Israel's war of terror against Gaza

ISRAEL'S ONSLAUGHT against the Palestinian population of Gaza continues to take a terrible toll.

The relentless pounding from the skies is drastically worsening already dire conditions caused by Israel's suffocating siege of the last 18 months. Yet as the new year began, Israel dismissed proposals for even a 48-hour cease-fire--and instead broadened its offensive.

Israel's attack has stirred outrage around the world. But among U.S. political leaders--from the Republican Bush administration to the Democratic leaders in Congress--there is unanimous support for Israel's war, and universal acceptance of the claim that Hamas, the Islamist party that won elections to the Palestinian National Assembly nearly three years ago, is "to blame for the violence."

Haidar Eid is a professor, an activist for Palestinian national rights and a resident of Gaza City. He spoke with Eric Ruder on December 31 about the appalling conditions facing the people of Gaza--as well as the larger political context in which Israel's onslaught is taking place.

Palestinians in Gaza City carry a victim of the Israeli assault to Al Shifa hospital (Thair al-Hassany | propaimages)Palestinians in Gaza City carry a victim of the Israeli assault to Al Shifa hospital (Thair al-Hassany | propaimages)

OUR LAST interview the day after Israel's attack began was interrupted by bombing very nearby. Are you and your relatives safe?

YES. I'M sorry I had to cut the interview short. They started bombarding the ministerial compound behind the building where I live. I've lost all the windows in my flat.

It was horrible. Unbelievable. I can't begin to describe the situation. I haven't been able to sleep for five nights straight--tonight will be the sixth--because every single night, they have aerial strikes.

The Israelis are furious, because they don't know what to do. They have no more targets to attack, and yet they haven't been able to find a single leader of the resistance [the first reports of a senior Hamas leader killed by the bombings came the day after this interview took place]. But it's easy to attack mosques and schools and hospitals and universities, and so this is what they've been doing.

The last bomb I heard was 15 minutes ago, about two kilometers from where I live. They attacked a currency exchange, which the Israelis accuse of money laundering and working for Hamas. It's ridiculous.

The number of people who have died in the last five days is now more than 400, including 70 children and 18 women. They have also attacked 18 mosques. The number of injured is about 2,500. It's crazy, it's genocidal. They want to send us back to the dark ages, as they say.

What you can do

Protests against Israel's assault on Gaza have already taken place in cities around the country, with more planned for the coming days. Contact local organizers for details where you live.

For updates on the current situation, plus commentary and analysis on the background to the war, read the Electronic Intifada Web site. Electronic Intifada Executive Director Ali Abunimah's "Gaza massacres must spur us to action" is a good starting point for further reading.

You can also find updated coverage on conditions in Gaza and the efforts of activists to stand up to the Israeli war at the Free Gaza Web site.

Between the Lines: Readings on Israel, the Palestinians and the U.S. "War on Terror," by Tikva Honig-Parnass and Toufic Haddad, documents the apartheid-like conditions that Palestinians live under today.

For background on Israel's war and the Palestinian struggle for freedom, read The Struggle for Palestine, a collection of essays edited by Lance Selfa on the history of the occupation and Palestinian resistance.

SO FAR, they still haven't started ground operations, right?

NO INCURSIONS so far. Television news reports are now talking about Israel starting a land attack on Friday, January 2, but that's also part of the psychological warfare--because they don't generally announce their attack plans to maintain their strategic advantage.

They've carried out more than 700 air strikes so far. Crazy. As I am speaking to you right now, I can clearly hear the Apache helicopters. But because it's too dark, I can't see them. We have no electricity for the sixth day in my building.

WHAT DO the Israelis want at this point? You've said that they're running out of targets. Do they want to kill or force the Hamas leadership into exile? Do they expect some other kind of surrender?

THE OBVIOUS objective that they've been talking about is "destroying the infrastructure of the terrorist organizations." But they aren't just referring to destroying Hamas, although that is their main goal. And in any case, they know that they can't do that, because Hamas is not only the freedom fighters. It's a very big organization, with social welfare aspects to it, as well as other elements.

They claim that Hamas has about 15,000 fighters. And then there are about 10,000 fighters belonging to the other resistance organizations--including, for example, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which is a Marxist organization.

The Israelis want to create a new reality on the ground--to weaken Hamas as a political organization and weaken other resistance movements opposed to the Oslo Accords in order to pave the way for the return of the pro-Oslo organizations and the Palestinian Authority based in Ramallah.

