At the end of a week of intensive air strikes against Gaza causing the deaths of over 150 Palestinians, and injuries to a thousand more, even those most pro-Israel must be questioning the efficacy, to say nothing of the outright immorality, of inflicting such massive and disproportionate casualties on what is a largely civilian population. Just what do the leaders of Israel and others who support such a deliberate escalation of violence think it will ever achieve?
On Sunday [Nov 18th] Barack Obama said:
Israel has “every right” to defend itself against missile attacks by militants inside Gaza but warned that escalating the offensive with Israeli ground troops could undermine any hope of a peace process with the Palestinians.
“Let’s understand what the precipitating event here that’s causing the current crisis and that was an ever-escalating number of missiles that were landing not just in Israeli territory but in areas that are populated, and there’s no country on Earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders,” Obama said at press conference in Thailand at the start of a three-nation tour in Asia.1
Click here to read the full nbcnews article.
Whilst Obama is quite right to say that “there’s no country on Earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders”, this is precisely the situation the people of Gaza also find themselves in – his underlying message appearing to be that Palestinians don’t count. And as for the “precipitating event”, which was, according to Obama (and Israel), the “ever-escalating number of missiles”, well that all depends on when you decide to start the clock. Phyllis Bennis, Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and author of several books, including “Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer”, outlined this on yesterday’s Democracy Now! :
History can be determined by when you start the clock. If we start the clock the way most of the U.S. press now is, which is a change, now saying that this escalation began when Israel assassinated a Hamas leader on November 14, that is one time-line. The Israeli position is, well, we did it because they fired — the Palestinians fired a rocket at an Israeli Jeep. Well, why did that happen? That happened because a few hours before there had been that firing on an Israeli military Jeep and a patrol, there had been the killing of a 13-year-old child in Gaza who was playing soccer. Two days before that, there had been the assassination of a young man walking in the no walk area, the no go zone near the border, where Israelis say, we told him, we called out to him not to go there and he did not listen.
It turns out this was a mentally disabled man who maybe didn’t hear, maybe didn’t understand, continued to walk and was shot dead. We could start the clock then. But, at the end of the day, we can look back four years, we can look back to the end of [Operation] Cast Lead and say, since Cast Lead, 271 Palestinians, according to the Israeli human rights organization B’tselem, have been assassinated by Israeli air strikes, by drones, by planes, by helicopters. 271 Palestinians in Gaza killed by Israelis, zero Israelis killed by Palestinian rockets.
If Israel was seriously trying to protect its population, that’s the period when no Israelis were killed. During this escalation, three Israelis were killed, tragically, civilians who should not have been killed. But, the reality is, that this goes back to the occupation. If we don’t acknowledge this in the context of occupation, the siege of Gaza, the traditional occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, we will never be able to stop it. We can get a ceasefire right now, stop it for the moment, but then it will continue because there is no option.
In other words, the “precipitating event” that leads to the Palestinian rocket attacks is really nothing less than decades of fear and oppression living under the shadow of a menacing Israeli presence. This is not to condone or to justify Palestinian terrorist attacks (any use of indiscriminate violence to political ends being, by definition, acts of terrorism), but merely to contextualise. The onslaught on Gaza being the latest infliction of altogether more terrifying (since more effective) Israeli state terrorism, which has no clear purpose other than the collective punishment of the ordinary Palestinians, whilst meanwhile presenting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the opportunity to prove his ‘toughness’ just before he faces re-election.
Phyllis Bennis again:
We hear a great deal from world leaders about the responsibility to protect [which is] the new mantra of the United Nations. We have a responsibility to protect the people of Libya, we have a responsibility to protect the the people of Syria. There are serious reasons why the responsibility to protect should have been invoked, in my view, not the way it was, but the world did owe a level of protection to people living under repressive regimes around the world. That has also been true of U.S.-backed regimes that continues around the world. What we have seen in Bahrain and other places.
