onsdag den 21. januar 2009

Making Media Democratic

Robert W. McChesney - artiklen er fra 1998, men stadig ret relevant.

The American media system is spinning out of control in a hyper-commercialized frenzy. Fewer than ten transnational media conglomerates dominate much of our media; fewer than two dozen account for the overwhelming majority of our newspapers, magazines, films, television, radio, and books. With every aspect of our media culture now fair game for commercial exploitation, we can look forward to the full-scale commercialization of sports, arts, and education, the disappearance of notions of public service from public discourse, and the degeneration of journalism, political coverage, and children's programming under commercial pressure.

For democrats, this concentration of media power and attendant commercialization of public discourse are a disaster. An informed, participating citizenry depends on media that play a public service function. As James Madison once put it, "A popular government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both." But these democratic functions lie beyond the reach of the current American media system. If we are serious about democracy, then, we need to work aggressively for reform.

What kind of reform? In broad terms, we need to reduce the current degree of media concentration, and, more immediately, blunt its effects on democracy. More specifically, we need special incentives for nonprofits, broadcast regulation, public broadcasting, and antitrust. I present these proposals as the start of a debate about media reform, not as ultimate solutions. I am sure that spirited discussion will improve these ideas: my immediate concern is to get that discussion started. I will not dwell here on the weaknesses of the current US media system, beyond summarizing arguments that I (and many others) have made elsewhere. The point here is to begin answering the natural follow-up to such criticisms: "If the status quo is so bad, what do you propose that would be better?"

Media and Democracy

The case for media reform is based on two propositions. First, media perform essential political, social, economic, and cultural functions in modern democracies. In such societies, media are the principal source of political information and access to public debate, and the key to an informed, participating, self-governing citizenry. Democracy requires a media system that provides people with a wide range of opinion and analysis and debate on important issues, reflects the diversity of citizens, and promotes public accountability of the powers-that-be and the powers-that-want-to-be. In short, the media in a democracy must foster deliberation and diversity, and ensure accountability.

Second, media organization-patterns of ownership, management, regulation, and subsidy-- i s a central determinant of media content. This proposition is familiar from discussions of media in China and the former Soviet Union. For those countries, the idea that the media could promote deliberation, diversity, and accountability, while being effectively owned and controlled by the Communist Party, was not even worth refuting. Similarly, we are not surprised to hear that when cronies of the Mexican government owned the country's only TV station, television news coverage was especially favorable to the ruling party.

In the United States, in contrast, analysis of the implications of private ownership and advertising support for media content has been limited. For much of the second half of the twentieth century, Americans have heard that we have no reason to be concerned about corporate ownership of media or dependence on commercial advertising because market competition forces commercial media to "give the people what they want," and journalistic professionalism protects the news from the biases of owners and advertisers as well as journalists themselves.

Such views now seem very dubious. Consider first the alleged benefits of competition. The main media markets-- film, TV, magazines, music, books, cable, newspapers-- are all oligopolies or semi-monopolies with severe barriers to new entrants. Moreover, media economics make it virtually impossible for a firm to be dominant in just one sector. Because of opportunities that come with having properties in different media markets, the largest media firms all have rushed to establish conglomerates over the past decade. Time Warner, for example, is one of the top five US or global leaders in film production, TV show production, cable TV channels, cable TV systems, movie theater ownership, book publishing, music, and magazine publishing. It also has amusement parks, retail stores, and professional sport teams. Disney, too, seems to have mastered the logic of conglomeration: its animated films Pocahantas and Hunchback of Notre Dame were only marginal successes at the box office, with roughly $100 million in gross US revenues, but both films will generate close to $500 million in profit for Disney, once it has exploited all other venues: TV shows on its ABC network and cable channels, amusement park rides, comic books, CD-ROMs, CDs, and merchandising (through 600 Disney retail stores). Firms without these options simply cannot compete in this market, which is why animation is the province of only the largest media giants. This example is extreme, but it sharply underscores the fundamental principle.

These observations about conglomeration, however, barely begin to explain just how noncompetitive the media market is-if we take "competitive" in the economics textbook sense. Firms in specific markets do directly compete, at times ferociously. But these firms are also each other's best customers, as when a film studio sells its product for presentation to a broadcast network's cable channel. Moreover, to reduce risk and competition, the largest media firms have turned to "equity joint ventures" in the 1990s. Under such arrangements, media giants share the ownership of a specific media project: Fox Sports Net is jointly owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation and John Malone's TCI; the Comedy Central cable channel is co-owned by Time Warner and Viacom. Murdoch explains the logic behind joint ventures as only he can: "We can join forces now, or we can kill each other and then join forces." The nine largest American media firms have, on average, joint ventures with nearly six of the other eight giants. Murdoch's News Corp. has at least one joint venture with every single one of them.

In such noncompetitive markets, the claim that media firms "give the people what they want" is unconvincing. The firms have enough market power to dictate the content that is most profitable for them. And the easy route to profit comes from increasing commercialism-larger numbers of ads, greater say for advertisers over non-advertising content, programming that lends itself to merchandising, and all sorts of cross promotions with non-media firms. Consumers may not want such hyper-commercialism, but they have little say in the matter. So we have a 50 percent increase in the number of commercials on network TV in the past decade; the development of commercially-saturated kids' programming as arguably the fastest-growing and most profitable branch of the TV industry in the 1990s; becoming standard in motion pictures. The flip side of this commercialism is the decline of public service-of the notion that there is any purpose to our media except to make money for shareholders.

Under such conditions, journalistic norms can hardly be expected to stem the commercial tide. Contemporary commercial journalism is essentially a mix of crime stories, celebrity profiles, consumer news pitched at the upper middle class, and warmed over press releases. Bookstores are filled with dispirited reports by former editors and journalists bemoaning the brave new world of corporate journalism. Journalist unions are very important in this regard, by protecting journalistic norms from the commercial interests of the owners. But without other measures to weaken corporate media power, unions are not likely to be able to resist pressures from the current media system.

For democrats, then, media competition and journalistic norms do not suffice for deliberation, diversity, and accountability. If media are central to the formation of a participating and informed citizenry, and if media organization influences media performance, then issues about ownership, regulation, and subsidy need to be matters of public debate. But such debate has been almost non-existent in the United States. Even in broadcasting, where the publicly owned airwaves are licensed to private users, the public has never had any meaningful participation in the formation of policy.

Consider the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The law it replaced, the Communications Act of 1934, regulated telephony, radio, and television. The 1996 Act provides the basis for determining the course of radio, television, telephony, the Internet-indeed virtually all aspects of communication as we shift over to digital technologies. Its guiding premise is that the market should rule communication, with government assistance. The politics of the Act consisted largely of powerful corporate communication firms and lobbies fighting behind the scenes to get the most favorable wording. That the corporate sector would control all communication was a given; the only fight was over which sectors and which firms would get the best deals. The public was for the most part unaware of these debates. The drafting and struggles over the Telecommunications Act of 1996 were hardly discussed in the news media, except in the business and trade press, where the legislation was covered as a story of importance to investors and managers, not citizens, or even consumers.

The results of the Telecommunications Act, with its relaxation of ownership restrictions to promote competition across sectors, have been little short of disastrous. Rather then produce competition, a far-fetched notion in view of the concentrated nature of these markets, the law has paved the way for the greatest period of corporate concentration in US media and communication history. The seven Baby Bells are now four-if the SBC Communications purchase of Ameritech goes through-with more deals on the way. In radio, where ownership restrictions were relaxed the most, the entire industry has been in upheaval, with 4,000 of the 11,000 commercial stations being sold since 1996. In the 50 largest markets, three firms now control access to over half the radio audience. In 23 of those 50 markets, the three largest firms control 80 percent of the radio audience. The irony is that radio, which is relatively inexpensive and thus ideally suited to local independent control, has become perhaps the most concentrated and centralized medium in the United States.

No doubt the United States needed a new communications law. Digital technologies are undermining the traditional distinctions between media and communication sectors that formed the basis for earlier communication regulation. But the legislation we ended up with reflects the failed process that produced it.

False Starts

Because corporate control and the role of advertising are effectively off-limits to public discussion, reformers have faced limited options. Hence they have tended to press for mild reforms that do not threaten corporate and advertiser hegemony. And because these mild reforms generate little enthusiasm from the broad public, media activists have put little effort into organizing popular support for their efforts. The result is an "inside-the-beltway," low-political-stakes style of public interest lobbying. For example, in 1997 some media activists claimed victory when the Federal Communications Commission began requiring broadcasters to do three hours a week of educational programming for kids. The problem with this "victory" was that these educational programs would all remain commercially sponsored with ultimate control in the hands of business interests.

Other reformers have turned to "civic" or "public" journalism, a well- intentioned attempt to reduce the sensationalism and blatant political manipulation of mainstream journalism. Unfortunately, the movement completely ignores the structural factors of ownership and advertising that have led to the attack on journalism. Public journalism, not surprisingly, is averse to "ideological" approaches to the news, and therefore encourages a boringly "balanced" and soporific newsfare. Claiming to give readers news they think is important to their lives, advocates of public journalism may in fact be assisting in the process of converting journalism into the type of consumer news and information that delights the advertising community.

Still others have joined the media literacy movement. The idea here is to educate people to be skeptical and knowledgeable users of the media. Media literacy has considerable potential so long as it involves explaining how the media system actually works, and leads people to work for a better system. But a more conventional wing of the movement implicitly accepts that commercial media "give the people what they want." So the media literacy crowd's job is to train people to demand better fare. The resulting strategy may simply help to prop up the existing system. "Hey, don't blame us for the lousy stuff we provide," the corporate media giants will say. "We even bankrolled media literacy to train people to demand higher quality fare. The morons simply demanded more of what we are already doing."

While media literacy has an important role to play in media reform, civic journalism has been at best a mixed blessing. Some observers credit civic journalism, which is widespread in North Carolina, with helping in Jesse Helms's 1996 re-election. Why? Because civic journalism was ill-equipped to generate tough questions, or press politicians to answer them. So Helms got a cakewalk from the press, barely having to defend his record.

The evidence is clear: if we want a media system that produces fundamentally different results, we need solutions that address the causes of the problems; have to address issues of media ownership, management, regulation, and subsidy. Our goal should be to craft a media system that reduces the power of a handful of enormous corporations and advertisers to dominate the media culture. But no one will press for reform until we have some ideas worth debating. The ultimate trump card of the status quo is the claim that any change in our media system will invariably lead to darkness at noon. The purpose of the balance of this article is to establish that there are indeed several workable proposals for media reform that will expand, not contract, freedom and will energize our culture and democracy.

Media Reform Proposals

Building nonprofit and noncommercial media. The starting point for media reform is to build up a viable nonprofit, noncommercial media sector. Such a sector currently exists in the United States, and produces much of value, but it is woefully small and underfunded. It can be developed independent of changes in laws and regulations. For example, foundations and organized labor could and should contribute far more to the develop of nonprofit and noncommercial media. Labor, in particular, has to be willing to subsidize radio, television, Internet, and print media. Moreover, labor cannot seek to micromanage these media and have them serve as its PR agents. For independent media to flourish, they must have editorial integrity.

Sympathetic government policies could also help foster a nonprofit media sector, and media reform must work to this end. Government subsidies and policies have played a key role in establishing lucrative commercial media. Since the 19th century, for example, the United States has permitted publications to have quality, high speed mailing at relatively low rates. We could extend this principle to lower mailing costs for a wider range of nonprofit media, and/or for media that have little or no advertising. Likewise we could permit all sorts of tax deductions or write-offs for contributions to nonprofit media. Dean Baker of the Economic Policy Institute has developed a plan for permitting taxpayers to take up to $150 off their federal tax bill, if they donate the money to a nonprofit news medium. This would permit almost all Americans to contribute to nonprofit media-not just those with significant disposable incomes-and help create an alternative to the dominant Wall Street/Madison Avenue system.

Public Broadcasting. Establishing a strong nonprofit sector to complement the commercial giants is not enough. The costs of creating a more democratic media system simply are too high. Therefore, it is important to establish and maintain a noncommercial, nonprofit, public radio and television system. The system should include national networks, local stations, public access television, and independent community radio stations. Every community should also have a stratum of low-power television and micropower radio stations.

The United States has never experienced public broadcasting in the manner of Japan, Canada, and Western Europe. In contrast to the US, public broadcasting there has been well funded and commissioned to serve the entire population. In the United States, public broadcasting has always been underfunded, and effectively required to provide only programming that is not commercially viable. As a result, public broadcasters typically provide relatively unattractive programming to fringe audiences, hardly a strategy for institutional success. Moreover, Congress has been a watchdog to see that public broadcasting did not expand the range of ideological discourse beyond that provided by the commercial broadcasters. In sum, public broadcasting in the United States has been handcuffed since its inception. Still, it has developed a devoted following. This following has provided enough vocal political support to keep US public broadcasting from being effectively privatized, but most of this toothpaste is now out of the tube. Public radio and television are increasingly dependent upon corporate grants and "enhanced underwriting," a euphemism for advertising. The federal subsidy only accounts for some 15 percent of public broadcasting revenues. Indeed, public broadcasting, by the standard international definition, no longer exists in the United States. Instead, we have nonprofit commercial broadcasting, closely linked to the corporate sector, with the constant threat of right-wing political harassment if public stations step out of line.

We need a system of real public broadcasting, with no advertising, that accepts no grants from corporations or private bodies, and that serves the entire population, not merely those who are disaffected from the dominant commercial system and have to contribute during pledge drives. Two hurdles stand in the way of such a system. The first is organizational: How can public broadcasting be structured to make the system accountable and prevent a bureaucracy impervious to popular tastes and wishes, but to give the public broadcasters enough institutional strength to prevent implicit and explicit attempts at censorship by political authorities? The second is fiscal: Where will the funds come from to pay for a viable public broadcasting service? At present, the federal government provides $260 million annually. The public system I envision-which would put per capita US spending in a league with, for example, Britain and Japan-may well cost $5-10 billion annually.

There is no one way to resolve the organizational problem, and perhaps an ideal solution can never be found. But there are better ways, as any comparative survey indicates. One key element in preventing bureaucratic ossification or government meddling will be to establish a pluralistic system, with national networks, local stations, community and public access stations, all controlled independently. In some cases direct election of officers by the public and also by public broadcasting employees may be appropriate, whereas in other cases appointment by elected political bodies may be preferable. As for funding, I have no qualms about drawing the funds for fully public radio and television from general revenues. There is an almost absurd obsession with generating funds for public broadcasting from everywhere but the general budget, on the bogus premise that public broadcasting cannot be justified as a public expense. In view of radio and television's importance in our lives, it clearly deserves a smidgen of the money we use to build entirely unnecessary weapons systems. We subsidize education, but the government now subsidizes media only on behalf of owners. We should seek to have a stable source of funding, one that cannot be subject to manipulation by politicians with little direct interest in the integrity of the system.

A powerful public radio and television system could have a profound effect on our entire media culture. It could lead the way in providing the type of public service journalism that commercialism is now killing off. This might in turn give commercial journalists the impetus they need to pursue the hard stories they now avoid. It could have a similar effect upon our entertainment culture. A viable public TV system could support a legion of small independent filmmakers. It could do wonders for reducing the reliance of our political campaigns upon expensive commercial advertising. It is essential to ensuring the diversity and deliberation that lie at the heart of a democratic public sphere.

