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Israel's targets in Gaza

Ben White looks at some of the objects of Israel's military onslaught in Gaza - an attack that has a

In just the first six days of ‘Operation Cast Lead’, the Israeli Air Force carried out more than 500 sorties against targets in the Gaza Strip. That meant an attack from the air roughly every 18 minutes for almost a week - not counting hundreds of helicopter attacks, tank and navy shelling, and infantry raids. At the time of writing, the operation was into its 10th day.

That's an intense number of attacks for a territory of similar size to the city of Seattle.

No surprise then that the casualty figures are high: to date, more than 500 Palestinians dead with thousands injured. Moreover, many of the ‘targets’ struck by Israel seem to be of dubious military value. Indeed, by last Saturday, there was talk of Israel ‘running out’ of targets.

Even in the first wave of airstrikes, one of the most high profile hits was a police graduation ceremony.

Because these were so-called ‘Hamas police’ there was some debate about the legitimacy of the target.

As the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem put it, the dozens of Palestinians killed had been studying “first-aid, handling of public disturbances, human rights, public-safety exercises, and so forth”.

The graduates would then have been “assigned to various arms of the police force in Gaza responsible for maintaining public order”. B’Tselem emphasises that “an intentional attack on a civilian target is a war crime”.

Could it be that in reality Israel has had few genuinely high value targets to hit in Gaza?

So far the government ministries destroyed have included those for education, transportation, housing, as well as the parliament, while Israel has also attacked a university, money changers, civilian apartment blocks, harbours, a bird farm, and a television station.

The Israeli military also hit at mosques, killing departing worshippers, and even destroyed the American International School, killing the caretaker.

The same school had previously been the focus of anti-US violence, though this time around (with the school actually levelled) those who had previously pointed fingers at ‘fundamentalist’ Palestinian vandals have been curiously quiet.

Meanwhile - as part of its media management - Israel has largely prevented the international media from entering the Gaza Strip.

Many analysts and commentators still simply accept Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) statements as gospel, and repeat verbatim the claims that only ‘weapons caches’, ‘tunnels’, or ‘rocket launching sites’, have been targeted. Furthermore, the IDF has apparently used its own video footage of attacks to lie about civilian casualties, both this time around and in the past.

And both the high proportion of civilian targets and the comparatively weak response by Hamas make the level of menace assigned to Hamas by Israeli propaganda look, well, somewhat questionable.

Even taking the Israeli government and IDF at their word about the operation’s objectives, the targets struck thus far are of dubious strategic merit.

If the aim is to destroy Hamas, this is clearly a fantasy. For some Palestinians, the assault on the Gaza Strip will have only consolidated or increased their support for the organisation, but more importantly, you don’t weaken a socio-religious political movement with F-16s and drones (although apparently in the best colonial tradition, you may ‘teach them a lesson’, according to Shimon Peres).

In which case, Israel may well have a different kind of aim for ‘Operation Cast Lead’. The head of the UN’s relief agency in Gaza, John Ging, was reported to have accused Israel of deliberately targeting infrastructure necessary for the governance of Gaza:

"The whole infrastructure of the future state of Palestine is being destroyed," he said. "Blowing up the parliament building. That’s the parliament of Palestine. That’s not a Hamas building. The president's compound is for the president of Palestine."

A Gazan businessman wrote on the Guardian website that post-operation, “it will be extraordinarily difficult for Palestinians, particularly Gazans, to rebuild and develop their institutions of civil service”, before observing that “perhaps this is what Israel's anti-peace camp is after; an end to the persistence of Gaza's ordinary people in wanting the chance of a peaceful and dignified life”.

Mustafa Barghouti has also noted that the choice of targets in Gaza indicates Israel is “hoping to create anarchy in the Strip by removing the pillar of law and order”.

It is thus reminiscent of the general thrust of then-PM Ariel Sharon’s policies as typified in 2002’s ‘Operation Defensive Shield’ which targeted the day-to-day institutions and symbols of the Palestinian Authority.

Finally, it is worth pointing out that the popular discourse regarding Hamas and the Gaza Strip for some years in the West has helped prepare the way for Israel to strike civilian targets and claim self-defence against ‘terrorist infrastructure’.

From the refusal to accept the results of the democratic Palestinian elections to the endless repetition of Israeli propaganda about the unreciprocated ‘good will’ of the so-called ‘disengagement’ in 2005, the Gaza Strip has been signed off as a teeming ‘Hamastan’ of targets just desperate to be martyred.