I think this is their ultimate goal, and they know very well that they can't achieve it. The fact that they haven't been able to destroy the resistance movement for the fifth consecutive day actually means a victory for the resistance movement. I don't think they'll be able to succeed, even after 15 days.

This is a repeat of what happened to the Israeli military operation in Lebanon two years ago. Remember that the Israelis started with "shock-and-awe" bombing, like the U.S. did in Iraq, with aerial strikes against the Lebanese resistance movement, and Hezbollah in particular.

They weren't able to accomplish anything. They weren't able to destroy the infrastructure of Hezbollah. And when they started their ground attack, it was obvious that Hezbollah and the Lebanese resistance movement, including the Communist Party of Lebanon, were actually victorious. This is what the Winograd report [from an Israeli commission charged with investigating the Lebanon war] concluded.

What we're witnessing right now in Gaza is similar because the people of Gaza are supporting the resistance movement. The Israelis want to punish the people for voting for an anti-Oslo organization three years ago when they voted for Hamas.

I also think the Israelis are choosing the timing very carefully. One, they're taking advantage of the grey area between George Bush leaving the White House and Barack Obama coming in. Also, it's between Christmas and New Year's, when most of the West is on holiday and celebrating, and not paying as much attention to international developments.

But notice that they've been postponing the ground invasion because the Israelis also have elections coming up in February. So Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni are very reluctant to start the land invasion until the most damage possible is done from the air--in the hope that this will make victory on the ground more likely.

We were expecting the ground assault as early as the first or second day, but--oh gosh, another strike, so close. Maybe 500 meters to one kilometer away. Now another one. We rely on local radio stations to tell us exactly where the strikes are. I think these strikes are from Navy vessels, because I live near the beach. I'm sorry. I've lost my concentration.

The conclusion I wanted to end with is that Israeli leaders don't want a second Winograd report. The first report concluded that the initial aerial strikes against Lebanon actually failed. This is what is happening right now. That's why we've started hearing criticisms in the mainstream Israeli press, such as Ha'aretz and Yediot Aharonot newspapers, including from pilots saying that we're killing so many civilians.

And remember, the last time I talked to you, I explained that the timing of the first strikes was at 11:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning, when schoolchildren are returning home. So 80 children have been killed, and by the way, today, two sisters--seven and eight years old--died in the morning, and an hour ago, I heard their brother died from his injuries.

So Israel's "strategy" is to kill as many civilians as possible to create a situation where civilians would rebel against Hamas and resistance movements. But like in Lebanon, this has had the opposite effect. The population supports the resistance--and not only the resistance of Hamas by the way.

Just like in Lebanon, it wasn't only the resistance of Hezbollah, but also the Lebanese Communist Party that had support. And here, we have Hamas as one organization among 12 to 14 organizations, including the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

EARLIER, YOU mentioned that we're in the grey area between the Bush and Obama administrations. What makes this so favorable for military action by Israel?

IDEOLOGICALLY, THE Bush administration sees the crushing of Palestinian resistance as part of the so-called war on terror. Notice that I say Palestinian resistance, and not the Islamic resistance of Hamas, because all resistance to imperial oppression is defined as "terrorism" by the Bush administration. The U.S. enables Israeli crimes in Palestine and Lebanon with its financial, military and moral support.

These are the same kinds of atrocities that the neocons in the U.S. have inflicted on Iraq and Afghanistan, with their fighter planes and tanks firing all kinds of ordnance--both conventional and illegal, such as white phosphorous and cluster bombs--against civilians.

The Bush administration even blames Hamas. It has adopted the policy of "blaming the victim," and this has been the ideological orientation of the Zionist state since its inception.

The Bush administration also has a close ideological partner in the right-wing government of Israel, so it's easier for them to find that support from the Bush administration. Bush allowed Olmert and Livni to undermine the Annapolis meeting [in 2007 between Israeli and Palestinian leaders, hosted by U.S. officials in Maryland].

The Annapolis meeting itself was a fiasco, but Bush also allowed them to undermine it by focusing on Israeli "security" and marginalizing the whole issue of Palestine and Palestinian rights.

In fact, I read yesterday in Ha'aretz that Israeli officials began talking about this assault on Gaza as a plan six months ago. Ehud Barak asked his officers and generals to start planning for this attack. This is at the same time that they agreed to the truce with the resistance movement in Gaza.

After the Annapolis meeting, Olmert immediately authorized a massive building program of new Jewish-only housing units in East Jerusalem, which was a violation of both the letter and the spirit of the two-state solution [that was nominally under discussion at Annapolis].

