Wednesday, July 16. 2014
In 2010 Norman Finkelstein wrote a book about Israel's 2008 war on Gaza.
His title was "This Time We Went Too Far": Truth and Consequences of
the Gaza Invasion. Like Israel's 2006 war on Lebanon, their so-called
Operation Cast Lead ended having accomplished nothing so much as the
revelation of Israel as a serial committer of atrocities, of crimes
against humanity -- acts they tried to cover up with a thin propaganda
at once asserting their victimhood and threatening ever graver results
should anyone defy or deny their omnipotence. The problem was not just
that Israel far exceeded the provocation. The problem was that it was
hard to discern any reason for Israel's actions other than to further
poison the well. The only thing Israel's leaders fear is peace, so they
stir up the pot every few years, hoping to reinforce the "no partner
for peace" canard.
They're at it again, and again they've gone way too far -- at least
for anyone paying the least attention. Their current operation's pretext
dates to June 12, when three Israeli teenaged settlers of the West Bank
were kidnapped and killed -- a crime certain to arouse sympathy for Israel
even though that involves overlooking the much greater violence committed
by Israel in 1967 when they invaded the Jordanian-held West Bank and the
57 subsequent years of military occupation. The best you can say for the
"boys" is that they were unwitting pawns in Israel's effort to permanently
secure the lands of the West Bank by settling their "chosen" people and
privileging them over the people who lived and worked there before they
were overrun by war and overwhelmed by police force. That does not mean
they deserved to be kidnapped and killed, but neither have thousands of
Palestinians who have met similar fates since 1967.
On July 6, I wrote a piece that reviewed what turned out to be the
first of two stages (so far) in the current escalation:
A Case of Kidnapping and Murder. In short, Israel's response to the
crime was not to focus on the killers -- they identified as suspects two
members of a Hebron clan that is well known for acting on its own to
sabotage relatively peaceful periods in the conflict -- but to use the
crime as a pretext for a systematic attack on nearly everyone affiliated
with Hamas in the West Bank. Moreover, it should be obvious that Hamas'
real offense was that they had agreed to form a unity government with
Fatah. That should have been good news for anyone with the least desire
for peace, as it meant that for the first time since the failed 2006
coup to overthrow Hamas in Gaza there would be a unified, broadly popular
Palestinian representation. But since Israel (above all Netanyahu) hates
peace, it became imperative to break the unity government up by showing
that Hamas is still committed to terrorism, something which pinning the
murders on Hamas would aid. So Israel proceded to arrest hundreds of
Hamas members -- the distinction between arrest and kidnapping here is
no more than a thin legal veneer -- and soon had killed more than a
dozen Palestinians, and soon enough Israeli racism was riled up so
much that a group of Israeli settlers bent on revenge kidnapped and
burned to death a Palestinian teenager.
That's about where my previous post ended. Most of this had been
limited to the West Bank (although the revenge kidnapping took place
in Jerusalem), but Israel was also making menacing gestures toward
Gaza, which is still nominally controlled by Hamas. Since then, Israel
has repeatedly attacked Gaza, and as a result have faced some measure
of rocket fire from groups in Gaza (evidently including Hamas). While
I've been on the road, this situation has continued to deteriorate.
The following links are my attempt to catch up.
A good place to start is by reviewing Richard Silverstein's daily
Gaza War: Day 9, 202 Palestinians, 1 Israeli Dead: Israel's ceasefire
proposal, rubber-stamped by Egypt and put out "under their letterhead as
if it was their own"; Israel suffered its first fatality: "A man who'd
collected food parcels at his West Bank settlement and trucked them to
Erez Crossing to give to the troops, came under mortar attack and was
killed." I've taken the liberty of revising Silverstein's title.
Gaza War, Day 8: 180 Palestinian Dead: first ceasefire proposal.
