The war crime state declares “peace”

August 7, 2014

The urgency of the protests and outrage against Israel's war of terror on Gaza must be maintained and mobilized to expand the movement in solidarity with Palestine.

THE LATEST onslaught in Israel's war of annihilation against Gaza appears to have come to a close if the cease-fire and withdrawal of Israeli troops in effect as this article was being written continue.

But the ruins of Gaza are still smoldering. The human toll has been enormous: More than 1,800 dead, including 1,300 civilians. Some 10,000 injured. The homes of 60,000 people reduced to rubble. Nearly a quarter of Gaza's 1.8 million residents on the move in search of somewhere safe to shelter from Israel's rampage.

Meanwhile, burning questions are being asked around the world: What was Israel's month-long offensive all about? And if we've seen the horrors of war for the past weeks, what will "peace" mean for the people of Gaza?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insists that Israel's massacre was "justified" and that every civilian casualty was the fault of Hamas for using civilians as "human shields."

Never mind that even the New York Times acknowledged that "[t]here is no evidence that Hamas and other militants force civilians to stay in areas that are under attack--the legal definition of a human shield under international law." The BBC reached the same conclusion.

A Palestinian man reacts to the demolition of his home in Gaza
A Palestinian man reacts to the demolition of his home in Gaza (Mohammed Al Baba)

And never mind that as recently as last year, the United Nations condemned Israeli soldiers for repeatedly using Palestinian children as--you guessed it--human shields. "[Israel's] soldiers have used Palestinian children to enter potentially dangerous buildings ahead of them and to stand in front of military vehicles in order to stop the throwing of stones against those vehicles," a UN report concluded.

EACH OF Israel's rationalizations for its rampage through Gaza make far more sense when leveled against Israel itself. Remember the kidnapping of three settler youth in June. Hamas' alleged responsibility for this crime served as the pretext for war? Now, however, we know that Israeli police concluded that the kidnappers were part of a lone cell operating independently of Hamas.

And then there's the larger truth: It's Israel that systematically detains, tortures and abuses children, provided they're Palestinian. More than 400 Palestinian children were killed during the course of Operation Protective Shield.

Stopping the rockets from Gaza? Netanyahu says Hamas fired nearly 3,000 rockets at Israel and asserts, "No country would tolerate this." But it's Israel that for years has routinely carried out assassinations in Gaza, by drone, sniper and air strike. In recent weeks, it fired some 3,000 tons of high-powered missiles at Gaza.

Rocket fire from Gaza took the lives of three Israeli civilians, and Hamas fighters killed 65 soldiers during ground operations. Of the more than 1,800 Palestinians killed by Israel, less than 25 percent were actual fighters; by contrast, 96 percent of those killed by Gaza's resistance fighters were Israeli soldiers.

Closing down the "terror tunnels"? Egypt sealed the tunnels between its territory and Gaza last year--without destroying a single neighborhood in Gaza.

In any case, the very term "terror tunnel" betrays how every utterance by Israel is designed to demonize the idea that the oppressed can and should resist their oppressors. This is an old smear, faced by the resistance of South Africa's Black majority against apartheid, African Americans fighting Jim Crow laws in the South and countless other movements--the oppressor invariably portrays the resistance of the oppressed as "extremist," "a threat to law and order" and "terrorist."

Israel hasn't accomplished on the battlefield any of the various war aims it has given publicly--and for good reason. The war was itself the aim--with the purpose of advancing Israel's long-term goal of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. In Netanyahu's own words: "There cannot be a situation, under any agreement, in which we relinquish security control of the territory west of the River Jordan."

Despite some words of criticism, the U.S. government's support for Israel's barbarism can be counted on to continue. Stopping Israel from succeeding in its goal of eliminating Palestinian society in Gaza and the West Bank will require the ongoing resistance of Palestinians--and the mobilization of concrete solidarity by ordinary people from Copenhagen to Cairo to Columbus, Ohio.

THE POLARIZATION of opinion about Israel's Operation Protective Edge has been stark. Israel's Jewish population, the U.S. political class and the American and Israeli media stand ready to justify every last atrocity committed by Israel during the last month.

