to negotiate. Unfortunately, Hamas is not, so I am afraid your good intentions are to no end. Perhaps you should go have dinner with the Hamas leadership to share your thoughts. Oh, that's right, they won't have dinner with you because you are a woman. Maybe a letter.

Paul Kane

The blockade was for food and medicine. A deliberate policy against a civilian population to create a concentration camp called Gaza.

Israel too has a platform of the complete destruction of the Palestinian state. It is called settlements under the barell of a gun.

People in the world may not be able to do anything. But that will never stop the Palestinians from trying. So we can go down this path for the next 50 years and we will still be back to square one.

Sorry Paul you cannot take a land away from a people and pretend the only problem is terrorism.

Trying to blame it all on Hamas is a deliberate strategy to create a Bantustan like Palestinian state that they could hand over to their favorite Arab stooge/dictator. Good luck with that. The Palestinians will never buy that one.

Hamas may not have dinner with Bernice because she is a woman. Well for your information we sponsor such fundamentalist regimes in Saudi Arabia that do the same thing. So who are u preaching morality to.

I am sure at least Bernice will go to dinner and not take land from people based on some wack job Christian fundamentalist and Jewish settler theory that God sent them postcard to take the land.

Raj--
I think it's reasonable to blockade a country that has a policy of your complete destruction and fires 5,000 rockets at you, but that's just me.

It may be satisfying for one to sit safely in Minnesota and indulge oneself by saying that Palestinians fight on because "Israel took our land", but people are dying over there and Israel isn't going anywhere so for their sake it would be best to enter the real world, negotiate a peace and move on.

You don't see me advocating the destruction of England because my family was starved out of Ireland in the 1800's and hundreds of people in my home village died. You gotta move on.

Lots of terrible things happened years ago, but that doesn't mean you keep strapping the suicide vests on kids.

Hey, I never said it was ok that the Saudis wouldn't have dinner with Bernice. Why she thinks it's ok that Hamas won't is a mystery to me, though. I guess the enemy of your enemy is your friend, even when you are their enemy, too.

Paul

Sorry Paul, it is not reasonable to starve people into submission. This whole deal about Hamas and its "destruction of Israel" is a joke. How exactly they are going to go about doing it , I'm not sure.

Hamas, is just an excuse for Israel and America. What they want is a pliant Palestinian stooge in Gaza who will butcher them into submission for us. We will then call that person an Arab moderate. Just like Mubarak of Egypt and Hussein of Jordan.

I'm not sure how you expect Palestinians to negotiate a peace with Israel, when Israel will not negotiate with them. Maybe you missed the part about Ariel Sharon leaving Gaza because he want to freeze the peace process. Yup, that's the real intent of leaving Gaza.

Far more Indians died under British rule than Irish famine and the Holocaust combined. They left peacefully and did not build settlements in India.

Don't talk about suicide vests when the state of Israel has a policy that targets civilians. That is like condemning the ANC for terrorism in South Africa while condoning apartheid.

The Palestinian people were the most secular and progressive. Decades of occupation have made them turn to relgious nuts because Israel and America never negotiated with their secular representatives.