Changes in the Arab-Israeli conflict

The BBC article by Jon Donnsion on the death of Omar, the Palestinian son of a colleague who was killed by an Israeli missile, is evidence of how the western media is now starting to document the conflict from the less viewed Palestinian perspective. Israel has long dominated the international media coverage. Yet, in the wake of the Arab Spring and the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt under President Mohammed Mursi, the sympathy for the Palestinian plight in Gaza is coming to the world’s attention. President Mursi opened the border to journalists seeking entrance into Gaza despite Israel’s best efforts to control international media coverage from the Palestinian territory. During the recent escalation of the conflict the lack of an enforceable media ban meant that foreign journalists could directly and immediately cover the devastating effects of Israel’s Operation Pillar Defense.  The Israeli narrative concerning its bombardment of key Hamas military position was vividly juxtaposed against the evidence of large-scale civilian casualties and the human devastation reported to us.


Tragedies have taken place on both sides but no longer can Israel claim moral superiority in the conflict. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak declared on Wednesday 21st November that Operation Pillar of Defense had been completed successfully; the primary success of the operation being the killing of the head of Hamas’ militant wing, Ahmed Jabari. Barak stated “all our objectives were reached, taking out the fajr rockets, rocket launching pads, and Hamas offices.” What was not stated was the number of ‘operational failures’ that occurred. The United Nations says its preliminary investigation shows that 103 of the 158 people killed in Gaza were civilians. Of those, 30 were children. As Jon Donnison said in his article for the BBC, “Omar was not a terrorist.”


The conflict prior to this moment has been reported in a manner that does not challenge the view that offers up Hamas in the mould of the Taliban; indeed the US designate Hamas a ‘Foreign Terrorist Organisation.’ This is naturally corroborated by Israel who has not only stockpiled weapons and munitions but also western political alliances. Israel was the largest annual recipient of American aid from 1976 to 2004 and received the largest cumulative aid package since World War II. The US, as a world authority, has a moral obligation to try and broker a peace between Israel and Palestine but it is also compelled from within, due to a high proportion of Jews in the Senate and in Congress, to ultimately broker a two state solution that is in direct accordance with Israel’s desire for ultimate sovereignty over Jerusalem.


Not mentioned enough in western media coverage is the Palestinian perception of Hamas as a legitimate political organisation. They make up one of the two major Palestinian political factions. (The other being the Fatah led Palestinian authority). Hamas ousted the Fatah authority in Gaza not through bloody violence or corrupt elections but by an overwhelming peoples’ majority. Whether western democracies like it or not Hamas were elected and need to be accorded legitimate rights of negotiation. Hamas garners support in the locality not least due its extensive network of on the ground social programming, including food banks, schools and medical clinics. “Approximately 90 percent of its work is in social, welfare, cultural, and educational activities,” writes Israeli scholar Reuven Paz.


Hamas-Israeli negotiation is possible and desperately necessary. Despite political posturing Hamas leaders are aware of the need to turn the ceasefire into something more concrete. Factions such as the abu Musab al-Zarqawi affiliates have distanced themselves from Hamas for the very reason that Hamas have become more of a moderate party open to negotiation. Hamas has also recently cooled relations with historically strong allies Iran, after Iran’s support of Assad’s regime in war -ravaged Syria. Representatives for Israel and Hamas reportedly met in Cairo to discuss the cease-fire in Gaza according to a report by London based Arabic daily Al-Sharq al-Awsat.  Attempts by the US and Israel to empower the Fatah led Palestinian Authority and to destabilise Hamas must stop. Hamas are thoroughly embedded in Gaza and must be encouraged to join the negotiation table.  The expounding of Hamas as an illegitimate terrorist organization is wholly detrimental to a long-term peace deal between Israel and Palestine.


The Middle East is experiencing seismic shifts in its political etymology at the moment, the rise of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood – of which Hamas is an off-shoot- gives Hamas an unprecedented amount of political credibility in the Middle East. Hamas is no longer isolated and is even now trying to form a productive alliance with the Fatah government in Ramallah. The formation of a credible Palestinian leadership, a democratically elected leadership, would make it very difficult for Israel and the US to maintain their positions of zero tolerance towards Hamas when Hamas have shown a clear willingness to compromise.