CounterPunch / October 9, 2023
Pyrrhic Victory: “A victory that inflicts such a devastating toll on the victor that is tantamount to defeat. The phrase originates from a quote from Pyrrhus of Epirus, whose triumph against the Romans in the Battle of Asculum destroyed much of his forces.”
First, let me state without equivocation that I abhor violence in all its forms, especially the violence brought about by war. Wars are ruthlessly brutal, barbaric, and uncivilized; wars do not discriminate between soldiers and civilians; wars are but stepping stones for yet other wars; wars dehumanize the enemy; wars reduce human beings to murderous savages; wars destroy and poison the environment; and wars fought because one’s God is mightier than the enemy’s God brings out the worst in mankind. The latter is perhaps the most pernicious of all excuses for waging religious wars.
As one who’s experienced war firsthand (huddling in 1956 under a bed with my mother and twin brother), and as one who’s lost his homeland, his citizenship, and as one who’s lived the life of a stateless persona non grata for the first 31 years of his life, I detest wars and those who perpetrate calamitous abominations on the weak, the poor, the dispossessed, and especially the aged, women, and children.
Hamas and its supporters will no doubt claim Saturday’s attack on Israel to be a victory. And in truth, taking on one of the mightiest armies in the world is beyond belief. Breaking out of their open-air prison and with slingshots (Kalashnikovs, motorcycles, and a bulldozer), as compared to Israel’s infinite military might, the fifth strongest military in the world with proven air, land, and sea prowess, will be celebrated by Hamas and across the Near East as a victory.
At best, it is a pyrrhic victory, one for which Palestinian citizens in Gaza and the West Bank, as happened in the past, will pay dearly. Since 2008, Israel has launched four major wars on Gaza, each more brutal than the preceding one. Unlike the previous Israeli avenging war, I fear that the current Israeli avenging war will exact a very heavy price on the 376 square-mile enclave, the world’s largest open-air prison in which 2.3 million Palestinians exist.
At the of writing, over 600 Israelis have been killed and over 2,000 wounded. On the Palestinian side, over 420 were killed and over 2,100 wounded. And by the time Israel finishes its avenging assault on Gaza, hundreds more Palestinians will be killed and thousands wounded. And massive air, sea, and land assaults will exact a heavier price than Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon.
Call it hubris: hubris on the Israeli side, hubris in a divided Palestinian house, hubris in a fragmented and corrupt Arab world, hubris by the European Union’s unconditional support of Israel’s policies and lip service to a just resolution of the Palestine/Israel conflict, now in its 75th year, but mostly hubris by the United States and its skewed and one-sided Near Eastern policy. The US can hardly be called a friend of Israel; a true friend has the moral and legal obligations to lend support when support is needed and to criticize with constructive counsel when such is needed.
+ American Hubris: The last meaningful and productive American Near Eastern policy was undertaken by President Jimmy Carter. Ironically, I am reading Cai Bird’s biography of President Jimmy Carter and his tireless efforts to mediate peace between Israel and Egypt. While the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel was to lay the foundation for a more comprehensive regional treaty, each succeeding US president shied from addressing the core problem of the region.
The promised Palestinian statehood has been and continues to be, a mirage and excuse for Israel to expand its illegal settlements. Today, close to 700 thousand settlers are living in a constricted piece of real estate on expropriated Palestinian land.
+ In his over-eagerness to nail down a deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia, Biden begged the Israelis “to make concessions” to the Palestinians. Without meaningful and stated objectives, the concessions are merely a carte blanche for Israel to continue destroying entire villages, daily arrests, extrajudicial killings, demolishing homes at will, mass arrests, daily incursions into Palestinian enclaves and villages, and daily humiliations.
+ The so-called Abrahamic Accords are a sham. In return for its signing up, Morocco was given full control of the resource-rich Western Sahara; Sudan was taken off the Terrorist list and forgiven some of its loans; UAE and Bahrain are recycling their petrodollars into Israeli ventures in return for Israeli arms and spyware that keeps tabs on dissidents.
+ What little recent Congressional support for Palestinians evaporated into thin air.
+ During the last year Netanyahu’s alignment with religious right-wing and convicted felons to save his neck opened the floodgates to Settler violence, including attacks inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third holiest site, and attacks on funeral processions, churches, mosques, and cemeteries. The “Death to Arabs [Palestinians]” chants at soccer games is indicative of the deep-seated Israeli xenophobia. And finally, the Israeli civil divide and anguish over Netanyahu’s judicial reforms and the divide between secular and religious Jews was at the breaking point. The Hamas attack will unite Israelis and guarantee Netanyahu’s solidifying his power, at least for a short while.
+ Gaza will once again be bombed – this time to the Stone Age, and its civilian non-combatants will suffer worse conditions: water and electricity will be curtailed, with food and medicine falling to a meager trickle. While in office, Ariel Sharon bragged about putting Gaza’s citizenry “on a diet,” a diet that continues to this day.