Regulation. A third main plank is to increase regulation of commercial broadcasting in the public interest. Media reformers have long been active in this arena, if only because the public ownership of the airwaves gives the public, through the FCC, a clear legal right to negotiate terms with the chosen few who get broadcast licenses. Still, even this form of media activism has been negligible, and broadcast regulation has been largely toothless, with the desires of powerful corporations and advertisers rarely challenged.

Experience in the United States and abroad indicates that if commercial broadcasters are not held to high public service standards, they will generate the easiest profits by resorting to the crassest commercialism, and will overwhelm the balance of the media culture. Moreover, standard-setting will not work if commercial broadcasters are permitted to "buy" their way out of public service obligations; the record shows that they will eventually find a way to reduce or eliminate these payments. Hence the most successful mixed system of commercial and public broadcasting in the world was found in Britain from the 1950s to the 1980s. It was successful because the commercial broadcasters were held to public service standards comparable to those employed by the BBC; some scholars even argue that the commercial system sometimes outperformed the BBC as a public service broadcaster. The British scheme worked because commercial broadcasters were threatened with loss of their licenses if they did not meet public service standards. (Regrettably, Thatcherism, with its mantra that the market can do no wrong, has undermined the integrity of the British broadcasting system.)

In three particular areas, broadcast regulation can be of great importance. First, advertising should be strictly regulated or even removed from all children's programming (as in Sweden). We must stop the commercial carpetbombing of our children. Commercial broadcasters should be required to provide several hours per week of ad-free kids' programming, to be produced by artists and educators, not Madison Avenue hotshots.

Second, television news should be taken away from the corporate chiefs and the advertisers and turned over to journalists. Exactly how to organize independent ad-free children's and news programming on commercial television so that it is under the control of educators, artists, and journalists will require study and debate. But we should be able to set up something that is effective.

As for funding this public service programming, I subscribe to the principle that it should be subsidized by the beneficiaries of commercialized communication. This principle might be applied in several ways. We could charge commercial broadcasters rent on the electromagnetic spectrum they use to broadcast. Or we could charge them a tax whenever they sell the stations for a profit. In combination these mechanisms could generate well over a billion dollars annually. Or we could tax advertising. Some $200 billion will be spent to advertise in the United States in 1998, $120 billion of which will be in the media. A very small sales tax on this or even only on that portion that goes to radio and television could generate several billion dollars. It might also have the salutary effect of slowing down the commercial onslaught on American social life. And it does not seem like too much to ask of advertisers who are permitted otherwise to marinate most of the publicly owned spectrum in commercialism.

Third, political candidates should receive considerable free airtime on television during electoral campaigns. In addition, paid TV advertising by candidates should either be strictly regulated or banned outright, as the exorbitant cost of these ads (not to mention their lame content) has virtually destroyed the integrity of electoral democracy here. If they cannot be banned, or even reduced by regulation, then perhaps a provision should be made that if a candidate purchases a TV ad, his or her opponents will all be entitled to free ads of the same length on the same station immediately following the paid ad. This would prevent rich candidates from buying elections. I suspect it would pretty much eliminate the practice altogether.

Even in these pro-market times, the corporate media have been unable to rid the public of its notion that commercial broadcasters should be required to serve the public as well as shareholders and advertisers. Hence, when commercial broadcasters were able to force the FCC in 1997 to give them (at no cost) massive amounts of new spectrum so they could begin digital TV broadcasting, the Clinton administration established the Gore Commission to recommend public service requirements to be met by broadcasters in return for this gift. Following the contours of US media politics, the Gore Commission has been little short of a farce, with several industry members stonewalling all but the lamest proposals. But we can hope that the Gore Commission will generate some more serious public service proposals, and provide the basis for a public education campaign and subsequent legislation to give them the force of law.

Antitrust.. The fourth strategy for creating a more democratic media system is to break up the largest firms and establish more competitive markets, thus shifting some control from corporate suppliers to citizen consumers. By all accounts, the current antitrust statutes are not satisfactory, and if antitrust is ever to be applied to media it will require a new statute, similar in tone to the seminal Clayton and Sherman Acts, that lays out the general values to be enforced by the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission. The objective should be to break up such media conglomerates as Time Warner, News Corporation, and Disney, so that their book publishing, magazine publishing, TV show production, movie production, TV stations, TV networks, amusement parks, retail store chains, cable TV channels, cable TV systems, etc. all become independent firms. With reduced barriers-to-entry in these specific markets, new firms could enter.

The media giants claim that their market power and conglomeration make them more efficient and therefore able to provide a better product at lower prices to the consumer. There is not much evidence for these claims, though it is clear that market power and conglomeration make these firms vastly more profitable. Moreover, even if one accepts that antitrust would lead to a less efficient economic model, perhaps we should pay that price to establish a more open and competitive marketplace. In view of media's importance for democratic politics and culture, they should not be judged by purely commercial criteria.

Antitrust is the wild card in the media reform platform. It has tremendous appeal across the population and is usually the first idea citizens suggest when they are confronted with the current media scene. But it is unclear whether antitrust legislation could be effectively implemented. And even if it does prove effective, the system would remain commercial, albeit more competitive. It would not, in other words, reduce the need for the first three proposals.

Not to Worry?

The fundamental flaws in our corporate-dominated, commercial media system are widely appreciated. Unfortunately, there is also a rush to assert that the Internet should silence our fears. Because the Internet is open to all at relatively low prices, the hegemony of media giants and advertisers will soon end, to be replaced by a wide-open, decentralized, diverse, fast-changing, and competitive media culture. Best of all, this result is implicit in the Internet's digital network technology, and will not require government regulation. Indeed, the mainstream consensus-strongly endorsed by the Clinton administration's Internet policy-is that government regulation alone could prevent the Internet from working its magic.

Though the Internet and digital communication in general are certainly creating a radical change in our media and communication systems, the results may not be a more competitive market or more democratic media. Indeed, the evidence to date suggests that as the Internet becomes a commercial medium, the largest media firms are most likely to succeed. The media giants can plug digital programming from their other ventures into the Web at little extra cost. To generate an audience, they can promote their Web sites incessantly on their traditional media holdings. The leading media "brands" have been the first to charge subscription fees for their Web offerings; indeed, they may be the only firms for which this is even an alternative. The media giants can (and do) arrange to have their advertisers agree to advertise on their Web sites. The media giants can also use their market power and brand names to get premier position in Web browser software. The new Microsoft Internet Explorer 4.0 offers 250 highlighted channels, and the "plum positions" belong to Disney and Time Warner. Netscape and Pointcast are making similar arrangements. Moreover, approximately half the venture capital for Internet content start-up companies comes from established media firms; they want to be able to capitalize on profitable new applications as they emerge. In addition, the evidence suggests that in the commercialized Web, advertisers will have increased leverage over content because of the number of choices before them.

When these market considerations are taken together, it is difficult to imagine the growth of a competitive digital media marketplace in which small suppliers overwhelm corporate giants. Digital communication will cause considerable dislocation, but not a revolution. And in the end, the content of the digital communication world will appear quite similar to the content of the pre-digital world.

Ironically, the most striking feature of digital communication may well be not that it opened up competition in communication markets, but that it has promoted consolidation by undermining traditional distinctions between radio, television, telecommunication, and computer software. In the 1990s, almost all the media giants have entered into joint ventures or strategic alliances with the largest telecom and software firms. Time Warner is connected to several of the US regional (Bell) telephone giants, as well as to AT&T and Oracle. It has a major joint venture with US West. Disney, likewise, is connected to several major US telecommunication companies, as well as to America Online. News Corp. is partially owned by WorldCom (MCI) and has a joint venture with British Telecom. Microsoft, as one analyst noted, seems to be in bed with everyone. In due course the global media cartel may become something of a global communication cartel.

So how does the rise of the Internet alter my proposals for structural media reform? Very little. There are, of course, some specific policy reforms we should seek for the Internet: for example, guaranteeing universal public access at low rates, perhaps for free, and assuring links for nonprofit Web sites on the dominant browsers and commercial sites. But in general terms, we might do better to regard the Internet as the corporate media giants regard it: as part of the emerging media landscape, not its entirety. So when we create more and smaller media firms, when we create public and community radio and television networks and stations, when we create a strong public service component to commercial news and children's programming, when we use government policies to spawn a nonprofit media sector, all these efforts will have a tremendous effect on the Internet's development as a mass medium. Why? Because Web sites will not be worth much if they do not have the resources to provide a quality product. And all the new media that result from media reform will have Web sites as a mandatory aspect of their operations, much like the commercial media. By creating a vibrant and more democratic "traditional" media culture, we will go a long way toward doing the same with the Web.


Imagine a world in which scores, even hundreds, of media firms operate in markets competitive enough to permit new entrants. Imagine a world with large numbers of public, community, and public access radio and television stations and networks, with enough funding to produce high quality products. Imagine a world where the public airwaves provide compelling journalism, children's programming, and political candidate information, with control vested in people dedicated to public service. Imagine a world where creative government fiscal policies enable small nonprofit and noncommercial media to sprout and prosper, providing some semblance of a democratic public sphere.

Though imaginable, this world seems wholly implausible-and not only because of the political muscle of the corporate media and communications lobbies. Over the past generation, "free market" neoliberals have understood the importance of media as an instrument of social control far better than anyone else. The leading conservative foundations have devoted considerable resources to reducing journalistic autonomy and ideological diversity and pushing media in a more explicitly pro-business direction. The pro-market political right understood that if big business dominated the main fora for political education and debate, then public scrutiny of business would be markedly reduced. These same "free market" foundations fight any public interest component to media laws and regulations, oppose any form of noncommercial and nonprofit media, and lead the battle to ensure that public broadcasting stays within narrow ideological boundaries. In short, we had a major political battle over media for the past generation, but only one side showed up. The results are clear, and appalling.

But now there are signs that the battle for the control of our media is about to be joined. Organizations such as Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), the media watch group, have boomed in the 1990s, and local media watch/media activism groups have blossomed in Denver, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle and elsewhere since 1995. In 1998 the Rainbow/PUSH coalition made media reform one of its two major organizing drives, holding regional conferences on the subject across the nation. Members of the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Progressive Caucus have agreed to draft and sponsor legislation in each of the areas mentioned earlier. Organized labor, especially media unions, have shown increased interest in and support for the issue. All of this would have been unthinkable only five years ago. It follows the trend around the world in the late 1990s, where media reform has become an indispensable part of democratic political movements. But we still have a long way to go. Large sectors of the population that are disadvantaged by the media status quo and who should be among media reform's strongest advocates-educators, librarians, parents, journalists, small businesses, laborers, artists, kids, political dissidents, progressive religious people, minorities, feminists, environmentalists-are scarcely aware that the issue even exists to be debated. The corporate media lobby is so strong that victory seems farfetched in the current environment, especially when the corporate news media show little interest in publicizing the issue.

Winning major media reform, then, will require the sort of political strength that comes with a broader social movement to democratize our society. We need to see that media reform is a staple of all progressive politics, not just a special interest cause. And media reform may have broad political appeal. Some "cultural conservatives" may be open to calls to reduce the hyper-commercialism of our media culture. And strongly pro-market democrats may recognize that media is an area where the crude application of market principles has produced disastrous "externalities." In sum, the train of media reform is leaving the station. If we value democracy we have no choice but to climb aboard.

UN Resolutions Against Israel, 1955-1992.

UN Resolutions Against Israel, 1955-1992.

Resolution 106: "...‘condemns’ Israel for Gaza raid"

Resolution 111: "...‘condemns’ Israel for raid on Syria that killed fifty-six people"

Resolution 127: "...‘recommends’ Israel suspend its ‘no-man’s zone’ in Jerusalem"

Resolution 162: "...‘urges’ Israel to comply with UN decisions"

Resolution 171: "...determines flagrant violations’ by Israel in its attack on Syria"

Resolution 228: "...‘censures’ Israel for its attack on Samu in the West Bank, then under Jordanian control"

Resolution 237: "...‘urges’ Israel to allow return of new 1967 Palestinian refugees"

Resolution 248: "...‘condemns’ Israel for its massive attack on Karameh in Jordan"

Resolution 250: "...‘calls’ on Israel to refrain from holding military parade in Jerusalem"

Resolution 251: "...‘deeply deplores’ Israeli military parade in Jerusalem in defiance of Resolution 250"

Resolution 252: "...‘declares invalid’ Israel’s acts to unify Jerusalem as Jewish capital"

Resolution 256: "...‘condemns’ Israeli raids on Jordan as ‘flagrant violation"

Resolution 259: "...‘deplores’ Israel’s refusal to accept UN mission to probe occupation"

Resolution 262: "...‘condemns’ Israel for attack on Beirut airport"

Resolution 265: "...‘condemns’ Israel for air attacks for Salt in Jordan"

Resolution 267: "...‘censures’ Israel for administrative acts to change the status of Jerusalem"

Resolution 270: "...‘condemns’ Israel for air attacks on villages in southern Lebanon"

Resolution 271: "...‘condemns’ Israel’s failure to obey UN resolutions on Jerusalem"

Resolution 279: "...‘demands’ withdrawal of Israeli forces from Lebanon"

Resolution 280: "....‘condemns’ Israeli’s attacks against Lebanon"

Resolution 285: "...‘demands’ immediate Israeli withdrawal form Lebanon"

Resolution 298: "...‘deplores’ Israel’s changing of the status of Jerusalem"

Resolution 313: "...‘demands’ that Israel stop attacks against Lebanon"

Resolution 316: "...‘condemns’ Israel for repeated attacks on Lebanon"

Resolution 317: "...‘deplores’ Israel’s refusal to release Arabs abducted in Lebanon"

Resolution 332: "...‘condemns’ Israel’s repeated attacks against Lebanon"

Resolution 337: "...‘condemns’ Israel for violating Lebanon’s sovereignty"

Resolution 347: "...‘condemns’ Israeli attacks on Lebanon"

Resolution 425: "...‘calls’ on Israel to withdraw its forces from Lebanon"

Resolution 427: "...‘calls’ on Israel to complete its withdrawal from Lebanon’

Resolution 444: "...‘deplores’ Israel’s lack of cooperation with UN peacekeeping forces"

Resolution 446: "...‘determines’ that Israeli settlements are a ‘serious obstruction’ to peace and calls on Israel to abide by the Fourth Geneva Convention"

Resolution 450: "...‘calls’ on Israel to stop attacking Lebanon"

Resolution 452: "...‘calls’ on Israel to cease building settlements in occupied territories"

Resolution 465: "...‘deplores’ Israel’s settlements and asks all member states not to assist Israel’s settlements program"

Resolution 467: "...‘strongly deplores’ Israel’s military intervention in Lebanon"

Resolution 468: "...‘calls’ on Israel to rescind illegal expulsions of two Palestinian mayors and a judge and to facilitate their return"

Resolution 469: "...‘strongly deplores’ Israel’s failure to observe the council’s order not to deport Palestinians"

Resolution 471: "...‘expresses deep concern’ at Israel’s failure to abide by the Fourth Geneva Convention"

Resolution 476: "...‘reiterates’ that Israel’s claims to Jerusalem are ‘null and void’

Resolution 478: "...‘censures (Israel) in the strongest terms’ for its claim to Jerusalem in its ‘Basic Law’

Resolution 484: "...‘declares it imperative’ that Israel re-admit two deported Palestinian mayors"

Resolution 487: "...‘strongly condemns’ Israel for its attack on Iraq’s nuclear facility"

Resolution 497: "...‘decides’ that Israel’s annexation of Syria’s Golan Heights is ‘null and void’ and demands that Israel rescind its decision forthwith"

Resolution 498: "...‘calls’ on Israel to withdraw from Lebanon"

Resolution 501: "...‘calls’ on Israel to stop attacks against Lebanon and withdraw its troops"

Resolution 509: "...‘demands’ that Israel withdraw its forces forthwith and unconditionally from Lebanon"

Resolution 515: "...‘demands’ that Israel lift its siege of Beirut and allow food supplies to be brought in"

Resolution 517: "...‘censures’ Israel for failing to obey UN resolutions and demands that Israel withdraw its forces from Lebanon"

Resolution 518: "...‘demands’ that Israel cooperate fully with UN forces in Lebanon"

Resolution 520: "...‘condemns’ Israel’s attack into West Beirut"

Resolution 573: "...‘condemns’ Israel ‘vigorously’ for bombing Tunisia in attack on PLO headquarters

Resolution 587: "...‘takes note’ of previous calls on Israel to withdraw its forces from Lebanon and urges all parties to withdraw"

Resolution 592: "...‘strongly deplores’ the killing of Palestinian students at Bir Zeit University by Israeli troops"

Resolution 605: "...‘strongly deplores’ Israel’s policies and practices denying the human rights of Palestinians

Resolution 607: "...‘calls’ on Israel not to deport Palestinians and strongly requests it to abide by the Fourth Geneva Convention

Resolution 608: "...‘deeply regrets’ that Israel has defied the United Nations and deported Palestinian civilians"

Resolution 636: "...‘deeply regrets’ Israeli deportation of Palestinian civilians

Resolution 641: "...‘deplores’ Israel’s continuing deportation of Palestinians

Resolution 672: "...‘condemns’ Israel for violence against Palestinians at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount

Resolution 673: "...‘deplores’ Israel’s refusal to cooperate with the United Nations

Resolution 681: "...‘deplores’ Israel’s resumption of the deportation of Palestinians.

