Bombing Gaza "back to the Middle Ages"

Nicole Colson reports on Israel's slaughter in Gaza--and the lies used to justify it.

Gaza residents carry a child away from the site of an Israeli strikeGaza residents carry a child away from the site of an Israeli strike

ISRAEL IS raining death and destruction from the skies on the people of Gaza.

After assassinating Hamas military chief Ahmed al-Jabari on November 14, Israel followed with a massive assault--under the benign sounding name "Operation Pillar of Cloud"--on Gaza.

According to the website Palestine From My Eyes, which has been keeping track of those killed and wounded: "At 8 p.m., November 18, the ministry of health in Gaza has reported that Israel has risen the death toll in Gaza to 69, including 20 children, 8 women, and 9 elderly people. Moreover, over 660 persons got injured since Wednesday, including 224 children, 113 women, and 50 elderly people."

Al-Jazeera put the Palestinian death toll even higher, at 72, as this article was being written on November 18. "Sunday was also the deadliest day of the five-day conflict with 30 deaths in the 24-hour period," according to Al-Jazeera.

Israel targeted the offices of Palestinian and other international media outlets. Israeli officials knew journalists were on site when they fired at the media building. "[M]y advice to journalists visiting Gaza is to stay away from any Hamas position, site or post for their own safety," army spokesperson Avital Leibovich told reporters.

Also on Sunday, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights reported that the Israeli assault has escalated:

Israeli airstrikes over the past 24 hours have been intense and severe, and have targeted civilian houses in disregard of the lives of their residents. They have targeted media offices, wounding 10 journalists, in an attempt to prevent them from reporting on crimes committed against Palestinian civilians. They have also targeted governmental facilities located in densely populated areas, causing civilian causalities and extensive damage to civilian property.

In the single deadliest strike since Israel's military operation began, the Israeli navy fired at a home where they claimed a member of the Islamic Jihad was hiding (if he was ever there, he was apparently away at the time). The four-story apartment building in Gaza City was reduced to a pile of rubble.

As Israeli drones flew overhead, a crowd of men dug at the wreckage with their bare hands, hoping to find survivors. The Associated Press described the scene:

Frantic rescuers, bolstered by bulldozers, pulled the limp bodies of children from the ruins of the house, including a toddler and a 5-year-old, as survivors and bystanders screamed in grief. Later, the bodies of the children were laid out in the morgue of Gaza City's Al Shifa Hospital. Among the 11 dead were four small children and five women, including an 81-year-old, Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra said.

Mahmoud Masharawi, the uncle of 11-month-old Omar Masharawi, who was burned to death in one attack, told Electronic Intifada, "I was very attached to this little sweet baby. I used to come back from school every day to hug him and play with him a bit. Now, the Israelis have taken him and taken our souls as well. What did this child do to be killed?"

As one young Palestinian girl asked at a press conference outside of Al Shifa Hospital following the attack, "To the world and people: Why should we be killed and why shouldn't we have a normal childhood? What did we do to face all this?"

"As a doctor, as a human, I am crying. I can't do anything for him," Ayman Al-Sahabani, director of the hospital's emergency department, told CNN, describing his attempts to save a small child killed in one of the attacks. "You can't imagine if it's your baby. How [would] you feel? Why? He is a terrorist? Why?"

Gaza's hospitals have already been stretched to the breaking point by an economic blockade imposed by Israel since 2006 as punishment for the victory of Hamas in elections. All medical facilities face critical shortages of medicine and supplies, according to reports. And since markets, bakeries and other shops have been forced to close because of the attacks, there are reports of shortages of food and other essentials.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

BUT FROM Israel's top leaders, there was no concern about civilians dying. On the contrary, many called for a grotesque collective punishment for Gaza's population.

Israel's Deputy Prime Minister Eli Yishai of the Shas party, for example, proudly proclaimed, "We must blow Gaza back to the Middle Ages, destroying all the infrastructure, including roads and water."

This is an explicit call for Israel to commit war crimes under the Geneva Conventions, which forbid deliberate targeting of civilian populations, including "drinking water installations and supplies and irrigation works."

