CommonDreams.org, December 26, 2010
early January 2009, two lone voices braved the Australian media to
offer a differing view to that given by Government spokespersons
regarding Operation Cast Lead, the 22-day assault of Israel on Gaza that began on December 27th
2008. The first was that of Greens Leader, Senator Bob Brown. He urged
Julia Gillard to speak out against the "violent and disproportionate
action by Israeli leaders." More pointed were the comments of Julia
Irwin, Federal MP for the NSW seat of Fowler. In an article
published in the Sydney Morning Herald at the time, she used metaphor
to draw our attention to the travesty that was occurring in Gaza:
"It all reminds me of an old story from the days of the Roman Empire. The emperor Nero
was upset that his prized lions were being distressed by Christians,
who ran away from them in the Colloseum. Nero ordered that at the next
circus, a Christian was to be buried up to his neck in the sand to make
things easier for the lions. When the lions entered the ring, the
biggest and the meanest saw the hapless condemned, swaggered over and
stood astride the Christian’s head, roaring for approval from the crowd.
At that moment, the Christian craned his neck and bit off the lion’s
testicles. The crowd was shocked. "Fight fair! Fight fair!" they
attack upon Gaza was met with a curious indifference by most of the
so-called leaders of Western nations. As acting Prime Minister of
Australia at the time, the ill-informed Julia Gillard refused to
criticise, let alone condemn the actions of Israel. Supposedly speaking
on behalf of the Australian people, she said: "Australia recognises the
right of Israel to defend itself." That comment was made on the third of
January 2009, by which time it was widely known that 430 Gazans had
already been killed and 2,300 wounded in 750 individual strikes carried
out by air and by sea over the previous five days.
years ago, we witnessed a stonehearted disregard of the humanity of
those living in one of the most densely populated regions on the planet
by one of the most powerful military forces on the earth. How can
politicians so casually intone, "Israel has a right to defend itself"?
Defend itself from what? From the miserable Qassam rockets that vent the
rage of an immiserated group of Palestinian men, many of whose families
have lost sons, daughters, freedoms and lands since the military
occupation of Gaza by Israel that began in 1967? From the petulant
stones hurled by boys and young men at the supremely armoured Merkava
tanks that have blown apart their communities and knocked down their
is much that underlies the grief and resentment that sears the minds of
invulnerated Palestinians, much that has been ignored, suppressed and
dismissed by those who would tell us what we should believe. Operation Cast Lead
could not have happened without the widespread acceptance of a view
that dismisses the essential humanity of the Palestinian people. How is
it that so many in the West have come to perceive the Palestinians as a
hostile race, a violent people, an unruly group with whom any reasoned
and reasonable dialogue is impossible?
late Edward Said spent most of his adult life in an impassioned quest
to awaken our collective understanding to what has happened to the
people of Palestine since their traditional lands were handed over to
the newly created state of Israel in 1948 even as the embers of the
Second World War had yet to cool. In a lecture delivered at the
University of California at Berkeley eight months before he died in
2003, Edward Said reflected on the sorry fate of Palestinians since
have changed little since Said voiced these thoughts. The past eight
years have seen a deepening rather than an easing of the plight of the
people of Palestine, and more particularly, of the inhabitants of Gaza.
thirty-five year old military occupation, now the longest and most
brutally sustained in modern history has taken a terrific toll in the
human condition of the Palestinians at every level. In fact, short of
genocide itself, I cannot think of a single one of the human rights of
the people that has not been violated with a kind of refined viciousness
designed to dehumanise and break their spirit and humiliate them to a
degree that is, even to someone who has been carefully but helplessly
aware of what has been taking place, simply stupefying.What
has made it worse is how much of this has been wilfully shielded from
witnessing eyes by propaganda about fighting for survival and against
terrorism, claims that in any other instance, would defy the credulity
of the most gullible intelligence."