Resolution 694: "...‘deplores’ Israel’s deportation of Palestinians and calls on it to ensure their safe and immediate return

Resolution 726: "...‘strongly condemns’ Israel’s deportation of Palestinians

Resolution 799: "...‘strongly condemns’ Israel’s deportation of 413 Palestinians and calls for their immediate return.

Source: Paul Findley’s Deliberate Deceptions (1998, pages 192-4). This number only covers resolutions passed from 1955 through 1992

Who will save the Palestinians?

By Professor of Middle East Hisotry Mark LeVine

It was a hot September day in Gaza and I was sitting in the office of a Hamas-affiliated newspaper talking with a senior Hamas intellectual.

As the French news crew that had given me a ride from Jerusalem packed up their camera equipment, I took the opportunity to change the subject from the latest happenings in Gaza to a more fundamental question that had long bothered me.

"Off the record, lets put aside whether or not Palestinians have the moral or legal right to use violence against civilians to resist the occupation. The fact is, it doesn't work," I said.

Suicide bombings and other direct attacks on Israeli civilians, I argued, helped to keep the subject off the occupation and in so doing allowed Israel to build even more settlements while the media focused on the violence.

His response both surprised me with its honesty and troubled me with its implications.

"We know the violence doesn't work, but we don't know how to stop it," he said.

Out of ideas

More than two years into the al-Aqsa intifada, when the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority had demonstrated itself to be incapable either of effectively governing the small parts of the Occupied Territories under its control, or of resisting the ongoing occupation, Hamas was increasingly being seen as the most viable alternative force in Palestinian politics.

Yet on the most basic questions confronting the movement and Palestinian leaders more broadly - how to force Israel to stop expanding the occupation and negotiate a peace agreement that would bring real independence - Hamas's best minds had no clue what to do except continue with a strategy that many in the leadership understood was not working.

Hamas's lack of creativity should not have decisively shaped the broader context of Palestinian politics, as polls rarely showed its popularity exceeding 20 per cent.

However, by 2002, with negotiations nowhere in sight, whole regions of cities such as Nablus and Jenin destroyed, and Israel sewing chaos across the West Bank and in so doing destroying the basic foundations of PA rule, Hamas's power was rising quickly.

Aside from adding crudely made rockets to its arsenal the year before, Hamas was fresh out of ideas.

History of political failures

There were not many viable alternative strategies to violence Hamas or any other Palestinian movement could choose from in 2002, or in the century leading up to it.

Whether it was an Ottoman state turning a blind eye to early Jewish land purchases, landowners (often with few or no local ties) selling peasant-worked land to Zionists for a tidy sum, urban notables refusing to support democracy or better conditions for workers, or much of the Palestinian elite fleeing the country in the months before the British Mandate's end, in its crucial formative phase Palestinian society did not have a political and economic leadership that consistently put national considerations ahead of more narrow political, factional, economic or personal interests.

Britain, which conquered Palestine in 1917, was mandated to support Zionist national goals while merely "safeguarding" the civil and religious rights of Palestine's indigenous inhabitants.

Enabling the development of independent and strong Palestinian political institutions would have undercut the creation of a Jewish national home. And so, in good colonial fashion, Britain encouraged the more conservative and corrupt tendencies of Palestinian society, while systematically frustrating the emergence of a capable and democratically chosen nationalist leadership.

When the inevitable civil war in Palestine erupted in 1948, the social, political and economic weaknesses within Palestinian society (most of its leadership had been exiled by 1939), coupled with the opposition to the establishment of an independent Palestine by the very Arab neighbours supposedly invading to support it, enabled a seemingly improbable Zionist/Israeli victory.

There was little room for independent Palestinian political development after 1948, with Gaza and the West Bank under Egyptian and Jordanian rule, even after the creation of the PLO in 1964.

The first intifada

Israel managed to frustrate the emergence of a PLO base that would threaten its control of the Occupied Territories after their conquest in 1967.

However it could not prevent the development of the sophisticated civil society and social networks that enabled the early successes of the intifada, which erupted in late 1987.

Hamas has failed to offer an alternative resistance strategy [GALLO/GETTY]
The intifada succeeded in good measure because of its mass social base and focus on largely non-violent protests such as commercial and tax strikes and blocking roads.

However powerful the symbolic violence of stone throwing youths pitted against the 'Goliath' of the Israeli army, Israel's far superior military power and willingness to use indiscriminate force, coupled with the arrest and long-term imprisonment of tens of thousands of Palestinians, wore down Palestinian society, sapping the strength of the intifada by the time the Gulf war started in 1991.

Neither the PLO's renunciation of terrorism in 1988 nor the emergence of Hamas earlier that year could change this dynamic.

Yet Israel clearly took note of the threat posed by local Palestinian activism to its control over the Occupied Territories.

Bypassing civil society

The Oslo back channel was pursued in good measure to bypass Palestinian civil society and the locally rooted negotiators who led the Madrid peace talks in the wake of the Gulf war.

The Palestinian Authority established in the wake of the Oslo accords was run largely by PLO officials from Tunis, who were not rooted in the Territories.

Whatever their original intentions, their interests quickly morphed from securing a full Israeli withdrawal to maintaining their newfound political power, access to wealth and patronage through Israeli-sponsored monopolies, large-scale international aid, and various forms of corruption.

Israel's leverage over the Oslo Palestinian elite helped ensure that the PA functioned as much as Israel's policeman in the Occupied Territories - controlling and when necessary repressing opposition to the ongoing occupation - as it did a partially sovereign government preparing the country for independence.

The Palestinian legislative assembly and judiciary, both of which were more accountable to the citizens of the Territories, were intentionally marginalised.

Reliance on violence

Being one of the few groups entirely outside the process, Hamas was well-positioned to offer an alternative strategy towards independence.

Instead, in the same year that the PA was established, 1994, Hamas turned its focus towards the kind of spectacular violence that characterised the PLO a generation before.

This strategy achieved little besides strengthening Israel's matrix of control over the Territories (most recently by providing the rationale for the construction of the Separation Wall, most of which has been built inside the West Bank).

Aside from the moral and legal problems associated with such attacks - whether by rockets or suicide bombs - Hamas and other militant groups failed to understand that terrorism rarely succeeds unless the insurgency deploying it is already strong enough demographically, militarily and politically to defeat the occupier.

This situation held true in Algeria, Vietnam, and even Lebanon, but it has never existed in Palestine.

With the outbreak of the al-Aqsa intifada, Hamas's reliance on extreme violence - in its rhetoric as well as actions - overshadowed other forms of Palestinian resistance, giving Israel the necessary cover to deploy an even greater intensity of violence across the Territories.

Chaos and anarchy

This dynamic generated a level of chaos that necessitated the coining of the term intafawda (fawda in Arabic means chaos or anarchy) to describe the chaos and anarchy that often characterised life during the al-Aqsa intifada.

Both Hamas and Fatah engaged in kidnappings, torture and murder of opponents of all stripes, leaving little space for Palestinian civil society to shape a viable strategy of resistance against the occupation.

Hamas's reliance on violence as its chief tactic of resistance provided Israel with the opportunity to use its victory in the 2006 legislative elections to split Palestinians geographically and politically.

In the West Bank, where territorial conflict is now centered and settlement construction continues, Israel helped the more cooperative Fatah-led PA to maintain its power (although the Gaza war may now render the PA unsalvageable). Hamas was relegated to the prison of Gaza.

By early 2007 the situation was so bad that Gazans suffered attacks by Israeli helicopter gunships and street battles between Hamas and Fatah on the same day.

As Hamas and Fatah veered increasingly towards civil war, Hamas fulfilled precisely the function Israel hoped it would when it tolerated and even encouraged the movement's early development.

Israel saw it as an alternative to the PLO that would weaken or split the Palestinian national movement politically and territorially; precisely what ultimately happened.

Watershed moment

By early 2008, Israel's siege had made matters so desperate that Gazans broke through the border wall between Gaza and Egypt in order to escape into neighbouring Sinai towns for a few days to buy food, medicine and other necessities in short supply because of the siege.

Yet when a group of NGOs, joined by ordinary citizens, tried to build on the momentum at the southern border by staging a peaceful mass march to the Erez border in order, symbolically at least, to dismantle it, a line of armed Hamas policemen stopped the 5,000 strong marchers half a mile south of the crossing.

Rather than seizing the opportunity to shift the struggle towards a terrain - mass civil disobedience backed by international law - on which Israel's footing would be far less sure, Hamas served Israel's interests by stopping the march.

Later that afternoon, Hamas launched a rocket assault on Sderot, injuring a small Israeli girl, continuing a cycle of violence that ultimately led to the December-January war.

Jihad, but which kind?

Hamas's charter declares that "There is no solution to the Palestinian Question except by Jihad" (Article 13). Perhaps. But what kind?

If "jihad is the path" (Article 8), is violence the only vehicle that can travel upon it?

Martin Luther King engaged in holy war, as did Gandhi before him, and Bishop Tutu after. Palestinians too have waged more than one kind of jihad.

In fact, for most of the last decade - indeed, throughout the 42 year occupation - just going about one's daily life and navigating the innumerable obstacles of the occupation, has for most Palestinians constituted a supreme act of non-violent resistance.

There have also been literally thousands of non-violent protests staged by Palestinians across the Occupied Territories, the majority of them ignored by the media and repressed, often violently, by Israel.

Successful non-violent movements, such as in the US, India or (for the most part) South Africa, succeeded because, in Gandhi's words, they sought "to convert, not to coerce, the wrong-doer".

As Gandhi explained it, the goal of non-violence must be to obtain the cooperation of one's opponent to achieve a just end to a conflict, utilising means that reflect rather than degrade the justice of one's cause.

At the same time, Gandhi also understood that no conversion of the occupier could occur without also transforming oppressive social and economic relations within one's society.

As a socio-religious movement heavily involved in the provision of social welfare services, whose popularity has in good measure been tied to its anti-corruption and social justice rhetoric, Hamas was well positioned to follow this path.

However, instead of learning from the experiences of the first intifada and successful activism in other countries, Hamas looked backwards, to a vision of revolutionary violence whose record of producing real freedom and development in developing societies has been checkered, at best.

De-normalising Israel

According to David Theo Goldberg, a South African scholar, the example of the defeat of apartheid in his country points to the importance of "de-normalising" the Israeli occupation - showing the world that its actions are not normal, and cannot be justified with claims of self-defence or security.

Instead, Palestinian terrorism, first by the PLO and later by Hamas and other groups, helped to normalise the occupation, enabling the Israeli government to transform an occupation that has always been about settlement into one premised on legitimate security needs.

Rhetoric matters too.

Israel has justified the war on the grounds of its security concerns [GALLO/GETTY]
When during the past year Hamas leaders talked proudly of making "death an industry of the Palestinian people" and creating "human shields" composed of old people and children, or declared Jewish children everywhere to have become legitimate targets of murder (as did Hamas commander Mahmoud Zahar in a televised broadcast on January 5), the movement helped normalise the intensifying siege on Gaza, playing into deep-seated Western - and particularly American and Israeli - stereotypes of Muslim irrationality and brutality.

Indeed, such statements have long made it easier for the media, and the public, to ignore or even justify similarly racist or bigoted statements by Israeli leaders.

In this context, once the truce agreed to by Israel and Hamas in June 2008 broke down, the relaunching of Qassam rockets - even if they were in response to an Israeli provocation - normalised Israel's massive response in the eyes of its citizens, and a large majority of Americans as well.

In this discourse, any 'normal' country would feel compelled to respond militarily when thousands of rockets are fired into its territory by an adversary who uses its own children as human shields while threatening to kill one's children the world over.

That such a narrative avoids the larger context in which the Qassams were fired does not change the role played by the rockets in normalising the occupation.

An opportunity in Gaza's ashes?

If there is a bright spot for Palestinians in the horrific violence of the last few weeks, it is that Israel's deployment of disproportionate and indiscriminate violence in Gaza has revealed the abnormality of the occupation for millions of people who previously had been unable to perceive it.

This revelation offers Hamas, and the Palestinian leadership more broadly, the chance to change the larger terms of the debate over the future of Israel/Palestine.

It could help move Palestinian society (and with it Israeli society, however reluctantly) away from the paradigm of two nationalist movements engaged in a competition over territory and towards a common future.

This process can only begin with the conversion of Israelis and Palestinians to the idea of sharing sovereignty, territory and even identity in order to achieve the greatest good for the most members of the two societies.

It is worth noting that the far left in Israel has long had such a bi-national programme. For its part, the PLO came close to it with its call for a "secular democratic state" in all of Mandate Palestine in 1969.

However, such an idea has never had a chance of being considered seriously as long as terrorism has been identified as the central strategy for the realisation of Palestinian nationalism.

When the two-state strategy epitomised by the Oslo peace process collapsed at the Camp David talks of July 2000, there was an opportunity for Palestinians again to change the terms of the debate.

Hamas in particular could have offered an alternative discourse to Yasser Arafat's supposed 'No' to a generous Israeli final offer.

But the movement had little new to offer.

Al-Aqsa intifada

Indeed, at this crucial moment a leadership vacuum opened across Palestinian society, which Ariel Sharon, the then Likud leader, ever alert to an opportunity to throw the peace process further off balance, exploited with his infamous visit to the Temple Mount.

Sharon clearly hoped to provoke a violent Palestinian response that would shift attention away from the reality that Israel had not in fact offered Palestinians a viable deal at Camp David.

His highly symbolic but politically meaningless visit became the spark for the al-Aqsa intifada.

What few have considered as the new intifada unfolded was whether Palestinians should have responded to Sharon's visit with violent protests. There were certainly other options.

Mosque officials could have offered him tea, and in front of the media's glare, asked him politely but firmly to explain how he expected Jews and Palestinians to live together peacefully when the occupation had intensified during Oslo.

