The Good. The Bad. The Asinine.

The Enemy of my Enemy: A (very) Rough Guide to Who’s Who in the Israel/Palestine Zoo

Let’s start this one with a disclaimer. The author is not responsible for the failure to subdivide into its million splinters each and every faction involved in this giant clusterfuck we know as the Israel/Palestine conflict. Furthermore, the author is not responsible for failing to mention every single two dozen strong group of crazies who may or may not have made the news at some point or other.

Actually, the author is responsible, but has made the decision to stick to the big players in the highly justified belief that nobody in their right minds is going to read a thirty thousand word blog post full of foreign words. So, in the best tradition of blogging, I am not going to give you a closely argued, citation riddled essay on the fights and factions in the region. Instead, I am going to outline what I see as the major interest groups and what I understand to be their beliefs, agenda and priorities.

So, we begin, appropriately enough, with…

The Zionists

The term Zionist comes from the Hebrew word for Jerusalem (Zion). It’s meant to hark back to the time, nearly three thousand years ago, when the ancient Jews were expelled from their homelands by the Babylonian Empire. Compare this with our rooted inability to remember anything that happened more than one hundred years ago, and then think twice before making comparisons between people and cultures. Anyway, Zionism is a controversial doctrine, having been declared twice by the UN to be racist and divisive. Most Zionists will claim that all they are doing is promoting the freedom and rights to nationhood of the Jewish people. Practically everyone else says that their ideas are racist, colonialist and downright frightening. I’ll leave that one up to you.

Zionism as a movement is roughly one hundred and fifty years old. It arose in the late 19th century, and came to a violent head in the latter days of the British Mandate. All Zionists believe that the Jews have a right to a nation state in an area somewhat larger than Israel’s current borders. They call this “Eretz Israel”, meaning “The Land of Israel” and referring to Israel as described and defined in the Torah. Zionists oppose the assimilation of Jews into non-Jewish populations and, in its most extreme iterations, would seem to oppose the existence of non-Jewish populations. There are, of course, several different kinds of Zionists, including Nationalist, Cultural and Religious Zionists. These are largely variations on a theme and, in their moderate (and majority) forms, can be compared, I suppose, with a particularly enthusiastic political lobby group. Zionists and Zionist thinking are strongly present in almost every political party in Israel.

The Haredi

Haredi comes from a word or phrase in Hebrew meaning “trembles before the voice of the lord”, or something like that. Basically, translated literally, “The Haredi” means “The Frightened”. Of course, in the real world, they act like anything but. The Haredi are not a religious sect within Judaism. Both Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews are numbered amongst the Haredi. They are not overtly political – in fact, politics appears to be against their religion.

The Haredi are devout. Every hour of every day, every garment they wear, every milestone in life and every decision, however minor, is decided based on interpretations of the Torah. They are educated in separate schools and are largely exempted from National Service. They believe that man’s business on Earth is to do the will of god – politics, magazines, television – none of these are of god, and therefore none are the business of man. This has not, however, stopped them from forming a small political party, which seems mainly concerned with preserving Haredi privileges and exemptions.

They currently represent about ten percent of the Jewish population and are an important counterbalance to the Zionists as, whilst few are called, many sympathise. Their general response to Zionists (even to religious Zionists) is: This is not the business of god, and therefore it is none of mine. They are a real force in popular Israeli thought, mainly because there will always be those who find purism appealing.

HizbAllah

Hizballah literally means “The Party of God”. They are a Lebanese separatist group fighting for the liberation of Israeli controlled territories around the officially sanctioned border between Israel and Lebanon. Hizballah are well funded, resourced and manned, largely because they are funded, resourced and manned by a nation state we like to call Iran. It is a matter of common knowledge that Hizballah is Iran’s idea of foreign power projection, being a deniable shadow army used to put pressure on key Arab and non-Arab states that are important to them.

Iran, pretty much since the fall of the Shah, has wanted to re-establish local Hegemony, which is difficult, they being about as popular in the Arab world as Israel. It is for this reason that Al Quds (Iranian dirty jobs brigade [SF]) pours so much money, materiel and manpower into this fringe army fighting what many believe to be a completely lost cause.