Said was no armchair academic. He was a driving force in the creation
of the Palestinian National Initiative, a democratic movement committed
to providing Palestinians with an alternative identity to that offered
by Yassar Arafat and his Fatah inner circle. Among Said’s collaborators
in that project was Mustafa Barghouthi, a Palestinian doctor. In an article
written two weeks after Israeli troops pulled out of a ruined Gaza in
January 2009, Barghouthi offers a weepingly beautiful portrait of the
Palestinian people and a clear restatement of both their identity and
the character of their struggle. He reflects: "The main reason so much
effort is put into distorting the character of Palestinians is that if
the world were to really know what is going on here, the collective
emotion would shift from apathy toward our struggle to one of anger at
cannot understand the grievousness of what has happened in Gaza without
understanding the depth of dispossession and the degree of oppression
to which Palestinians have been subjected since the United Nations
partitioned the British-ruled Palestine Mandate in November 1947.
According to UN General Assembly Resolution 181, Israel was to be
apportioned 55% of the mandated territory while the Palestinians were to
be apportioned 45%. That never eventuated. Even before the Israeli land
acquisitions of the Six Day War in 1967, the new state of Israel had
sequestered 78% of Palestinian lands.
1947 and 1951, more than 400 Palestinian villages were totally
destroyed. As Jewish immigrants poured in from all over the world,
nearly a million Palestinians were made homeless. Attacks by the Jewish
army, the Haganah, and the ruthless Irgun, a militia group headed by
Menachem Begin caused a massive exodus of Palestinians from their
traditional lands. Reprisals occurred, the slaughters continued, waves
of Palestinian refugees fled into neighbouring countries, and the
Israelis took control of more lands. The slaughter of 120 Palestinians
at Deir Yassin on April 9th 1948 and of 200 Palestinians at Tantura on May 15th 1948 were the earliest in a series of blood-lettings that extended from the Naqba, the Great Catastrophe, to the Sabra and Shatila massacres in Lebanon in 1982, the al Aqsa
mosque massacre in 1990, the deaths at Jenin Refugee Camp in 2002, and
most recently in the 750 civilian deaths that occurred in Operation Cast Lead.
The Soured Election
The more direct antecedents of Operation Cast Lead lie
in the Palestinian elections of January 2006. These elections were
largely driven by the Bush Administration in co-operation with the newly
elected Mahmoud Abbas, who took over the presidency of the Palestinian
National Authority after the death of the decrepit and opportunistic
Yassar Arafat, founder of Fatah. Investigative journalist Chris Hedges comments on life in Gaza at that time:
"Gaza, ruled by warring factions, warlords, clans, kidnapping rings and
criminal gangs, had descended into chaos under Mahmoud Abbas’ corrupt
did not go according to plan in those elections. On January 26th 2006,
Hamas won 56% of the seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council. The
US and Israel took immediate steps to "correct" the situation. Together
with the European Union, Russia and the United Nations, the US demanded
that the new Hamas government agree to accept the terms of all previous
agreements made with Arafat’s Palestinian Authority and to formally
recognise Israel’s right to exist. Hamas refused. The spigot was
immediately turned off. All aid was immediately terminated. The newly
elected government no longer had the means to fund its $2 billion annual
budget. With over half of the Palestinian population living on under $2
a day at the time, there was no possibility of generating funds through
such conventional methods as tax revenues.
lost no time. It immediately tightened its border crossings and blocked
all movement of Palestinians into and out of the Hamas-controlled Gaza
Strip. The Israeli Defence Force (IDF) summarily rounded up and
"arrested" over 60 Hamas officials including new ministers and
Legislative Council members. The Israeli government was clearly
displeased with the outcome of the elections.
after, the Bush Administration followed suit when it learned that
Mahmoud Abbas was engaged in discussions with Hamas about the
possibility of forming a unity government. Condoleeza Rice travelled to
Ramallah to sort things out. In early October 2006, she instructed Abbas
to do whatever was necessary to dissolve the Hamas-led government as
soon as possible and to prepare the ground for a new election.
weeks passed and nothing had happened. Mahmoud Abbas was delivered a
thinly disguised ultimatum by the US State Department. It read, "We need
to understand your plans regarding a new [Palestinian Authority]
government . . . You told Secretary Rice you would be prepared to move
ahead within two to four weeks of your meeting. We believe that the time
has come for you to move forward quickly and decisively." (Quoted by
David Rose, Vanity Fair, April 2008)
between Hamas and Fatah turned deadly as Hamas learned of the
collaborations between Fatah and Washington. Fighting broke out on
multiple fronts. By December 2006, dozens were being killed every month.