It is impossible to know for sure what Sharon would have answered, but there is a good chance that this would have thrown him off balance, exposing the abnormality of the peace process-as-occupation for all to see.

Playing their part

Instead, Palestinians played the part assigned to them, and a so far eight year long intifada erupted.

As no less a supporter of Palestinian rights than Norman Finkelstein argues, it has left "Palestinians ... [with] little to show for the violent resistance ... It is at least arguable that the balance-sheet would have been better had Palestinians en masse adopted non-violent civil resistance".

Much of Gaza was turned to rubble in Israel's 23-day offensive [AFP]
Israel offered Hamas another opportunity to change the terms of the conflict when in late November, 2007, Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, warned Israelis that their country "risked being compared to apartheid-era South Africa if it failed to agree an independent state for the Palestinians".

With that remark Olmert was revealing to the world what Haaretz commentator Bradley Burston has called the "ultimate doomsday weapon," - one which senior Israeli commanders "could only pray that Palestinians would never take out and use".

As Burston pointed out, when the opportunity for Palestinians en masse to just "get up and walk" arose with the march to Erez less than two months after Olmert made his remarks, Hamas forced Palestinians to keep their most powerful weapon under lock and key at the moment it could have been used to its greatest effect.

Changing the rules

A year later, much of Gaza has been turned to rubble, at least 1,300 more Gazans are dead, joined by at least 13 Israelis.

The futility of violence as a strategy to achieve either society's core objectives has never been so clearly on display, as has the bankruptcy of a two-state solution that was likely miscarried at the very inception of the peace process a decade and a half ago.

It is not likely that Israel will emerge from this tragedy ready to offer Palestinians a territorially viable Palestinian state.

The newly inaugurated Obama administration could force it to do so, garnering near universal acclaim for salvaging the two-state solution in the process.

However, it seems more likely that the two-state solution will remain as illusive in the near future as it has in the past.

In such a situation Palestinians face a choice: continue to play by Israel's rules and see their dreams of independence disappear for at least another generation, or change the rules by demanding the same rights enjoyed by Israelis over the entirety of historic Palestine.

By taking heed of Olmert's warning, Palestinians can begin the journey towards a future in which Jews and Palestinians can share the land of historical Palestine/Eretz Yisrael for the benefit of both peoples, rather than at the expense of the other.

The road will no doubt be long and painful; but even as the fog of the latest war dissipates it is hard to imagine another path emerging that could lead to an independent, peaceful future for Palestine, or Israel.


Mark LeVine is a professor of Middle East history at the University of California, Irvine, and is the author of Heavy Metal Islam: Rock, Resistance, and the Struggle for the Soul of Islam and the soon to be published An Impossible Peace: Israel/Palestine Since 1989.


America's Hidden Role in Hamas's Rise to Power

By Professor Stephen Zunes
Source: AlterNet

No one in the mainstream media or government is willing to acknowledge America's sordid role interfering in Palestinian politics.

The United States bears much of the blame for the ongoing bloodshed in the Gaza Strip and nearby parts of Israel. Indeed, were it not for misguided Israeli and American policies, Hamas would not be in control of the territory in the first place.

Israel initially encouraged the rise of the Palestinian Islamist movement as a counter to the Palestine Liberation Organization, the secular coalition composed of Fatah and various leftist and other nationalist movements. Beginning in the early 1980s, with generous funding from the U.S.-backed family dictatorship in Saudi Arabia, the antecedents of Hamas began to emerge through the establishment of schools, health care clinics, social service organizations and other entities that stressed an ultraconservative interpretation of Islam, which up to that point had not been very common among the Palestinian population. The hope was that if people spent more time praying in mosques, they would be less prone to enlist in left- wing nationalist movements challenging the Israeli occupation.

While supporters of the secular PLO were denied their own media or right to hold political gatherings, the Israeli occupation authorities allowed radical Islamic groups to hold rallies, publish uncensored newspapers and even have their own radio station. For example, in the occupied Palestinian city of Gaza in 1981, Israeli soldiers -- who had shown no hesitation in brutally suppressing peaceful pro-PLO demonstrations -- stood by when a group of Islamic extremists attacked and burned a PLO-affiliated health clinic in Gaza for offering family-planning services for women.

Hamas, an acronym for Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiyya (Islamic Resistance Movement), was founded in 1987 by Sheik Ahmed Yassin, who had been freed from prison when Israel conquered the Gaza Strip 20 years earlier. Israel's priorities in suppressing Palestinian dissent during this period were revealing: In 1988, Israel forcibly exiled Palestinian activist Mubarak Awad, a Christian pacifist who advocated the use of Gandhian- style resistance to the Israeli occupation and Israeli-Palestinian peace, while allowing Yassin to circulate anti-Jewish hate literature and publicly call for the destruction of Israel by force of arms.

American policy was not much different: Up until 1993, U.S. officials in the consular office in Jerusalem met periodically with Hamas leaders, while they were barred from meeting with anyone from the PLO, including leading moderates within the coalition. This policy continued despite the fact that the PLO had renounced terrorism and unilaterally recognized Israel as far back as 1988.

One of the early major boosts for Hamas came when the Israeli government expelled more than 400 Palestinian Muslims in late 1992. While most of the exiles were associated with Hamas-affiliated social service agencies, very few had been accused of any violent crimes. Since such expulsions are a direct contravention to international law, the U.N. Security Council unanimously condemned the action and called for their immediate return. The incoming Clinton administration, however, blocked the United Nations from enforcing its resolution and falsely claimed that an Israeli offer to eventually allow some of exiles back constituted a fulfillment of the U.N. mandate. The result of the Israeli and American actions was that the exiles became heroes and martyrs, and the credibility of Hamas in the eyes of the Palestinians grew enormously -- and so did its political strength.

Still, at the time of the Oslo Agreement between Israel and the PLO in 1993, polls showed that Hamas had the support of only 15 percent of the Palestinian community. Support for Hamas grew, however, as promises of a viable Palestinian state faded as Israel continued to expand its colonization drive on the West Bank without apparent U.S. objections, doubling the amount of settlers over the next dozen years. The rule of Fatah leader and Palestinian Authority President Yassir Arafat and his cronies proved to be corrupt and inept, while Hamas leaders were seen to be more honest and in keeping with the needs of ordinary Palestinians. In early 2001, Israel cut off all substantive negotiations with the Palestinians, and a devastating U.S.-backed Israeli offensive the following year destroyed much of the Palestinian Authority's infrastructure, making prospects for peace and statehood even more remote. Israeli closures and blockades sank the Palestinian economy into a serious depression, and Hamas-run social services became all the more important for ordinary Palestinians.

Seeing how Fatah's 1993 decision to end the armed struggle and rely on a U.S.-led peace process had resulted in increased suffering, Hamas' popularity grew well beyond its hard-line fundamentalist base and its use of terrorism against Israel -- despite being immoral, illegal and counterproductive -- seemed to express the sense of anger and impotence of wide segments of the Palestinian population. Meanwhile -- in a policy defended by the Bush administration and Democratic leaders in Congress -- Israel's use of death squads resulted in the deaths of Yassin and scores of other Hamas leaders, turning them into martyrs in the eyes of many Palestinians and increasing Hamas' support still further.

Hamas Comes to Power

With the Bush administration insisting that the Palestinians stage free and fair elections after the death of Arafat in 2004, Fatah leaders hoped that coaxing Hamas into the electoral process would help weaken its more radical elements. Despite U.S. objections, the Palestinian parliamentary elections went ahead in January 2006 with Hamas' participation. They were monitored closely by international observers and were universally recognized as free and fair. With reformist and leftist parties divided into a half-dozen competing slates, Hamas was seen by many Palestinians disgusted with the status quo as the only viable alternative to the corrupt Fatah incumbents, and with Israel refusing to engage in substantive peace negotiations with Abbas' Fatah-led government, they figured there was little to lose in electing Hamas. In addition, factionalism within the ruling party led a number of districts to have competing Fatah candidates. As a result, even though Hamas only received 44 percent of the vote, it captured a majority of parliament and the right to select the prime minister and form a new government.

Ironically, the position of prime minister did not exist under the original constitution of the Palestinian Authority, but was added in March 2003 at the insistence of the United States, which desired a counterweight to President Arafat. As a result, while the elections allowed Abbas to remain as president, he was forced to share power with Ismail Haniya, the Hamas prime minister.

Despite claiming support for free elections, the United States tried from the outset to undermine the Hamas government. It was largely due to U.S. pressure that Abbas refused Hamas' initial invitation to form a national unity government that would include Fatah and from which some of the more hard-line Hamas leaders would have presumably been marginalized. The Bush administration pressured the Canadians, Europeans and others in the international community to impose stiff sanctions on the Palestine Authority, although a limited amount of aid continued to flow to government offices controlled by Abbas.

Once one of the more-prosperous regions in the Arab world, decades of Israeli occupation had resulted in the destruction of much of the indigenous Palestinian economy, making the Palestinian Authority dependent on foreign aid to provide basic functions for its people. The impact of these sanctions, therefore, was devastating. The Iranian regime rushed in to partially fulfill the void, providing millions of dollars to run basic services and giving the Islamic republic -- which until then had not been allied with Hamas and had not been a major player in Palestinian politics -- unprecedented leverage.

Meanwhile, record unemployment led angry and hungry young men to become easy recruits for Hamas militants. One leading Fatah official noted how, "For many people, this was the only way to make money." Some Palestinian police, unpaid by their bankrupt government, clandestinely joined the Hamas militia as a second job, creating a dual loyalty.

The demands imposed at the insistence of the Bush administration and Congress on the Palestinian Authority in order to lift the sanctions appeared to have been designed to be rejected and were widely interpreted as a pretext for punishing the Palestinian population for voting the wrong way. For example, the United States demanded that the Hamas-led government unilaterally recognize the right of the state of Israel to exist, even though Israel has never recognized the right of the Palestinians to have a viable state on the West Bank and Gaza Strip, or anywhere else. Other demands included an end of attacks on civilians in Israel while not demanding that Israel likewise end its attacks on civilian areas in the Gaza Strip. They also demanded that the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority accept all previously negotiated agreements, even as Israel continued to violate key components of the Wye River Agreement and other negotiated deals with the Palestinians.

While Hamas honored a unilateral cease-fire regarding suicide bombings in Israel, border clashes and rocket attacks into Israel continued. Israel, meanwhile, with the support of the Bush administration, engaged in devastating air strikes against crowded urban neighborhoods, resulting in hundreds of civilian casualties. Congress also went on record defending the Israeli assaults -- which were widely condemned in the international community as excessive and in violation of international humanitarian law -- as legitimate acts of self-defense.

A Siege, Not a Withdrawal

The myth perpetuated by both the Bush administration and congressional leaders of both parties was that Israel's 2005 dismantling of its illegal settlements in the Gaza Strip and the withdrawal of military units that supported them constituted effective freedom for the Palestinians of the territory. American political leaders from President George W. Bush to House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., have repeatedly praised Israel for its belated compliance with a series of U.N. Security Council resolutions calling for its withdrawal of these illegal settlements (despite Israel's ongoing violations of these same resolutions by maintaining and expanding illegal settlements in the West Bank and Golan Heights).

In reality, however, the Gaza Strip has remained effectively under siege. Even prior to the Hamas victory in the Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006, the Israeli government not only severely restricted -- as is its right -- entry from the Gaza Strip into Israel, but also controlled passage through the border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt, as well. Israel also refused to allow the Palestinians to open their airport or seaport. This not only led to periodic shortages of basic necessities imported through Egypt, but resulted in the widespread wasting of perishable exports -- such as fruits, vegetables and cut flowers -- vital to the territory's economy. Furthermore, Gaza residents were cut off from family members and compatriots in the West Bank and elsewhere in what many have referred to as the world's largest open-air prison.

In retaliation, Hamas and allied militias began launching rocket attacks into civilian areas of Israel. Israel responded by bombing, shelling and periodic incursions in civilian areas in the Gaza Strip, which, by the time of the 2006 cease-fire, had killed over 200 civilians, including scores of children. Bush administration officials, echoed by congressional leaders of both parties, justifiably condemned the rocket attacks by Hamas-allied units into civilian areas of Israel (which at that time had resulted in scores of injuries but only one death), but defended Israel's far more devastating attacks against civilian targets in the Gaza Strip. This created a reaction that strengthened Hamas' support in the territory even more.

The Gaza Strip's population consists primarily of refugees from Israel's ethnic cleansing of most of Palestine almost 60 years ago and their descendents, most of whom have had no gainful employment since Israel sealed the border from most day laborers in the late 1980s. Crowded into only 140 square miles and subjected to extreme violence and poverty, it is not surprising that many would become susceptible to extremist politics, such as those of the Islamist Hamas movement. Nor is it surprising that under such conditions, people with guns would turn on each other.

Undermining the Unity Government

When factional fighting between armed Fatah and Hamas groups broke out in early 2007, Saudi officials negotiated a power-sharing agreement between the two leading Palestinian political movements. U.S. officials, however, unsuccessfully encouraged Abbas to renounce the agreement and dismiss the entire government. Indeed, ever since the election of a Hamas parliamentary majority, the Bush administration began pressuring Fatah to stage a coup and abolish parliament.

The national unity government put key ministries in the hands of Fatah members and independent technocrats and removed some of the more hard-line Hamas leaders and, while falling well short of Western demands, Hamas did indicate an unprecedented willingness to engage with Israel, accept a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and negotiate a long-term cease-fire with Israel. For the first time, this could have allowed Israel and the United States the opportunity to bring into peace talks a national unity government representing virtually all the factions and parties active in Palestinian politics on the basis of the Arab League peace initiative for a two-state solution and U.N. Security Council Resolution 242. However, both the Israeli and American governments refused.

Instead, the Bush administration decided to escalate the conflict by ordering Israel to ship large quantities or weapons to armed Fatah groups to enable them to fight Hamas and stage a coup. Israeli military leaders initially resisted the idea, fearing that much of these arms would end up in the hands of Hamas, but -- as Israeli journalist Uri Avnery put it -- "our government obeyed American orders, as usual.' That Fatah was being supplied with weapons from Israel while Hamas was fighting the Israelis led many Palestinians -- even those who don't share Hamas' extremist ideology -- to see Fatah as collaborators and Hamas as liberation fighters. This was a major factor leading Hamas to launch what it saw as a preventive war or a countercoup by overrunning the offices of the Fatah militias in June 2007 and, just as the Israelis feared, many of these newly supplied weapons have indeed ended up in the hands of Hamas militants. Hamas has ruled the Gaza Strip ever since.

The United States also threw its support to Mohammed Dahlan, the notorious Fatah security chief in Gaza, who -- despite being labeled by American officials as "moderate" and "pragmatic" -- oversaw the detention, torture and execution of Hamas activists and others, leading to widespread popular outrage against Fatah and its supporters.

Alvaro de Soto, former U.N. special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, stated in his confidential final report leaked to the press a few weeks before the Hamas takeover that "the Americans clearly encouraged a confrontation between Fatah and Hamas" and "worked to isolate and damage Hamas and build up Fatah with recognition and weaponry." De Soto also recalled how in the midst of Egyptian efforts to arrange a cease-fire following a flare-up in factional fighting earlier this year, a U.S. official told him that "I like this violence . it means that other Palestinians are resisting Hamas."