Gaza War, Day 7: 174 Palestinian Dead: more on Israel's botched
commando raid, although it doesn't seem that Hamas killed any IDF
In First Gaza Ground Battle, Israeli Commandos Repelled: "This is
the same command unit which massacred 10 Turkish activists on the Mavi
Marmara." "The air force bombed a rehabilitation center where two
disabled women died. It also destroyed the home of Gaza's police
chief and the next door mosque during evening prayers. Eighteen
worshippers and family members were killed during services, four
of them children. 50 more were injured."
Israeli Invasion to Begin in "Coming Hours"
Gaza War: Day 5, Palestinian Dead: 121: "Today marked the first
demonstrations in major world cities against the assault. There was a
large protest in London and other places. This must be only the beginning.
The U.S. response has been shameful. The Obama administration released
a statement denouncing the rockets attacking Israel while making no
mention of Israel's indecent attack on Gaza's civilian population."
Gaza War: Day 4, 99 Gazan Dead, Half Women and Children, Ground Invasion
Imminent: "In at least three separate instances, the air force has
deliberately targeted private homes in which families sheltered. In some
instances, all or most of the families were wiped out. Israel's claim is
that it is targeting the homes of militant leaders. Though those killed
were family members, Israel mendaciously claims they were 'human shields.'"
"The very notion of calling this invasion by its Israeli bestowed name,
Protective Edge, is racist. Why do we accept the IDF's nomenclature?
What do Gazans call it? Does anyone care?"
Gaza War: Day 3, 72 Palestinians Dead, 13 Children: "Sheera Frenkel
writes that the IAF concedes it has already bombed anything of military
value in Gaza. Now it's pursuing 'secondary targets,' which it defines
as residential homes!"
Gaza Invasion: Day 2, 27 Palestinian Dead: "Which begs the question:
if Israel invaded the West Bank after three teenagers were murdered,
arresting 500, killing 7, and ransacking hundreds of homes just for the
hell of it -- after a Palestinian boy was murdered in equally, if not
more brutal fashion, are the Palestinians not entitled to vent their
rage? Or is it only Israel that has that right?" "The name 'Operation
Protective Edge' has no relation to the original Hebrew name, Solid
Rock (Tzuk Eytan). The army's hasbara department realized that
'Solid Rock' just would not due for the foreign audience. It connoted
military strength, assertiveness and aggression. Those are all qualities
that appeal to Israelis, but don't look so good to an international
audience already predisposed to think the worst regarding Israeli
Operation Solid Rock, Gaza Invasion, Begins: "All of these deaths are
needless of course. They're testimony not just to Israel's obduracy and
rejectionism, but to the indifference of the international community which
needs to come to its senses and intervene to stop the slow-mo decimation
of peace, justice, and Palestinian sovereignty."
Robert Naiman: Netanyahu's War: What Is It Good For?: A good short
overview of the war, emphasizing that until Netanyahu started his "violent
crackdown on Hamas supporters in the West Bank, Hamas hadn't fired a single
rocket from Gaza and had largely suppressed fire by smaller jihadi groups."
There is no plausible story that Netanyahu's war is a just war. As J.J.
Goldberg recounts in the Jewish Daily Forward, the justification
for Netanyahu's war on Gaza given by the chief spokesman of the Israeli
military on July 8 was this: "We have been instructed by the political
echelon to hit Hamas hard."
That is not a just war. There is no just goal offered that killing
is supposed to bring about. Killing itself is the goal.
As Goldberg and Max Blumenthal note, the racist revenge frenzy in
the Israeli political system to which Netanyahu's military escalation
is purportedly responding was deliberately manufactured by Netanyahu
He also quotes Goldberg explaining that "The last seven years have
been the most tranquil in Israel's history. Terror attacks are a fraction
of the level during the nightmare intifada years -- just six deaths in
all of 2013." Naiman adds, "The United States government has many levers
on Netanyahu." He enumerates several of those, then notes that "All it
[the Obama administration] lacks is sufficient public political pressure
to use them to force an end to the killing." Still, despite Netanyahu's
repeated humiliation of Obama and Kerry, and despite the complete mess
they find themselves in over Iraq and Syria, I see no evidence that the
US has the will to butt in, even discreetly.