Meanwhile, Condoleeza Rice had arranged a series of meetings and
discussions with the leaders of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the
United Arab Emirates. David Rose comments: "She asked them to bolster
Fatah by providing military training and by pledging funds to buy its
forces lethal weapons. The money was to be paid directly into accounts
controlled by President Abbas."
year’s end, four trucks loaded with 2,000 Egyptian-made automatic
rifles, 20,000 ammunition clips and two million bullets were quietly
ushered from Egypt into Gaza through an Israeli-controlled crossing.
Their deadly cargo was delivered to Fatah officials. At much the same
time, the United Arab Emirates handed over cash payments of between 20
and 30 million dollars to Fatah.
new hardware from Egypt was put to use within weeks. By early February,
Fatah forces stormed the Islamic University of Gaza, which was viewed
as a Hamas stronghold, and torched several buildings. Hamas responded by
attacking Fatah-controlled police stations.
Gaza on the verge of a full-blown civil war, King Hussein of Saudi
Arabia quickly convened a meeting. Abbas and his US-appointed national
security advisor met with a group of Hamas Leaders in Mecca. As a result
of the meeting, Fatah members were offered several key posts in the
Legislative Council, and a national unity government was formed. The
Saudis agreed to pick up the tab for the Palestinian Authority’s bills,
which had not been paid for over 12 months. The celebrations that
followed were, however, to be short-lived.
at this development, the US drew up a plan to provide Mahmoud Abbas and
his Fatah forces with $1.27 billion dollars in military training,
hardware and salaries over the following five years in exchange for an
assurance that he would "collapse the government" in accordance with the
wishes of the US and Israel. Details of this plan were unexpectedly
leaked to a Jordanian newspaper on April 30, 2007. Within days, Hamas
had become aware that a US-backed Fatah coup was in the making.
mid May, five hundred Fatah National Security recruits crossed the
Egyptian border in new outfits sporting new weaponry and driving new
armoured vehicles. An observer commented: "They had new rifles with
telescopic sights, and they were wearing black flack-jackets. They were
quite a contrast to the usual scruffy lot." Hamas fighters tried to
intercept these new recruits as they crossed into Gaza but were pushed
back by the tight discipline of the new Fatah recruits. By the end of
May, Hamas and the newly armed Fatah security forces were at each
The camel’s back was completely broken on June 7th when the Israeli newspaper Haaretz revealed that an even larger shipment of Egyptian arms was ready to be shipped to Fatah forces. David Rose reports:
"Abbas and Dayton [the US security co-ordinator for the Palestinians]
had asked Israel to authorise the biggest Egyptian arms shipment yet -
to include dozens of armoured cars, hundreds of armour-piercing rockets,
thousands of hand grenades, and millions of rounds of ammunition." With
over 250 Hamas members having already been killed in the previous six
months, Hamas decided to put an end to it there and then.
was all over within a few days. The Fatah security forces were routed
and ruthlessly cut down by Hamas fighters. Mahmoud Abbas dissolved the
nascent and barely-formed Palestinian Authority-Hamas unity government a
week later. Hamas claimed full control of Gaza on June 15th
2007. Those within Fatah who managed to survive the deadly battle of
Gaza limped back to Abbas’ new stronghold, the Israeli-occupied
territory of the West Bank. The US and Israel were satisfied that the
West Bank and Gaza were now fully isolated from each other. And the
blood spilt and damage done during that sad episode was but a minor
prelude to what was to be unleashed on Gaza eighteen months later by the
IDF in Operation Cast Lead.
Tightening the Stranglehold
was declared a 'hostile entity’ by the Israeli Security Cabinet, and
the blockade of Gaza was intensified. Israeli forces closed all portals
of entry and Egypt followed suit at its northern border with Gaza. The
movement of people and of goods into and out of Gaza was frozen.
Overnight, Gaza had become totally ghettoised. Predictably, Hamas
resumed its useless rocket attacks on southern Israel.
December 2007, 90% of the functioning factories and workshops in Gaza
had closed down. With the blocking of all imports into Gaza, there were
simply no materials available to work with any more. The income of 70%
of the population of the Gaza Strip had by then dropped to below $2 a
June 2008, the situation of ordinary Gazans had become intolerable. The
year-long Israeli blockade had cut off supplies of all the vital
materials whereby civil society could be sustained. In desperation,
Hamas sought ways of breaking the Israeli stranglehold of its borders.