+ The building of Illegal settlements will go unabated as more land is expropriated. Israel is already diverting water from the West Bank aquifer to its illegal settlements, and pouring concrete in water wells in Palestinian communities.
+ Curfews, mass arrests, shootings, and incursions into homes, will increase. Strange how Western and American media never reported on Israeli soldiers’ invasion of a Palestinian home during which a mother, her three daughters, and her daughter-in-law were made to strip naked in front of several children. While the female soldiers were conducting their humiliating strip search, their male counterparts stole the family jewelry.
+ Netanyahu’s classic use of graphics in his UN speeches, especially his recent use of a map that wiped Palestine off the map is indicative of what is in store – the annexation of the West Bank. That such a map was shown, (with no criticism by Blinken and his State Department) to the world body at a time when Biden was asking the Israelis to “make concessions to the Palestinians,” is a telling comment on Biden’s desperation to shore up support for his 2024 campaign.
+ The Palestinian house, a house divided between Hamas and its allies of Islamic groups and the Palestinian Authority run by the corrupt 87-year-old Abbas and his cronies is a house of fratricidal, patriarchal, and regressive ideologies. “The Mayor of Ramallah,” as the Israelis call him, is, in the words of Netanyahu, serving Israel well. After all, dissent is not allowed by either Abbas or Hamas. Abbas is Israel’s anointed cop. And likewise, dissent in the Arab world is punishable with long prison terms or, worse, with beheadings.
+ The most painful decisions the Palestinians have to make are: to accept the fact that From the Sea to the River is not a realistic option. That corruption and subservient behavior to Israel, the U.S. and the E.U. is old business. Engaging (if it is not too late) liberal Israelis and Jews from the U.S. and E.U. in meaningful and honest discussions is vital. A younger and more eloquent Palestinian leadership should challenge Israel’s leaders by marching into their dens and demanding to have an honest dialogue. If it happens, the dialogue will no doubt be painful, protracted, and challenging.
+ The Arab countries should also step up: using Palestinians as political pawns, denying them job opportunities, and refusing to give them citizenship. These are hurdles that must be overcome.
+ While Israel and the U.S. will no doubt begin to assess the intelligence gaffes that brought about the surprise attack, once the fury of the moment and fog of war subside (I fear a long while), an honest discussion, led by the UN must be undertaken as to the root causes. For 16 years, a boxed-in citizenry of 2.3 have been begging the world to heed their plight – all to no avail.
+ Yesterday IfNotNow, a movement of American Jews whose stated aim “is to end U.S. support for Israel’s apartheid system and demand equality and justice,” issued the following statement: “We cannot and will not say today’s actions by Palestinian militants are unprovoked. Every day under Israel’s system of apartheid is a provocation. The strangling siege on Gaza is a provocation,” Further, “Settlers terrorizing entire Palestinian villages, soldiers raiding and demolishing Palestinian homes, murdering Palestinians in the streets, Israeli ministers calling for genocide and expulsion. These are the provocations of the most extremist right-wing government in Israel’s history and an emboldened fascist movement escalating this crisis across the land.”
Yesterday I received the following email from Beth Miller, Political Director of the American Jewish organization Peace Now. The email reads as follows:
As the news of violence and loss of life unfolds, we must be clear: this is the direct result of decades of Israeli occupation and apartheid over millions of Palestinians. Those who continue calling for ‘ironclad’ U.S. support for the Israeli military are paving the path to more loss of life [bold in email text.].
The U.S. government enables Israeli oppression and also bears the blame for the violence. Statements of unwavering support for the Israeli government have been flooding in from the White House and members of Congress, even as the Israeli military carries out collective punishment against Palestinians including bombing apartment buildings and cutting electricity to the two million Palestinians in Gaza. These statements are erasing decades of Israeli occupation, blockade, and apartheid rule over Palestinians.
Act immediately to tell Congress to stand up for human rights and safety for all people and to build a foreign policy that will actually end this violence. U.S. complicity in Israel’s occupation, blockade, and apartheid must end. In solidarity,
And I am fully cognizant that I will be reviled and have to bear reading hateful emails from both, Israelis, Palestinians, and Arabs. It is time for an honest conversation between the combatants.
After refereeing a college soccer game fifty years ago this month, a student asked me what I thought of Egypt’s surprise attack on Israel. “What? You mean Egypt attacked Israel? I detest wars,” was my response. Eventually, that war led to a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.
Yesterday, and fifty years later – to the month – I was getting ready to harvest bell peppers and eggplants from my garden. And then I watched the news. What the…? Hamas attacked Israel ? No way ?
I detest war.
While the October 1973 surprise war eventually brought about peace (really a cold peace), I fear that the October 2023 surprise war will not resolve the Palestine/Israel conflict. If anything, this war will beget more wars, and prove Hamas’ attack to be a Pyrrhic victory.
Raouf J. Halaby is a Professor Emeritus of English and Art; he is a writer, photographer, sculptor, an avid gardener, and a peace activist