Phan Nguyen: How many people have died from Gaza rockets into Israel?:
The chart also includes mortar fire from Gaza, so the total is now 28
(including an Israeli killed by mortar fire on July 15, the first and
thus far only Israeli death since three Israeli settler teenagers were
kidnapped and killed on or near June 12. Before this death, no Israelis
were killed by Gaza mortar or rocket fire since November 2012. The piece
provides a number of links. Notably, it questions numbers reported on
Wikipedia as erroneous (64 deaths reported there). It's worth noting
that rocket fire from Gaza varies enormously from year to year according
to how restrictive Israel's blockade of Gaza is and how much firepower
Israel directs at Gaza (factors that no one seems to keep track of).
During 2013, for example, no Israelis were killed or injured by Gazan
rocket or mortar fire (a total of 44 incidents). In other words, the
factors that determine Gazan rocket fire are almost totally under Israeli
control, even if the ultimate responsibility for firing the rockets
Ira Glunts: Hamas offers Israel 10 conditions for a 10 year truce:
All ten appear to be completely reasonable, with most focused on opening
up trade and commerce in an effort to move Gaza from its current status
as an "open air prison" to relative normalcy -- assuming all the points
involving UN supervision don't turn onerous. Moreover, few in any way
affect everyday life in Israel, although one -- "prohibition on Israeli
interference in the reconciliation agreement" -- points toward a future
peace settlement, something Israel dreads. It's easy to question the
morality of Gazan rocket attacks, especially given how they play into
Israel's hands, but if they didn't happen what other leverage would
Hamas have to bargain with? Do you really think it would do any good
to appeal to Israel's better nature? As for the ten year term, how can
anyone believe that after ten years of economic growth and normalcy
Palestinians will be eager to return to the old days of the siege?
Just hopeless racists, of which Israel (and America) have no shortage.
Philip Weiss: Netanyahu says there will never be a real Palestinian state:
As far as Netanyahu is concerned, this is at most a bit more explicit than
his usual weasel-wording, but he's never done anything to reassure American
politicians that he has any interest in their "two state" fantasies, and he's
rarely said anything that someone the least bit objective could misconstrue.
Weiss also cites a piece by Jeff Halper,
Israel's message to the Palestinians: Submit, leave or die, which sums
up the deep attitude Netanyahu and many other Israelis have developed,
one which has only surfaced more explicitly since early June:
Operations Brothers' Keeper and Protective Edge represent the imposition
of a regime of warehousing, of outright imprisonment of an entire people.
The seemingly blind and atavistic destruction and hatred unleashed on the
Palestinians over the past few weeks is not merely yet another "round of
violence" in an interminable struggle. It is the declaration of a new
political reality. The message is clear, unilateral and final: This country
has been Judaized: it is now the Land of Israel in the process of being
incorporated into the state of Israel. You Arabs (or "Palestinians" as you
call yourselves) are not a people and have no national rights, certainly
to our exclusively Jewish country. You are not a "side" to a
"conflict." Once and for all we must disabuse you of the notion that we
are actually negotiating with you. We never have and never will. You are
nothing but inmates in prison cells, and we hereby declare through our
military and political actions that you have three options before you:
You can submit as inmates are required to you, in which case we will
allow you to remain in your enclave-cells. You can leave, as hundreds
of thousands have done before you. Or, if you choose to resist, you
Warehousing is worse than apartheid. It does not even pretend to find
a political framework for "separate development," it simply jails the
oppressed and robs them of all their collective and individual rights.
It is the ultimate form of oppression before actual genocide, and in
that it robs a people of its identity, its land, its culture and the
ability to reproduce itself, it is a form of cultural genocide that can
lead to worse. This is what Israel has left the Palestinians, this is
the meaning of the bombing of Gaza, the terrorizing of the West Bank --
and the ongoing destruction of Bedouin and Palestinian homes within Israel.
Noam Sheizaf: Netanyahu's Bankrupt Strategy:
Launching military campaigns in Israel is easy: the public idolizes
the army and tends to support whatever measures it takes, and the
parliamentary opposition rallies behind the government at such moments.