Weakening Palestinian Moderates

For moderate forces to overcome extremist forces, the moderates must be able to provide their population with what they most need: in this case, the end of Israel's siege of the Gaza Strip and its occupation and colonizing of the remaining Palestinian territories. However, Israeli policies -- backed by the Bush administration and Congress -- seem calculated to make this impossible. The noted Israeli policy analyst Gershon Baskin observed, in an article in the Jerusalem Post just prior to Hamas' electoral victory, how "Israel 's unilateralism and determination not to negotiate and engage President Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority has strengthened the claims of Hamas and weakened Abbas and his authority, which was already severely crippled by . Israeli actions that demolished the infrastructures of Palestinian Authority governing bodies and institutions."

Bush and an overwhelming bipartisan majority in Congress have also thrown their support to the Israeli government's unilateral disengagement policy that, while withdrawing Israeli settlements from the Gaza Strip, has expanded them in the occupied West Bank as part of an effort to illegally annex large swaths of Palestinian territory. In addition, neither Congress nor the Bush administration has pushed the Israelis to engage in serious peace negotiations with the Palestinians, which have been suspended for over six years, despite calls by Abbas and the international community that they resume. Given that Fatah's emphasis on negotiations has failed to stop Israel's occupation and colonization of large parts of the West Bank, it's not surprising that Hamas' claim that the U.S.-managed peace process is working against Palestinian interests has resonance, even among Palestinians who recognize that terrorism by Hamas' armed wing is both morally reprehensible and has hurt the nationalist cause.

Following Hamas' armed takeover of Gaza, the highly respected Israeli journalist Roni Shaked, writing in the June 15 issue of Yediot Ahronoth, noted that "The U.S. and Israel had a decisive contribution to this failure." Despite claims by Israel and the United States that they wanted to strengthen Abbas, "in practice, zero was done for this to happen. The meetings with him turned into an Israeli political tool, and Olmert's kisses and backslapping turned Abbas into a collaborator and a source of jokes on the Palestinian street."

De Soto's report to the U.N. Secretary-General, in which he referred to Hamas' stance toward Israel as "abominable," also noted that "Israeli policies seemed perversely designed to encourage the continued action by Palestinian militants." Regarding the U.S.- instigated international sanctions against the Palestinian Authority, the former Peruvian diplomat also observed that "the steps taken by the international community with the presumed purpose of bringing about a Palestinian entity that will live in peace with its neighbor Israel have had precisely the opposite effect."

Some Israeli commentators saw this strategy as deliberate. Avnery noted, "Our government has worked for year to destroy Fatah, in order to avoid the need to negotiate an agreement that would inevitably lead to the withdrawal form the occupied territories and the settlements there." Similarly, M.J. Rosenberg of the Israel Policy Center observed, "the fact is that Israeli (and American) right-wingers are rooting for the Palestinian extremists" since "supplanting ... Fatah with Islamic fundamentalists would prevent a situation under which Israel would be forced to negotiate with moderates.' The problem, Avnery wrote at that time, is that "now, when it seems that this aim has been achieved, they have no idea what to do about the Hamas victory."

Since then, the Israeli strategy has been to increase the blockade on the Gaza Strip, regardless of the disastrous humanitarian consequences, and more recently to launch devastating attacks that have killed hundreds of people, as many as one-quarter of whom have been civilians. The Bush administration and leaders of both parties in Congress have defended Israeli policies on the grounds that the extremist Hamas governs the territory.

Yet no one seems willing to acknowledge the role the United States had in making it possible for Hamas to come to power in Gaza in the first place.


Stephen Zunes is a professor of politics and chairman of Middle Eastern studies at the University of San Francisco and serves as a senior policy analyst for Foreign Policy in Focus.

Israel-Palestine FAQ w. Stephen R. Shalom.


1. Doesn't Israel have the right to defend itself and its population from rocket attacks?

Rockets from Gaza aimed at Israeli civilians violate international law.

But any assessment of whether Israeli military actions constitute lawful self-defense has to take account of the context and the question of proportionality.

The broad context is that the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories is illegal and unjust and Israel can't claim self-defense when Palestinians struggle by legitimate means to end the occupation. (In the same way, Japanese troops couldn't claim self-defense when they were attacked by guerrillas in occupied China or the occupied Philippines during World War II.)

The proper Israeli response to such Palestinian actions is not "self-defense," but full withdrawal from the occupied territories.


2. While conquests in wars of aggression are clearly illegal, didn't Israel obtain the West Bank and Gaza as the result of a defensive war against an attack waged by neighboring Arab states?

The West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Gaza, as well as the Sinai and the Golan Heights were conquered by Israel during the June 1967 war, a war in which Israel attacked first. Israel's supporters argue that although Israel fired the first shots, this was a justified preventive war, given that Arab armies were mobilizing on Israel's borders, with murderous rhetoric. The rhetoric was indeed blood-curdling, and many people around the world worried for Israel's safety. But those who understood the military situation -- in Tel Aviv and the Pentagon -- knew quite well that even if the Arabs struck first, Israel would prevail in any war. Egypt's leader was looking for a way out and agreed to send his vice-president to Washington for negotiations. Before that could happen, Israel attacked, in part because it rejected negotiations and the prospect of any face-saving compromise for Egypt. Menachem Begin, who was an enthusiastic supporter of that (and other) Israeli wars was quite clear about the necessity for launching an attack: In June 1967, he said, Israel "had a choice." Egyptian Army concentrations did not prove that Nasser was about to attack. "We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him."[1]

However, even if it were the case that the 1967 war was wholly defensive on Israel's part, this could not justify continued rule over Palestinians. A people do not lose their right to self-determination because the government of a neighboring state goes to war. Sure, punish Jordan and don't give it back the West Bank (to which it had no right in the first place, having joined with Israel in carving up the stillborn Palestinian state envisioned in the UN's 1947 partition plan). And don't return Gaza to Egyptian administrative control. But there is no basis for punishing the Palestinian population by forcing them to submit to foreign military occupation.

Israel immediately incorporated occupied East Jerusalem into Israel proper, announcing that Jerusalem was its united and eternal capital. It then began to establish settlements in the Occupied Territories in violation of the Geneva Conventions, which prohibit a conquering power from settling its population on occupied territory. The Israeli government legal adviser at the time, the distinguished jurist Theodor Meron, warned that any settlements would be illegal,[2] but he was ignored.

And the International Court of Justice has ruled -- in a portion of an opinion that had the unanimous support of all its judges, including the one from the United States -- that all the settlements in the occupied territories are illegal.[3]

3. Hasn't Israel withdrawn from Gaza, thereby ending its occupation?

The Israeli withdrawal did not end the occupation. As John Dugard, the UN's then special rapporteur on the Occupied Palestinian Territories, noted in 2006:

Statements by the Government of Israel that the withdrawal ended the occupation of Gaza are grossly inaccurate. Even before the commencement of 'Operation Summer Rains,' following the capture of Corporal Shalit, Gaza remained under the effective control of Israel. This control was manifested in a number of ways. Israel retained control of Gaza's air space, sea space and external borders. Although a special arrangement was made for the opening of the Rafah border crossing to Egypt, to be monitored by European Union personnel, all other crossings remained largely closed.... The actions of IDF [Israeli Defense Force] in respect of Gaza have clearly demonstrated that modern technology allows an occupying Power to effectively control a territory even without a military presence.[4]

On November 20, 2008, Human Rights Watch wrote to Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert, stating, among other things,

"Even though Israel withdrew its permanent military forces and settlers in 2005, it remains an occupying power in Gaza under international law because it continues to exercise effective day-to-day control over key aspects of life in Gaza."[5]

If Israel had truly withdrawn from Gaza, then Israel could not prohibit Gaza from trading by sea or air with other nations, bar people from sailing or flying in to or out of Gaza, overfly Gazan airspace or patrol its coastal waters, or declare "no go zones" within Gaza. Israel also controls Gaza's Population Registry and collects import duties on any goods it allows into Gaza.[6]

4. Regardless of whether the occupation legally continues, didn't Israel give up its settlements and its military bases in Gaza?

Israel's Gaza "disengagement" was a unilateral move, not worked out with any Palestinian leaders at all. Israeli settlers were removed from Gaza, but more new settlers moved to the West Bank in 2005 than left Gaza and more Palestinian land was taken over on the West Bank than was given up in Gaza.[7] To many it seemed clear that the disengagement, rather than a step towards eventual Palestinian statehood, was in fact a move to secure Israel's hold on the West Bank and deny any independent existence for the Palestinian people. As Ariel Sharon's chief aide, Dov Weisglass, told an interviewer for an Israeli newspaper: The significance of the disengagement plan

"is the freezing of the political process. And when you freeze that process you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state and you prevent a discussion about the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem. Effectively, this whole package that is called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed from our agenda indefinitely."[8]

5. Why should Israel have an obligation to open its borders with or transmit electricty or fuel to Gaza? Doesn't it have the sovereign right to close its borders as it wishes?

When a country has controlled a territory for 40 years, and prohibits all construction or development that might allow that territory to function independent of the country, it bears obligations. When, in addition, the country prohibits the territory from engaging in trade via air or sea, it cannot claim the right to cut off land crossings.

6. Gaza shares a land border with Egypt. Why is Israel blamed for cutting off Gaza's borders?

When Israel "disengaged" from Gaza, it did not turn the Rafah crossing -- the connection to Egypt -- over to the Palestinians. Instead, the Rafah crossing was the subject of an Agreement on Movement and Access (AMA) signed in November 2005 by the Palestinian Authority and Israel, with U.S. backing, that provided that the crossing would be staffed by personnel from the European Union (EU). According to the Agreement, Israel would have a veto on who could come and go through the border (though Israelis wouldn't be present at the crossing, but they would have real time video feed and advance notice of anyone seeking to cross).

As the Israeli human rights organization Gisha has noted, "With the exception of personal effects brought by travelers, imports through Rafah, the only crossing into Gaza not directly controlled by Israel, are not permitted. "[9]

Egypt could, of course, ignore the AMA and open the border anyway. And it should do so. And the EU and the U.S. governments could and should end their financial strangulation of Gaza and send supplies by sea to Gaza's coast, ignoring any Israeli blockade, since presumably Israel wouldn't sink EU or U.S. vessels. The behavior of all of these governments is reprehensible.


7. Didn't Hamas just use the Israeli disengagement from Gaza as an opportunity to launch rockets at Israel without provocation?

Rocket attacks declined after the Israeli "disengagement." There were 281 rockets fired at Israel from Gaza in 2004, and 179 in 2005. The disengagement was completed in September 2005. In the four month period October 2005 through January 2006, there were only 40 rockets fired.[10]

In late September, there was a flurry of rockets launched from Gaza, following a deadly explosion at a Hamas armed victory parade in the Jabaliya refugee camp in Gaza. Most observers, including the Palestinian Authority (then involved in internecine conflict with Hamas) blamed the explosion on a Hamas accident; Hamas claimed Israel was responsible. Whatever the truth, according to the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, an Israeli think tank closely tied to the Israeli intelligence and military establishment[11]:

"Afterwards, Fatah factions and the PIJ [Palestinian Islamic Jihad] launched the greatest number of rockets. Hamas stopped its direct involvement in rocket launching following the internal and external criticism it received for having harmed the civilian Palestinian populace, and later because of its governmental commitments."[12]

Other Palestinian groups did launch rockets. In October 2005 there was another bout of rocket fire. But this did not occur in isolation. And in the pattern of violence and retaliatory violence it is hard to determine who "started" it. On October 23, 2005, Israeli forces killed two Islamic Jihad members on the West Bank; rockets were then fired from Gaza, without causing any injuries; Israel then closed border crossings; its planes flew low over Gaza creating sonic booms and it fired air to ground missiles, injuring five; a suicide bomber from the West Bank attacked an Israeli town, killing five; Israel unleashed further airstrikes and artillery on Gaza, killing eight including three children.[13] Things cooled down a few days later and remained reasonably calm until after the election of Hamas at the end of January 2006.

8. How did Israel and the West react to Hamas's election victory?

In January 2006, Hamas participated in Palestinian legislative elections (reversing its previous policy of abstentionism), and received a plurality of the votes. International observers certified the elections as fair,[14] and indeed, these were among the rare democratically elected leaders in the Arab world. Washington had pressed Israel to allow the 2006 election and Hamas's victory was a surprise to everyone (including Hamas).

Ironically, earlier, the United States and Israel had given support to Hamas in an attempt to undermine the secular leadership of the PLO.[15]

Most analysts concluded that voters were expressing not so much support for Hamas's religious positions, as rejection of Fatah's corrupt and pusillanimous leadership, which after many years had brought Palestinians no closer to a viable state of their own.

Hamas's entry into the government might have been taken as an opportunity to try to encourage it to moderate its positions, but Israel, the United States, and the European Union determined to crush it. Israel refused to turn over Palestinian tax revenues and closed borders, causing severe economic hardship. International donors, especially the United States and the EU, withheld funds, and Washington went a step further and imposed draconian regulations. As the mainstream International Crisis Group explained,

"NGOs engaged in humanitarian relief work face significant obstacles stemming from extraordinarily restrictive U.S. Treasury Department regulations; U.S. organisations, for example, require pre-approval for their donations, which must be in-kind rather than cash.

"Such restrictions affect developmental assistance - $450 million in 2005 - even more severely, for it often involves direct contacts with the PA. Some U.S. NGOs have had entire projects suspended. CARE, the international aid agency, which had hitherto provided 30 per cent of the health ministry's medicines under a USAID-funded emergency medical assistance program, halted regular supplies after USAID withheld approval."[16]

9. How could Hamas be a partner for peace? Didn't they refuse the three U.S.-Israeli conditions: that they recognize Israel, renounce violence, and agree to accept all agreements previously accepted by the Palestinian Authority?

Hamas has indeed refused these three conditions, but no more so than Israel and the United States have done.

Hamas has not recognized Israel, but Israel and the United States have not recognized an independent Palestinian state.

Consider General Assembly resolution 63/165 that was adopted on December 18, 2008. The resolution reaffirms the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, including the right to an independent State of Palestine, and further urged all States and United Nations entities to continue to support and assist the Palestinian people in the early realization of their right to self-determination. The resolution passed by the overwhelming vote of 173 in favor and 5 opposed, with 7 abstentions. The five nay votes were the United States, Israel, and three tiny U.S.-dependent Pacific island nations.[17]

Of course, Israel may say that it is willing to accept a Palestine state, just not on the 1967 borders, and indeed so long as it is confined to a tiny swath of unviable territory. But if Hamas returned the favor, saying it was willing to recognize Israel, but only if it were confined to Tel Aviv and its suburbs, one doubts Israel and the United States would consider that adequately forthcoming.

Regarding the use of violence, it would be nice if Hamas renounced the use of violence. Certainly, however, any sermons in this regard from the United States or Israel are preposterous. (Think Sinai, 1956, or Lebanon, 1982, or Iraq, 2003.) It might also be noted that those Israelis who actually renounce violence -- by refusing military service in an occupying army -- are imprisoned.[18]

As for agreeing with previous agreements, put aside Washington's withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty, its "unsigning" of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and its failure to comply with the World Court's ruling on Nicaragua. Consider simply that the World Court found Israel to be in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention (to which it is a party) in its construction of the Wall on the occupied West Bank.[19] By a vote of 150 to 6 with 10 abstentions, the General Assembly affirmed that World Court opinion and called on Israel to comply.[20] Israel refused to do so and the United States supported its refusal. Thus, for Israel and the United States, treaties solemnly accepted are just scraps of paper.

For Palestinians, who signed on to the 1993 Oslo Accords which promised them a state by 1999, only to see no state and a huge expansion in the number of Israeli settlers,[21] Israel's insistence that Hamas adhere to agreements must seem a cruel joke.