But, in the question of Palestine, that responsibility to protect for the Obama administration — as was true of every administration before it — only applies to Israel. We heard it again and again from President Obama, from other officials of the administration, members of congress. Israel has the right to defend itself. Israel has the right of self-defense. Asked whether Palestinians have the right of self-defense, the State Department’s spokesperson said, “Israel has the right of self-defense.” Implying Palestinians have no rights at all, they only apparently have the right to die under Israeli rockets. […]
It’s extraordinary for Obama to say no country would allow this, as if the Palestinians don’t even exist, that they don’t have those same rights. So, I think if we’re serious about this, two things need to happen. An immediate ceasefire on all sides to stop the rockets in all directions, stop the bombings in all directions. But, immediate end to the siege of Gaza that has given rise to this kind of desperate resistance in the first place. If that does not happen, the immediate ceasefire that will happen, whether it’s today or tomorrow, that will happen, but it will not last unless the fundamental underlying root causes are addressed. The immediate root causes have to deal with the siege of Gaza, the closure, the turning of 1.6 million Gazan residents, half of them children under 16, into inmates in an open-air prison. That’s what has to stop.
Four days after the so-called “Operation Pillar of Cloud” offensive began, Israeli Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, said the following:
“This effort could not have been concluded without the generous and consistent support of the American administration led by President Obama.”
And Phyllis Bennis concurs:
This is very definitely a U.S. central institutionalized action that’s going on. We heard, just in the last couple of days, from the Israeli Defense Minister who said directly, this effort could not have been concluded without the generous and consistent support of the American administration led by President Obama.
I think that’s the most important thing for those of us in the U.S. to keep in mind. This is something where the United States has made clear that it is giving Israel carte blanche to use U.S.-made weapons — we’re talking about F-16’s, we’re talking about Apache helicopters, we’re talking about armored Caterpillar bulldozers, we’re talking about drones — most of which are produced in the U.S., purchased with our tax dollars, in violation, in this use, of U.S. laws, specifically the Arms Export Control act that makes it illegal to use U.S. arms in an illegal way. For example, in maintaining an illegal occupation, in violating the Geneva conventions, etc. […]
If there is not an end to the siege of Gaza, if the Gaza crossings are not opened, the Israeli controlled crossings — because, we should remember, Gaza is still under occupation, despite the withdrawal of troops and soldiers in 2005, Israel continues its control over the airspace, the waters, the borders, everything about Gaza is under Israeli control. Given that, if there is not an agreement to end that control, to open the border crossings, to let Gaza breathe, this will continue. It will continue in a year, in two years, in four years. Maybe once again just after the next U.S. elections, that seems to be the favorite Israeli timeline. Maybe just before the next Israeli elections, which is what we’re looking at right now.
Click here to read a full transcript or to watch the interview on the Democracy Now! Website.
In the last few hours, a ceasefire has been agreed, and we must all hope for the sake of the people in Gaza and Israel that the peace is lasting. Realistically, however, the spiral of violence between Israel and Palestine will never be ended so long as the Israeli occupation continues, and it is only Israel that can decide to make this change. Of course, they will need America to push them.
If Obama sincerely wishes to see a long-term peaceful settlement to the conflict, he must also begin demanding an immediate return to the rule of international law. Deliberate targetting of schools, private residences, civil service offices and media centres (news journalists in the same tower having been bombed twice) is illegal, and for all such war crimes, the perpetrators should now be brought to justice.
On November 18th, Glenn Greenwald published a concise but carefully documented article reflecting on America’s role in the latest assault on Gaza and the unsurprisingly tilted mainstream news coverage. Here is an extract:
[But] pretending that the US — and the Obama administration — bear no responsibility for what is taking place is sheer self-delusion, total fiction. It has long been the case that the central enabling fact in Israeli lawlessness and aggression is blind US support, and that continues, more than ever, to be the case under the presidency of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize winner.
The same article also includes (near the end) an embedded video showing a short interview with Middle East expert Jeremy Scahill. Scahill discusses Obama’s foreign policy both in the region and more widely.
1 From an article entitled “Obama: Israel has ‘every right’ to defend itself from Gaza missile attacks” published by nbcnews. http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/11/18/15257041-obama-israel-has-every-right-to-defend-itself-from-gaza-missile-attacks?lite