If I Had a Rocket Launcher . . .

David Ben-Gurion confessed to Zionist official Nahum Goldmann that he understood the Palestinian fury.  “Sure, God promised it to us, but what does that matter to them?  There has been anti-Semitism, the Nazis, Hitler, Auschwitz, but was that their fault?  They only see one thing: We have come here and stolen their country.”

[Quoted in review of Benny Morris, 1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War, in New York Times Book Review, 4 May 2008, p. 19].

***

Ehud Olmert: At the moment, I’d like to do some soul-searching on behalf of the nation of Israel…. In a few years, my grandchildren will ask what their grandfather did, what kind of country we have bequeathed them. I said it five years ago, in an interview with Yedioth Ahronoth, and I’ll say it to you today: we have a window of opportunity-a short amount of time before we enter an extremely dangerous situation-in which to take a historic step in our relations with the Palestinians and a historic step in our relations with the Syrians. In both instances, the decision we have to make is the decision we’ve spent forty years refusing to look at with our eyes open.

We must make these decisions, and yet we are not prepared to say to ourselves, “Yes, this is what we must do.” We must reach an agreement with the Palestinians, meaning a withdrawal from nearly all, if not all, of the [occupied] territories. Some percentage of these territories would remain in our hands, but we must give the Palestinians the same percentage [of territory elsewhere]-without this, there will be no peace.

[Interview with Olmert in New York Review of Books , Volume 55, Number 19,A December 4, 2008,  http://www.nybooks.com/articles/22112 ]

***

” . . . the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.”

[Thucydides, "The Melian Dialogue," The Peloponnesian War,  http://www.wellesley.edu/ClassicalStudies/CLCV102/Thucydides--MelianDialogue.html]

*****

By December 30th, 2008, barely 48 hours into its brutal attack on Gaza, over 300 Palestinians are dead and over 1300 wounded.  American-supplied F-16s and Apache Helicopters continue to strike, targeting “Hamas militants,” in their parlance, but in fact waging a terror campaign on the Palestinian people.  Israeli tanks and troops stand at the border prepared to intensify the onslaught.  In Washington, the Bush administration continues to hold Hamas accountable for the “conflict” in Palestine and call for it to end the hostilities, an outcome impossible short of absolute capitulation.  The President-Elect and his Secretary of State designate have been silent.

Details remain murky since Israel has banned foreign journalists from Gaza since the beginning of the attacks, but the reports that are available seem to bring only fury and tears.

The Israeli attacks are another episode in a history of repression and violence directed by Israel against the Palestinians that has reached its sixth decade. The history of Israeli violence is well-known, but generally ignored or dismissed by the U.S. media and American intellectuals.  Sadly, this willful historical ignorance has helped perpetuate both Israel’s brutal actions in Palestine and America’s support of Israel.  Outside of the U.S. media, however, the coverage of Israel’s actions in Gaza over the past few years is not difficult to find. [On this issue, see especially Edward Said, Covering Islam (Vintage, 1997)].

Let’s start in 2005, when Israel promised to turn over Gaza to the Palestinians and pulled ground forces out of the area and withdrew from settlements there.  Israeli military raids, however, did not cease and Tel Aviv continued to control entry and exit into Gaza.

In January 2006, Hamas, an Islamic militant party responsible for many attacks on Israelis and declared a terrorist group by Israel and the United States, won the Palestinian Authority Elections, creating a huge problem for its enemies who were calling for “democracy” in the region but refusing to accept the victory of a party that it despised.  In response, Israel and western nations cut off their aid obligations to and refused to negotiate with the new Palestinian leaders. [http://web.israelinsider.com/Articles/Politics/7675.htm; http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/11009552/]

With both Tel Aviv and Washington refusing to accept the consequences of democracy in Palestine, and ostensibly reneging on the promise of autonomy for Gaza, more bloodshed was inevitable.

Hamas militants began shelling points in Israel, but no deaths resulted.  Israel, which called its actions a “response” to Hamas despite its already-established aggression, responded with force.

In June 2006, Israel invaded the Gaza Strip, which the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories, John Dugard [a South African expert on international law and apartheid] explained, “took the form of repeated military incursions into Gaza, accompanied by heavy shelling, render[ing] the question whether Gaza remains an occupied territory of academic interest only … Between 25 June 2006 and the truce that came into force at the end of November 2006, over 400 Palestinians were killed and some 1,500 injured. More than half of those killed and wounded were civilians. Of those killed some 90 were children; and over 300 children were injured. During the same period three israeli soldiers were killed and 18 wounded, and two Israeli civilians were killed and some 30 injured in Sderot and its precincts by Qassam rockets fired by Palestinians from Gaza.” [In Electronic Intifada, http://electronicintifada.net/bytopic/672.shtml].

The resulting cease-fire did not last long and in November Israel began “Operation Autumn Clouds,” which included the shelling of Beit Hanoun, killing 18 Palestinian civilians, mostly women and children from an extended family, and wounding dozens of others. Beyond the killings, Beit Hanoun found itself short of food and water, electricity and medicine, with extensive damage to the city’s infrastructure.  ["Gaza children cannot escape as Israel mounts its bloodiest attack in months," The Independent, 9 November 2006, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/gaza-children-cannot-escape-as-israel-mounts-its-bloodiest-attack-in-months-423540.html;   http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article5962.shtml].