Gilad Sharon, the son of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, used even more chilling language in the Jerusalem Post:

The residents of Gaza are not innocent, they elected Hamas. The Gazans aren't hostages; they chose this freely, and must live with the consequences...

We need to flatten entire neighborhoods in Gaza. Flatten all of Gaza. The Americans didn't stop with Hiroshima--the Japanese weren't surrendering fast enough, so they hit Nagasaki, too.

There should be no electricity in Gaza, no gasoline or moving vehicles, nothing. Then they'd really call for a cease-fire. Were this to happen, the images from Gaza might be unpleasant--but victory would be swift, and the lives of our soldiers and civilians spared...

There is no middle path here--either the Gazans and their infrastructure are made to pay the price, or we reoccupy the entire Gaza Strip.

Likewise, Michael Ben-Ari, a member of the Knesset representing the National Union party called for a slaughter in a message to Israeli soldiers: "Brothers! Beloved soldiers and commanders--preserve your lives!...There are no innocents in Gaza, don't let any diplomats who want to look good in the world endanger your lives; at any tiniest concern for your lives--Mow them!"

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

IN ATTEMPTING to justify its slaughter, the Israeli state is taking its continuing propaganda war against Gazans to Orwellian proportions. The goal is to cast Israel as the victim in the ongoing conflict.

Leaflets being dropped on the population of Gaza in between bombings warn:

For your own safety, take responsibility for yourselves and avoid being present in the vicinity of Hamas operatives and facilities and those of other terror organizations that pose a risk to your safety. Hamas is once again dragging the region to violence and bloodshed. The IDF is determined to defend the residents of the State of Israel. This announcement is valid until quiet is restored to the region. --Israel Defense Forces Command.

The message to Palestinians is clear: Any resistance will be met with the harshest of collective punishment. For the act of democratically electing Hamas to a majority of Palestinian Legislative Council in 2006, all Gazans are now considered "terrorists."

As British socialist Richard Seymour wrote at his blog Lenin's Tomb:

The authors of this leaflet know there is no escape. They know that no resident of Gaza is safe. There is no building that cannot become a Hamas "facility," no person that cannot be deemed a Hamas "operative," or at least be deemed to have been negligently or culpably close to one. There is nothing anyone in Gaza can practically do to be sure that the IDF will not vaporize them.

And as tanks and reservists gather on the border, pending an invasion, there is nothing that the average Gazan can do to avoid being in a neighborhood that is sealed off and shelled for hours and hours, humanitarian agencies prevented from reaching the wounded, starving survivors for days afterward. The authors of this leaflet know what they are capable of doing to people in Gaza, because they have done it before; and they know Gazans know.

Far from acknowledging this reality, Israeli officials have repeatedly claimed that Hamas is using civilians as human shields. Any civilian casualties in Gaza are, therefore, to be blamed on Hamas, and not Israel firing missiles and dropping bombs on one of the most densely populated areas on the planet, where half of the population of 1.6 million are children.

In truth, under Israeli logic, all of Gaza is a potential "terrorist hideout" and all of Gaza's infrastructure belongs to Hamas. Therefore, all Gazans deserve collective punishment for Hamas' actions.

As Electronic Intifada's Ali Abunimah reported, Israel officials have begun distributing a fabricated graphic of a sign at a Gaza hospital, with the caption, "When Hamas members need a place to hide, they run to hospitals."

As Abunimah writes, this is likely a prelude to Israel targeting Palestinian hospitals--also a war crime, and something the Israeli state did during Operation Cast Lead in 2008-09. Then, as now, Israel claimed Hamas "militants" used hospitals as cover for terrorist operations--a claim the 2009 Goldstone Report, commissioned by the United Nations, rejected.

During Cast Lead, the World Health Organization's assessment of 122 health facilities in Gaza found that that 48 percent were damaged or destroyed during the onslaught--another form of collective punishment and immiseration for ordinary Gazans.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

AND IF some Israeli leaders have their way, Operation Pillar of Cloud may soon escalate even further. As a cabinet meeting on Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared, "The Israeli military is prepared to significantly expand the operation."

