Stop the Slaughter in Gaza

The video below, of the Shejaiya massacre (July 17) is worth watching in order to see what the conflict looks like close up.

There can be no justification for Israel’s assault, which has now claimed the lives of over 1,000 Gazans, most of them (77%) civilians, as of July 27. Over 150 children have been killed.

Israel first claimed that its attack on Hamas was related to the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli youths in the West Bank (“Hamas is responsible and Hamas will pay,” Netanyahu said to justify Israel’s massive repression during “Operation Brother’s Keeper”.) No evidence was ever adduced to support the claim, which reeked of opportunism (hundreds of Hamas operatives were kidnapped and arrested by Israel in a matter of days), and now Israeli officials have admitted it was false (NY Daily Mag: “But now, officials admit the kidnappings were not Hamas’s handiwork after all.”)

Later, Israel claimed it was attacking Gaza because in order to stop Hamas from firing rockets over the border at Israeli cities. But, in fact Hamas had dutifully kept the ceasefire until Israel broke it (see Times of Israel, 6/30/14, admitting that rockets fired toward Israel for “the first time in years” were “in revenge” for an Israeli airstrike several hours earlier, making clear that Israel, not Hamas, had broken the ceasefire: “Hamas hasn’t fired rockets into Israel since Operation Pillar of Defense ended in November 2012”; the break in the ceasefire was “probably … in revenge for an Israeli airstrike several hours earlier which killed one person and injured three more.)”

Given that Israel could have continued the ceasefire agreement, which had successfully prevented rocket attacks for “years” according to the Times of Israel (cited above), we can dismiss the claim that Israel’s attack on Gaza is intended to prevent rocket attacks. (In fact, it has precisely the opposite effect. Prior to the current Israeli operation, there were no rocket attacks by Hamas on Israel; in response to the Israeli slaughter of Gazans and the mass arrests of Hamas operatives, there have now been hundreds of rockets fired toward Israel. If Israel really wanted to eliminate rocket attacks, it would have kept the ceasefire instead of launching an unprovoked terror attack on Gaza, and it would have sought to make the ceasefire permanent by negotiating a just peace.)

Finally, Israel complains that Hamas is building tunnels, and that these must be shut down. Here, Israel truly has no leg to stand on. Hamas is indeed building tunnels, but that is because Gaza is under an illegal and brutal siege. Israel is in flagrant violation of international law by its imposing collective punishment on the 1.8 million people living in Gaza, whose calories are restricted by Israel, with state actors literally describing plans to “put the Palestinians on a diet” by restricting their access to food [1]; who are not allowed to build or import cement, whose water and sewage plants are regularly destroyed by Israel, and who are not permitted to engage in international commerce, to fish off their own coast, or to leave their country. Israeli officials have made clear in leaked documents that they have designed policies intended to keep Gaza’s economy “on the brink of collapse” (Haaretz, 1/5/11), intensifying what scholar Sara Roy has called the intentional “de-development of Gaza.” Leaked US cables from 2008 cite the following, according to Haaretz:

As part of their overall embargo plan against Gaza, Israeli officials have confirmed to (U.S. embassy economic officers) on multiple occasions that they intend to keep the Gazan economy on the brink of collapse without quite pushing it over the edge.”

… Israel wanted the coastal territory’s economy “functioning at the lowest level possible consistent with avoiding a humanitarian crisis”, according to the Nov. 3, 2008 [US] cable.

To give an idea of  the level of control Israel exercises over Gaza, see this excerpt pulled at random from a 2010 update on the blockade:

On 20 June 2010, Israeli Authority alleviated the imports restrictions for some commercial goods. The new list comprise mainly consumer goods, such as: new type of fruits (e.g. coco‐nut), jam, halawa, chips, ketchup and mayonnaise, chocolate, cacao, biscuits, nuts, vinegar, shaving brush and cream, razor blades, perfume and other cosmetic products, agriculture materials, kitchen kits,  stationary, paper rolls, toys, mattresses, towels, thread, tape recorders, garden carts. Earlier in June 2010, the following items were allowed to enter into the Gaza  Strip through the official  crossing: soft  drinks,  furniture, some  construction tools, paints, washing machines, fridges, electrical wire, sanitary towels and toilet equipments.

A UNRWA spokeman in 2009 complained that “Two hundred and twenty-one schools for 200,000 children only have 40 percent of their books because we can’t get paper and glue into Gaza.”