10. Hasn't Hamas refused to ever accept the existence of Israel?

When Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert addressed a joint session of the U.S. Congress in 2006, he declared his continuing belief "in our people's eternal and historic right to this entire land."[22] Yet, he said, he understood the necessity of compromise. Hamas has taken a similar position: it considers Palestine in its entirety to be sacred Muslim land, it considers the state of Israel to be illegitimate, but yet it has made clear on numerous occasions that it was willing to compromise, and that it would accept a two-state solution on the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian state, along with a truce that could last 20, 30, or 50 years, or even indefinitely.[23]

Israel and the United States, however, refused to pursue these Hamas offers and refused to talk with Hamas at all -- despite the fact that a majority of Israelis[24] and conservative analysts such as Efraim Halevy, the former head of the Israeli intelligence service, Mossad,[25] supported such talks.

11. Doesn't Hamas support Islamic fundamentalism and anti-Semitism?

Unfortunately, throughout the Middle East over the past few decades secular nationalist and progressive movements have been replaced by fundamentalists, a result of both the tremendous repression the nationalist and leftist movements have faced and their own internal weaknesses. And anti-Semitism has grown across the Middle East, which is not surprising given that Palestinians have been subjected to horrendous barbarity by a self-described "Jewish state." (And Middle Easterners are not encouraged to make fine distinctions when Israeli apologists declare that all criticisms of Israel are ipso facto anti-Semitic.) Obviously, we must reject anti-Semitism and the retrograde social views of fundamentalists.

Hamas, which had its origins in the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, comes out of an Islamic fundamentalist background. But origins alone do not determine present behavior. A March 2008 assessment of Hamas's current practice by the mainstream International Crisis Group paints a mixed picture. Hamas

"denies any intent of coercively imposing an Islamist entity. It appointed some non-Hamas figures to run its security services and administer its judiciary. There are no flagrant signs of Islamisation of the courts and schools. The authorities did not alter the PA school curriculum, the PA's law code or its constitution. In January 2008, in accordance with PA practice but controversial within Islamic tradition, they appointed a woman judge and promoted another to head the Appeals Court. Notably, since August 2007, Hamas has recruited policewomen to fill the gap, attracting them through television and radio stations, as well as through mosques. Over 100 women have applied. A Hamas official maintained: 'The people in Ramallah are trying to stigmatise Hamas as extremist. But an Islamic emirate will not come about in Gaza.'

"That said, past performance is no guarantee of future conduct, and civil rights groups as well as non-Hamas preachers remain deeply worried, pointing in particular to indirect forms of social pressure. Within Hamas, a more hardline clerical faction insists on a greater role for Sharia (Islamic law)....

"A senior Hamas jurist's reply was equivocal: 'We want the courts to apply Sharia law, but we won't compel the people.' Yet in some cases, they have done just that....

"Moreover, amid Gaza's intensifying isolation and accompanying withdrawal of a Western presence, social mores have grown increasingly conservative and patriarchal - a process that some of Hamas's more zealous militants, particularly within the security forces, have encouraged. The time devoted to religious instruction in schools has increased, and some teachers are known to punish girls who do not wear the veil. Although women continue to walk the streets unveiled, and officials say there has been no ruling on dress-code, Hamas militants are known to have enjoined some women to don scarves. Similarly while Hamas has curbed the killing of women on grounds of immorality, unmarried couples in cars reported some cases of being beaten and detained. The rate of attacks on internet cafes - apparently by non-Hamas groups - has begun to climb after a brief lull following the [June 2007] takeover, and Gaza's Christians accuse Hamas forces of doing too little too late to reverse a significant increase in attacks on their community of 3,000, evidence, say some, of the growing influence radical Islamism commands within Hamas ranks."[26]

Unfortunately, continuing Israeli brutality and Palestinian helplessness will likely increase the worst tendencies of Hamas.

At the same time, in Israel, Jewish fundamentalists are politically strong and part of the governing coalition. The U.S. State Department has noted the Israeli "Government's unequal treatment of non-Orthodox Jews, including the Government's recognition of only Orthodox Jewish religious authorities in personal and some civil status matters concerning Jews. Government allocations of state resources favor Orthodox (including Modern and National Religious streams of Orthodoxy) and ultra-Orthodox (sometimes referred to as "Haredi") Jewish religious groups and institutions."[27]

Hamas's 1988 Charter cites the Protocols of the Elders of Zion,[28] though in many respects the document is outdated.[29] The organization does, however, still resort to anti-Semitic rhetoric.[30]

But that Hamas holds such views does not disqualify it as a party to peace talks, any more than the fact that Hindus and Muslims in South Asia have racist views of one another precludes them from sitting down together. And certainly many Israelis have racist views of Palestinians[31] (recall the comment of the father of Obama's new chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, saying that Arabs were fit only to clean floors[32]).

One can find vile anti-Jewish rhetoric from some Palestinian religious leaders. But one can find equally repulsive language from some Israeli rabbis. For example, the former Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel proclaimed a religious ruling in 2007 "that there was absolutely no moral prohibition against the indiscriminate killing of civilians during a potential massive military offensive on Gaza aimed at stopping the rocket launchings" because "an entire city holds collective responsibility for the immoral behavior of individuals." The rabbi's son, who is chief rabbi of Safed, explained: "If they don't stop after we kill 100, then we must kill a thousand.... And if they do not stop after 1,000 then we must kill 10,000. If they still don't stop we must kill 100,000, even a million. Whatever it takes to make them stop."[33]

Racism must be opposed, but it makes no sense to rule a party out as a potential partner for peace until its racism has been eliminated.

12. Is Hamas a terrorist organization?

Hamas was never a terrorist organization like al-Qaeda. Unlike the latter, it has a mass base, social welfare programs, and, now, an electoral constituency.

Hamas has engaged in terrorist acts, most notably by purposely targeting civilians with suicide bombs.

Sherdia Zuhur, Research Professor of Islamic and Regional Studies at the Strategic Studies Institute at the U.S. Army War College, wrote:

"HAMAS operatives first utilized suicide attacks in 1994, after an American-born Israeli settler, Baruch Goldstein, fired on and threw hand grenades at unarmed worshippers in the al-Haram al-Ibrahimi mosque in Hebron on February 25, killing 29. It was thought that Goldstein had attained entry with assistance of Israeli troops. Until that date, HAMAS' only targets were Israeli military. It ceased such attacks, which were very controversial with other Palestinians in 1995, and reintroduced them after the "targeted killing" of HAMAS leader Yahya Ayyash."[34]

Zuhur went on to note that

"HAMAS observed a 3-year moratorium on suicide attacks, which was then reestablished for a year, and possibly broken in a January 2008 attack in Dimona which may have been carried out by HAMAS or by other actors."[35]

And at various intervals, Hamas has fired rockets at civilian areas, which is also a form of terrorism.

What this record suggests is that Hamas has engaged in terrorism, has not ruled it out, but is also amenable to refraining from terrorism in what it sees as appropriate circumstances. Such a record should be condemned -- for terrorism is always wrong -- but Israel's record of terrorism must be condemned as well.

13. How can Israel be accused of terrorism since it doesn't intentionally kill civilians, and views all civilian deaths that it causes as regrettable accidents?

Keep in mind the official U.S. definition of terrorism: "premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets."[36]Three points need to be noted here.

First, inflicting pain on civilians for political purposes has long been official Israeli policy. When Hamas kidnapped an Israeli soldier in June 2006, Israel responded by destroying Gaza's only power plant, causing massive suffering.[37] Israeli leaders have openly acknowledged that they intended to cripple Gaza's economy as a way to undermine support for Hamas. (That this is a foolish policy makes it no less immoral. That the governments of the United States, the European Union, and Egypt are complicit in the policy likewise makes it no less immoral.) Gazans have seen poverty and unemployment soar and their health and welfare decline as Israel has closed their borders, cut fuel and power supplies, and denied them their own tax revenues. Human rights groups[38] and United Nations officials[39] have condemned this policy of economic strangulation, deeming it "collective punishment."

When New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman writes that he hopes Israel is pursuing a strategy in Gaza of trying to inflict "heavy pain on Gaza civilians," he is endorsing a policy that is indistinguishable from the above-cited official U.S. government definition of terrorism.[40]

Second, over the years Israel has intentionally killed civilians. Among other instances, it has used lethal fire against demonstrators who posed no serious threat.[41] It has targeted and killed medical personnel and journalists.[42] And now it has targeted and killed civilian police and non-military government personnel in Gaza (as will be discussed below).

Third, even when civilians have not been specifically targeted, Israel has shown reckless disregard for the welfare of civilians, killing many. These are not "unfortunate accidents," but the result of willful, criminal negligence. It is true that in domestic law we distinguish between intentional and unintentional killing, with the former being a much more serious offense than the latter. But domestic law also recognizes that sometimes criminal negligence can be as condemnable as premeditation. As the Palestinian human rights organization Al Haq correctly puts it, "the choice of targeted areas, methods of attack and the number of civilians killed and injured clearly indicate a reckless disregard for civilian life synonymous with intent."[43]

Consider the record before the current Israeli attack on Gaza. According to statistics from the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem, from the beginning of the second Intifada on September 29, 2000, until November 30, 2008, 2,990 Palestinians in Gaza were killed by Israeli security forces. Of these, 1,382 were known not to be taking part in hostilities.[44] (During this same seven year period, Palestinian rockets or mortars from Gaza killed a grand total of 22 Israeli civilians.[45]) If these Palestinian rockets constituted terrorism and war crimes -- and they do -- how much greater were the crimes of the Israeli government?

And this is so whether Israeli officials express pro forma regret or instead declare, as Prime Minister Ariel Sharon did in March 2002, "The Palestinians must be hit and it must be painful. We must cause them losses, victims, so they feel the heavy price."[46]

14. Isn't Hamas's firing of inaccurate rockets a violation of international humanitarian law?

Yes. But note that while Israeli weapons are far more accurate than those of Hamas, they are not accurate enough to hit military targets without substantial harm to nearby civilians. And certainly naval and aerial bombardment, artillery shelling, and tank fire cannot be accurate enough to avoid hitting civilians in as densely populated an area as Gaza.

15. Does the fact that Israel has killed civilians justify Palestinian attacks on civilians?

International law is quite clear that the crimes of one's enemy do not justify crimes in retaliation. This applies to Palestinians, but it applies as well (and -- given the disproportion in power -- especially) to Israelis.

Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians --whether by rocket or by suicide bomb -- are immoral and counter-productive, strengthening the most reactionary elements in Israeli society. But they are not surprising. In 1999, Ehud Barak -- today Israel's defense minister -- confessed to an interviewer that if he had been born a Palestinian he probably would have joined a terrorist organization.[47] And former Israeli politician Yossi Sarid wrote on January 2, 2009:

"This week I spoke with my students about the Gaza war, in the context of a class on national security. One student, who had expressed rather conservative, accepted opinions -- that is opinions tending slightly to the right -- succeeded in surprising me. Without any provocation on my part, he opened his heart and confessed: 'If I were a young Palestinian,' he said, 'I'd fight the Jews fiercely, even by means of terror. Anyone who says anything different is telling you lies.'"[48]

The Palestinians of Gaza lived for two decades under Egyptian administration; they have then suffered more than four decades under a brutal and debilitating Israeli occupation. As Israeli historian Avi Shlaim explained,

"With a large population of 1948 refugees crammed into a tiny strip of land, with no infrastructure or natural resources, Gaza's prospects were never bright. Gaza, however, is not simply a case of economic under-development but a uniquely cruel case of deliberate de-development. To use the Biblical phrase, Israel turned the people of Gaza into the hewers of wood and the drawers of water, into a source of cheap labour and a captive market for Israeli goods. The development of local industry was actively impeded so as to make it impossible for the Palestinians to end their subordination to Israel and to establish the economic underpinnings essential for real political independence."[49]

The conditions of life for the people of Gaza are abysmal; human rights and aid agencies declared in March 2008 that "The situation for 1.5 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip is worse now than it has ever been since the start of the Israeli military occupation in 1967."[50] And the vast majority of Gaza Palestinians are not descendants of people who originally came from Gaza. Rather they are descendants of those who lived in what is today Israel, who were driven out in 1948 to live as refugees. And as the people of Gaza look out from their misery they see near them Israeli communities built on lands that were once Palestinian villages.[51] Some Gazans fire rockets at these Israeli towns. These rockets do not further the Palestinian cause. But they are no surprise.

16. Didn't Hamas kidnap an Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit?

Shalit was a soldier captured while on duty. It's not clear why this should be considered a kidnapping. International law is a little murky here: It is improper to hold captured soldiers as hostages and all prisoners are entitled to humane treatment, but it is not improper to capture enemy soldiers, nor to engage in prisoner exchanges. In any event, however, Palestinians point to the fact that some 11,000 Palestinians from the occupied territories are held in Israeli prisons.[52] Some of these people may be guilty of war crimes and some may simply be members of an opposing armed force. But many hundreds of them (750 at the time of Shalit's capture and about 570 in November 2008) are being held without charge.[53] Thus, at a minimum there are hundreds of Palestinians who are presumptively guilty of no crime, yet, like Shalit, are being held against their will. Just the day before Shalit's capture, Israeli commandos seized two Gazan civilians, Osama and Mustafa Muamar -- and here "kidnapped" might be a more accurate term -- despite the fact that Israel had supposedly "disengaged" from Gaza nine months earlier.[54]

Israel responded to Shalit's capture by launching military incursions into Gaza and engaging in unrelenting shelling and bombing. Between June 26 and November 15, according to the Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem, the IDF killed 387 Palestinians, more than half of whom, 206, "among them eighty-one minors and forty-five women, were not taking part in the hostilities when they were killed."[55] Gaza's power plant was destroyed and its borders closed; eight Hamas Cabinet ministers and 26 members of the elected Palestinian Legislative Council were arrested, along with other officials. As the UN's Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, John Dugard, summarized:

"In effect, the Palestinian people have been subjected to economic sanctions -- the first time an occupied people have been so treated. ...[The] Palestinian people, rather than the Palestinian Authority, have been subjected to possibly the most rigorous form of international sanctions imposed in modern times."[56]

17. Didn't Hamas launch a military coup against Fatah and the Palestinian Authority in Gaza?

The evidence is quite clear that, whatever its wisdom, the Hamas take-over of Gaza was a preemptive move in the face of a plot hatched jointly by Mohammed Dahlan, Fatah's Gaza security chief, and top U.S. officials to militarily oust the elected Hamas government from power. As investigative journalist David Rose concluded, on the basis of documents and interviews, "the secret plan backfired.... Instead of driving its enemies out of power, the U.S.-backed Fatah fighters inadvertently provoked Hamas to seize total control of Gaza."[57]

18. Isn't Hamas just a pawn of Iran?

Hamas and Iran are allies, and they have common interests, but this is not the same as saying that Tehran dictates Hamas's policies. The claim -- bandied about by the Israeli government and its supporters -- that Hamas simply acts on Iran's instructions fails on several counts.

First, if Iran were using Hamas as a way to deflect any possible Israeli attack on its nuclear facilities, its timing makes no sense. There was a period when an Israeli -- or a joint U.S.-Israeli -- attack on Iran seemed possible. But that period coincided with the lull between Israel and Hamas. By December 2008, no serious analyst was discussing an Israeli attack on Iran as imminent.

