Israel has not even needed a pretext for its latest murderous rampage. It simply assassinated a Palestinian, triggering predictable retaliation, and the response from Western intellectuals, pundits and governments has been that Israel has a right to defend itself. Even the Greens, adopting a harder line after their initially completely neutral one, have pushed a motion critical of Israel’s ‘disproportionate response’.
To what was Israel responding? The facts are not hard to show. I have put on my blog three timelines of the leadup to the attack. The one by New Left Project shows clearly that there was a lull in the few days before the assassination.
Jadaliyya has another that goes back a few days earlier, to 8 November, when Israel killed a Palestinian child playing soccer. The familiar pattern unfolded.
Electronic Intifada traced events back to 29 October, possibly begun with a Palestinian who shot at Israeli troops. Then on 4 November, Israel shot a man with a mental disability. Only one rocket was fired on 6 November, and then the Jadaliyya pattern unfolded. Amnesty International said evidence it gathered suggests Israel’s attacks on Gaza on 8 and 10 November were ‘indiscriminate’.
Others can read the Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, which releases weekly reports monitoring human rights violations in the occupied territories. Here’s week one, week two and week three. These put the so-called ceasefires and lulls in perspective. In week one, ending 30 October, five Palestinians were injured in the West Bank, and there were 43 search and arrest operations by Israeli forces. It should be remembered that Palestine includes the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza as one unit. There were four settler-related incidents causing injuries to Palestinians, and seven Palestinian homes were destroyed. In Gaza, three were killed, four were injured. There was only one truckload of goods exported the whole week. The weekly average before the blockade was 240.
One could go on, but the occupation’s systemic oppression and violence really can’t be summarised by even these figures. How can one quantify, for example, the humiliations of waiting for hours at a checkpoint to access your own land?
Nevertheless, as we turn to Qassam Count, we learn that there were rockets fired on 30 October, one rocket on 6 November, two rockets on 10 November, many on 11 November, one or two on 13 November, and then lots on 15 November (after the assassination). So those who want to protect Israel could simply urge it to stop bombing Gaza, because that’s the most effective way for the ceasefire to continue.
Since the bombing began, Israel has killed 130 Palestinians (sure to be higher by the time you read this), including 31 children. Five Israelis are dead. Many commentators have noted that one factor in the attack appears to be the Likud-Yisrael Beitenu coalition’s desire to improve its standing for the next election (along with Ehud Barak and his tiny new party).
I have written here previously about Israel’s policy towards Gaza. I have also noted that Hamas has, since the attack on Gaza in 2008–9, enforced Israel’s security, preventing other groups from firing rockets at Israel, even as the siege on Gaza continues. In the lead-up to that attack, Hamas had scrupulously upheld the ceasefire, even to the satisfaction of Ehud Barak, until Israel launched its massive assault.
As to Ahmed Jabari, the Hamas military commander Israel assassinated, perhaps the best article on him was one of the first. Aluf Benn at Ha’aretz noted that Jabari was Israel’s ‘subcontractor’. Benn, unlike many Westerners, understood that Hamas has been upholding Israel’s security for years.
The other important commentary was by Gershon Baskin, who has helped to negotiate between Israel and Hamas before. Never mind that Israel’s official position is that it doesn’t negotiate with Hamas because they’re terrorists who don’t recognise Israel’s right to exist. Baskin noted that ‘when he was convinced that Israel was ready to stand down as well, Jaabari was always ready to take the orders to force the ceasefire on all of the other factions and on Hamas.’ Baskin drafted a proposal for a long-term ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. Hours after it was presented to Jaabari, he was murdered by Israel. According to Baskin, the ‘draft was agreed upon by me and Hamas’s deputy foreign minister, Mr. Hamad, when we met last week in Egypt.’ Jabari, too, said he ‘saw the need for a new strategy and was prepared to agree to a long-term cease-fire.’ This ‘proposal was at least worth testing … Instead, Mr. Jabari is dead — and with him died the possibility of a long-term cease-fire.’
So Israel has successfully defended itself from the man who probably did more than anyone to protect it from rockets, and who appeared willing to support and perhaps enforce a long-tem ceasefire. Well, that’s a kind of success, for those who prefer Israelis be unsafe, and exposed to rocket fire.
There are people who support Israel’s use of force, no matter what. They point with rage to the rockets, as though none of the other facts I’ve pointed to above matter. It reminds me of the joke veteran Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery likes telling.
There’s a Jewish mother in Russia farewelling her son, who has been called up to serve the Czar in the war against Turkey. ‘Don’t overexert yourself’’, she implores him, ‘Kill a Turk and rest. Kill another Turk and rest again…’
‘But mother,’ the son interrupts, ‘What if the Turk kills me?’
‘You?’ exclaims the mother, ‘But why? What have you done to him?’
Israel can routinely kill and injure Palestinians, colonise their land, oppress and starve them, whilst their settlers rampage under the protection of Israeli soldiers, and when Palestinians respond with resistance, there is outrage: why on earth won’t they just submit to Israel?