Given that Gaza is not permitted to export its produce or manufacture (Gisha: “Overall yearly export from Gaza is now at 2% of what it was prior to the closure”), that the import of items like ketchup and soft drinks is restricted at will by Israel, and that even the resources for construction, such as cement, and for water purification and sewage treatment are regularly barred from entering Gaza, one understands why the Strip is sometimes referred to as the world’s largest open-air prison.

In sum, this is the very definition of collective punishment. You cannot legitimately punish children for their parents’ offenses; nor can you punish a civilian population when you disapprove of the activities of its government. International law is crystal clear on this, meaning that Israel is acting as a criminal state.

Given that Israel is an occupying force imposing a criminal blockade on a defenseless population, and that it regularly brutalizes, dismantles, and destroys Palestinian society, it has no moral standing from which to accuse Hamas of launching rockets out of Gaza. If I am on the sidewalk and my neighbor kicks me, I might legitimately complain. But if I invade my neighbors house and hold him at gunpoint, then he kicks me, I have no grounds for any kind of complaint. The moral logic here is straightforward: if you are involved in egregiously criminal behavior, you have no standing for complaining about the methods of your victims’ resistance. Law professor George Bisharat describes the situation from the viewpoint of international law:

Israel still exercises effective control over the region by controlling its airspace, coast and territorial waters, land borders (with Egypt), electromagnetic fields, electricity and fuel supply. Accordingly, Israel remains an occupying power under international law.

…self-defense cannot be claimed by a state that initiates violence, as Israel did in its crackdown on Hamas in the West Bank, arresting more than 400, searching 2,200 homes and other sites, and killing at least nine Palestinians. There is no evidence that the terrible murders of three Israeli youths that Israel claimed as justification for the crackdown were anything other than private criminal acts that do not trigger a nation’s right of self-defense (were an American citizen, or even a Drug Enforcement Administration agent killed by drug traffickers on our border with Mexico, that would not entitle us to bomb Mexico City).

Hamas and other groups began to intensify rocket fire only after Israel’s provocation. Prior to that, Hamas had proved itself a reliable partner for calm along the Gaza border, withholding rocket fire for nearly two years and largely curbing attacks by other groups.

Israel has accused Hamas of acting as a terrorist organization. But if terrorism means anything at all, it means the targeting and harming of civilians to achieve political goals. By this rubric, Hamas has indeed committed terrorist acts–but at only a tiny fraction of the level of Israel’s own actions. Simple statistics demonstrate this with the utmost clarity. In the last two weeks, zero Israeli children have been killed, while over 150 Palestinian children have been killed by the Israeli military. The killing of Palestinian children by Israel has been a long-term trend, according to a recent Haaretz report. Since 2000, “1,520 Palestinian children have been killed and approximately 6,000 injured by the Israeli military in the past 14 years”, the equivalent of one child every three days, with 10,000 arrested since 2000 and around 200 presently being held in custody, often in deplorable conditions. Save the Children, the UN Children Fund and B’Tselem have regularly issued reports condemning Israel’s conduct toward Palestinian children.

These are just the facts regarding children, however, all forms of Palestinian civilian life suffer massively under Israeli occupation. This underscores the point that Israel targets civilians enormously to achieve its political objectives, and therefore has no principled grounds from which to accuse Hamas or any other group of terrorism. That Israel can in one breath condemn the blind firing of 20-lb. Hamas rockets over the wall and then in a single night drop 100 tons of bombs on Gazan civilians should make clear the level of hypocrisy in Israel’s claim to be against terrorism. [2]

Note that the US gives Israel $3 bill./year in aid. Besides the question of why the US puts Israel on welfare when it has its own problems to deal with at home, the larger issue is that the US is supporting criminal activity. Insofar as the US is democratic, US citizens are also complicit in Israel’s crimes. During the Nuremberg Tribunals in the aftermath of WWII, the US prosecutor, Justice Jackson, described international law in these terms:
“We must never forget that the record on which we judge these defendants today is the record on which history will judge us tomorrow. To pass these defendants a poisoned chalice is to put it to our own lips as well.”

In passing judgment on Nazi crimes, the US was willing to establish the moral principles by which all states should be judged. The great event of the Nuremberg Tribunals was the codification of moral principle into law on an international platform, and the precedent of holding states accountable for crimes against humankind. If the US wishes to be in line with these principles, and to participate in the civilizing processes of the world, then US citizens must pressure their state into compliance with international law and support for basic human rights.

