January 3, 2009 in Tel Aviv. Photo: Activestills.org
Uri Avnery

At long last we have come to a moment of sanity, an end to the terrible bloodbath which shocked people all over the world and aroused them to come out in protest on the streets of cities across the globe – including on the streets of Israel.

But the bloodshed might burst out, even more terribly, should the Israeli government persist in the folly of ignoring the main fact. Hamas was, and remains, the dominant power in the Gaza Strip, even when its military power was damaged – due to its strong base of support among the Palestinian population. There is no solution – either to the immediate and urgent problems or in the longer range – without talking to Hamas, either through mediators or directly.

Israeli troops must stay out of Gaza, the siege ended and the passages to the outer world opened widely. The inhabitants of Gaza, like those of every other place in the world, have the full right to leave their country and return to it by land, sea, and air; and to revive and develop their economy by exporting their produce and importing whatever they need, without asking for anybody’s permission.

Last year’s ceasefire did not collapse, because there was no real ceasefire to start with. The main requirement for any authentic ceasefire is the opening of the border crossings. There can be no life in Gaza without a steady flow of supplies. But the crossings were not opened, except for a few hours now and again. The blockade on land, on sea and in the air against a million and a half human beings was an act of war, as much as any dropping of bombs or launching of rockets.

The Power of Propaganda
In this war, as in any modern war, propaganda played a major role. The disparity between the forces, between the Israeli army – with its airplanes, gunships, drones, warships, artillery and tanks – and the few thousand lightly armed Hamas fighters, is one to a thousand, perhaps one to a million. In the political arena the gap between them is even wider. But in the propaganda war, the gap is almost infinite.

Central New Yorkers march along South Salina St. at the January 9 demonstration calling for an end to the siege of Gaza. Photo: Andy Mager

Almost all the Western media initially repeated the official Israeli propaganda line. They almost entirely ignored the Palestinian side of the story, not to mention the daily demonstrations of the Israeli peace camp. The rationale of the Israeli government (“The state must defend its citizens against the Qassam rockets.”) was accepted as the whole truth. The view from the other side, that the Qassams are a retaliation for the siege that starves the one and a half million inhabitants of the Gaza Strip, was not mentioned at all.

Only when the horrible scenes from Gaza started to appear on Western TV screens, did world public opinion gradually begin to change.

War – every war – is the realm of lies. Whether called propaganda or psychological warfare, people accept that it is right to lie for one’s country. Anyone who speaks the truth runs the risk of being branded a traitor.

The trouble is that propaganda is most convincing to the propagandist himself. And after you convince yourself that a lie is the truth and falsification reality, you can no longer make rational decisions.

An example of this process surrounds one of the many shocking atrocities of this war: the shelling of the UN Fakhura school in Jabaliya refugee camp. Immediately after the incident became known throughout the world, the army “revealed” that Hamas fighters had been firing mortars from near the school entrance. As proof they released an aerial photo which indeed showed the school and the mortar. But within a short time the official army liar had to admit that the photo was more than a year old. In brief: a falsification.

War “Strategy”
In this war, Israel’s war planners believed that if we kill “them” disproportionately, killing a thousand of “them” for ten of “ours,” they will understand that it’s not worth it to mess with us. It will be “seared into their consciousness” (a favorite Israeli phrase these days). After this, they will think twice before launching another Qassam rocket against us. The firepower was also used to sow terror – shelling everything from a hospital to a vast UN food depot, from a press vantage point to the mosques.

“It is impossible to understand the viciousness of this war without taking into account the historical background: the feeling of victimhood after all that has been done to the Jews throughout the ages, and the conviction that after the Holocaust, we have the right to do anything, absolutely anything, to defend ourselves, without any inhibitions due to law or morality.”
–Uri Avnery

Hamas, on the other side, will assert that their survival in the face of the mighty Israeli war machine, a tiny David against a giant Goliath, is by itself a huge victory. According to the classic military definition, the winner in a battle is the army that remains on the battlefield when it’s over. Hamas remains. The Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip still stands, in spite of all the efforts to eliminate it. That is a significant achievement.

The very fact that a guerrilla force of a few thousand lightly armed fighters held out for long weeks against one of the world’s mightiest armies with enormous firepower, will look to millions of Palestinians and other Arabs and Muslims, and not only to them, like an unqualified victory.

In the end, an agreement was concluded with the obvious terms. No country can tolerate its inhabitants being exposed to rocket fire from beyond the border, and no population can tolerate a choking blockade. Therefore (1) Hamas will have to stop launching missiles, (2) Israel will have to open wide the crossings between Gaza and the outside world, and (3) the entry of arms into the Strip will be stopped (as far as possible), as demanded by Israel. All this could have happened without war, if our government had not boycotted Hamas.

However, the worst results of this war are still invisible and will make themselves felt only in years to come: Israel has imprinted on world consciousness a terrible image of itself. Billions of people have seen us as a blood-dripping monster. They will never again see Israel as a state that seeks justice, progress and peace.

Uri, a longtime Israeli journalist and peace activist, works with the Israeli peace group Gush Shalom. A veteran and former member of the Israeli parliament, he was the first Israeli to meet with Yassir Arafat in 1982. This article was assembled by the PNL from several pieces written by Uri since the war began. His full writings are available at gush-shalom.org.