Through talks mediated by the Egyptian government, an agreement was
reached whereby Hamas offered to end the firing of rockets into Israel
in exchange for an easing of the blockade at the borders. A cease-fire
was agreed upon on July 19th 2008. All Hamas rocket fire ceased
immediately. But in the words of Chris Hedges, "Israel never upheld its end of the agreement. It increased the severity of the siege."
year earlier, in May 2007, nearly 11,000 trucks carrying goods crossed
the Israeli controlled border-posts into Gaza each month. These provided
essential materials – food, medicines, building materials, industrial
supplies, educational items, clothing and technology – to serve the
needs of Gaza’s one and a half million inhabitants. By October 2008, the
number had dropped to under 3,000 trucks each month. During the month
of November 2008, the month before Operation Cast Lead was launched, Israel allowed only 579 trucks to cross the border.
planners had learned well from the strategic course charted by George
Bush Senior, Bill Clinton and George Bush Junior in Iraq. Weaken the
enemy to the point of abject impotence through blockades and sanctions,
and when they have become totally defenceless, unleash all hell with the
deadliest military hardware this planet has ever seen. By the end of
January 2009, the results in Gaza mirrored those in Iraq. Broken
buildings, broken bodies and untold numbers of grieving mothers, fathers
cease-fire agreement of July 2008 between Israel and Hamas lasted only
four months. It was broken by an Israeli military strike on Hamas on
November 4th 2008. Richard Falk, Professor Emeritus of International Law
at Princeton University and UN Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human
rights reflected on the event: "A temporary ceasefire between Israel and Hamas that had been in effect since 19 July
2008 had succeeded in reducing cross-border violence virtually to zero;
Hamas consistently offered to extend the ceasefire, even to a longer
period of ten years. The breakdown of the ceasefire . . . came about
mainly as a result of an Israeli air attack on 4 November that killed
six Hamas fighters in Gaza."
Israeli game plan had, however, been set long before the July
cease-fire agreement. Israeli military planners bided their time until
the opportune moment. That moment happened to coincide precisely with
the day of the US elections, November 4, 2008. The Israeli military knew
well that their attack would not appear on the front page of any
newspaper outside of the Arab world.
On November 5th,
the siege of Gaza became absolute. Israel completely shut down the
borders. Predictably, useless rockets and mortars were once again
launched across the border from Gaza into Israel. This was precisely
what the Israeli military had counted on.
rest moved like clockwork. F-16 fighter jets and Apache helicopters
were loaded with precision missiles and messy bombs; Israeli navy attack
ships lined up off the Gaza coast-line; and earth-shaking battalions of
Merkeva tanks were set rolling together with their well-armed ground
troops as the pyrotechnics were about to unfold.
The Deadly Visitation
the days after Christmans 2008, volley upon volley of monstrous weapons
shredded the skies of Gaza, a tiny, densely populated strip of land 8
kilometres wide and 45 kilometres long. On January 4th,
the sour-mouthed Israeli President Shimon Peres said: "Israel’s aim was
to provide a strong blow to the people of Gaza so they would lose their
appetite for shooting at Israel." That strong blow was relentlessly
delivered. It resulted in the death of over 240 children under the age
of sixteen, the death of hundreds of non-combatant men and women, the
wounding of five thousand others and the creation of enduring
psychological terror for tens, if not hundreds of thousands of
Israeli soldiers returned to their homes and barracks. The bloodied
mess of broken bodies and broken roads and buildings was left for the
people of Gaza to deal with.
There is a peculiar cynicism hidden in the events leading up to Operation Cast Lead.
Ariel Sharon callously oversaw the massacres at the Sabra and Shatila
refugee camps in Lebanon in 1982. Two decades later, the haughty George
Bush Junior lauded him as a "man of peace". A year after that ludicrous
statement was made, Sharon’s apparent prince-hood was confirmed in the
minds of many by his order to dismantle all Jewish settlements in the
Gaza Strip and to evacuate the 7,000 Israeli "settlers" who had
illegally claimed lands in Gaza under the protective mantle of
well-armed Israeli Defence Force guards.
attack upon Gaza in December 2008 could never have happened without
Sharon’s emptying of Gaza of its Israeli inhabitants four years earlier.
