Israel’s terrorist rampage

July 21, 2014

Eric Ruder reports on the latest atrocities carried out in Israel's onslaught on Gaza.

IT WAS the bloodiest day in an already bloody conflict.

On Sunday, July 20, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) rained death on the Gaza City neighborhood of Shejaiya, leaving more than 65 people dead. For hours, Israeli forces pummeled the area with air strikes and tank fire. Plumes of black smoke rose to darken the skies, and the steady crash of shelling indiscriminately rattled homes, shops and bones.

At least 17 children and 14 women were among those killed in Shejaiya. Medical facilities and staff were overwhelmed by the steady arrival of dead and injured bodies. Corpses wrapped in white burial shrouds were stacked on top of each other while pools of blood gathered beneath them. Traumatized and terrified families did what they could to shelter from the violence.

According to Middle East correspondent Sophia Jones:

Zeinab, a young Palestinian mother, ran out of her house in Gaza City's Shijaiyah neighborhood with her husband and barefoot 5-year-old daughter. With the sound of Israeli drones overhead and air strikes and tank shelling all around, Zeinab watched as her neighbors poured into the streets and began to run. So she did the same.

"We were running, and [the Israeli Army] was attacking behind us," she said, sitting within the safety of al-Shifa Hospital's compound in central Gaza City, over three miles away from Shijaiyah. "There were dead people around us." Frantic families, many shell shocked and inconsolable, stood around Zeinab, not knowing where to go or what to do next.

A Palestinian man brings a wounded child into a hospital
A Palestinian man brings a wounded child into a hospital

Beyond the massacre in Shejaiya, Israel continued to expand its ground offensive, using tanks to plow through residential blocks and calling in air strikes with increasing frequency. All in all, more than 100 Palestinians died on July 20, bringing the total killed during Israel's 13-day military assault on the besieged Gaza Strip to 437, with more than 3,000 wounded. Nearly 80 percent of the Palestinians killed have been civilians, according to UN officials. By contrast, 13 Israeli soldiers have been killed and an even smaller number of civilians.

Since 2007, the people of Gaza have lived under a blockade imposed by Israel that has left the civilian infrastructure in tatters. Even before Israel's offensive, there were shortages of medical supplies, electricity, building supplies and water treatment facilities. These shortages are now claiming the lives of injured people who would otherwise live. According to Mohammed Omer, an award-winning independent journalist from Gaza:

The Palestinian Ministry of Health warns that the human and health crisis will worsen still, soon, due to a shortage of medications and medical supplies needed to treat all the patients coming in during the ongoing Israeli offensive, says Deputy Health Minister Dr. Yousef Abuelresh.

In front of Shifa hospital, ambulance sirens call, and more dead and critically injured bodies arrive, as well as ambulance crews bringing bags of body parts to be matched up and identified. All of this is the gruesome result of Israeli air force fighter jets, artillery shelling and navy bombardment.

Abuelresh says stocks of medications and medical supplies are almost totally gone, and some surgical interventions had to be stopped as a result of a lack of vital supplies. The health ministry announced that constant power cuts are disrupting the functions of life-support machines, explaining why several pieces of equipment are broken and useless.

Into this breach stepped countless individuals who risked their own lives to dig under rubble for the dead and injured, and who spent countless hours at hospitals and makeshift clinics treating the wounded.

Lab technician Taghreed Harazin carried her personal medical supplies as well as her baby's diaper bag so she could provide help to those who needed it. Wadha Abu Amr, an elderly woman, cut her foot on a piece of glass as she tried to find somewhere safe from Israel's bombs. As Harazin bandaged her foot, Abu Amr explained that she fled what is now Beersheba during Israel's 1948 war to ethnically cleanse Palestine.

"I'm afraid that this is another 1948," she said. "God forbid. We were driven out in 1948, and we are being driven out again now."

ISRAELI PRIME Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had nothing but contempt to heap on the victims of Israel's wars.

"All civilian deaths, as regrettable as they are, fall on [Hamas's] shoulders," he told ABC's George Stephanopoulos. Netanyahu's warped logic--which, however twisted, is echoed everywhere in the mainstream media--proceeds from the assumption that Israel has "the right to defend itself."

Netanyahu also used the often repeated claim that Israel has the "most moral army in the world," and that the IDF takes "extraordinary steps" to warn civilians of its intention to strike particular areas. Its pinpoint strikes, therefore, avoid civilian casualties. Hamas, on the other hand, puts civilians in harm's way, according to Netanyahu, using them as human shields for its "terrorist" fighters.

Not even John Kerry could take Netanyahu's claims seriously. Though he stayed on message for public consumption, the Secretary of State turned acid during a moment when he thought the cameras weren't rolling, sarcastically describing the Israeli offensive as "a hell of a pinpoint operation."

Amnesty International has also condemned Israel's wanton killing of civilians and targeting of medical personnel. "Instead of targeting medical facilities in violation of international laws, Israeli forces must protect medics and patients and ensure that wounded people can safely reach medical facilities in Gaza and, when necessary, outside the Gaza Strip," said Philip Luther, Middle East and North Africa Program Director at Amnesty International.

Netanyahu's justifications for Israel's atrocities beg the question: If Israel has the "right to defend itself" from attack, what about the people of Gaza? Or Hamas officials and fighters? Asked this question by a reporter on July 9, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki dodged the question.

But the answer should be straightforward. As a people living under occupation, Palestinians have a right to resist, including by use of armed force, according to well-established international law. Israel, on the other hand, as an occupying power, has an obligation to safeguard civilian life, ensure livable conditions and not transfer its own population into occupied territory. And Israel does not have the right to defend itself from occupied Palestinian territory.