Fully 95 percent of Israeli Jews believe that Israel's war on Gaza was justified, and less than 4 percent think that Israel Defense Forces used "excessive force," according to a poll conducted in July. A solid majority believes there will be more confrontations with Hamas to come.

In the midst of the relentless bombing, the U.S. Senate voted 100-0 to stand with Israel--a unanimous vote that not even the USA Patriot Act managed to inspire. Mainstream media figures across the political spectrum--from Fox News' Sean Hannity to CBS News' Charlie Rose--criticized Arab and Palestinian spokespeople for their "anti-Israel" views. If the frenzied media defense of Israel was less than completely unanimous, it was because of the influence of independent journalists and social media commentators, which occasionally forced the mainstream media to acknowledge their shortcomings. But generally, the media simply reported Israel's deceptive and self-serving statements as fact.

As part of the truce negotiations being brokered by the Egyptian regime, Israel is demanding that Gaza be "demilitarized," while Hamas is calling for an end to the seven-year siege that has plunged Gaza into a hellscape of unemployment, malnutrition and crumbling infrastructure. But finalizing the truce may well expose even more the extent to which various currents in the Israeli establishment believe the main problem was that Netanyahu's prosecution of the war didn't go far enough.

Hamas has signaled that it is willing to concede to monitoring of Gaza's border crossing with Egypt by the rival Fatah-led Palestinian Authority (PA), as part of an easing of the siege. But it has so far refused to give up its right to self-defense. If this ends up unraveling the cease-fire, the open calls for concentration camps and genocide that have echoed around Israeli society--and not just in its right-wing and militaristic margins--will no doubt intensify.

For example, Moshe Feiglin, the deputy speaker of the Knesset, Israel's parliament, recently described on Facebook his vision for the "final solution":

There are no two states, and there are no two peoples. There is only one state for one people...The IDF [Israeli army] shall designate certain open areas on the Sinai border, adjacent to the sea, in which the civilian population will be concentrated, far from the built-up areas that are used for launches and tunneling. In these areas, tent encampments will be established, until relevant emigration destinations are determined...The supply of electricity and water to the formerly populated areas will be disconnected...

The formerly populated areas will be shelled with maximum firepower. The entire civilian and military infrastructure of Hamas, its means of communication and of logistics, will be destroyed entirely, down to their foundations...The IDF will divide the Gaza Strip laterally and crosswise, significantly expand the corridors, occupy commanding positions, and exterminate nests of resistance, in the event that any should remain.

THE U.S. government--long the world's most ardent and powerful supporter of Israel--shocked many with a condemnation of Israel's July 30 bombing of a UN school-turned-shelter, killing at least 19 people and wounding many more. "The shelling of a UN facility that is housing innocent civilians who are fleeing violence is totally unacceptable and totally indefensible," said White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest.

Strong words of rebuke for Israel coming from the U.S. are highly unusual, but the circumstances show how long a leash Israel can still count on when it comes to committing atrocities against Palestinians. After all, Earnest's criticism followed the sixth Israeli bombing of a UN shelter. Apparently, attacking five shelters was tolerable, but a sixth was "unacceptable."

When Barack Obama commented on the current truce negotiations, he talked about the need for "trust-building" and "giving hope"--the kind of empty rhetoric typically used at the end of an election campaign, not a merciless assault on civilian life.

Of course, whatever rhetorical censures that Obama and members of his administration voiced, no one threatened to withhold even one dollar of the $3 billion in annual aid to Israel, let alone call for an end to the siege that has turned Gaza into an open-air prison.

If U.S. officials made mild criticisms, the Arab states were shamefully quiet. Diana Buttu, a Palestinian lawyer and analyst, called the reaction:

remarkable. In all the other invasions and assaults on Gaza, there was at least some government that would come out and talk about how what Israel was doing was illegal and show some support. This time around, there's been nothing. The silence is deafening.

The silence was not only deafening, but it represented a shift in regional politics, as the New York Times explained:

After the military ouster of the Islamist government in Cairo last year, Egypt has led a new coalition of Arab states--including Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates--that has effectively lined up with Israel in its fight against Hamas, the Islamist movement that controls the Gaza Strip.

