Avi Shlaim on Gaza 15

The Oxford Professor of International Relations, Avi Shlaim, is for me the among most clear-sighted and independent of all commentators on Israel. I recently read his book, The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World and recommend it most strongly as an extraordinary piece of research combined with storytelling. I don’t agree with him on everything, but the information is indispensable.

Thanks to Michael Meadowcroft for pointing out to me Shlaim’s brilliant piece in yesterday’s Guardian supplement.

Israel’s spin doctors have been remarkably successful in getting this message across. But, in essence, their propaganda is a pack of lies.

A wide gap separates the reality of Israel’s actions from the rhetoric of its spokesmen. It was not Hamas but the IDF that broke the ceasefire. It did so by a raid into Gaza on 4 November that killed six Hamas men. Israel’s objective is not just the defence of its population but the eventual overthrow of the Hamas government in Gaza by turning the people against their rulers. And far from taking care to spare civilians, Israel is guilty of indiscriminate bombing and of a three-year-old blockade that has brought the inhabitants of Gaza, now 1.5 million, to the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe.

The Biblical injunction of an eye for an eye is savage enough. But Israel’s insane offensive against Gaza seems to follow the logic of an eye for an eyelash. After eight days of bombing, with a death toll of more than 400 Palestinians and four Israelis, the gung-ho cabinet ordered a land invasion of Gaza the consequences of which are incalculable.


It is well worth reading the whole article. In doing so, remember that Shaim is not only an academic of world standing, he is an Israeli who served loyally in the Israeli armed forces.

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15 thoughts on “Avi Shlaim on Gaza

  • Tom Kennedy

    I had already forwarded it and cannot recommend it highly enough. The summation is devastating:

    A rogue state habitually violates international law, possesses weapons of mass destruction and practises terrorism – the use of violence against civilians for political purposes. Israel fulfils all of these three criteria; the cap fits and it must wear it. Israel's real aim is not peaceful coexistence with its Palestinian neighbours but military domination.

  • writerman

    The article is calm, reasoned, rational and devastating, yet also tragic. Tragic in the sense that this kind of thinking is so far removed from that of the ultra-nationalist militants who make up the most powerful elements in the Israeli political elite, and things seem to actually be getting worse. The nationalist right is on the march in Israel, not only that they are becoming increasingly intolerant of those 'treacerous' individuals and groups that don't agree with their insane strategy of perpetual war, subjugation and ethnic cleasing.

    I think that the only realistic way of forcing Israel to accept a just peace will have to come from a policy similar to that employed against South Africa and the apartheid regime. But as with the struggle against apartheid, this won't work unless the United States comes on board, and given the boneheaded attitudes of most American politicians to the Israel/Palestine conflict, such a sea-change, has long prospects.

  • Tom Kennedy

    The US may have no choice. Its economy is up the spout and sooner or later US taxpayers will ask why they are funding Israel to the tune of billions of dollars each year.

    In the meantime we can put pressure on the US and UK by boycotting those companies most supportive of Israel. If M&S saw a 5% drop in their sales you can be sure they'll be stocking the latest fashion in keffiyas…

  • Richard

    'Israel's objective is not just the defence of its population but the eventual overthrow of the Hamas government in Gaza' …. 'But Israel's insane offensive against Gaza seems to follow the logic of an eye for an eyelash'.

    It's not insane if their objective is to overthrow HAMAS. Let's face it, Israel were given the green light by Bush and Lord Hannay has been critical of John Gieg the UNWRA director.

    I think what we're witnessing is the most media controlled battle the world has ever known – the IDF aren't letting hacks in or out so ALL reports are compromized. All reports inside are HAMAS spun, outside – based on theory.

    Considering HAMAS' stated objective is to take out the Jews, I guess it's difficult for western observers to view this through the fog of the religeous conflict that it is.

    I prefer to follow the advice of the the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia…….

  • Sally

    Richard said: "Considering HAMAS' stated objective is to take out the Jews…"

    I reply: Hamas is a brave resistance movement, that is not only defending Palestinians in Gaza against an Israeli blitzkreig, it has also, against equally greater odds, made great progress in restoring the infrastructure constantly being destroyed by Israel.

    To Richard, and his ilk, I am damn well not going to keep quiet anymore at the unrelenting propaganda against Hamas, nor at the horrific IDF carnage we have funded with our taxes.

    There are plenty of websites that describe exactly how "sophisticated" the weaponry being used by the IDF is, and the manner in which they inflict injury and death, as well as the many types of weapons that kill and maim just as horrifically that we don't know about.