The captive native population was thereby laid open to a continuous
disgorgement of lethal weaponry by the Israeli military in Operation Cast Lead.
has in recent decades become a major developer and manufacturer of
sophisticated weapons. But most of its military hardware has been
supplied over several decades by the US. After the Vietnam debacle in
the 1970s, Israel stepped up to the pad as the next major recipient of
US military aid. It has retained that position ever since.
has been gifted over two billion dollars every year - most of it in the
form of military "assistance" - by the US for decades now. The Bush
administration alone provided over 21 billion dollars in "security
assistance" during its time in office. In addition to these lethal
gratuities, Israel has more recently signed contracts with US arms
manufacturers for over 22 billion dollars of new military hardware. This
includes a deal for 75 Joint Strike Fighters, 9 military transport
aircraft and 4 combat ships.
presently has 180,000 heavily armed regular troops in their armed
forces, 140,000 conscripts, 4,300 impenetrable Merkava battle tanks,
10,000 light tanks and armoured cars, 500 missile-laden fighter jets,
1340 helicopters, three submarines, three destroyers and 40 smaller
warships. And the full might of Israeli military force was projected
into the tiny space of Gaza during the three week period from December
27th 2008 to January 18th 2009.
In February 2009, investigative journalist Conn Hallinan was to describe Gaza as "Death’s Laboratory."
Israel’s new weapons had caused injuries never before seen in the
hospitals of Gaza. Many of these were the result of the widespread use
of a new class of weapons called Dense Inert Metal Explosive (DIME).
These were initially developed by the US Air Force and scientists from
the University of California’s Lawrence Livermore Laboratory nine years
ago. DIME weapons consist of a high explosive core around which is
wrapped powdered tungsten alloy in a carbon fibre container. On
detonation, the tungsten sprays out explosively over a ten-meter radius
shredding everything in its field. The resultant injuries are truly
doctor Mads Gilbert commented: "The muscles are sort of split from the
bones, hanging loose, and you also have quite severe burns. . . . Those
inside the perimeter of this weapon’s power zone will be torn completely
apart. We have seen numerous amputations that we suspect have been
caused by this." He went on to say, "I’ve never seen anything as bad as
that. I have been to many conflict zones. I was in Beirut in 1982 . . .
but Gaza was the worst."
German doctor working in southern Gaza offered his own observations:
"Initially, everything seems in order. . . But it turns out on operation
that dozens of miniature particles can be found in all their organs."
Most of those who survive the shredding of their limbs succumb soon
after to septicaemia and organ collapse. Habas Al-Wahid, head of
emergency at a Gaza hospital observed that in several cases of
DIME-caused injuries, the legs of the injured were sliced from their
bodies "as if a saw was used to cut through the bone."
these the intended fruits of human ingenuity, of our capacity for deep
intelligence, of our mastery of the art of technological innovation?
longer-term consequences of the use of tungsten-based weapons have yet
to be realised. Like depleted uranium, which has caused numerous cancers
and monstrous birth deformities in Iraq, aerosol tungsten will
doubtless bring its own train of future woe. Conn Hallinan reports that
it has already been implicated as a possible cause of leukaemia and
DIME weapons used in Gaza were either supplied directly to Israel by
the US or were manufactured in Israel under US instructions. They have
yet to be banned under the Geneva Conventions because - until Gaza -
they had yet to be systematically "tested" on a living population.
Despite all pleas to the contrary and claims of good conduct by Israel,
the war upon Gaza, like all wars, was yet another act of profound
lawlessness and deceit.
use of phosphorus-based weapons near populated areas has long been
prohibited under international law. But this did not prevent the use of
such weapons by Israel. Suspicions were raised early when, in addition
to the hundreds of half-ton "conventional" bombs that rained upon Gaza
every day, the characteristic spray of burning white phosphorus
streaking through the sky began to be noticed in some of the airbursts.
Within a short time, people arrived in casualty wards of Gaza with
horrible burns that continued to smoke and smoulder even after they had
been washed and bandaged.
During the first week of Israel’s offensive, journalists from the UK Times
identified row upon row of American-made pale blue M825A1 white
phosphorus artillery shells from high-resolution images of Israeli
artillery units on the Israeli-Gaza border. Their reports were met with
strident denials by IDF spokespersons. This echoed the Israeli denials
three years earlier of having used phosphorus against civilian targets
in Lebanon. They lied in August 2006 and they lied again in January
2009. But that is all part of how war is conducted by civilised nations
in obscene times.
