UK Prime Minister David Cameron has condemned the blockade of the Gaza Strip, describing the
territory as a “prison camp”.1
Israel controls Gaza’s territorial waters and maintains exclusive control in the air space...[It] controls the entire ….border including the Erez and Kami border crossings…[It} supplies Gaza with electricity, fuel, telecommunications, water and sewage removal…[It] has identified security considerations and reserved for itself the right to enter Gaza for, broadly self-defined ‘self defense…2
Israel took control of the Gaza Strip after the ‘Six Day War’ in 1967. Gaza, in effect, became part of ‘Greater Israel’, which was the worst of all possible worlds. It was incorporated economically but kept at arms length politically. The Gaza population weren’t offered Israeli citizenship for example. Worse, Israel seemed to suggest Gaza was a Trojan horse, carefully forgetting they’d conquered it in the first place. In 2014, Israel handed out a punishment beating to Gaza. That war was a classic imperialist campaign. The campaign was heavily armed and there were militarily invincible armed forces against a civilian population who were basically defenceless. This led to attempted suppression which was a recipe for disaster.
Neo-imperialist campaigns follow a pattern.3 The Israelis used their fire power to cause massive casualties in the 2014 campaign. Additionally they introduced mass imprisonment. A short brutal campaign and ‘job done’. Except it isn’t. Historical events aren’t a template: this happened and so that must happen. Nonetheless history can be a diagnostic tool – the French ‘civil’ war in Algeria; Britain in India 1920-47; the American Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s; apartheid in South Africa from 1960s-80s – are telling examples of suppression provoking a negative outcome for the suppressor.
David Cameron in 2010 said Gaza was a “prison camp”. The Palestinians claimed the 2014 campaign was a ‘war crime’ in their submission to the International Criminal Court.4 Having powerful friends is very helpful in international relations and Israel has the USA. Israel’s Palestinian policy is repressive, illegal and conducted with impunity. Only transformative and sophisticated diplomatic remorse of the kind west Germany showed post-1945 can begin to rescue the Gaza situation.
Israel is trapped in a ghoulish moral hazard, which, “is when an entity has an incentive to increase its exposure to risk because it does not bear the full costs of that risk..”5 The 2014 Gaza campaign was meant to enhance Israel’s security. So how did it turn out? “…our reports show that there hasn’t been a month in recent years where at least dozens of attacks haven’t taken place. Finally, in Gaza, there have been, to date, 112 rocket attacks launched by Palestinian terrorists targeting Israeli communities in 2020. In 2019, there were over 400 such rocket attacks.”6 This is a fairly normal outcome for acts of imperialist suppression (the British imprisoned 100,000 Indians in the 1940s Quit India campaign and lost).7
Israel is a young country born in the worst possible circumstances: the Holocaust. Britain, the colonial power, did everything it could to prevent Jewish immigration in the 1940s to mitigate inter-communal violence. The situation was intractable because Palestine was a minor piece in their imperial jig-saw. Britain withdrew and Israel won a war of independence with a substantive agreement which lasted until 1967. A lightning campaign left Israel’s enemies crushed and huge territorial gains. The security of Israel was weakened by those gains. The classic challenge was Gaza. The narrative could have been written in 1967 and yet 54 years later it all seems a surprise.
Yitzhak Rabin, lifelong soldier and politician won the Nobel Prize for his peace efforts. No one could describe him as a ‘peacenik’. Rabin knew war inside out and agreed with Clausewitz. He said in 1994:
“There is only one radical means of sanctifying human lives. Not armored plating, or tanks, or planes, or concrete fortifications.
The one radical solution is peace.” (my emphasis)8
In 1995, Rabin was assassinated by a right-wing extremist following a vitriolic campaign against him by Benjamin Netanyahu (Israel’s current prime minister).
Gaza is a plaything of right-wing politicians who describe anything that looks like diplomacy as ‘weakness’. Suppression doesn’t work but it’s embedded in the bombastic rhetoric of some Israeli politicians. The moral hazard of suppression for Israel it that, unlike the British in India and Palestine in the 1940s, Israel doesn’t have a viable exit strategy.
1 David Cameron describes blockaded Gaza as a ‘prison’ – BBC News 27th July 2010
2 Samson, Elizabeth Occupation of Gaza and the Arguments for “Effective Control.” Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, 2010, pp. 12–15, Is Gaza Occupied?: Redefining the Legal Status of Gaza, http://www.jstor.org/stable/resrep04760.6. Accessed 9 Feb. 2021.
Eran, Oded. Another Casualty of the Third Gaza War: US-Israel Relations. Institute for National Security Studies, 2014, p2 http://www.jstor.org/stable/resrep08855. Accessed 9 Feb. 2021.
3 The Amritsar massacre in India in 1919 is a British example. See Jallianwala Bagh Massacre | Causes, History, & Significance | Britannica For the Gaza war (2014) see Timeline of the 2014 Gaza War – Wikipedia For a newspaper article about the 2014 campaign see Gaza conflict: Withdrawal of Israeli soldiers reveals the shell-strewn detritus of humanity | The Independent | The Independent
4 para 12 (section i to vii) pp6-7