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The Daily Star - January 4, 2009 by Rami G. Khouri Many analogies are being made between the ongoing Israeli attack against Hamas in Gaza and the 2006 war between Israel and Hizbullah in Lebanon. Here are the most important ones, in my view. The first relates to provenance: Hamas and Hizbullah did not exist before the early 1980s. Their birth and strength must be understood largely as a response to Israel's occupation and colonization policies in Palestine and Lebanon, alongside other secondary reasons. Hamas and Hizbullah are the ideological stepchildren of the Likud Party and especially of Ariel Sharon, whose embrace of violence, racism and colonization as the primary means of dealing with occupied Arab populations ultimately generated a will to resist. The trio that carries on Sharon's legacy of brutality - Ehud Olmert, Ehud Barak and Tzipi Livni - seems genetically blind to the fact that the more force and brutality Israel uses against Arabs, the greater is the response in the form of more effective resistance movements that have wider public support. The second analogy relates to technical proficiency. Hizbullah and Hamas have both consistently increased their determination and ability to use rockets to harass and attack Israel. More importantly, they are better able to protect their rocket launchers from pre-emptive Israeli attacks. The number of Israeli dead in recent years has been in the low hundreds, compared to the thousands of Palestinians that Israel has killed. But destruction and body counts are not the most useful criteria to use in this analysis. The real measure of what matters politically is the nagging Israeli sense of vulnerability and the Palestinian sense of empowerment, defiance, and capacity to fight back. It is a gruesome but tangible victory for Hamas simply to be able to keep firing 30 or 40 rockets a day at southern Israel, while Israel systematically destroys much of the security and civilian infrastructure in Gaza. The David and Goliath story is being reversed - in exactly the same region in southern Palestine-Israel where the story took place in the Bible. The level of frustration and impotence in Israel is reflected in its latest attacks against the Islamic University and the Palestinian Parliament building in Gaza - symbols of the sort of modernity and democracy that Israel and the United States claim they seek to promote in the Arab world, but which, in practice, they find much easier to bomb. Palestinians and Lebanese pay a very high price for their steadfastness, resistance and "victories" - but until someone offers a more cost-effective way of dealing with Israel's violence in this conflict, we are likely to see this cycle of warfare continue for some time. The television images of dead children and other innocent civilians in Gaza generate a tremendous will to fight among Palestinians and their supporters throughout the Arab world and beyond. Israelis remain blind to the fact that Arabs respond to brutality the same way the Israelis do. A majority of Israelis polled this week supports the continuation of attacks against Gaza, despite the high civilian death toll. Israelis seem to feel that they have the right to respond to attacks directed against them by using indiscriminate violence against Palestinian civilians; but Palestinians do not have the same right to respond when they are attacked by Israel. Why this double standard? One consequence of such a racist, barbaric attitude by many Israelis, especially those in government, has been the birth, development and strength of Hamas and Hizbullah, and their ability to fight back with enough proficiency to force Israel to accept a cease-fire. The third analogy relates to the convergence between religion, nationalism, governance and politics. In both Palestine and Lebanon, the prevailing secular political systems proved dysfunctional, corrupt and unable to protect society against Israel aggression or domestic strife. Movements like Hamas and Hizbullah developed in large part to fill the vacuum in efficient governance, security against Israeli attacks, and domestic order. They have achieved mixed results, with success in some areas but also an intensification of warfare and destruction in others. Trying to discredit these movements by accusing them of one primary transgression - for example that they use terrorism, attack civilians, carry arms, cozy up to Syria and Iran, espouse an Islamist agenda - will not discredit or destroy them. That is because of the structural manner in which they fulfill multiple roles that respond to the real needs of their citizens and constituents in the realms of governance, local security, national defense, and basic service delivery - responsibilities that their secular national governments have failed to fulfill. The combination of these attributes makes it very hard for Israel to "defeat" Hizbullah and Hamas in their current configuration, regardless of how much death and destruction it rains on their societies. The Islamist-nationalist movements reflect a long list of mostly legitimate grievances that must be addressed if peace and security are ever to reign in the Middle East.

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