Daoud Kuttab
The Jerusalem Post
February 1, 2009 - 1:00am

Unlike times of tranquility, wartime brings out 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 losers, although the list could change and protagonists can swap 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 proved 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 generals, 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 the emir of Qatar who embarrassed himself by insisting on holding an Arab summit when it failed to gather a quorum and allowed the leader of Hamas and two other Damascus-based Palestinian leaders to fill the seats of the Palestinian delegation. Palestinian spokesmen all but called the emir a liar, hinting that he had promised that none of the Hamas leaders would be present at the consultative meeting in Doha. PA President Mahmoud Abbas's aides (specifically Yasser Abed Rabbo and Saeb Erekat) told the press that they have a recording of the emir's phone conversation with Abbas without saying what exactly he said and without actually releasing it.

A clear political winner is Omar Suleiman, the director of Egyptian intelligence, who delivered a cease-fire agreement from the Palestinian factions. Egypt has been regularly insulted in the Arab world and blamed for its alleged bias against Hamas. But Suleiman, working behind the scenes, succeeded in pulling 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 Hosni Mubarak.

A major loser is Ehud Olmert, the departing and disgraced Israeli prime minister, who wins the chutzpa prize. Olmert boasted that he caused the humiliation of the US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice. Speaking with self-importance, Olmert bragged how he demanded that president George W. Bush cut off a speech in Philadelphia to take his call and that he basically ordered Bush to force Rice not to vote in favor of a UN Security Council resolution she and her delegation had crafted with her 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 MEDIA, the same outlet had a winner and a loser in my point of view. 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. In the war on Gaza, the clear winner has been Al Jazeera International. With non-Arab Western journalists denied entry into Gaza, the English-language media outlet that 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 Arabiya pan-Arab station won the respect of many even if it wasn't the number one watched Arab station (that ranking continues to go to Al Jazeera Arabic). Al Arabiya succeeded by giving much more serious analysis, much better field reporting (with serious human interest stories) and was not afraid or worried about showing Palestinians saying that they were scared. Al Arabiya also 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 humanize Palestinians than any other media outlet, showing children express fear and concern rather than restrict TV appearances only to bravado statements of courage and fearlessness.

The Israeli army wins the "chicken" prize for carrying out one of the most recent one-sided wars. Azmi Bishara, an Arab thinker, called the IDF's actions the most cowardly war 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. Telecommunications workers trying to keep people connected, journalists trying to keep the world informed and humanitarian workers were worked tireless and also paid with their lives to help others.

Special mention most be given to UNRWA local and foreign staff, many of whom were living round the clock in their premises and provided a shelter (not always safe) to the displaced Palestinians. Locals give special tribute to some of the foreign staff who are said to have carried out extraordinary sacrifices and laid their lives on the line to provide humanitarian aid. At one time one UNRWA foreign staff 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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