The two-state solution has been the essence of the Bush doctrine in the Middle East, but I don't think there is any possibility of the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, because Israel has taken irreversible steps in the West Bank to make such a state an impossibility.

The same complicit silence that we see right now from the Bush White House has also accompanied the drive to starve Gaza for the last two years--the shortages of food, fuel, medicine, electricity. Patients in need of dialysis and other kinds of medicine have been dying daily for the last two years.

Even a person as ignorant of Middle Eastern issues as George W. Bush must realize how cynical it is to talk about a two-state solution that has been rendered impossible by Israeli colonization of the West Bank, the looting and pillaging of Gaza, the construction of the apartheid wall, the annexation of more than 25 percent of West Bank land to the expanding Jewish settlements.

The Bush administration has been silent or has supported all of these measures. So the Israeli government wants to take advantage of Bush's support.

It is also hesitant to embarrass Barack Obama at the beginning of his term, although I don't believe Obama will be that different when it comes to Middle Eastern issues. Obama has already shown his complicity. When he visited Palestine during the presidential campaign, he spent only 45 minutes in Ramallah with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, after which he refused to give a press conference.

Then Obama visited Sderot, the Israeli town that neighbors Gaza, and sympathized with the Sderot people, but uttered not a word of sympathy for the starving Palestinians of Gaza. And the first thing he did after being elected president was appoint Rep. Rahm Emanuel, who is known for his strong pro-Israel views, as his chief of staff.

So the signals from Obama are clear. But the Israelis don't want to force his hand from the moment he takes office on January 20. That's why the gray area is important to them.

The difference between what happened in Lebanon in 2006 and Gaza today is that the people living in the south of Lebanon fled to Beirut--about half a million people, I think. The people of Gaza, however, cannot do that. The only exit here is the Rafah crossing, which is completely closed off by Egyptian authorities.

So the population of 1.5 million in Gaza are left in Gaza, supporting the resistance. And when I say resistance, I'm not only talking about military resistance. I'm talking about initiating a global boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign to put pressure on Israel. We, as civil society organizations, have called for his. I'm on the steering committee of the Palestinian Campaign for Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. I am also on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Central Committee.

We call on all civil society organizations around the world--in the United States, in the Arab and Islamic world and so on--to initiate a boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign modeled on the anti-apartheid divestment campaign against South Africa during the 1970s and 1980s.

After the Sharpeville Massacre committed by the racists of South Africa against Black people, the divestment movement got momentum, and that was the beginning of the end of apartheid.

I look at what is happening in Gaza today from a historical perspective, and I think this should be the beginning of the end of the apartheid state of Israel.

This is not an anti-Semitic argument, as critics often assert. I am calling for the establishment of a secular democratic state in the historic land of Palestine--a state for all of its citizens, regardless of religion, race or sect.

Also, I must say that I really appreciate all of your great work there in the U.S. To be working as dissidents and critical voices against the power of the mainstream media in the U.S. has really been impressive, and gives us support here.

Honestly, I talk about you all the time. Because what people know about America here are the Apache gunships and the F-16s, and what the American government does. I always tell people that there is another America that you represent, and that is the America we bank on.

THAT'S VERY kind of you to say, but it's us who are humbled by your courage and conviction as the Israeli attack continues. Here, the media reports on the situation as if the fighting in Gaza is a battle between two equally matched contenders--instead of massive firepower against a population that has very little to defend itself with

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TO TALK about "two sides" is truly absurd. What you have is one side that is considered under international law as an occupying and colonizing power; one side that has F-16s and Apache helicopters; one side that has the third or fourth strongest army in the world, and of course, the strongest army in the Middle East; and one side that has more than 250 nuclear warheads.

On the other side, you have an occupied people--people fighting with stones, people fighting with crude, homemade rockets like firecrackers. It's unfair to talk about two evenly matched sides because it absolves Israel of its war crimes that have been committed in Gaza.

It would seem mandatory for the International Court of Justice to investigate the crimes committed by Israeli generals and officers, and indict them for crimes against humanity.

How is it possible to talk about "two sides?" You don't have two sides. Were there two equal sides when we were discussing apartheid and the African National Congress? Were there two sides when Hitler and the Nazis were committing horrendous crimes and killing more than 6 million innocent Jews?

The world said we would never allow that to happen again. The uprising of the Warsaw Ghetto--the Intifada of the Jewish prisoners in Poland in 1943--actually inspires us here in Gaza.

Gaza has been transformed into the largest concentration camp on the face of the earth. And you cannot equate the prisoner and the warden. I think in America people need to wake up to this reality.