An IDF spokesperson has said that: "Anything affiliated with Hamas is a legitimate target", the kind of logic that even the BBC mentioned is an echo of Hamas’ own justification for attacking Israeli civilians on the basis they serve in the army.

In the context of the Gaza Strip - where Hamas as the governing authority is naturally involved with everything from food distribution to medical clinics, and from higher education institutes to parking fines - it now seems every Palestinian is in the crosshairs.

Ben White is an activist and writer. His latest book is "Palestinians in Israel: Segregation, Discrimination and Democracy"

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Why did the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet win this year's Nobel Peace Prize?

Thanks to Tunisia, it is no longer possible to argue that the Middle East and North Africa are inherently undemocratic or prone to violence.

It is a fitting that in a tumultuous year for global peacemaking, the Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to the little-known Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet, a coalition made up of the union federation UGTT, the employers’ institute, the Tunisian human rights league and the order of lawyers . Over the past few years, the Quartet has been quietly shepherded in democracy to the country that lit the fuse of the Arab Spring. In part thanks to the efforts of this broad cross-section of civil society, Tunisia has stayed the course in transitioning from an authoritarian past to a democratic future, even in the face of terrorist violence and as other revolutions in the region have faltered.

The award comes at a time of escalating sectarian conflicts in Syria, Libya and Yemen. Islamic State’s campaign of terror has uprooted Iraqis and Syrians alike, driving desperate refugees into small boats to battle the waves of the Mediterranean. They join others fleeing to Europe from political and economic crises in Africa and Asia, forming a stream of humanity symbolising failures in leadership in three continents.

Among all this, it is not hard to identify why the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the world’s most coveted peace prize to the Tunisian Quartet.

First,Tunisia deserves to be celebrated for its momentous achievements in consolidating democracy. Unlike other countries in the region, it has trodden a path that is slow but solid, adopting a comprehensive and consensus-building approach to decision-making.

In this it provides a rare and extremely important example, not only for the region but also for the world. Thanks to Tunisia, it is no longer possible to argue that the Middle East and North Africa are inherently undemocratic or prone to violence.

Civil society steps up

Second, the role of civil society is fundamental for bringing about sustainable peace. Political leadership is important, but the scale of the challenge in transitional societies means that we cannot simply leave things to political leaders to sort out.

At local level especially, peace feels a lot more real when it comes with tangible improvements to quality of life. Citizens want to see the economy motoring again and to have confidence in the state’s institutions. They want to know that they can sleep soundly and safely, without fear of violence, persecution or poverty. Governments often lack the capacity and credibility to deliver these dividends alone. Civil society must step up to the plate – particularly the associations of trade, justice and human rights of which the Quartet is formed.

And third, the Quartet’s work relies heavily on forming constructive relationships across the political spectrum – from secularists to fundamentalists. It has walked a fine line, keeping disparate groups with diverging interests invested in an inclusive national process of dialogue. It has, in the words of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, laid the “groundwork for a national fraternity”.

Politicians are often the most cynical of creatures, yet the Quartet has managed to build a sense of collective endeavour among them. It has encouraged them to put the country’s best interest ahead of personal or sectarian interests, making this the guiding principle for decision-making.

Other bright spots

The transition in Tunisia is a work in progress and there will be more setbacks and successes. The country was left reeling from two terrorist attacks earlier this year, when 22 people were killed at the Bardo Museum in Tunis, and another 39 people died during an attack on a tourist resort in Sousse. But the message today is clear – Tunisia has made remarkable progress since 2010, despite the odds. This is in large part due to a credible and engaged civil society, a remarkable achievement in a new democracy. The country has forged a path of inclusive national dialogue from which many lessons can be learned.

Elsewhere this year, Myanmar goes to the polls in November – the country’s first free national ballot since 1990. Colombia is closer to lasting peace than ever, ending half a century of war that has taken 220,00 lives and uprooted six million people.

The US restored diplomatic relationships with Cuba, and also struck a landmark agreement with Iran over its nuclear programmes. And the UN has adopted the sustainable development goals, explicitly recognising peaceful and inclusive societies as a development priority for the first time. Behind every step forward there is an individual or institution worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize, but only one can win and the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet is a worthy laureate.

Laura Payne is a Research Fellow and Director of RISING Global Peace Forum, Coventry University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


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