Jan 23 2009

Winners and Losers in Gaza

Published by at 11:24 am under Articles,Palestinian politics

Winners and losers in Gaza

Daoud Kuttab

Unlike times of tranquility, wartimes bring the best and worse in many people. Wars are also an opportunity for people to shine or to fail.

The Israeli war on Gaza certainly has its winners and its losers, although the list could change and protagonists can leap from one side to the other.

Here is my preliminary list of winners and losers.

The first and biggest loser has been the international system, which was unable to stop a clearly disproportional assault from taking place. International humanitarian law, which has been gathering some teeth in recent years, has yet to show whether it is able to deter future Israeli politicians, army general, air force pilots and other military commanders from carrying out war crimes against civilian populations.

In politics, my choice for a major loser goes to Qatar, which hosted an Arab summit that failed to gather quorum and allowed the leader of Hamas and two other Damascus-based Palestinian leaders to fill the seats of the Palestinian delegation.

A clear political winner is Omar Suleiman, the director of the Egyptian intelligence, who delivered the ceasefire agreement from the Palestinian factions. Egypt has been regularly blamed in the Arab world for its alleged bias against Hamas. But Suleiman, working behind the scenes, succeeded to pull a rabbit out of the hat and won Egypt back its respectability and possibly helped improve his own chances of running Egypt after the departure of Mubarak.

A major loser is the Israeli prime minister. Ehud Olmert, the departing and disgraced Israeli premier, wins the chutzpa prize. Olmert boasted that he caused the humiliation of US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice. Speaking with self-importance, Olmert bragged how he demanded that president Bush cut short a speech in Philadelphia to take his call and that he basically ordered Bush to force Rice not to vote in favour of a UN Security Council resolution she and her delegation had crafted with European counterparts.

How wise is it to announce that you embarrassed the first African American secretary of state a few days before the first African American president is sworn into office?

In the media, the same outlet was a winner and a loser, I believe. War has a way of lifting or bringing down media outlets. CNN made its debut in the first American war on Iraq. Al Jazeera Arabic succeeded with the second Intifada and this war on Gaza, the clear winner was Al Jazeera International.

With non-Arab Western journalists denied entry into Gaza, the only English language media outlet which had the field to itself, succeeded in not only filling the gap but doing so with professionalism and balance. Unlike its mother station, Al Jazeera Arabic, which got carried away emotionally on more than one occasion, Al Jazeera International kept its poise and won the respect of many around the world.

Al Arabiyah pan-Arab station won the respect of many, even if not for the number of those who watched Arab stations (that ranking continues to go to Al Jazeera Arabic). Al Arabiyah succeeded by giving much more serious analysis, much better field reporting (with serious human interest stories) and not being afraid or worried about showing Palestinians saying that they were scared. It didn’t fall prey to repeating ad nauseam images that should never have been shown on any TV station without warning to the viewers. It did more to humanise the Palestinians than any other media outlet, showing children express fear and concern rather than restrict TV appearances to statements of courage and fearlessness. BBC Arabic service also was a winner, easily beaten former rival French based Monte Carlo radio

The Israeli army wins the “chicken” prize for carrying out one of the most recent one-sided wars. Azmi Bishara, a Palestinian thinker, called the Israeli army’s actions the most cowardly in modern history.

The heroes of this conflict are many. They include doctors and medical crews, especially ambulance drivers who risked their lives and paid with their lives to help others; telecommunication workers trying to keep people connected; journalists trying to keep the world informed; and humanitarian workers who worked tireless and also paid with their lives to help others. Special mention must be given to UNRWA’s local and foreign staff, many living round-the-clock on their premises and providing a shelter (not always safe) to the displaced Palestinians.

Locals give special tribute to some of the foreign staff who is said to have carried out extraordinary sacrifices and laid their lives on the line to provide humanitarian aid to Palestinians. At one time one UNRWA foreign employee is said to have driven a truck through fire to avoid a major explosion following the attack on the UN warehouse.

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