It also reminds me of a eulogy by Moshe Dayan, one of the leading military figures of Israeli history. He said ‘Let us not today fling accusation at the murderers. What cause have we to complain about their fierce hatred to us? For eight years now, they sit in their refugee camps in Gaza, and before their eyes we turn into our homestead the land and villages in which they and their forefathers have lived.’ My point is not to defend the firing of indiscriminate rockets at Israel, which I oppose morally and tactically. It is that when people say ‘what choice does Israel have but to defend itself?’, a far more morally appropriate question would be to ask what choices Palestinians have in dealing with their oppressors. If Israel wants to prevent rocket fire, it could end the blockade, which it should do anyway, and stop bombing Gaza and instigating retaliation, which it should do anyway. It could also try ending the occupation and dismantling its settlements.
For the rampage itself, how much can be said? Israel has bombed two kindergartens, according to Oxfam. It bombed two media buildings, ‘a bank serving Hamas’ and nd the office of AFP. Amnesty International has repeated its calls for an international arms embargo on Israel, Hamas, and Palestinian armed groups in Gaza
It is interesting what the Israeli press openly admits. YNet reported that ‘according to estimates in the defense establishment, the Hamas movement wishes to end this round of fighting, which it did not want the first place. In recent weeks, its leaders tried to shorten the exchanges of fire with Israel as much as possible and avoid dragging the IDF into an operation.’ Not even considered interesting or significant. The Israeli military thinks Hamas has tried to avoid fighting, and has tried to limit it. Who are the warmongers? The Israeli military knows perfectly well, but evidently, Israel grants itself the right to kill when it feels like – and the international community is always expected to fall in line.
Perhaps the most unusual development of the attack on Gaza is what it now means to support Israel. Norman Finkelstein’s excellent new book, Knowing Too Much, argues that there is a coming division between Israel and American Jews. American Jews are liberal, and they cannot keep supporting an increasingly racist and openly oppressive Israel. Only 40 per cent of Democrats – the traditional party of Jewish voters – support Israel’s latest attack on Israel. I suspect this percentage will continue, as statements supporting Israeli murder and oppression increasingly resemble those that you might expect circulated by its opponents.
For example, Home Front Defense Minister Avi Dichter commented on the escalation in the south, saying that ‘we have no other choice; Israel must perform a reformatting of Gaza’. Minister Yisrael Katz ‘called to ‘disengage from Gaza in a civilian sense, including all factors: electricity, water, food and fuel… move to a policy of deterrence like in southern Lebanon.’ And Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Eli Yishai explained the ‘goal of the operation is to send Gaza back to the Middle Ages’, while the Mayor of Nazareth thinks those who oppose the attack on Gaza should be expelled to it.
These are all threats against the civilian population of Gaza. Ha’aretz editorialised http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/israel-s-minister-of-incitement-1.479125 against such politicians. But that is not to say that they represent what ‘supporting’ Israel means today.
So take an ‘IDF Hero’, veteran Amatzia Chen. He advocates:
instead of bringing in ground troops, Israel should flatten one village after another from the air… of course, informing all the residents, by phone, loudspeaker, in every possible way, to leave the area.
‘It sounds problematic,’ he noted, ‘but that’s war.’ The only way to topple Hamas is through pressure on the population of Gaza, he said; not by killing them, ‘but by asking them to leave their homes, one block after the next.’
Flattening one village after another, says a ‘hero’. Pressure their population.
Then there’s Gilad Sharon, Ariel Sharon’s son, writing in the favourite of conservative Diaspora Jews, Jerusalem Post. Sharon explained that ‘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.’ And so:
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 ceasefire.
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.
we must demonstrate that a policy of ‘restraint,’ far from reflecting strength, displays weakness and emboldens our evil neighbors to intensify their attacks.
There must be a clear understanding that any breach would result in harsh ‘disproportionate’ Israeli responses including the targeted killings of those responsible for initiating attacks.
Which is not particularly original. Tzipi Livni, when she was Foreign Minister, explained during the Gaza Massacre that the attack then underway ‘restored Israel’s deterrence … Hamas now understands that when you fire on its citizens it responds by going wild – and this is a good thing.’
Boaz Kantor is another charming ‘supporter’ of Israel. He wrote a charming letter to an imaginary Palestinian, Khalil, calmly outlining that ‘Your daughter will die tonight.’ And Khalil is then informed that it’s his fault.
There are some people who are willing to ‘support’ Israel, when this is the kind of mindset such support requires. I find it hard to imagine that support will continue for particularly long. In the US, the issue is becoming increasingly partisan: conservatives might unconditionally support Israel, but progressives no longer do. I expect a similar dynamic to unfold here. I think that it is important that as progressive opinion shifts towards criticism of Israel’s human rights violations, it becomes channelled towards a positive program, that a broad Left coalition can unite behind. In my view, this remains the program that virtually the entire world has settled on since 1976. Contrary to ritual declarations on the Left that a two state agreement is dead, it is probably more achievable now than it has been since Taba eleven years ago, or perhaps the First Intifada. Israel can be forced to end the occupation, if enough pressure is placed on it. It is up to us to make it happen.