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Beit Hanoun massacre only the latest atrocity
Israel's endless killing in Gaza

By Eric Ruder | November 17, 2006 | Page 16

A BLOODBATH is taking place in Gaza.

Israel's massacre of 19 Palestinians in Beit Hanoun on November 8 has focused the world's attention on the killing spree. But this attack is only the most deadly in four months of near-constant violence inflicted by Israel in the form of tanks, snipers and siege.

The assault took place on a crowded apartment building in the dead of night. Eight of the dead were children, and 11 were members of the same family.

"It's so tragic what has happened in Beit Hanoun," said Dr. Mona El-Farra in an interview. "For days, the Israeli military carried on operations in Beit Hanoun. More than 53 were killed in one week, and more than 300 injured, and then the Israelis withdrew from the village. But the next day, they launched an artillery strike on a very crowded building, and the outcome of this one attack was 18 killed, and about 150 injured."

Dr. El-Farra, who works at Al Awda Hospital in Gaza City, described treating the injured from Beit Hanoun as "one of the worst days I've witnessed in our hospital."

Israel blamed the attack on a technical error. "This is no excuse at all, and we don't accept this, because they have said this several times when they attack civilians," said Dr. El-Farra. "I don't accept the Israeli explanation that 'mistakes happen.' The Israeli military is one of the most sophisticated and technologically advanced in the world.

"Seven months ago, a family was killed on a Gaza beach by an Israeli military strike. They tried to blame the explosion on a Palestinian mine, but in the end, they just said it was a mistake. This is not acceptable to us.

"I really don't know how this village will be rebuilt, given the lack of resources and political sanctions. People's lives have been destroyed. Many homes have been demolished. And large agricultural areas have been destroyed. This village is called the fruit basket of Gaza. It's the most fertile area for growing fruits and vegetables.

"People here are farmers. This attack has destroyed their source of income. The damage is too extensive to be described. You can't even tell that these once were orchards and orange groves. It's just unrecognizable.

More than 10,000 Palestinians took to the streets of Beit Hanoun in a funeral procession to mourn the dead and protest Israel's war crimes.

The Beit Hanoun massacre sparked an international outpouring of criticism and a United Nations (UN) resolution to condemn the attack. But predictably, the U.S. vetoed the resolution, which called for Israel as the "occupying power" to immediately halt its "aggression" and withdraw its forces from Gaza.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice disparaged the resolution as an attempt to "use the tragic incident in Beit Hanoun to advance a one-sided political agenda." But for most people around the world, it's the U.S. government--which has used half its more than 70 vetoes of UN resolutions to protect Israel from diplomatic sanctions--that is guilty of advancing "a one-sided political agenda."

Since Israel launched its Gaza offensive in June after one of its soldiers was captured, more than 370 Palestinians have been killed and countless more wounded. But the Beit Hanoun massacre--combined with the U.S. veto of the UN resolution and clear signals from Israeli officials that they intend to step up their assaults--has altered the political landscape.

First, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh announced that he would step down as Palestinian Authority prime minister in the interests of forming a national unity government that would include Fatah, the former ruling party led by the late Yasser Arafat. Second, the Arab League condemned the U.S. veto and pledged to break financial sanctions imposed by the U.S. and Israel against the Hamas government.

As Socialist Worker went to press, it appeared that Mohammad Shbair, the former head of the Islamic University in Gaza until he retired last year, would take over as prime minister. Shbair is an Islamist who is sympathetic to Hamas, but he is not a member of the party.

"Hamas always wanted a unified government," explained Palestinian activist Toufic Haddad, the author of the forthcoming book on Palestine. "Fatah was against it, because they were bitter about being pushed out of power. The new government is still going to be Hamas-dominated.

"The main thing driving the unity is that it's a national demand. Both Fatah and Hamas have concluded that they don't have the luxury to be fighting amongst themselves with Israel's onslaught at such a frenzied level. Hamas has said that a unity government should proceed on the basis of the prisoner document, which calls for a process to get Islamic Jihad and the Hamas into the PLO, creating a unified government and creating a unified resistance framework."

In an ominous sign of things to come, Alex Fishman, the chief military correspondent for the Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot, explained that Operation Autumn Clouds, the codename for the Beit Hanoun operation, was merely a trial run for a larger offensive.

"The large-scale operation--if given the green light--would be a long-term offensive operation employing a different scope of troops entirely," Fishman wrote. "The 'Autumn Clouds' operation, currently in progress, is still part of the series of defensive operations being carried out against Qassam rocket launchers...[but] it is another step in the direction of concentrating military forces in the Gaza Strip...

"Such operations also have an 'accustomed' effect. The operations are getting the area and the military forces used to IDF presence in the Gaza Strip, each time for a longer spell and with larger forces. Meanwhile, the IDF is exercising military tactics in residential areas, and commanders are being trained...[Israel is on] the road to a second Lebanon in Gaza...Therefore, we are in the midst of a gradual process towards a wide-scale, military conflict in the Gaza Strip."

Israel Defense Force (IDF) Major Gen. Elazar Stern added his own note of warning. "The IDF's excessive sensitivity to human life led to some of the failures in the Lebanon war--and this should not happen," said Stern.

In reality, the resistance of Hezbollah in Lebanon beat back the IDF--despite the IDF's use of withering force.

"Those who over a few months kill more than 1,000 Lebanese and 300 Palestinians for dubious reasons do not have the right to speak about sensitivity to human life," wrote left-wing Israeli Gideon Levy in response to Stern.

"What a long way we have come since the talk, as hypocritical as it may have been, about 'the purity of arms...' For example, the number of people Israel killed is not only almost 10 times higher than the number of people Hezbollah killed, but the number of soldiers Hezbollah killed is three times higher than the number of Israeli civilians they killed, while the number of Lebanese civilians killed by Israel is about three times the number of Hezbollah fighters. So whose arms are purer?"

Having suffered defeat at the hands of Hezbollah, Israel is now desperate to crush resistance in Gaza, in part to restore its "credibility."

"The Israelis have committed this massacre on purpose in the hopes of finishing off the job, having already destroyed Fatah and Arafat," said Haddad. "This brought Hamas to power, and what's left of the PA is now based in Gaza. And that's Israel's target."

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