On 11th January 2009, IDF spokeswoman Major Avital Leibovich stated:
"I can assure you we do not use any weapons that are prohibited by
international law. There are other nations that use phosphorus bombs,
and we have the right not to comment on this." She was probably
referring to the fact that both Britain and the US used white phosphorus
in Iraq, especially during the Fallujah campaign. So the fact of one
obscenity is thereby used to justify another.
weapon used in Gaza was the newly developed GPS-guided mortar. The GPS
mortar was developed by the Israeli weapons industry working closely
with the US company Alliant. GPS mortars are equipped with satellite
navigation systems and are said to act with surgical precision. Yet they
were found sorely wanting. Israeli journalist Amira Hass reported
that during the second week of January, such a weapon missed its
intended target by 30 meters and slammed into a United Nations Relief
and Works Agency school where many women and children had sought refuge.
It killed 30 of them outright. Another 10 women and children died of
their injuries later. Many others sustained horrendous injuries.
months of back-room negotiations, the US agreed to supply Israel with
1,000 GBU-39 bombs in September 2008. These new weapons had been
developed and assembled by the Boeing Corporation. The GBU-39 is
designed to penetrate deep into the earth before exploding. Arrays of
these new weapons were delivered in early December. Within the first
hours of the Israeli offensive, hundreds of GBU-39 bombs had been
dropped on Rafa in an attempt to destroy the network of tunnels that
enabled the movement of essential goods and materials from Egypt into
The assault upon Gaza was many months in the making. Steven Zunes reported in May 2009:
"Israeli Defence minister Ehud Barak admitted that the Israeli invasion
had been planned for months, back when a six-month cease fire was still
Not a single Hamas rocket had been fired into Israel from the time the cease-fire was declared on June 18th 2008 and the deadly truce-breaking Israeli air attack in Gaza on November 4th
2008 that killed six Hamas members. Steven Zunes observes that in spite
of the predictable and cynically anticipated resumption by Hamas of
cross-border rocket fire, "not a single Israeli had been killed by
rocket attacks for more than half a year prior to Israel launching its
war on December 27." The planning for Operation Cast Lead
was well under way in March 2008. It was fully in place many months
before the actual assault. The IDF was therefore militarily well
prepared for the December 27 assault. So too was its public relations
arm. Like the GBU-39 bombs at Rafa, silver-tongued commentators
miraculously and simultaneously appeared in the major media outlets
throughout the Western world.
In an impassioned piece entitled "Israel’s Lies" published in the London Review of Books on January 29th 2009, Henry Seigman, former national director of the American Jewish Congress inveighed:
Those lies were swallowed up whole by the Western world.
governments and most of the Western media have accepted a number of
Israeli claims justifying the military assault on Gaza: that Hamas
consistently violated the six-month truce that Israel observed and then
refused to extend it; that Israel therefore had no choice but to destroy
Hamas’s capacity to launch missiles into Israeli towns; that Hamas is a
terrorist organisation, part of a global jihadi network; and that
Israel has acted not only in its own defence but on behalf of an
international struggle by Western democracies against this network.
am not aware of a single major American newspaper, radio station or TV
channel whose coverage of the assault on Gaza questions this version of
events. . . Middle East peacemaking has been smothered in deceptive
euphemisms so let me state bluntly that each of these claims is a lie."
as the tanks began rolling and the bombs were exploding, Israeli
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni instructed her minions to engage foreign
language speakers everywhere to take "emergency measures to adapt
Israel’s public relations to the ongoing escalation in the Gaza Strip."