*

[1] On Israel’s intentionally-imposed malnourishing of Gazan children, see also Juan Cole, The Guardian, Jonathon Cook, and Electronic Intifada. On the effects on children, see the data and resources here.

[2] According to a Guardian report, “about 3,000 tons of explosives have been dropped on Gaza in the first 15 days of the conflict.”

*

FURTHER RESOURCES ON RECENT EVENTS

Muhammed Omer, NYTimes, 7/22/14, A first-hand account:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/23/opinion/gaza-under-israels-onslaught.html

Nights are the worst. That is when the bombing escalates. Nowhere is safe. Not a mosque. Not a church. Not a school, or even a hospital. All are potential targets.

On Monday, the Israeli military fired artillery rounds at Al Aqsa hospital in Deir al-Balah, central Gaza, claiming to target a cache of anti-tank missiles. Dr. Khalil Khattab, a surgeon, was operating on a patient when the first shell struck. He ran to the floors below to discover at least four dead and dozens of colleagues — doctors, nurses, orderlies and administrators — injured. The medical staff had become patients.

The Gaza Strip — a little less than half the size of New York City — is home to 1.8 million people, mainly Muslims, with a small Christian minority. Its population is cut off from the world, living under the blockade imposed by Egypt and Israel in 2007. For anyone over the age of 7, this is the third time they’ve lived through a sustained attack.

In two weeks of bombing and shelling, more than 600 Palestinians have been reported killed. Since the Israeli ground invasion began, 28 Israeli soldiers have died; the conflict has also claimed the lives of two Israeli civilians.

Here in Gaza City, the electricity was gone; it was dark everywhere. The water supply was foul, food was rancid, and fear permeated the summer night.

*

First-hand accounts of Gaza assault by UNRWA official and reporter Sharif Abdul Kouddous:

http://www.democracynow.org/2014/7/25/no_safe_place_after_deadly_attack

UNRWA official:

Gaza has a fence around it. It’s unique in the annals of contemporary warfare in being a conflict which has a fence around it, so there is nowhere to run. But even within Gaza, there is no safe place. If the parties to this conflict have shown themselves callous enough to be able to hit a clearly designated, clearly marked U.N. compound, where hundreds of people have come to take safe sanctuary, we cannot guarantee anymore the safety, the safe sanctuary of our installations. It is utterly appalling that in a war zone today, with so many United Nations-assisted beneficiaries, so many U.N.-designated safe shelters, that this sort of thing is happening. It is appalling.

*

http://www.democracynow.org/2014/7/21/sharif_abdel_kouddous_on_israels_gaza

I’ve come from the site of yet another massacre. Twenty-four members—at least 24 members of the same [Abu Jamaa] family were killed in their own home in an F-16 strike in Khan Younis. This happened last night at around Iftar, during the sunset call to prayer, the time that Muslims sit to break their fast. And an F-16 missile strike hit this family in their home as they were sitting down to eat. A grandmother, her three sons, their wives and all their children were killed. I went to the site where the house was. The house is completely gone. There’s only a crater left. The family says—the surviving family members said that they used two cranes and a bulldozer, working for 12 hours throughout the night, to retrieve all the bodies out.

At the hospital morgue, it was really a very difficult scene. One of the dead was less than one years old. She was still, you know, in her Pampers, dead. A father of one of the women killed said that the bodies were dispersed between two hospitals in Khan Younis—14 in one and 10 in the other. And the father had to go to two hospitals to pick up one of his daughters’ bodies, because half of her was in one hospital and half of her was in the other.

This is the kind of tragedies that we hear almost on a daily basis here in Gaza. Families are being wiped out in such massive numbers. There’s the al-Batsh family who lost 18 members in an airstrike last week. I went to near Beit Hanoun in the north the other day where a family—eight of them were killed while they were sitting, watching TV when a tank shell, an artillery shell, hit their home, so—while they were watching TV. So this is a very—this is a war on civilians.

IMAGES

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This entry was posted in "Peace Process", Israel-Palestine Conflict, Operation Protective Edge and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Stop the Slaughter in Gaza

  1. Pingback: After Destroying Gaza, Israel’s Benevolence | Political Crumbs

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