Contextualising the ceasefire

Of course I was delighted to wake up this morning to hear news that a ceasefire has been reached between Hamas and Israel, as I am sure many others were. However, I am not one for what Judith Butler once called ‘uncritical exuberance‘ and there are plenty articles out there now which are heaping praise on Israel (for exercising such restraint) and Clinton and Egypt’s foreign minister, Mohamed Kamel Amr (for brokering the deal). I need not add to them. The West has played its hand once again and the images circulating at the moment are of Clinton’s speech rather than, say, those who most wanted and needed an end to the hostilities. But this isn’t new: Palestinians – and especially Hamas – are only ever legible and visible when they’re doing something wrong.

I am sure, that for at least three reasons, the so-called ceasefire does not and will not mean the end of violence. The most obvious reason is because the ceasefire might not hold for long. The bombing of the bus in Tel Aviv this morning didn’t help matters but then again neither did the massive bombing by the Israeli Air Force on the day of the ceasefire. Ceasefires were reached four years ago in Operation Cast-Lead, remember, and these were broken by both sides. Let’s hope I’m wrong, but my sense is that Gazans and probably many Israeli’s are wary.

When war stops the thing that takes hold after is not peace, especially not in Occupied Palestine. Truth told this is my worst fear and I have seen it happen again and again: Gaza is bombed and the severity of the attacks makes the conflict into a media event; sympathetic individuals start paying attention, heap on the opprobrium against Israel and then just days after the “truce” move on to the next issue. So the second reason why I am skeptical of the ceasefire is because the terms of exactly what it is that ceases can be tremendously ambiguous, and necessarily so in the Israeli-Palestinian context, I think. Most commentators are saying that the war started on November 16 2012 – and I get it. But if we are going to talk about The War (not a war), it really started in 1948, and has been revisited everyday since, admittedly with ebbs and flows in the level of violence. Today, Operation Pillar Cloud might – and its a big might – have ended, but tomorrow Operation Occupation Everyday continues. (Contrary to what Israel claims, Israel did not in-fact withdraw from Gaza in 2006 and remains de facto and de jure Occupier of Gaza). For an excellent commentary on the links between Occupation and (this) war see the formidable Richard Falk in interview here and if you’re really interested in the broader and historical logics then Lisa Bhungalia is for you.  (More on this to follow)

Yesterday I was moved by a poignant first-hand account of life under the bombs by Wasseem El Sarraj at the New Yorker. Wasseem speaks not only to the question raised by Derek Gregory on his blog just days ago – What does war sound like now? – he also underscores a distinctly sensorial form of trauma that is bound to be felt by many long after the bombs stop. Put this together with Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish’s emphatic piece ‘I lost my daughters in Gaza last time’ and one really gets the sense that for war’s victims the violence does not stop with the cessation of hostilities. Indeed, Sara Roy has written compellingly on this issue and in her book Failing Peace she writes of a ‘political economy of despair’ which consists (among other things) of childhoods and lives scarred – and scared – by past violences which are somehow not yet past. For those proximate enough to be affected, and especially for those who lost their loved and close ones, one war may be over but the violence of loss has just (re)began. This third reason shouldn’t automatically make us wary of the ceasefire per se but it should trouble the distinction between war and peace for there are several gradations between the two and loss and trauma are surely located somewhere there.

Later we can talk about victory.

Then again, and much like Butler, I have the privilege of distance and safety and many more than me have greater cause for celebration tonight, and thus I leave you with this image.

Gaza City: Palestinians celebrate what they say is a victory over Israel. Ahmed Zakot/Reuters

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