Jamie Stern-Weiner (ed), Deluge: Gaza and Israel from Crisis to Cataclysm

IssueJune - July 2024

Its text finalised in early December 2023, Deluge brings together expert analysis and commentary from journalists, academics and campaigners, its 13 contributions divided into three sections.

In the first (‘Contexts’), two stand-out essays dismantle the myth that Hamas is to blame for the failure to resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict, and the facile notion that Gaza’s current plight is a consequence of its people’s failure to adopt nonviolence.

In reality, as academic Colter Louwerse explains, following its election in 2006, ‘Hamas repeatedly signalled that it was ready to moderate its program to achieve a negotiated settlement with Israel’, spending a decade ‘reiterat[ing] to the point of tedium its support for negotiations based on the international consensus two state settlement’.

In 2017, Hamas even adopted a new covenant (supplanting its anti-semitic original from 1988), stating that ‘the movement would accept the reality of Israel within its pre-June 1967 borders as “a formula of national consensus”.’

This, Louwerse notes, ‘positioned Hamas closer to the international consensus framework for resolving the conflict than every mainstream political party in Israel.’

Yet, he notes ‘at no point in the past fifteen years have Israel or the United States ever so much as seriously considered testing Hamas’s offers to negotiate a peaceful end to the conflict.’

Given the historical facts – rarely acknowledged in mainstream media coverage – it’s hard to dispute Louwerse’s conclusion that the Israel-Palestine conflict would ‘almost certainly have been resolved decades ago’, had not Israel and the United States spent the last 50 years ‘actively spurning and sabotaging the prospects for a just resolution.’

As for nonviolence, independent researcher RJ, reminds us that – following the major Israeli attacks on Gaza in 2008 – 2009 and 2014, which together killed over 3,500 Palestinians, including 900 children, and with the UN warning that Gaza was becoming ‘unliveable’ as a result of Israel’s blockade – the people of Gaza did try sustained mass nonviolent resistance, only for it to be brutally crushed.

In the so-called ‘Great March of Return’, beginning on 30 March 2018, ordinary men, women and children in Gaza assembled near the separation fence between Gaza and Israel every Friday for over 18 months to protest peacefully for ‘the blockade imposed on Gaza be lifted and the return of Palestinian refugees’ to their homes and villages in Israel.

Yet week after week they were mowed down in broad daylight by Israeli snipers.

A subsequent UN commission of inquiry found that, just by 31 December 2018, Israel had killed 214 demonstrators, including 46 children, injuring many thousands more with live ammunition. By contrast, the Israeli casualty figures after nine months stood at no deaths and four injuries.

According to the commission, Israel ‘killed and gravely injured civilians who were neither participating directly in hostilities nor posing an imminent threat to life. Among those shot were children, paramedics, journalists, and persons with disabilities.’

“The people of Gaza did try mass nonviolent resistance, only for it to be brutally crushed”

It concluded that there were ‘reasonable grounds to believe’ that, with the sole exception of two incidents (on 14 May and 12 October), ‘the use of live ammunition by Israeli security forces against demonstrators was unlawful.’

Crucial to the March’s failure was its ‘systematic distortion’ in the US media, enabling Israel to act with impunity.

In the book’s second section (‘Cataclysm’), Yaniv Cogan explores the logic that has led both the Israeli state and Hamas to target civilians, albeit with far greater casualties on the Palestinian side.

He concludes that: ‘The absolute consensus among Israeli war leaders that targeting civilians is both legitimate and necessary, together with the well-documented conduct of the IDF [Israel Defence Force] during the [current] onslaught, leave no doubt that Israel’s assault on Gaza’s civilian population has been deliberate.’

Cogan also contrasts Hamas’s 7 October attack with past examples of successful armed resistance, for example Hezbollah’s guerilla war in Israeli-occupied South Lebanon, which eventually succeeded in forcing Israel to withdraw in 2000.

This guerilla warfare led to the creation of the so-called ‘Four Mothers’ protest movement, made up of the mothers of Israeli soldiers stationed in South Lebanon. It is, he notes, ‘widely credited for making withdrawal from Lebanon a politically viable (and eventually overwhelmingly popular) position within Israeli society.’

The 7 October attacks led the creation of a similar organisation, the ‘HQ of the Families of the Abducted’. Neither ‘part of the marginal Israeli Left, nor … concerned with the well-being of Palestinians in Gaza’, their protests ‘soon grew to become the largest political demonstrations held in Israel since Hamas’s attack’, securing ‘meetings with top Israeli officials’.