    For the "Hamas are the terrorists" critics, arm yourselves, you brainwashed cowards, with Hamas' antiquated "weapons" and face the IDF assault.

    If we're talking about "stated objectives", for "taking anyone out", the irrefutable evidence from the historical record, is that this has been, and continues to be, the objective of Israel to rid the "cockroaches" from the face of the earth. This is the way their leaders talk, courted and fawned over by our own.

    An American blogger with cojones:

    "Israeli Goebbelses keep asking Americans what they would do if someone fired rockets at them. Well, let's ask the same Americans what they would do if most of their towns and cities were cleansed of Americans and driven into little strips along the Mexican border. What would Americans do if the Israelis sealed off one of those refugee strips for 18 months and did not allow any medical or food assistance in or the people out?"legally an act of war. I can tell you what Americans would do, and it would be a damn sight harsher and more effective than what the humiliated but not yet defeated Palestinians have been doing."

  • lwtc247

    "HAMAS' stated objective is to take out the Jews," – that would be the statement appearing in this weeks serialisation of Zionism for Dummies.

  • Martin

    I'm holidaying it NE China before I start work and I caught an interview on CCTV 9 the Engish state run channel with the Israeli Ambassador to China.

    Unfortunately the interviewer wasn't too aware with what has been happening in the occupied territories but this doesn't excuse the constant stream of lies that the ambassador told.

    More actions ala Hugo Chavez is required in my humble opinion.

  • Dodoze

    Avi Shlaim's voice adds to the more authoritative of the commentaries on the (words fail me – unconscionable?) horror of Gaza, the wider policies of the rogue state of Israel.

    Let me remind you of a little-reported influence on matters. The Gaza Marine Gas Field has estimated reserves of 1.2 Trillion Cubic Feet. In July 2005, despite this local asset, Israel and Egypt signed a deal for the supply of 1.4 billion cubic yards of gas over 15 years to be supplied to Israel through a maritime pipeline. Israel chose gas from Egypt to the joint bid made by the then Palestinian Authority and British Gas, Ariel Sharon expressing the view that any cash flow to Palestine would finance terrorist operations against Israel. The then Palestinian Authority expected to earn over $40 million in annual taxes from the development of the field.

  • ingo

    I have read his excellent article on wednesday and can recommend his book 'the iron wall' to anybody who would really like to know what has been going on since 1948, and before in the country of Palestine.

    Since I do notbelieve in the right of Israels to exist, I will try my best to use the term Palestine when I am talking of this region, its rightfull name, imho.

    Although it is not an active means of opposing the appalling machinations of zionists, words do still matter, as shown many a time on this brilliant blog(thanks Craig)and research facillity for any political student worth her/his mettle.

    I for one will try my best to use the term Paletine for the positives whilst using the term Israel for the mostly negative stories eminating from that region, if justified that is.

  • Richard

    American with cojones – scary prospect however, there are too many vested interests in this battle for any sustainable peace to be brokered internationally. Neither side can stand down because of the various participants more than willing to have the front line in Gaza than anywhere else. To see this as a battle between two tribes, countries, religions is myopic.

    I think we've been spoon fed the mantra that all problems are able to be fixed, that should people actively work for peace then peace can be achieved. But what if that's not true – why not trust our eyes and think – maybe this will never be sorted? A 2 state solution is no solution at all, it's marginally slightly less problematic than what we have now.

    Yeah, the IDF has greatly exceeded all proportionate response but they are being used as a bastion to threaten all other Islamic states around them by a compliant and coercive West.

    I think the whole theatre is locked, players have dug in so deep that I'm not sure anyone really knows what they're really fighting for, the support mechanisms have become so profitable for external agents that they have absolutely no incentive for this to end and, as per normal, the weak get fucked. Twas ever thus, and will ever be.

    No side is right, no side is wrong but perhaps on this one, as will become more evident over time in other theatres, there really isn't a solution – it's damage limitation.

    Good to have cojones bud, but really bloody useless.

  • Ruth

    There's no reliance on governments. Each individual has the power to make an impact by boycotting Israeli companies, companies that support Israel and particularly produce, fruit and vegetables from Israel and newspapers/TV channels which churn out propaganda.

    Commenting is important but damaging the Israeli economy is more effective.

  • Richard

    That's marvelously noble of you Ruth but considering the US & UK have killed 1,000,000 Iraquis for bugger all reason I can fathom, surely we should boycott their goods & services first.

  • Kavita Roy

    A two State solution presumes the existence of (guess what?) TWO States! At this moment, it seems that the only State that exists is Israel and the only one that is not being allowed to come into existence is Palestine. So, once again, WHO is denying whose right to exist?? STOP the Palestinian holocaust!

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