Thursday, July 31, 2014

Oppression is Never a Successful Strategy

I'm getting sick of waking up every morning to the latest news of the atrocities going on in Israel and the Gaza Strip.

The list of grievances held by each side is miles and generations long, and quite frankly I don't think either has any claim to the moral high ground.  Over the years that I have observed this mess, it has been a matter of the Palestinian groups engaging in guerrilla warfare, and the Israeli government responding with an ever heavier hand.

Today, the Israeli government has bottled up the Palestinian people behind walls and barricades.  What passes for an economy in the Palestinian territories is strangled by Israel's blockades of trade, limitations imposed on electricity (in a shared electrical grid) and so on.

The Gaza Strip is all of 139 square miles, for 1.6 million people (for comparison, the City of Calgary is 318 square miles for 1.2 million), surrounded by a fence with guard towers along its land boundaries, and a naval blockade at the sea ... all enforced by the Israeli army.  Essentially this is an open air prison, mostly holding people who have never been convicted of a crime.

For all of this, have the attacks on Israel ended?  No.  Of course not.  Like a medieval siege, bottling a people up for protracted periods of time basically has one effect:  it galvanizes the besieged against the besiegers.  Old grievances are nursed and nurtured, feelings harden and any act which allows the besieged to thumb their noses at the enemy is seen as a victory.  If that's one more rocket getting over the wall, so be it.  If that rocket happens to land somewhere that does real damage to property or people on the enemy side, it will be seen as an even greater victory.

Meanwhile, the besiegers congratulate themselves on their overwhelming firepower and the "victories" of hitting whatever targets they are told to hit.  The fact that civilians, including children, are in the line of fire is an unfortunate accident hidden under the rubric of "collateral damage".

Whether or not HAMAS is a "terrorist organization" is political semantics.  At one time the PLO was held in similar regard for the same reasons.  There is little to be gained from such labelling.  Palestinian complaints of disenfranchisement at the hands of Israel cannot be ignored any more than Israel's fears of being overrun by its Arab enemies.  

This will not end well.  Sieges end with brutal occupations which seldom create long term allies; in the middle ages "undesirable" populations were herded into segregated ghettos in urban areas, breeding resentment and worse and facilitating hostile pogroms by the governing powers.  In neither case can one say that the results are anything that we can be proud of in our collective history as a species.

Let me be abundantly clear:  What has happened in the region since 1967 has not worked.  Period.  There was a brief time after the PLO and Israel came to terms which seemed to defuse things a bit, but on the whole, the constant escalating violence of one group trying to assert territorial claims, and another group trying to respond to what amounts to an insurgency simply has not worked.

The political discourse in Israel has been dominated by a particularly bellicose leadership that seems to think that the only response to violence is more violence.  The tighter the iron grip, the more readily that things being squeezed slip between the cracks created.  Just as nations have found time and again in the past, never underestimate the ingenuity of people under great pressure.

Politically, the state of Israel is rapidly becoming a failed experiment, for many of the same reasons that its predecessor Palestine failed.  The very construct of a nation state which denies the validity of all of the peoples who live within its borders is doomed to fail.  Where Mandatory Palestine failed to acknowledge the Jewish peoples in its borders, Israel's approach to the Palestinians has also failed.

The political discourse has to be remade, and moved from the language of adversaries to that of coexistence.  When I think about it further, the entire situation may well require the collapse of the political structures of the current Middle East region in order to resolve.  Much of the region's borders are the result of the European colonial powers redrawing borders in the wake of the demise of the Ottoman Empire.  The net result has made little or no sense in the broader context of the region and its peoples.

I don't know what the long term geopolitical picture looks like in the region.  I do believe that the current arrangements are doomed to fail.  It will take the emergence of statesmen on all sides who can look beyond the grievances of today to build states where coexistence is the rule of the day, rather than the often violent suppression of "rival" sects and populations.

There may be no "right" answers to the question mark that is Middle East politics, but one thing is clear:  the current situation is not working, and the mess in Israel is but a symptom of that.

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