Hizballah is hampered by a few things. First and foremost, their relationship with Iran makes it virtually impossible that Israel will ever enter into any meaningful dialogue with them. Secondly, they are Shia, which largely cuts them off from the significant upsurge in availability of jihadi funding, logistical support and manpower. Thirdly, they are so used to being puppets that it is often difficult to discern, from their actions alone, anything amounting to a coherent battle plan aimed at liberating certain Israeli held territories.

What they are, though, is a constant and expert threat – violent, skilled and fanatically committed, Hizballah is not to be sneezed at. Just ask the Syrian rebels.

Hamas

Hamas is a clever acronym. It stands for Ḥarakat al-Muqāwamah al-ʾIslāmiyyah, which means “Islamic Resistance Movement”, whilst the acronym roughly means “enthusiasm”. Hamas was part of the second Intifada (Palestinian revolt) and is regarded as being an offshoot or related to the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine. It’s paramilitary wing,  Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, is the one responsible for the rocket attacks and kidnappings, etc, that we hear so much about (in slow news weeks). Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades is, however,a bit of a mouthful, and any clever acronym would sound a bit like “Izdatanass”, so everyone just calls it all Hamas.

Hamas is a highly motivated, well organised and well armed Sunni religious group. You may remember them from such conflicts as the Gaza war, and that couple of weeks when Hamas basically rolled up the US backed military wing of Fatah. Being so good has cost them, however, and most of their military and support infrastructure has been significantly eroded by constant Israeli strikes and raids.

Hamas is officially designated a terrorist organisation by many nations, including our own. This is a little bit awkward, considering that they are also the democratically elected government of what can loosely be called Palestine (Gaza). It’s not just their paramilitary success that wins them hearts and minds, however. Hamas is strongly entrenched in the local communities of their territory and, in the darkest days of the conflict, were often the only organisation providing services (education, roads, health care, policing). They have a numerous and committed following, which is a shame, as their core mission statement is to replace the current state of Israel with an Islamic state of Palestine. They have eased off from this hardline position in recent years, but I personally believe that this is in order to secure a general ceasefire and time to regroup and re-arm.

Hamas is refreshingly non-sectarian, and is noteworthy for having built a solid relationship with the Shi’ite HizbAllah.

Fatah

Fatah is another clever acronym. It stands for… actually, who gives a crap. Basically, Fatah is an acronym of an acronym, and the word, in Arabic, connotes the period of mediaeval Islamic expansion.

Fatah was founded by Yassir Arafat, absorbed by the PLO, and has always been a major player in the conflict. The West prefers Fatah to Hamas because Fatah is largely secularist. Their main goals are nationalist, rather than Islamist, and this gives all of us a warm fuzzy when we’re trawling through group analyses. This might explain why, despite maintaining several paramilitary wings with menacing names, Fatah has ceased to be considered a terrorist organisation.

The Fatah/PLO government was the first elected government in the Palestinian Authority (I finally remembered the proper name for it!), and it was during this period that the cracks in their organisation really began to show. The problem is, Fatah is massive, ruled by a committee of rotating members, and seriously fragmented in its aims, ideology, demography and modi. This might explain why Hamas so easily rolled them up and had them declaring, within days of conflict start, that “Hamas and Fatah have no political differences”.

Fatah have consistently proven themselves to be the most reasonable to deal with, but have just as consistently proved that they have nil control of large portions of the populous and of the numerous paramilitary organisations operating in the area – theirs and others. I distinctly remember a two-state accord being reached between Israel and Fatah, world-wide celebration and the declaration of a cease fire. This was followed immediately by five days of uninterrupted rocket and small arms attacks by Hamas and Islamic Jihad. My personal opinion is that, in seeking a peacefully negotiated two-state solution, Fatah is a broken reed upon which to lean, and the only reason we keep talking to them is that they can be relied upon to show up to the summits.

 

That, as promised, was very rough. There are, I know, a vast array of factions, parties, groups and movements that I have not even mentioned, but the goal was a rough guide, so hopefully there aren’t any expert analysts who have wasted their time reading this.

The third and final instalment, for those of you who have not become completely bored of Israel and its shenanigans, will be a geopolitical overview and a quick general sitrep followed by my own conclusions, which are likely to be just as vague as everyone else’s.

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