Of course, Israel's indiscriminate use of violence, its blockade of Gaza and its settlement building all violate international law. Issuing warnings to some 300,000 Palestinians living in northern Gaza that they must leave their homes or risk injury and death, as Israel did a few days before its massacre in Shejaiya, certainly doesn't absolve Israel of responsibility for the slaughter of civilians--if for no other reason than those people don't have anywhere to flee to.

On Sunday, it was estimated that some 60,000 to 100,000 people were on the move. But given Gaza's housing shortage, their destination was in many cases unknown. According to one report:

UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness said in a statement that 63,173 people have sought safe sanctuary with UNRWA in 55 shelters across the Gaza Strip. The totals are "more people than in the fighting five years ago," during Israel's last major incursion into Gaza, Gunness said. "The number has tripled in the last three days, reflecting the intensity of the conflict and the inordinate threats the fighting is posing to civilians." UNRWA said its supplies could run out Sunday, and the agency is desperately asking for funding to support its relief efforts.

This is the mayhem wrought by "the world's most moral army."

FROM LONDON to Paris to Chicago and many more cities around the world, hundreds of thousands took to the streets to express their outrage at Israel's atrocities.

In London, 100,000 people marched July 19 under the banner of the Stop the War coalition to call on Israel to immediately halt its massacre in Gaza. In the week prior, several demonstrations took place at BBC offices around Britain to draw attention to its biased reporting. Channel 4 Foreign Affairs Correspondent Jonathan Miller tweeted from Gaza: "This London protest pic greeted with joyous disbelief here."

In Paris, the government issued a ban on pro-Palestine protests, preferring to appease Israel's supporters under the banner of maintaining "law and order" and countering anti-Semitism. But activists refused to be silenced, instead opting to organize a march in defiance of the ban on July 19, which drew an estimated 5,000 to 10,000 people.

The march began in Barbès, a popular neighborhood that is the home to many Arabs, and was able to withstand both police and right-wing attacks throughout the day. Among the groups that organized and participated in the march were the Nouveau Parti anticapitaliste (NPA) and Ensemble, an anti-capitalist grouping inside the Left Front.

In Chicago, more than 10,000 marched through the streets of downtown Chicago, stopping at television news studios and the Israeli consulate to chant, "Hey Israel, what do you say? How many kids did you kill today?" and "Gaza, Gaza, don't you cry, Palestine will never die!"

But street protests were only one facet of the resistance to Israel's war. While Israel has sought to sanitize media coverage of its war crimes in its customary ways, it seems that some sympathetic coverage of the plight of Palestinians is nevertheless slipping into mainstream media coverage.

Five minutes after NBC correspondent Ayman Mohyeldin was playing soccer on a Gaza beach with several young boys, Israel's navy shelled the beach, killing four of the boys, all of them members of the same family. Three other children were wounded. Mohyeldin provided riveting coverage of the atrocity as it unfolded.

Yet one day later, NBC News suddenly ordered him home to be replaced by another correspondent. As Glenn Greenwald described:

Despite this powerful first-hand reporting--or perhaps because of it--Mohyeldin was nowhere to be seen on last night's NBC Nightly News broadcast with Brian Williams. Instead, as Media Bistro's Jordan Chariton noted, NBC curiously had Richard Engel – who was in Tel Aviv, and had just arrived there an hour or so earlier--"report" on the attack.

Outraged activists used a social media campaign to expose NBC's decision, and just a few days later, NBC announced that its "carefully considered" deployment decisions would end up sending Mohyeldin back to Gaza. A small victory, maybe, but perhaps a sign of things to come.

For years, Israel has succeeded, practically without exception, at portraying itself as the victim of "Islamic terrorists"--despite the fact that Zionists have used more than 100 years of violence, terror and colonial conquest to occupy Palestine and then establish a state that denies equal rights to its Arab citizens.

But this time, the response seems different. Mohyeldin's dismissal for sympathetic coverage of Israel's Palestinian victims isn't surprising--but his reinstatement is. It is a reflection of a changing narrative about the Israel-Palestine conflict, restoring the context of Israeli occupation and apartheid on the one hand and Palestinian dispossession and oppression on the other.

It's the recognition of this dynamic that explains why one of the last remaining survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising by Jews against Nazi occupiers identifies with the Palestinian struggle for liberation.

About a year ago, Chavka Fulman-Raban gave a speech at the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising about the struggle against exploitation and oppression, including Israel's occupation of Palestine. In the speech, she recalled how the scale of the Nazi's extermination program became clear to the Jews of Poland--and then the urgency with which the Jewish resistance sought arms to resist them:

On April 19, 1943, 70 years ago, the first rebellion in occupied Europe broke out–the Jewish rebellion. I wasn't part of it. As a courier, I had been arrested during resistance operations in Kharkov and had been brought to Auschwitz a number of months earlier.

All of my nearest, most beloved comrades fought from the rooftops, in the fires, from the bunkers. Most of them perished. It hurts me that I can no longer remember all their names. We memorialize only a few. But in my heart, I am not parted from them, from the forgotten...

Continue the rebellion. A different rebellion of the here and now against evil, even the evil befalling our own and only beloved country. Rebel against racism and violence and hatred of those who are different. Against inequality, economic gaps, poverty, greed and corruption...Rebel against the occupation. No--it is forbidden for us to rule over another people, to oppress another.

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