(Julia Irwin, "Getting Away with Murder", Sydney Morning Herald,
11/1/09) Within hours, the smooth-voiced Israeli spokesman Mark Regev
and Martin Indyk, a former official of the American Israel Public
Affairs Committee, were everywhere to be heard on Radio National and the
ABC network throughout Australia.
journalist Robert Fisk happened to be travelling through Canada at the
time the offensive was launched. He noted that numerous articles
attempting to justify Israel’s actions by asking readers to imagine the
horror of coming under Palestinian rocket attack began to appear
simultaneously in large-circulation newspapers. He commented:
"I’m waiting for the same writers to ask how we’d feel if we . . . came
under sustained attack from supersonic aircraft and Merkava tanks and
thousands of troops whose shells and bombs tore 40 women and children to
pieces outside a school, shredded whole families in their beds and who,
after nearly a week, had killed almost 200 civilians out of 600
US journalist Chris Hedges similarly railed:
"The use of attack aircraft and naval ships, part of the world’s
fourth-largest military power, to level densely packed slums of people
who were hungry, without power and often water, people surrounded on all
sides by the Israeli army, was fatuously described as a war. The news
coverage held up the absurd notion that a few Hamas fighters with light
weapons and no organization were a counterforce to F-16 fighter jets,
tank battalions, thousands of Israeli soldiers, armoured personnel
carriers, naval ships and Apache attack helicopters. It fit the Israeli
narrative. It may have been balanced and objective. But it was not
attack upon Gaza was clearly part of a longer-term project for the
complete subjection of Palestinians by Israel. The attack was not an act
of self-defence against miserable Qassam rockets. As Ben White pointed out:
"During the truce last year, rocket fire from the Gaza Strip was
reduced by 97%, with the few projectiles that were fired coming from
non-Hamas groups opposed to the agreement." The breaking of the
ceasefire by the Israelis on November 4th
was a deliberate and provocative act that brought the expected response
from Hamas. The Israelis bided their time in order to teach the Gazans a
lesson for choosing Hamas during the 2006 elections. The ferocity and
the duration of Operation Cast Lead
was intended to destroy Hamas and to humiliate the Palestinians of Gaza
who had deigned to chose Hamas as their representatives.
Even before Operation Cast Lead,
the Gazans were already near-broken by the debilitating Israeli
blockade of their border crossings. The compliant Mahmoud Abbas and his
shadowy Fatah officials had been sequestered into what is left of the
West Bank to make sure that the Palestinians there did not get too rowdy
or emotional about what was happening in Gaza. Most Western leaders
chose to look aside and chorused in unison about the Right of Israelis
to Defend Themselves while the Israeli military set about systematically
destroying every civil institution and every form of essential
infrastructure necessary for the conduct of life, a life that for Gazans
had already been made near intolerable.
There are probably also other factors behind Operation Cast Lead
apart from the desire to destroy the will of the Palestinians of Gaza
and to "catastrophise" their experience of life. In a more cynical vein,
we would do well to remember that the Israelis have for many years
coveted the huge reservoirs of undersea natural gas in Gaza’s
territorial waters that were discovered by the British Gas Group about a
decade ago. This side of things may come increasingly to light in
coming time as Israel attempts to secure additional sources of energy
during this time of dwindling reserves.
The Continuing Impasse
During the 22 days of Operation Cast Lead,
20,000 buildings and 5,000 homes throughout Gaza were completely
destroyed leaving over half a million metric tonnes of debris, much of
which has yet to be cleared. The Israelis targeted every part of the
territory’s infrastructure. Erin Cunningham observed:
"Homes, businesses, factories, power grids, sewage systems and water
treatment plants were reduced to piles of rubble across the Gaza Strip."
schools in Gaza were totally destroyed, and 135 were substantially
damaged. The Al-Azhar University of Gaza was reduced to rubble.
Hospitals, medical clinics and Red Crescent warehouses were all
targeted, as was every police station and every building associated with
Hamas activities. Over 250 civilian Palestinian policemen were killed
during the 22-day operation. George Bisharat documents
how Israeli military lawyers went so far as to authorise the bombing of
a police cadet graduation ceremony, killing 63 young Palestinian men in
a single strike.
though 70% of Gaza’s agricultural system had been rendered useless by
the Israeli border siege which had blocked the entry of pipes and pumps
essential for irrigation, Israeli tanks and bulldozers set about ruining
what little was left. Vast acreages of farming land including olive
orchards, fruit plantations, chicken farms and other established farms
throughout Gaza were systematically destroyed.
