The reason given by Israel for its massive assault upon Gaza, which continues as I write, is to halt the Qassam rocket launches into southern Israel staged by Hamas. But even the Israeli military admits that its ongoing operations will not necessarily halt the Qassams. The only way Israel could militarily do this would be to permanently reoccupy all of Gaza: lock it down. But this alternative has no support with the Israeli public. Permanent military reoccupation would expose thousands of Israeli soldiers to continued guerrilla attacks from Hamas. Over time, Israel would take unacceptable losses. Indeed, the Israeli army ended its occupation of southern Lebanon in 2000 for this very reason, because it sustained heavy losses from Hezbollah fighters. This means, quite simply, that there is no military solution to the Qassam rocket attacks.
The Qassam is not a guided missile. It is a crude device, a kind of homemade weapon, something you might fabricate in your garage or basement. The rockets often misfire, are wildly inaccurate, and sometimes injure other Palestinians. In fact, from a military standpoint the Qassam is a nearly useless weapon. Over a period of years the Qassams have killed only a handful of Israelis. So, why do the Palestinians lob useless weapons at Israel? It is an important question, and one the western press has not honestly addressed.
The answer is that the Qassams have become a symbol of Palestinian resolve. The launches show defiance at Israel’s siege of Gaza, which has continued over many years and which greatly intensified after Hamas swept to victory in the 2006 Palestinian elections. At the time, the Israeli government was incensed that its preferred candidate, Fatah chief Abbas, went down to defeat. Among Palestinians Abbas is widely regarded as an Israeli collaborator.
By most accounts, the 2006 election was a fair one. Yet, Israel’s leaders refused to accept the outcome. This is strange and repugnant, given Israel’s reputation as a democracy. But evidently Israel (and the US) apply a double standard when it comes to Arabs. In any event, Israel reacted by imprisoning and even assassinating the elected Hamas officials. Israel also collectively punished the people of Gaza by curtailing all disbursements of Palestinian taxes for public services. As a result, civil servants in Gaza, including local police, worked without pay for many months. Why did Israel withhold these civil funds? Obviously, to disrupt Palestinian society and foment chaos by undermining law and order. Israel also tightened its military blockade. Israel controls the border crossings into Gaza and for years had arbitrarily blocked shipments of food, fuel, medicines, and other essential commodities from entering. By one report, even shoes and clothing are among the forbidden goods.
Israel’s decision to intensify its blockade after the Hamas victory caused great suffering. What remained of the Gaza economy collapsed and many Palestinians became destitute. For the first time malnutrition became a serious issue. Many Gaza residents now live just one or two meals away from starvation. Indeed, this was the plan: to starve the people of Gaza into submission. The Palestinians refused to be broken, however. Hence the Qassams.
Collective punishment is a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. In fact, Israel’s siege was a belligerent act of war. But the western press, including the US media, failed to report it honestly and now they blame the victims. The Palestinians, we are told, are responsible for Israel’s attacks upon them because of the Qassams. Of course, due to the media filter the average American probably has never heard of the siege, and doesn’t even know it happened.
If the goal were truly to end the Qassam rocket attacks, Israel could have done so, at any time, simply by sitting down and negotiating with Hamas. Such is the view of Neve Gordon, chair of political science at Ben Gurion University. Professor Gordon has been following the Gaza situation for years from Beersheba, located just down the road, and he even authored a book upon the subject. His analysis is undoubtedly correct. But evidently this is too simple for Israel’s leaders, who deem Hamas an unsuitable negotiating partner.
In fact, Israel’s military operation in Gaza probably has as much to do with political expedience as halting the Qassams. Israel’s leaders have resorted to violence in the past for temporary political gain: to boost their standing with voters; and the present Gaza offensive appears to be another case. It was in the planning for months and probably became inevitable after far-right Likud candidate Benjamin Netanyahu moved ahead in the polls. With Prime Minister Olmert’s Kadima party facing a tough uphill fight in the upcoming February 2009 elections, Olmert no doubt hoped to recoup Kadima’s chances by showing toughness. It is telling that Israeli voters will choose between the right and the far-right, another inconvenient truth ignored by the western press, which sees only Arab extremism.
For the record, I do not support the firing of Qassam rockets by Hamas into Israel. It is wrong. But on a scale of violence it is a mere pin-prick compared with the wholesale terror being unleashed against the Palestinians, who are almost defenseless. A comparison of the casualty figures shows that 99% of the violence is being directed at the Palestinians; and the numbers do not lie. Unfortunately, due to the media filter their significance has been lost. The US media always portrays Israel in the best possible light and the Palestinians in the worst. It is a formula that distorts real events beyond recognition. As a result, most Americans do not understand what is happening.