Second, if Iran is able to get Hamas to go to war against Israel, why has it not also gotten Hezbollah to do the same (which would obviously relieve some of the pressure on Hamas)? After all, whatever Hamas's connections to Iran, those of Hezbollah are stronger (Hezbollah is Shiite, like Iran; its ideological origins connected it to Iran;[58] and, through Syria, it could be easily supplied with Iranian weaponry; Hamas, on the other hand, is Sunni and is able to smuggle in very few Iranian weapons). Clearly, Hezbollah does not consider it in its own interests to go to war to help Hamas. But if Iran can't get Hezbollah to act contrary to its interests, there is no reason to think it can get Hamas to do so.

Iran has provided funds to Hamas, which became increasingly important since the cut off of international aid. And apparently some Hamas fighters have been trained in Iran -- but in an organization having 10-20,000 armed men, the few hundred trained in Iran are hardly decisive. Iran has influence with Hamas, but there is no reason to think that Hamas has been blindly following Tehran's orders.[59] Israel is probably more dependent on U.S. military and diplomatic support than Hamas is on Iran.

The Lull

19. What were the terms of the June 2008 ceasefire with Israel?

In June 2008, after almost a year of military engagements and Israel's crippling blockade of Gaza, Hamas and Israel agreed to a ceasefire, also called a truce or lull or calm. The two sides would not speak to one another directly and so there was an Egyptian mediated understanding, whose terms were never formally written down. The Associated Press reported the terms as follows:

"The truce takes effect at 6 a.m. Thursday (11 p.m. EDT Wednesday) [June 19].

"All Gaza-Israel violence stops. After three days, Israel eases its blockade on Gaza, allowing more vital supplies in.

"A week later, Israel further eases restrictions at cargo crossings.

"In the final stage, talks are conducted about opening the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt and a prisoner exchange to free Cpl. Gilad Schalit, held by Hamas-affiliated groups for two years."[60]

And although Israel tried to claim in December 2008 that the lull was of unlimited duration,[61] everyone (including the Israeli government in June 2008) referred to the lull as scheduled to last for six months, with hopes that it might be extended.[62] Hamas had wanted the lull to apply to both Gaza and the West Bank, but Israel refused.[63]

Various Palestinian armed groups -- though not Hamas -- had reservations about the lull, but they agreed to respect it. Islamic Jihad said, however, that while it would abide by the truce, it considered the West Bank and Gaza indivisible, so it reserved the right to retaliate from Gaza for an attack on its members in the West Bank.

20. What did the lull terms say about the smuggling in of weapons?

As noted above, the terms of the lull were never written down and are contested.

According to the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, the think tank close to the Israeli government,

"It is Israel 's view that the lull commits Hamas and the other terrorist organizations operating in the Gaza Strip to end their weapons smuggling and stop their military buildup."[64]

Hamas and other Palestinian groups, however, made no such commitment.[65] And Israeli leaders seemed to see no contradiction between their insistence that Hamas stop its military buildup and their own activities: An official in the Israeli prime minister's office stated that during the lull "the IDF would continue preparing for a military action in the Gaza Strip, in the event the lull collapsed..." And "Chief of Staff General Gabi Ashkenazi said that the IDF would give the lull credit but at the same time would prepare for an action."[66]

Hamas certainly used the lull to smuggle in weapons, just as Israel was using the lull to openly import a vastly greater number of much deadlier weapons.

21. What happened during the lull?

The lull got off to a rocky start. Islamic Jihad fired a few rockets from Gaza in response to the Israeli killing of one of their senior militants on the West Bank.[67] But Hamas was generally able to convince the other Palestinian groups to respect the lull. In the five and half months before the lull there were 1,072 rockets fired from Gaza and 1,199 mortar shells. For the four and a half months from the start of the lull until November 4 there were 20 rockets and 18 mortar shells.[68] No Israeli was killed -- by rocket, mortar, sniper, or improvised explosive device from Gaza from mid-June to November 4.[69]

Regarding these sporadic firings during this period, the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center wrote:

"... Hamas was careful to maintain the ceasefire and its operatives were not involved in rocket attacks. At the same time, the movement tried to enforce the terms of the arrangement on the other terrorist organizations and to prevent them from violating it. Hamas took a number of steps against networks which violated the arrangement, but in a limited fashion and contenting itself with short-term detentions and confiscating weapons.... However, it was clear that ... Hamas sought to avoid direct confrontations with the rogue organizations (especially the PIJ) insofar as was possible, lest it be accused of collaborating with Israel and harming the 'resistance.' Hamas therefore focused on using politics to convince the organizations to maintain the lull arrangement and on seeking support for it within Gazan public opinion (including issuing statements by its activists regarding the lull's achievements)."[70]

In terms of the border crossings, Israel did relieve the closures, but did not allow imports to return to anything approaching the levels of either December 2005 (before Hamas won the legislative council elections) or May 2007 (before Hamas took power in Gaza). During July 2008, the first full month of the lull, according to the UN, "the population of Gaza saw little tangible dividend from the truce implemented on 19 June, as the amount of commodities allowed into the Gaza Strip remained far below the actual needs."[71] Imports were less than half what they were in December 2005. This was nevertheless higher than in August, when imports dropped 30 percent, to a level about that of March 2008 -- when aid agencies and human rights groups had spoken of a "humanitarian implosion." In September there was a 15 percent increase, but in October there was another 30 percent decline. (See table.) Moreover, throughout the lull Israel continued to ban all exports from Gaza,[72] essentially rendering Gaza's economy non-functional. In October 2008, the World Bank reported that only about 2% of Gaza's industrial establishments were still functioning, industrial employment had dropped from 35,000 in 2005 to 840, and 40,000 jobs in agriculture were lost.[73]

Truckloads Per Month Entering Gaza[74]
Month Truckloads
December 2005 13,430
May 2007 10,921
March 2008 3,399
April 2008 1,991
May 2008 1,821
June 2008 2,103
July 2008 5,028
August 2008 3,565
September 2008 4,069
October 2008 2,823
November 2008 579

The second phase of the lull began on November 4, 2008. On that day, Israel violated the ceasefire by sending troops into Gaza. As the Guardian reported,

"The Israeli military said the target of the raid was a tunnel that they said Hamas was planning to use to capture Israeli soldiers positioned on the border fence 250m away.... One Hamas gunman was killed and Palestinians launched a volley of mortars at the Israeli military. An Israeli air strike then killed five more Hamas fighters."[75]

Hamas responded with rocket fire, and the lull was then severely undermined. Both sides engaged in military actions from that point on, though not at the pre-lull level. Israel closed Gaza's borders allowing just 579 trucks into the territory for the entire month of November (see table above) -- this to support 1.5 million people. Furthermore, noted the UN,

"Staff and assistance from international NGOs were prevented from entering Gaza throughout the month. Additionally, the intensified closure forced UNRWA to suspend food distribution for five days during the month, along with its cash assistance programme, as a result of restrictions on cash shipments to Gaza."[76]

According to UNICEF, lack of fuel, electricity, and spare parts interrupted Gaza's water supply. In Gaza City 50% of the population had access to water only several hours a week; 30% had access every four days and 20% every three days. Other areas of Gaza received water on average every other day.[77]

No Israelis were killed by fire from Gaza during this period (November 5 - December 19, 2008).[78] 13 Israel soldiers were injured (8 by mortar fire and 5 within Gaza), and 1 or 2 civilians. On the Palestinian side, 10-14 militants were killed and 3-4 civilians, and about a dozen and a half injured.[79]

22. Wasn't it legitimate for Israeli troops to go into Gaza to destroy a tunnel being used for a planned kidnapping?

We have no independent evidence confirming the Israeli claim regarding the purpose of the tunnel. (Jimmy Carter refers to it as a "defensive tunnel being dug by Hamas inside the wall that encloses Gaza."[80]) But even if the purpose were as claimed by Israel, it was hardly -- as one anonymous senior Israeli military official called it -- "a ticking tunnel,"[81] that is, an imminent threat that required military action. There are many non-military ways Israel could have defended itself against such a threat.

23. Why was the lull not extended?

The claim that Hamas refused to renew the truce is false. What Hamas refused to renew was a truce under which Israel would continue to violate its obligation to lift the blockade. As Khalid Mish'al put it, "When this broken truce neared its end, we expressed our readiness for a new comprehensive truce in return for lifting the blockade and opening all Gaza border crossings, including Rafah. Our calls fell on deaf ears." Numerous statements before the expiration of the cease-fire made clear that this was Hamas's position.[82] Jimmy Carter described his efforts at mediation:

"It was clear that the preeminent issue was opening the crossings into Gaza. Representatives from the Carter Center visited Jerusalem, met with Israeli officials and asked if this was possible in exchange for a cessation of rocket fire. The Israeli government informally proposed that 15 percent of normal supplies might be possible if Hamas first stopped all rocket fire for 48 hours. This was unacceptable to Hamas, and hostilities erupted."[83]

Fifteen percent of normal supplies was less than the inadequate July level.[84] It is thus not at all surprising that Hamas was not interested in such an agreement.

24. Can Hamas be trusted not to break truces and ceasefires?

Here's what various experts say: Sherifa Zuhur, a leading U.S. authority on Hamas, wrote in a study just published by the Army War College,

"Declarations of a tahdiya (calming) arranged by Alastair Crooke to end such attacks were made in 2002 and 2003. Crooke was the former Security Advisor to Javier Solana, the European Union High Representative. Crooke now heads Conflict Forum which advocates negotiating with HAMAS. Another tahdiya was held from March 2005, but the first two were broken when Israelis assassinated HAMAS leaders."[85]

And a former senior European security official interviewed by the International Crisis Group pointed to:

"continued Israeli assassinations and killings that completely undermined genuine attempts at de-escalation. Israel's response created a self-fulfilling prophecy. They had the expectation of failure and in effect guaranteed it. . . .[T]here were continued provocations, a dismissive attitude, no confidence-building measures, and unhelpful statements. Israel's Minister of Defence would publicly claim that Hamas is re-grouping and that [the] IDF must prepare for a massive attack. Hamas begins to prepare for this eventuality. To Israel this is proof of its original thesis, a casus belli. It attacks, Hamas responds, the IDF feels vindicated and the hudna [truce] is history."[86]

25. Given the barrage of rockets that was launched from Gaza after the lull ended on December 19, did Israel have any alternative to a military attack?

Yes, of course it did. It could have extended the ceasefire by agreeing to lift the blockade (which it should have done on moral grounds in any case).

And beyond that, it could have taken steps toward ending the Israel-Palestinian conflict more generally by accepting the the Arab Peace Initiative. This calls for Israel withdrawing to its 1967 borders and the establishment of a Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza with East Jerusalem as its capital. This plan has been endorsed by all the Arab states -- who offered Israel recognition afterwards.[87] And, as noted above, even Hamas has indicated its support for the plan.[88] About two-thirds of Palestinians back the plan.[89]

This is the fundamental problem in Palestine: Israel occupies Palestinian land and seems determined to hold on to the most valuable pieces of it, leaving the Palestinians with scraps upon which they will be unable to establish a viable and independent state. As long as Israel maintains its illegal settlements, the Palestinians will be confined to Bantustans.

Until this basic reality is changed, until the Occupation ends, there will be no peace in Palestine.

26. If the cease-fire had been extended, couldn't Hamas have smuggled in rockets of longer and longer range until even Tel Aviv was vulnerable? Doesn't that mean that any new ceasefire would have had to include a provision to prevent weapons smuggling, and hence would have been unacceptable to Hamas?

One can understand why Tel Aviv would not want to live under threat of Hamas rockets. But one must understand as well why Gazans might not want to live under threat of Israeli F-16s. The difference between these two cases is that the threat the Gazans face is not hypothetical nor is it just a threat, as the events of the past few weeks have underlined.

As a practical matter, there are limits to what can be smuggled in via the Egyptian border. It is hard to prevent smuggling when authorities on both sides of the border want to do it. In the Gaza case, however, the Egyptian government bitterly opposes Hamas and does not knowingly allow weapons to be delivered to it.

When Carter sought to get Israel and Hamas to extend the truce and open the borders, Israel did not say that it would open the borders if only a better system for preventing weapons smuggling could be set up. It simply refused to fully open the borders. Therefore, whether Hamas would have accepted such an arrangement is unknown. To go to war without even asking surely violates the "last resort" criterion for just wars.

One might note that opening the border crossings would in fact reduce the incidence of weapons smuggling. Obviously, weapons are not going to come in through the Israeli crossings or through an EU-staffed Rafah crossing. But the incentive to dig tunnels would likely decline since as long as the crossings were closed digging tunnels, no matter how dangerous, has been essential for obtaining food and other necessities.

The Conduct of Operation Cast Lead

27. What does it mean to say that Israel should have responded proportionately?

A country that has just cause to go to war must still act proportionately. Israel did not have just cause to go to war -- given the fact that it is an occupying power, trying to maintain its occupation, and given the fact that the rocket fire could have been ended by agreeing to extend the truce with a lifting of the blockade. Therefore, regardless of how Israel conducted itself, its war would have been unjust.

But for those who believe (wrongly) that Israel did have just cause, the war would still not be just if it were not carried out in conformity with the principle of proportionality.

Under international law, the principle of proportionality prohibits attacking a military objective if doing so will result in a loss of civilian life or damage to civilian property or the natural environment that outweighs the value of the objective. The weighing here obviously includes a subjective component -- exactly how many civilians might one kill in order to destroy a military objective which in turn may cause harm to one's own population. But the subjectivity is not unlimited. Surely to destroy the capability to launch weapons that had caused 22 deaths over 7 years (and none since June 5, 2008), it cannot be proportionate to kill hundreds of civilians as Israel has done.[90]

Does Israel really think what it is doing in Gaza is proportionate? It is doubtful that it does. In fact, its officials and think-tank analysts have explicitly advocated acting disproportionately.[91] When one's approach to dealing with Palestinians -- and Arabs more generally -- is to intimidate and bully rather than to seek some sort of diplomatic solution, it is no surprise that the chief concern will be the strength of one's deterrent, which means that ferocity, not proportionality, will be what is valued.

28. Since Hamas places its military assets in civilian areas, thus using the population as human shields, isn't Hamas responsible for all the harm to civilians?

International humanitarian law prohibits placing military assets in civilian areas. Nevertheless, this doesn't give an attacker unlimited right to then strike these assets. The attacker must still weigh the harm to civilians against the military benefit. As Human Rights Watch explains:

"...the attacking party is not relieved from its obligation to take into account the risk to civilians simply because it considers the defending party responsible for having located legitimate military targets within or near populated areas. That is, the presence of a Hamas commander or military facility in a populated area would not justify attacking the area without regard to the threatened civilian population."[92]

In addition, since Israel's target list includes the homes of Hamas leaders, there is no way that Hamas could have avoided intermingling civilians with military targets.

The comments of a former U.S. Marine are relevant here. One can question his account of what actual U.S. policy was in Iraq, but his remarks are telling nonetheless:

"I recently retired from the US Marine Corps, but I saw service in Iraq. I do know something of military matters that are relevant to the situation now in Gaza.

"I am dismayed by the rhetoric from US politicians and pundits to the effect that 'if the US were under rocket attack from Mexico or Canada, we would respond like the Israelis'. This a gross insult to US servicemen; I can assure you that we would NOT respond like the Israelis. In fact, US armed forces and adjunct civilians are under attack constantly in Iraq and Afghanistan by people who are much better armed, much better trained and far deadlier than Hamas.... Israel has indeed taken a small number of casualties from Hamas rocket fire (about 20 killed since 2001), but we have taken thousands of casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan, including many civilian personnel. Hundreds of American casualties have occurred due to indirect fire, often from mortars. This is particularly true in or near the Green Zone in Baghdad. This fire often originates from densely populated urban areas.