According to a particular view, Operation Cast Lead
represented the face of a new and compassionate style of warfare where
the dead are counted in the thousands rather than tens or hundreds of
thousands; where the entire population is reduced to immiserated
subjection rather than starvation unto death; where all the
institutional forms necessary for the conduct of civil society are
broken apart rather than being totally incinerated and destroyed; where
all such actions are claimed to be fair and just and necessary for
the first to speak loudly and passionately about the criminality of
Israel’s actions was Richard Falk, UN special rapporteur on the
Palestinian territories. As the first Israeli bombs exploded on December
27th, Falk drew attention
to the massive violation of international humanitarian law that was
happening in Gaza. He called upon the United Nations to halt Israel’s
actions and to immediately provide protection for the Palestinian
people. But for decades now, neither the wishes nor the resolutions of
the United Nations have tempered the actions of Israel towards
Palestinians. Falk was later to write:
after, George Bisharat, professor of Law at the University of
California published a series of articles in US newspapers detailing how
international law had been brutalised by Israel in its 22-day assault
upon Gaza. He describes how Israeli lawyers deliberately manipulate
legal process to achieve their desired ends. Quoting Daniel Reisner,
former head of Israel’s 20-lawyer International Law Division in the
Military Advocate General’s office, he showed how powerful lawyers
acting in concert can effectively change the rules:
focus of legal debate should not be upon whether Israeli force was
disproportionate. Of course it was. The focus should be on whether the
Israeli attacks were a prohibited non-defensive use of force under the
UN charter, amounting to an act of aggression, and as such, constituting
a crime against peace. . . .
initiated the Gaza campaign without adequate legal foundation or just
cause, and was responsible for causing the overwhelming proportion of
devastation and the entirety of civilian suffering" (Le Monde Diplomatique, 12/3/09).
eight members of the Delegation called upon both Israel and the US -
which supplied most of the weapons used in the assault – to be held
accountable for the criminality of their actions.
you do something for long enough, the world will accept it. The whole
of international law is now based on the notion that an act that is
forbidden today becomes permissible if executed by enough countries. . .
. International law progresses through violations. We invented the
targeted assassination thesis and we had to push it. At first there were
protrusions that made it hard to insert easily into the legal molds.
Eight years later, it is in the centre of the bounds of legitimacy"
("Israel: Transforming International Law by Violating It", San Francisco Chronicle, 1/4/09).Yet
there are some lawyers who are more driven by ethical considerations
than a will to serve political ideologies. In early February 2009, a
group of eight American lawyers, all members of the National Lawyers
Guild in the US visited and reported on their observations
of the situation in Gaza. They confirmed that the IDF had fired
missiles at UNRWA schools in Gaza City, Jabalyia and Bet Labiya. They
expressed deep concern at the use of white phosphorus, DIME munitions
and other prohibited weapons and at "the use of conventional weapons in a
prohibited manner, specifically, the use of battlefield weapons in
densely populated civilian areas."
horror of Gaza cannot be dismissed as a distant phenomenon that does
not concern us. We may withdraw into our own complacency and comfort,
but in truth, no one is exempted from the pain visited upon innocent
households. No one can evade the consequences of the destructive
exercise of brutal force.
immense yet subdued anguish, the heavy-hearted impotence that weighs on
so many, the outraged sense of justice at the grotesque
disproportionality of the violence we have witnessed, the travestying of
all norms of reasonable human conduct will neither pass nor be
assault upon Gaza has done nothing to further the making of peace in
Palestine. It has done much to deepen resentments that will find their
own tragic and futile expressions in time to come. No cheek has been
turned at any stage in the volleys of violence that have shaken the Holy
Land for more than half a century. And little regard has been given to
the humanity of the generations swept into a gathering maelstrom fired
by a cold and calculated demonic determination.
is more that could be said, and more, perhaps, that should be said
about how the people of Gaza have been manacled since 1993 when Israel
closed the borders and "managed" the movement of people and goods into
and out of Gaza; about the 44 year long occupation of Gaza, the West
Bank and East Jerusalem; about the wholesale separation and isolation of
the Palestinians of Gaza from their fellow Palestinians in the West
Bank; about the progressive cantonisation of the West Bank by the
relentless construction of militarily-protected illegal "settlements";
about the "security barriers" that have drawn and quartered any
semblance of autonomous life and culture for all Palestinians; about the
forced impoverishment, reduced access to markets, and forfeited
freedoms of all Gazans. The betrayal of Gaza represents not only a
failure of justice, but also a failure of the human spirit.
us continue to remain vigilant regarding further movements in the
Middle East as the seams that hold the phenomenal world together
everywhere begin to stretch to their limits.