Indeed, it is remarkable that even though the US Senate just voted unanimous support for Israel many Americans probably still think the United States is not directly involved in the Gaza violence. Nothing could be further from the truth. The US is deeply involved.
On December 28th, the US government used its UN Security Council veto to block the international community from ending the bloodshed. From that point the US was officially on record: openly supporting Israel’s attacks. But US support long predates the recent crisis. Israel’s refusal to negotiate with Hamas was only possible because of US diplomatic and military support dating back over many years. The US has used its UN veto on forty occasions, spanning almost four decades, to shield Israel from accountability. But for this the UN would have intervened to resolve the conflict, long ago. In which case Hamas would never have come into existence and there would be peace in Palestine, today.
US military assistance is also crucial. Israel is slaughtering the people of Gaza with US-made F-16s, US-made helicopter gun ships, and US-made bombs/ammunition. Other US-made equipment includes enormous Caterpillar bulldozers which the Israeli army uses to flatten Palestinian homes, often arbitrarily, even entire neighborhoods. During Ariel Sharon’s 2002 offensive in the West Bank these bulldozers were used to level wide swathes of urban real estate in Jenin and other towns. No doubt, the dozers are being put to similar use in Gaza as I write.
Most of the violence directed at the Palestinians is being kept from American eyes. Israel has barred the western press from Gaza because what is happening cannot stand the light of day. But the truth is reaching the world anyway via the Arab press, which is covering the attacks in graphic detail. Although Americans are not seeing the grisly reality, elsewhere in the world people are watching the uncut unedited version of events, including gruesome videos of dead children, body parts, smoking ruins and starving refugees. Surely the world is no less aghast by the mendacity of America’s political leaders, who continue to mouth transparent lies about Israel defending itself when the whole world can plainly see that Israel is engaging in near-genocidal attacks against a civilian population.
To describe all of this as a public relations disaster for the US fails to capture the reality. The international community was already alienated from Washington because of President George W. Bush’s self-proclaimed right to treat the world as a US free-fire zone. Continuing US support for Israel’s state terrorism is like throwing gas on this fire, and the temperature is rising.
But the slaughter of more than 800 Palestinians, as I write, in addition to more than 3,000 injured, has had one positive effect: It has brought the deeper issue, the nature of Zionism, into sharper focus. The question that Americans should be asking is how 1.4 million Palestinians came to be crowded into Gaza in the first place. After all, the length and breadth of Israel/Palestine is the homeland of these Palestinians, no less than the home of the Jews. Both peoples have an equal claim to the land. Why, then, are Israelis free to fulfill their dreams and lives in the greater part of Palestine, I should add, a right they take for granted, while these 1.4 million Arabs are confined to a tiny coastal Gaza strip that is essentially a prison? Some aptly compare it to the Warsaw ghetto of World War II.
The answer is that these Arabs are unwanted people. The Israeli government regards them as surplus humanity. They are the descendants of the original flood of at least 700,000 Palestinian refugees ethnically cleansed by Israel during its 1948 war of independence. The shocking fact is that these Arabs remain incarcerated in Gaza today for the same reason they were driven from their homes in the first place. In Israel this is euphemistically referred to as the “demographic problem,” a polite way of saying that in 1948 the Palestinians stood squarely in the path of the Zionist plan to settle all of Palestine with Jews. For this reason they had to be made to disappear. This is why the Palestinians were herded into refugee camps at that time and it is why they continue to be incarcerated in Gaza today. Israel will not incorporate them because their sheer numbers would pollute the ethnic/racial purity of the Jewish state.
This is the deeper issue, and it brings to mind the Apartheid “solution” cooked up by the racists in South Africa, where unwanted blacks were segregated into separate Bantustans to keep them out of sight (and out of mind) of the white minority rulers. Fortunately, the people of South African dismantled their Apartheid system years ago. But it survives today in Israel/Palestine in an even more pernicious form. In fact, Israel is probably the last of the settler colonies that were common during the heyday of colonialism, in the 18-19th centuries, when Europeans lorded over the rest of humanity. Britain, for example, financed its industrial revolution with wealth stolen from India, at the time the jewel in the British crown. Nor was that stolen wealth ever repaid.
My point is that in 2009 this hierarchical way of organizing society is far out of step with present-day standards of morality and justice. Uncritical US support for Israeli-style Apartheid has thus placed the United States on the wrong side of history, an ugly reality that ought to be a source of concern, indeed, of alarm, for each and every American. At issue is the racist nature of the Zionist enterprise, and it’s long past time that we call the thing by its true name.