The Israel Defense Force announced that it was calling up 75,000 reservists and massing troops across the border of Gaza for a possible ground invasion--and many Israeli political figures, from the far right into the political mainstream, are pushing hard for the government to pull the trigger.

Such an invasion will provoke fallout for Israel in the international community, but so far at least, Israeli has received nothing but support from the Obama administration, among other international leaders.

Speaking on Sunday, Obama echoed the Israeli government line that Israel was responding to the aggression of Palestinians, who launched relatively primitive rockets from inside Gaza. As Obama told reporters, "There's no country on earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders. We are fully supportive of Israel's right to defend itself."

As Elizabeth Murray, a member of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, pointed out in response to a similarly worded statement from the State Department:

[W]hile the State Department urged both sides to avoid civilian casualties, nowhere was there mention of the Palestinians' right to defend themselves from various attacks by Israel. Apparently only one side is granted that privilege, according to the U.S. statement.

Writing in the Guardian, Glenn Greenwald noted the role that the U.S. has played in allowing Israel to once again attack Gazans with impunity:

Obama continues to defend Israel's free hand in Gaza, causing commentators like Jeffrey Goldberg to gloat, not inaccurately: "Barack Obama hasn't turned against Israel. This is a big surprise to everyone who has not paid attention for the last four years" (indeed, there are few more compelling signs of how dumb and misleading U.S. elections are than the fact that the only criticism of Obama on Israel heard over the last year in the two-party debate was the grievance that Obama evinces insufficient fealty--rather than excessive fealty--to the Israeli government).

That the Netanyahu government knows any attempt to condemn Israel at the UN would be instantly blocked by the U.S. is a major factor enabling them to continue however they wish. And, of course, the bombs, planes and tanks they are using are subsidized, in substantial part, by the U.S. taxpayer.

The U.S. media generally are parroting the Israeli government claim that the current conflict was sparked by Hamas' breaking of a cease-fire. This is not only an outright lie, but it is designed to paint Israel--with its vastly superior weaponry and army--as a victim of the conflict.

The facts are that as early as November 8, several Israeli soldiers invaded Gaza--exchanging gunfire with Palestinian fighters and killing a 12-year-old boy who was playing soccer at the time.

After several skirmishes over the following days, Palestinian factions agreed to a truce on November 12 if Israel ended its attacks. In the Israeli daily Haaretz, journalist Nir Rosen pointed out that, just prior to his assassination on November 14, Hamas' Ahmed al-Jabari had:

received the draft of a permanent truce agreement with Israel, which included mechanisms for maintaining the cease-fire in the case of a flare-up between Israel and the factions in the Gaza Strip. This [is] according to Israeli peace activist Gershon Baskin, who helped mediate between Israel and Hamas in the deal to release Gilad Shalit and has since then maintained a relationship with Hamas leaders.

Baskin told Haaretz on Thursday that senior officials in Israel knew about his contacts with Hamas and Egyptian intelligence aimed at formulating the permanent truce, but nevertheless approved the assassination.

Such attacks are not the actions of a nation "seeking peace" with Palestinians, as Israel repeatedly claims. They are designed to provoke a Palestinian response, which is then used to unleash an overwhelmingly brutal assault under the pretext of "fighting terrorism."

The Israeli state has been targeting Gazans ever since they dared to democratically elect Hamas in Palestinian Legislative Council elections in 2006. For the act of daring to stand up to continuous, repeated brutality, all Gazans are now paying a heavy collective price.

As Electronic Intifada's Rami Almeghari wrote, when asked by her 13-year-old son what Israel wants from Gazans: "'What do they want?' I exclaimed to Munir. 'What they want is obviously to deprive us of our humanity, taking away our dream to live normal lives like other nations, and to throw us into the ocean.'"

It will take a mass outcry--here in the U.S. and around the globe--to stop Israel's latest assault on Gaza.