Since the commando assault on 25 June 2006 that led to the death of two Israeli soldiers and the abduction of Corporal Gilad Shalit, Israel has intensified the almost daily bombing of Gaza which it had started six months ago in response to the Qassam missiles launched towards the Israeli town of Sderot and the surrounding areas, themselves a response to Israel’s ferocious aerial and rocket attacks. It has launched a simultaneous invasion of south and north Gaza that made about 25,000 people homeless. It has ordered the destruction of civilian infrastructure, roads, bridges, and an electrical power plant that generated electricity for 700,0000 Palestinians. It has bombed the Palestinian Foreign Ministry and Interior Ministry buildings, and it has kidnapped most of HAMAS’s leadership in the West Bank. It has destroyed the offices of the democratically elected Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority Ismail Haniya, and it has widened its military targets beyond Palestine — at quite an early stage of the evolving conflict — when four Israeli F-16s flew over one of Bashir Assad’s presidential palaces in the Mediterranean port city of Latakiyya.
The raid by a Hesbollah commando into northern Israel on 12 July 2006 which resulted in the abduction of two other Israeli soldiers similarly prompted a response: a sustained air bombardment of southern Beirut, which led to the deaths of over 200 civilians at the time of writing, and the bombardment of Beirut international airport, the main highway linking Lebanon to Syria, Al-Manar TV station, the headquarter of Hesbollah in Beirut in an effort to assassinate Seyyed Hassan Nasrallah, and four bridges that link Bint-Jbeil, Tyre, and Marjayoun to Sidon and Nabatieh.
The whole premise of the way both of the Israeli responses were prepared and are being fought is unilateral: the assumption is, Israeli decision-makers repeatedly emphasize, that Israel is isolated, that it does not have a peace partner to talk to, that it has to act on its own in order to destroy the transnational axis linking HAMAS and Hesbollah to Syria and Iran.
By supporting the Israeli military strategy unconditionally, by blocking a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israel’s targeting of the civilian infrastructure in Gaza, and ultimately by legitimating Israel’s responses within the context of the “war on terror,” the United States has explicitly reified the bipolar order in West Asia which pits Syria, Iran, Hesbollah, and HAMAS against Israel and the United States. Ironically, the current escalation of violence is presented as part of the Ehud Olmert and George W. Bush administrations’ strategic conflict with Syria, Iran, Hesbollah, and HAMAS (in which the former two figure more prominently than the latter two). Hence, far from dividing the common interests of the two nations and two movements, which converge on the shared aversion to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands and the military presence of the United States in the region, the anarchic dynamics created by the current escalation of violence further de-territorializes the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The “re”-alignment of Israel and the United States, which constantly excludes all agents who do not yield to the regional order envisaged by the two allies — perhaps unconsciously — re-centralizes, in a trans-territorial way, the latent (yet always libidinous) energies of the Palestinian resistance. It thus disperses the intifadah from Rafah, Jenin, Jerusalem, and Ramallah to Tehran, Damascus, Beirut, Baghdad, and elsewhere. As a result, the perpetual “re”-alignments of Israel and the United States engender rather than fragment ideological unity of their adversaries, provoke rather than prevent institutionalization of their political activities, and foster rather than contain their coordination of resources, intelligence, technology, and ideological mobilization across national boundaries for political and military purposes. The range of Hesbollah’s Katyusha rockets are indicative of the transnational forces behind them: the more Iran and Syria are provoked into the conflict, the farther they range.
In a sense, only a single drama is ever staged in response to Israeli violence: the endlessly repeated play of regional resistance. The domination of a materially superior group over others almost always leads to the transnationalization and internationalization of the resistance of the subjugated group: class domination engenders the idea of liberty and forceful measures necessary for survival (this logic in its most desperate and devastating form reveals itself in the idea of “martyrdom” for the higher cause, i.e. survival of the group). Yet Israel does not merely systematically progress from domination to domination until it arrives at its ultimate goal: the subjugation of the Palestinian resistance, allowing the “two state solution” on Israeli terms to finally replace conflict; Israel installs each of its hegemonic projects in a system of norms and institutions which carries the country from violence to violence. Violence thus becomes an end in itself, unavoidable because it is engrained in the very fabric of the Israeli state which was born out of war and socialized within an environment of endemic conflict.
Hesbollah and HAMAS also have “violent personalities,” of course, albeit with far less disastrous consequences for the region. The activities of both movements, however, are regulated by the determinations of the Lebanese and Palestinian nations respectively, both of which are beyond their unilateral domination because of the existence of rival forces. Moreover, both movements have demonstrated that they abide by the democratic process and that they are willing and able to adhere to the rules and regulations imposed on them.
Israel, in contrast, does not act in a comparably regulative context because the state itself is the agent of violence, that is, a) it has totalitarian monopoly over the instruments of destruction that it employs and b) it acts within the context of a national consensus that is highly undifferentiated, especially with regard to self-consciously “Islamic” movements such as HAMAS and Hesbollah.
It appears to me that, consequently, peace will be conquered only by those who are capable of seizing those norms and institutions of violence in Israel, disguising themselves so as to subvert them, redefine their meaning, and redirect them against those who had initially invented them: controlling the mechanisms of violence, they will recode them, making them function so as to overcome the rulers through their own rules. It is at that distant stage of the history of Israel, I submit, when the violent Entstehung of the Zionist project will succumb to the romantic Herkunft of the Jewish ideal: the quest of a people longing for peace and security amidst the Muslim majority in West Asia.
Arshin Adib-Moghaddam is the author of The International Politics of the Persian Gulf: A Cultural Genealogy (London: Routledge, 2006). He teaches international relations at Oxford University. MRZine has published his “The Muslim in the Mirror” (23 Feb. 2006); “Persian Atoms: Enriching Facts, Diverting Fiction” (26 April 2006); “Iraq, Iran, and the New World Order” (25 May 2006); and “The Muslim Presence in the Racist Mind” (15 June 2006).