Al Ahram Weekly
22 January 2009, by
Three weeks after the war on Gaza, Israel declared a unilateral ceasefire but refused to terminate its so-called defensive operations. In response, Hamas declared a ceasefire for one week, until the withdrawal of Israeli troops has been completed. For many in the West, the ceasefire might seem like an occasion to celebrate, for the cessation of military hostilities on both sides will perhaps renew the peace process. But there are reasons to be critical of this ceasefire, since it continues the situation in which Israel acts unilaterally. What we are actually witnessing is a new phase of the catastrophe in Gaza. While the characteristics of this phase are not yet known, Israel’s violence has become ever more evident. And perhaps this is why Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert did not mention the word "peace" once in the speech he gave to announce the ceasefire. The "peace process" might soon be revealed as the other side of the coin to war — its continuation by other means — that simultaneously feeds it.
There are at least two lessons to be gleaned from the war on Gaza. The first is to consider how both war-making and unilateral ceasefires constitute strategies for the extension of Israel’s power over the Palestinian population in Gaza, as well as for the transformation of that population. Israel unilaterally demands peaceful co- existence with the Palestinians who must resign themselves to imprisonment, or otherwise threatens them with — and practices — the destruction of their lives. The Palestinians have two "choices" in the Israeli script: obedience or annihilation. Obedience is not an alternative to destruction, but another way that a population can be deadened within life. It entails remaking the Palestinians of Gaza into a needy recipient of humanitarian aid, thus docile and dependent. Worse, this humanitarian aid is more often denied than granted. Israel, in other words, demands that Gazans learn to live in their territorial prison for decades to come, while remaining under Israeli occupation and revealing no sign, in the form of a missile or otherwise, of their deprived existence in this world. Instead, they are commanded to remain statistics in international humanitarian agency reports, as well as stories feeding compassionate journalists. Such is the meaning of the initial Israeli and Egyptian proposals to establish a " hudna ", or truce, (meaning no Palestinian resistance) with Hamas for 15 to 30 years. A great scenario for two states in a state of war, but far from a just one when one state is occupying the land of the other party. Hamas’s proposal for a one-year hudna was, in some sense, an attempt to avoid the equally disastrous options of obedience or annihilation.
What can we conclude from Israel’s unilateral offer of a ceasefire? Under what conditions will it resume its brutal destruction of the Palestinian population? The terms that the Palestinians must accept, according to Israel, if they wish to avoid another brutal round of destruction are these: to remain silent under conditions of occupation; and to resist the impulse to resist the occupation. In other words, Israel now requires that the Palestinians forget their situation, which is marked by the long history of their struggle against the endless Israeli colonising project. They must metamorphose, instead, into persons-of-the- present, with no memories, traumas or aspirations. Israel, in short, is waging a war to kill life while waging a ceasefire to eradicate political subjects. From the perspective of a Gazan youth, both possibilities are horrifying: to be killed or to witness death silently — to end one’s life or to kill oneself as a political and ethical human being. Both are murder. The only difference is that the second death does not appear as sensational or as horrifying on TV screens. Indeed, it goes unreported by the major media, since they do not recognise that to deprive a people of its political struggle under conditions of occupation is to ask this people to accept a murderous subordination, and imprisonment as a way of life.
The obedience/annihilation duality that characterises the official Israeli psyche is delusional. Its delusional character, nonetheless, does not diminish its deadly operations. The delusion is that Gazans, traumatised by war, will be transformed into docile subjects of humanitarian assistance, led not only by Western governments responsible in the first place for the siege on Gaza, but also by Israel, the occupying power of Gaza and other Palestinian territories. Thus, the delusion is that Palestinians will peacefully accept the terms of the occupation and their continuing imprisonment until Israel bestows upon them a Palestinian state. Trapped in the annihilation/ obedience duality, these delusions suggest the occupier’s mastery though peace and war.
Obviously, it is unclear whether Israel can successfully limit the options of the Palestinians to "choosing" either destruction or obedience. Many Palestinians are effectively saying: "No to the peace process" and "No to war," under the ongoing occupation. And herein lies the second lesson to be learnt from Gaza. Peace in the contemporary moment is not the opposite of war. It is rather the other side of the same coin. The call of 12 Arab states to suspend the Arab peace initiative reflects perhaps an appreciation of the horrors of peace. The leaders of these states understood that the Arab initiative provided Israel with a peace invitation that encouraged, rather than discouraged, Israel to wage a war against the Palestinians who refuse to join the peace chorus while remaining under occupation. That peace process, which started in the 1990s and whose rituals intensified in the last couple of years as a response to Hamas’s election, is the ground from which the war on Gaza was born.
As an open-ended process, peace in Gaza mobilised disciplinary and deadly operations; for one either abided by the terms of the peace process and hoped that perhaps one’s grandchildren would see the end of colonisation, or one risked arrest, torture and death by Israel or its subcontractors. But worse, and as the diplomatic efforts around the war of Gaza show, peace has also become a sort of a "civilisational imperative" that the Palestinians are asked to abide by, while abandoning their resistance to the ongoing occupation. Only if they do so will they join the civilised world, or else they will be considered evil terrorists. Need we add that the operations of this civilisational imperative are far more violent than those they seek to repress? Faced with a Palestinian refusal to play along, the open-ended peace process engenders, provokes and inflames deadly operations that carry the power — as we have seen during the three-week war — to annihilate, erase and dismantle all that which stands in the face of the new "civilisational imperative". Peacemaking, in Palestine, and in other places in the world, is our contemporary civilising mission, and it is deadly.
The convening of the Arab Economic Summit in Kuwait may, or may not, lead to the suspension of the Arab peace initiative. The peace process between the Palestinian Authority and Israel may also survive this recent disaster. But meanwhile, Gaza reveals that what seems to be an opposition between war and peace, obedience and annihilation, is not really so. Rather, one side feeds the other and intensifies its possibilities. Therefore, it should be evident that the choice between the peace process and war making is not a real one, as these are not two radically different projects.
Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have been subjected to Israeli occupation for 41 years. In the meantime, they were a party to a peace process for more than 18 years. Almost half of their since-1967 occupation years were spent engaged in peace performances. Should not this simple fact alert us to the affinity between peace and occupation, obedience and destruction? Might it reveal to us that peace is not always the solution to war, but is often the ground from which war is waged? And if the alert is heard, can we begin to be awakened by the chimes of peace, not only the bombs of war?