Yet the Palestinian cause continues to be embraced by the popular classes throughout the Middle East--even if those who rule over them do not. And to this steadfast regional support is now added the worldwide outrage, expressed in large Gaza solidarity protests around the world.

The protests are themselves an expression of shifting tides of public opinion. A Gallup poll in July found that while a majority of Americans over 65 believed Israel's actions were "justified" by a 55-to-31 percent margin, the percentages were reversed for 18 to 29 year olds, who believed by a 51-to-25 percent margin that Israel's actions were "unjustified."

THE PEOPLE of Gaza may enjoy greater support in world public opinion, but the fact remains that Hamas is politically isolated.

Last year's ouster of Egyptian President and Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi, combined with Hamas' estrangement from Iran, leaves the Islamist leadership in Gaza without any of the backing from regional elites it enjoyed just a couple years ago. And Qatar, which has flirted with offering financial support to Hamas, has largely caved to regional pressures not to do so.

This has revealed the dead end of Hamas' strategy of attempting to ally itself with one or another Arab regime--just as the Palestine Liberation Organization tried in past decades.

Given Israel's overwhelming military superiority, the hard question remains: How can Palestinian liberation be achieved if a direct military confrontation with Israel is unwinnable?

Israel has benefited from the setbacks for the "Arab Spring" upsurges that began in 2011 with the overthrow of Tunisian dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Egypt's Hosni Mubarak. This gave Israel the political space it needed to carry out Operation Protective Edge. But the bitter grievances that underlay the Arab Spring have not been resolved and are bound to fuel future struggles. When they arise, they will again inspire broad solidarity with the Palestinian cause.

Beyond the Middle East, the growing boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement represents another front in the long-term effort to expose Israeli apartheid and its systematic violations of international law and basic rights for Palestinians.

These campaigns--targeting everything from Israeli-produced hummus on college campuses, to artists performing in apartheid Israel, to international conglomerates engaged in infrastructure projects that extend Israel's settlement-building enterprise--are an essential component of raising the political price Israel must pay, both for its recent string of war crimes in Gaza and its ongoing oppression of Palestinians.

FOR AN intensified BDS campaign to be effective in opening up another front against Israel, those who support justice must confront the political arguments used to deflect their initiatives. During the Israeli onslaught, liberal publications such as The Nation magazine, for example, maintained a steady drumbeat of criticism of Hamas as at least partly responsible for "provoking" Israeli violence for its fighters' decision to resist occupation, as is their right under international law.

Liberal criticisms will come as no surprise to anyone who has participated in the Palestine solidarity movement. But many activists may have been taken aback by similar statements that have come from sections of the socialist left.

For example, Kshama Sawant of Socialist Alternative, newly elected to the Seattle City Council, included in her statement denouncing the Israeli war a condemnation of Hamas for firing rockets, and a call to "stand in solidarity with the ordinary people of Israel and their desire for security." The Militant newspaper published by the Socialist Workers Party-U.S. went further, denouncing Hamas for the "targeting of citizens in Israel," which has "set back prospects for united action by Arab and Jewish working people."

Such statements are especially stunning in the face of the racist war frenzy that gripped Israeli society almost unanimously--leading to the opinion poll results already cited that showed 95 percent of Jewish Israelis agreeing that Operation Protective Edge was justified.

These attitudes are not merely the result of brainwashing. They are inevitable in an apartheid system in which Jewish citizens, rich and poor, enjoy exclusive rights and material financial benefits in a militarized society built around the logic of expulsion and ethnic cleansing.

A movement that seeks to achieve justice in Palestine and the broader Middle East must champion the demands of Palestinians for self-determination and embrace the Palestinian call to organize a boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign that can undermine international support for Israeli apartheid.

If there was any sign of hope amid nightmare inflicted on Gaza in the past weeks, it was the sense of urgency and determination that animated the protests against Israel's war and expressions of support for Palestine. Because of the hard work of organizing, especially around BDS, in the past several years, the international movement in solidarity with Palestine is in a position to connect to this broader outrage at Israel's war--and continue to mobilize it for the struggles to come.

We will do so with the horrors of Israel's war fresh in mind to remember the barbarism we are fighting against--and with the determination of the Palestinian people to resist tyranny and violence to teach us what we are struggling for.

Further Reading

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