However, Cogan explains, if Hamas’s rationale for its 7 October attacks was to get the Israeli public to ‘pressure their government to halt its actions’ then subsequent events have shown the limits of this approach: ‘Like the Four Mothers before it, the HQ of the Families of the Abducted was in no way committed to humanitarian principle.… As circumstances shift, it could become a reactionary force that will pressure the government to implement ever crueler methods.’

Moreover, unlike Hezbollah, Hamas ‘cannot fulfil its main objective – an end to the occupation and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state – solely through unilateral action.’

Hamas, he writes, ‘cannot be content with having momentarily seized the reins of history but will have to take bold initiatives toward a just resolution of the conflict. If it does not do so, and instead remains paralyzed by the absence of a political strategy, Israel’s lasting response will end up being determined by a right-wing government and a warmongering media.’

Also in this section, former field worker with B’Tselem [the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories] Musa Abuhashhash offers an interesting analysis of why the Palestinians in the West Bank have ‘fail[ed] to act in large numbers to support their brethen in Gaza’.

The answer is partly an ‘unprecedented [Israeli] policy of suppression and terrorism’, but also partly that ‘many Palestinians in the West Bank have acquired a material stake in stability under Israeli occupation’. They are failing to ask who Israel will go after next, he notes.

The final section (‘Solidarities’) surveys grassroots opposition to – and elite support for – the Israeli assault, in the US, UK and Europe.

The UK story will be familiar to many PN readers.

Talal Hangari notes that British policy on Palestine has ‘largely tracked that of the United States since the 1970s, when British planners recognized “the need for association with the United States over Middle East issues” to avoid “injury to the Anglo-US relationship”.’

Thus, the UK pays lip service to a ‘two-state solution’, while in reality providing diplomatic, political and military support for Israeli crimes.

In March 2023, the UK and Israel agreed a ‘roadmap’ establishing the ‘mutual principles’ that would steer their ‘strategic partnership’ until 2030. It contained no mention of a two-state solution.

In the book’s final essay, Irish MEP Clare Daly details the shameful role played by the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, in ‘plant[ing] the EU flag at the very center of the unfolding genocide in Gaza’ – something which, Daly notes, von der Leyen (whose remit did not extend to foreign affairs) had ‘zero authority’ to do.

This, she argues, is ‘symptomatic of a chronic rule of law and democratic legitimacy crisis in European politics’.

Even before the current crisis, the EU’s role in Palestine was often a shameful one.

Thus Daly notes that ‘[i]n the decade preceding 2020, almost 30 percent of international transfers of major conventional weaponry to Israel were from EU member states, worth €4.1 billion’. Meanwhile the Palestinian Authority – ‘corrupt, incompetent, and impotent’ and ‘function[ing] essentially as a sub-contractor for Israeli security’ – was mainly funded by the EU.

A novel design feature means that the book’s essays are separated by black pages featuring genocidal quotes from senior Israeli figures (‘Severe epidemics in the south of the Gaza strip will bring victory closer’ – advisor to the defence minister and former head of the national security council Giora Eiland).

Though it does contain a useful glossary of key terms, an index would have been useful.

The book’s production schedule also means that several key developments are not covered at all. Most notably, South Africa’s decision to bring a case of genocide against Israel at the international criminal court.

The book’s other major gap is any in-depth discussion of a strategy for achieving a just resolution of the conflict.

Crucially, this will have to involve a radical shift in US policy towards Israel.

The fact that nonviolence has (repeatedly) been tried and failed by the Palestinians, does not in itself doom it to failure in the future. Armed resistance has also been repeatedly tried and failed, albeit with far graver humanitarian consequences.

So far as I can see, notwithstanding their heroic resilience in the face of overwhelming odds, the people of Gaza – as well as the Palestinians more generally – have extremely limited ability to affect events, given their plight.

Put simply, they cannot liberate themselves by themselves.

External allies are therefore going to be essential, ideally within both Israel and the US.

In a poll conducted in Israel in late October, over 94 percent of Israeli Jews said that Israel was either using an ‘appropriate’ amount of firepower (36.6 percent) or ‘too little’ (57.5 percent). Only 1.8 percent said that Israel was using ‘too much’.

Given this reality, mirrored in the most far-right government in Israel’s history, it is hard to be optimistic about possibilities for allies on the Israeli front.

The US may be a different matter post-7 October, but no-one should be under any illusions about the mountain that will have to be climbed.

The one ray of light is undoubtedly the vast outpouring of international solidarity across the world over the past nine months.

The question remains how we now move together to build on this.