"Americans do not, I repeat DO NOT, respond to that fire indiscriminately. When I say 'indiscriminately', I mean that even if we can precisely identify the source of the fire (which can be very difficult), we do not respond if we know we will cause civilian casualties. We always evaluate the threat to civilians before responding, and in an urban area the threat to civilians is extremely high. If US servicemen violate those rules of engagement and harm civilians, I assure you we do our best to investigate -- and mete out punishment if warranted."[93]

Two further points should be noted.

First, the IDF also uses Palestinian civilians as human shields. According to Malcolm Smart, Director of Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa Program, "Our sources in Gaza report that Israeli soldiers have entered and taken up positions in a number of Palestinian homes, forcing families to stay in a ground floor room while they use the rest of their house as a military base and sniper position." This, said Smart, "clearly increases the risk to the Palestinian families concerned and means they are effectively being used as human shields."[94]

Second, the IDF also intermingles it forces with Israeli civilians. Consider this report from the Israeli-government linked think tank:

"January 8: A rocket barrage was fired at an Israel village in the northwestern Negev. Seven IDF soldiers were wounded, one critically, one seriously, and five sustained minor injuries."[95]

29. Israel calls the homes it is planning to attack and drops leaflets warning civilians to get away from military targets. Doesn't that meet its obligation to protect the civilian population?

Israel issued no warning at all when it first launched Operation Cast Lead. It struck at 11:30 a.m., a time when urban centers in Gaza were most populated and when children were changing shifts at school.[96]

Israel's subsequent phone calls and leaflets do not meet its obligation to protect civilians for several reasons.

First, Israel calls more homes than it actually attacks. As Amnesty International notes:

"Compounding the atmosphere of fear resulting from the Israeli bombardments, Israeli forces have been sending seemingly random telephone messages to many inhabitants of Gaza telling them to leave their homes because of imminent air strikes against their houses. Such messages have been received by residents of multi-storey apartment building, causing panic not only for those who received the calls but for all their neighbours.... The threatening calls seem to aim to spread fear among the civilian population, as in most cases no air strikes were carried out against the buildings. If this is the purpose, rather than to give effective warning, this practice violates international law and must end immediately.[97]

Second, in densely packed urban areas, moving from one location to another is no guarantee of safety.[98]

And third, when Israel is targeting individuals, warnings either give the target time to escape or come too late to help those who are not targeted.[99]

Imagine if Hamas broadcast an announcement that warned all Israelis in the south of the country to flee their homes if they are near military installations. Would that absolve Hamas for moral responsibility for all civilian deaths?

30. Has Israel been intentionally targeting civilians in Gaza?

At a minimum, Israel has certainly targeted some categories of people and some categories of buildings that international law prohibits them from targeting.

They have targeted police. International law distinguishes between police who are involved in armed combat and those who have essentially civilian functions (whether they are armed or not).[100] In its opening salvo, Israel bombed (in the words of the Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem) "the main police building in Gaza and killed, according to reports, forty-two Palestinians who were in a training course and were standing in formation at the time of the bombing. Participants in the course study first-aid, handling of public disturbances, human rights, public-safety exercises, and so forth. Following the course, the police officers are assigned to various arms of the police force in Gaza responsible for maintaining public order."[101]

It is true, of course, that these police trainees might have become Hamas fighters at a later point in time. But it is also true that attacks on many Israeli civilian targets kill those who -- given widespread membership in the reserves -- might later be called to military duty. It would be grotesque to justify the suicide bombing of a bus by pointing to the reserve status of the victims. It is no less grotesque to justify the slaughter of these police cadets.

Israel has also targeted government buildings and anyone connected to Hamas, regardless of their war role, and Israeli officials have acknowledged that these attacks were intentional and have felt no need to show that the building or person in question had a military connection. A senior Israeli military official told the Washington Post, "There are many aspects of Hamas, and we are trying to hit the whole spectrum, because everything is connected and everything supports terrorism against Israel." Major Avital Leibovitch, an IDF spokeswoman, said, "Anything affiliated with Hamas is a legitimate target."[102] Brigadier General Dan Harel declared:

"We are hitting not only terrorists and launchers, but also the whole Hamas government and all its wings.... We are hitting government buildings.... After this operation there will not be one Hamas building left standing in Gaza...."[103]

And so, Israel bombed the Parliament, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Labor, Construction and Housing, and numerous other government buildings. It bombed money exchange shops as a way to cut off Hamas's funds.[104] "'Hamas's civilian infrastructure is a very, very sensitive target. If you want to put pressure on them, this is how,' said Matti Steinberg, a former top adviser to Israel's domestic security service and an expert on Islamist organizations."[105] On January 13, the New York Times reported that Israeli intelligence officials said that although the military wing of Hamas remained substantially intact, (in the Times's words) "greater damage has been done to Hamas's capacity to run the Gaza strip, with a large number of government buildings destroyed over the course of the operation."[106]

The Israeli-government linked think tank, the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, offered this explanation for the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza:

"Recently, the humanitarian problems in the Gaza Strip worsened as a result of the fighting and Hamas administration's dysfunction. Blackouts have been reported throughout the Gaza Strip resulting from the collapse of power lines. Kanaan Abaid, deputy chairman of the Palestinian Energy Authority, claimed it was impossible to send teams to fix power failure because of the attendant danger.... The local authorities reportedly do not function, garbage is not collected and the basic infrastructure is not repaired. In addition, there is a lack of goods usually smuggled in from Egypt because the tunnels have been bombed by the IDF."[107]

But of course the Hamas administration's dysfunction is precisely a result of Israeli attacks on it. And the fact that the people of Gaza in order to survive depend on goods smuggled in from Egypt through tunnels that Israel is now bombing is a result of the Israeli blockade.

The next day this same think tank attributed the humanitarian crisis in part to "the dysfunction of the Hamas administration, which has gone underground and proved itself incapable of providing solutions for the difficulties facing the Gazans."[108] How irresponsible of the Hamas administration to have gone underground just when they were needed to solve the difficulties faced by Gazans!

31. Haven't the vast majority of those killed by Israel been, not civilians, but terrorists?

Not by a long shot. Obviously it is difficult to confirm the identity and activity of each person who was killed while the Israeli offensive is going on. This has led some human rights groups and aid agencies to report the number of women and children killed as an absolute minimum of the number of civilians killed. But as they have made clear,[109] this was not meant to suggest that this was the complete count of civilian casualties nor that any adult male killed was automatically a combatant.

As of January 14, the Palestinian Ministry of Health reported 1,013 deaths, of which 40 percent were women and children.[110] The killing of numerous male civilians has been well-documented: in addition to police and government personnel, an anti-Hamas judge (and father of a Human Rights Watch consultant), medical staff, drivers, and many more.[111]

As of January 14, more than 4,500 were reported wounded, half of them women and children.[112] Moreover, many of the wounded will die because of a lack of timely and adequate medical care. Gaza's hospitals are overwhelmed and lack reliable power and sufficient supplies, ambulances are afraid to travel and Israel has blocked access by emergency medical vehicles.[113] According to Human Rights Watch, "Only four critically injured patients have been transferred to Israel since the start of the conflict," in part because Israel demanded financial guarantees for the medical costs of wounded Palestinians. Since the start of the ground campaign on January 3, transfers to Israel ended.[114]

32. Aren't there many things we don't know yet? Shouldn't we reserve judgment until all the facts are in?

There are many things we don't know yet, but they are not likely to make the Israeli war effort seem any more just. The civilian death toll among Gazans will surely go up once bodies are dug out of the rubble; none of the bodies in the morgues will later be found to be alive. Whatever is a benefit to Israeli propaganda one can assume Israel has already made public, but much that may undermine Israeli government claims is not yet known because Israel has restricted the entry of journalists and human rights observers.[115]

The Foreign Press Association sued for acess to Gaza and the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that the IDF had to allow limited entry to pool reporters. But the military has thus far refused to comply.[116] The director of the Israeli Government Press Office, Danny Seaman, told the New York Times that "any journalist who enters Gaza becomes a fig leaf and front for the Hamas terror organization, and I see no reason why we should help that."[117]

The New York Times reported:

"At the same time that reporters have been given less access to Gaza, the government has created a new structure for shaping its public message, ensuring that spokesmen of the major government branches meet daily to make sure all are singing from the same sheet.

"'We are trying to coordinate everything that has to do with the image and content of what we are doing and to make sure that whoever goes on the air, whether a minister or professor or ex-ambassador, knows what he is saying,' said Aviv Shir-On, deputy director general for media in the Foreign Ministry. 'We have talking points and we try to disseminate our ideas and message.'"[118]

The Israeli propaganda machine includes U.S. organizations, like "The Israel Project," which repeats every Israeli claim, no matter how outlandish. So, for example, the Israel Project asserted on January 2 that

"Warehouses in Gaza are filled to capacity, according to international aid groups....The World Food Program informed Israel that it would cease shipment of food to Gaza because the warehouses there are at full capacity, with enough food to last two weeks."

(Its source was a statement from the Israeli Foreign Ministry.)[119]

Here were the actual facts:

December 18: "Due to the ongoing crisis with irregular border access and the lack of wheat flour in Gaza, UNRWA has exhausted all stocks of flour in its warehouses. Wheat supplies scheduled to arrive in Gaza the 9-10 December were unable to enter due to rocket fire, hence the mills have run out of flour and UNRWA has been forced to suspend food distribution."[120]

December 23: "The ongoing closures have significantly reduced the capacity of UN humanitarian agencies to provide assistance in the event of an escalation in violence. UN humanitarian assistance programs have run out of stock for several essential supplies and are facing severe difficulties in implementing their regular programmes. UNRWA has no flour or cash-notes to distribute, affecting thousands of dependant beneficiaries. WFP has been unable to preposition stocks; in case of an emergency, it has no food available within the Gaza Strip."[121]

December 28: "Due to the depletion of wheat in the Gaza, all major Gaza mills were forced to shut down. Long queues of people at functional bakeries were reported. UNRWA stock of wheat grain is still at zero."[122]

January 3: "Since 27 December, WFP (through implementing partners) has distributed only a fraction of the 1350 metric tonnes available and the food that is currently being distributed should have been distributed in the October-December cycle. UNRWA resumed its prior food distribution in seven distribution centres on 1 January which it had suspended on 18 December; distributions are continuing today."[123]

January 12: "Many basic food items, including food for infants and malnourished children, are no longer available."[124]

33. Are Israelis unanimous in backing their government policy?

As in the United States, Israelis are often swayed by their government and a compliant media. On January 1, 2009, fewer than a fifth of the population supported advancing to an extensive ground war,[125] but once their leaders launched it, they endorsed it.

A poll published on January 15, showed 82 percent of Israelis don't think Israel has "gone too far" which means that almost the entire Jewish population is backing the war.[126] Almost. There have been many antiwar protests, most often in Arab areas, but sometimes including both Jewish and Palestinian Israelis. A demonstration numbering in the thousands took place in Tel Aviv on January 3.[127] A petition calling for an end to the IDF operation in Gaza and for a renewal of the truce with Hamas was signed by 500 residents of Sderot, the Israeli town bordering Gaza that has been on the receiving end of so many rockets.[128]

But there is no doubt that war-fever is running rampant in Israel. The Central Elections Committee has banned two Israeli Arab parties from running in the upcoming parliamentary elections. Even if the Supreme Court reverses this ruling, it is frightening that in addition to the rightwing parties, the two major government parties, Kadima and Labor, both voted for the ban.[129]

The United States

34. What's been the role of the United States?

The United States has served as Israel's enabler for at least forty years. According to the Congressional Research Service:

"Israel is the largest cumulative recipient of U.S. foreign assistance since World War II. From 1976-2004, Israel was the largest annual recipient of U.S. foreign assistance, having recently been supplanted by Iraq. Since 1985, the United States has provided nearly $3 billion in grants annually to Israel."[130]

Because Israel is among the top fifty richest countries in the world, its need for economic aid has declined, but as economic aid has gone down, military aid has been increasing. And this doesn't exhaust the financial benefits Israel receives from the United States government:

"Israel can use U.S. military assistance both for research and development in the United States and for military purchases from Israeli manufacturers. In addition, all U.S. foreign assistance earmarked for Israel is delivered in the first 30 days of the fiscal year. Most other recipients normally receive their aid in installments. Congress also appropriates funds for joint U.S.-Israeli missile defense programs."[131]


"U.S. military aid has helped transform Israel's armed forces into one of the most technologically sophisticated militaries in the world. U.S. military aid for Israel has been designed to maintain Israel's qualitative edge over neighboring militaries.... U.S. military aid, a portion of which may be spent on procurement from Israeli defense companies, also has helped Israel to build a domestic defense industry, which ranks as one of the top ten suppliers of arms worldwide."[132]

Among the weapons that the United States has provided to Israel are the F-16s and the Apache helicopters that are being used against Gaza. According to analyst Phyllis Bennis, "Between 2001 and 2006, Washington transferred to Israel more than $200 million worth of spare parts for its fleet of F-16s. Just last year, the U.S. signed a $1.3 billion contract with the Raytheon corporation to provide Israel with thousands of TOW, Hellfire, and 'bunker buster' missiles." Bennis concludes: "In short, Israel's lethal attack today on the Gaza Strip could not have happened without the active military support of the United States."[133]

The United States has also provided Israel with crucial diplomatic support. By means of its veto power in the United Nations Security Council, Washington has been able to prevent the passage of any resolution that it deems too critical of Israel. From 1967 to 2008, the United States has cast its veto 42 times to protect Israel (this was more than half of all the vetoes ever cast by the United States on any issue at all, and about three eighths of all the vetoes cast during these years by any country on any issue).[134] But this record far understates the benefit to Israel of the U.S. veto: countless criticisms of Israel never even make it to the resolution stage because of the expectation that Washington will reject them.

There was international sentiment for a ceasefire almost as soon as Israel launched Operation Cast Lead. But the United States prevented any Security Council resolution to this effect.[135] Finally, on January 8, more than 12 days into the Israeli assault, as the slaughter got simply too obscene to spin, the United States abstained on a ceasefire resolution (which passed 14-0, with one abstention). But Israel promptly announced that it was going to ignore the resolution.[136] And though the Security Council has the power to impose sanctions -- economic or military -- against nations that refuse to comply with its mandates, one can be sure (and its abstention signaled) that Washington will make certain that no such enforcement action gets taken against Israel.

That depends, of course, on what the American people do. Public opinion polls show only modest backing for Israel,[137] which is quite remarkable given the strong media tilt toward Israel. The Israel lobby has vast resources and tremendous political clout, but it increasinglydoes not speak for all American Jews. J Street, calling itself the political arm of the "pro-Israel, pro-peace" movement has gotten some traction on Capitol Hill.[138]

But those concerned with peace and justice will have to do much better in building a movement to end Washington's blank check for Israel and in reining in Israeli aggression. As long as Israel has U.S. backing, it will continue its long-standing oppression of the Palestinian people. But if we exert enough pressure, perhaps we can change U.S. policy. Only by doing so can we end this latest explosion of Israeli brutality, and, more than that, end the occupation that has for so long denied the Palestinian people their basic rights.

Stephen R. Shalom teaches political science at William Paterson University in New Jersey. He is on the board of New Politics and writes for ZNet. Thanks for helpful comments to Bashir Abu-Manneh, Gilbert Achcar, Joanne Landy, and Justin Podur, none of whom is responsible for my opinions or errors.