Although one would not have found this issue covered to any extent in the U.S. media, events in Gaza were gaining attention.  In February 2007, as reported in the British paper The Guardian, John Dugard compared Israel to South African apartheid and called for “serious consideration” to bringing Tel Aviv before the International Court of Justice. [http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2007/feb/23/israelandthepalestinians.unitednations].

Just a few months later, in May, Israel again conducted air strikes on Gaza, firing on a Hamas base and killing three.  Then, according to a Palestine human rights group, Israel “intensified air attacks targeting civilian facilities and paramilitary sites … IOF [Israeli Occupation Forces] claim that these attacks come in response to [the] launching [of] home-made rockets at Israeli towns.”

The “response” led to the deaths of 50 Palestinians and injuries to over 200 more, the destruction of 70 houses, 47 commercial and industrial premises. In that period, two Israelis were killed by Hamas rocket fire from the Gaza strip.  A month later, Israel closed the only passage from Gaza, Rafah, and stranded thousands of Palestinians at the Egyptian border who were trying to return home, most returning from seeking medical care. [http://electronicintifada.net/bytopic/672.shtml ; [http://electronicintifada.net/bytopic/682.shtml].

By Fall 2007, the situation in Gaza was more dire than ever.  As The Guardian reported, aid officials could not understate the stark conditions there.  “You must be on the ground for days and weeks to begin to appreciate the full horror of the situation,” said John Ging, the Gaza director of the UN Relief and Works Agency.  Raji Sourani, director of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, added, “We are on the verge of a real catastrophe,” said. “What is the meaning of international humanitarian law? Is it just something for academics to discuss? This is the law of the jungle.” [The Guardian, 27 November 2007, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2007/nov/27/israel1].  On December 1st, 2007, the attacks continued, as Israeli rockets killed six Hamas fighters and wounded eight others, with airstrikes and helicopter gunship assaults. [http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/02/world/middleeast/02mideast.html].

In the past few months, the run-up to the present series of attacks, Israel continued its aggression against Gaza.  In November, Israeli air attacks killed 6 Palestinians when the Israelis uncovered a tunnel that they charged would be used to abduct Israeli soldiers [there are countless tunnels in Gaza, some used for military purposes but a significant number used to transport food and medicine as well]. ["Israeli-Palestinian Clashes in Gaza Kill 6," Los Angeles Times, 5 November 2008, http://articles.latimes.com/2008/nov/05/world/fg-gaza5 ].

Hamas fighters then fired several rockets into southern Israel, leading to new operations in which at least four more Hamas members were killed.  Israel also continued its blockade of Gaza, leaving it without any deliveries of food, humanitarian aid, or fuel for almost two weeks.  The United Nations Relief and Works Agency ran out of food, meaning that 750,000 Palestinians received no food supplies. Hamas vowed to continue its armed resistance;  Mahmoud Zahar, its most senior leader, said of Israel: “If you want to leave the truce, we are ready. And if you want to continue it, then abide by it.”  The European Union’s representative in Gaza, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, was “profoundly concerned” about the closure of the crossings and pressed for a halt to the violence. “I call on Israel to reopen the crossings for humanitarian and commercial flows, in particular food and medicines,” she said in a statement.  [http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/nov/15/israelandthepalestinians].

Many Palestinians faced starvation due to the Israeli blockade.  While UN trucks loaded with food were forced to wait for Israeli approval to enter Gaza, children went grazing for wild grass and plants to eat.  Many have burnt furniture for heat.  Families had electricity for about 6 hours a day and cooking gas was only available via transport through the illegal tunnels and was being sold at exorbitant black-market prices.  As John Ging put it, “the economy has been crushed and there are no imports or exports.”   “Two weeks ago, for the first time in 60 years, we ran out of food,” he said. “We used to get 70 to 80 trucks per day, now we are getting 15 trucks a day, and only when the border opens. We’re living hand to mouth.” ["Gaza families eat grass as Israel locks border," The Sunday Times, 14 December 2008, http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/middle_east/article5338014.ece ].

All of that was prelude to the recent military attacks, which have reached a level of aggression not seen in decades, and have caused more deaths and injuries in a short period than any time since the Yom Kippur/Ramadan War.  Indeed, the 8-month long series of sanctions have been as brutal as the military attacks, as Gazans have no supplies or medicine and, one doctor said, given those conditions, not much could be done for the seriously wounded, and that it was “better to be brought in dead.” [New York Times, 29 December 2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/30/world/middleeast/30mideast.html?hp].

At this point, the obligatory denunciations of Hamas in the interests of “balance,” ring hollow.  Israel has killed many thousands more [among children killed alone, the ratio is over 150:1] and possesses the best military technology-much of it supplied by the tax dollars of the American people-available.  While Hamas produces clumsy Qassam rockets, Israel attacks with U.S.-made fighter jets and gunships.  Rocket launchers aren’t the same as helicopters.  It’s not a war, it’s a slaughter.    No criticism of Hamas can justify the Israeli brutality; no “global war on terror” can legitimate Israel’s actions nor Washington’s complicity.

The silence of many leaders in the Arab world, including Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority and enemy of Hamas, and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, has been equally shameful, leaving the Palestinian people to be human targets in this larger conflict.

Ben-Gurion and Olmert might have been able to rhetorically show empathy to the people of Palestine, but they bequeathed and now lead a country that is engaging in some of the more grotesque violations of human rights in modern times.  Unless intense pressure is placed on Tel Aviv, as well as on the Bush and incoming Obama administrations, the consequences are too chilling to even contemplate.