Indeed, Benjamin Netanyahu's second campaign in Gaza as prime minister --
and the third the country has launched in less than five years -- was
true to form, enjoying nearly unanimous support in Israel, despite heavy
civilian casualties on the Palestinian side and the disruption to daily
life caused by hundreds of rockets launched by Hamas, including at Tel
Aviv, Jerusalem and Israel's international airport.
[ . . . ]
If Israel does end the war now, Prime Minister Netanyahu will face
attacks from his political base on the right and among the settlers.
The hard right, with its echo chamber in the media, already senses an
opportunity. Amos Regev, the editor of the pro-Netanyahu daily Yisrael
Hayom, called in an editorial for bombing Gaza "back to the stone
age." Avigdor Lieberman went as far as saying that Israel should seize
direct control of the Strip again, and on the eve of the military
operation he broke his political pact with Netanyahu and the Likud,
though he remains a part of the government.
[ . . . ]
Netanyahu can only blame himself for his political troubles. By
demonizing the Palestinian leadership -- Abbas just the same as Hamas --
he raised expectations in the Israeli public for a decisive victory
and opened the door for attacks from the right. His refusal to commit
to a meaningful political process with the Palestinians, along with
his insistence on maintaining the status quo through military superiority
alone, will pretty much guarantee that this cycle of violent escalations
continues in years to come.
But isn't that the plan? And in the end, Netanyahu can point out that
he did much of what the right wanted, and still kept the US in line. On
the US front,
Phyllis Bennis sees some progress, just not a lot.
Joshua Tartakovsky: Israel's Bombardment of Gaza: What Is Different This
Time? answers the question with this list:
What is different, however, this time, is that even some in the US
mainstream media that traditionally tends to unquestionably adopt Israel's
narrative, began to depict life in Gaza. The Washington Post, for
example, posted a video of Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip from the
ground level, a perspective not often seen on the American press and
issued a list of children killed. What is also different, this time, is
that Israeli politicians have openly declared the entire Palestinian
people to be the enemy, and radical right wing Israelis have staged
demonstrations calling for "death to the Arabs." Indeed, the brutal
burning to death of a Palestinian child, carried out by Israeli radicals,
has indicated the degree to which the anti-Arab incitement has been that
severe that the Israeli government may be losing control of the situation.
Additionally, this time, unlike in earlier events, Hamas leader Khaled
Masha'al issued a statement directly to Israelis arguing they should
blame Netanyahu for their current predicament. This time too, unlike in
previous attempts, an Israeli ground invasion in Gaza, and even a
recapturing of the entire strip, is a realistic possibility. While it
is hard to say whether Israel has escalated the situation because of
its desire to get rid of Hamas or due to its interest in gas reserves
found near the Gaza coast, Israeli citizens, who are rightfully fearful
due to the constant rocket attacks, are for the most part still united
behind the Israeli government's "Protective Edge" operation, just as
they support "Pillar of Cloud" and "Cast Lead" although none of the
previous operations has provided them with security or a lasting peace.
To what degree the international community will continue to support
Israel's actions in Gaza remains to be seen.
The US has at least counselled against that ground operation, although
Israel has "warned" 100,000 residents of Gaza City to evacuate their homes,
and Lieberman has argued that "IDF must end operation with control of
entire Gaza Strip."
David Sheen: Israeli calls for Palestinian blood ring at fever pitch:
Just a taste of the hatred -- cataloguing it all would be so tiresome --
but here we have an Israeli Knesset member declaring "the entire Palestinian
people is the enemy," advocating its "complete destruction, 'including its
elderly and its women,' adding that these must be slaughtered, otherwise
they might give birth to more 'little snakes.'" We have a Rabbi calling
for "the killing of at least 300 Palestinians, and for scalping their
foreskins and taking them as trophies." We have a municipal official in
Jerusalem issuing "a similar barely-veiled call to mutilate and murder
Palestinians." We have mobs of young Jewish thugs chanting "Death to
Arabs" and "Death to Leftists." This outpouring of hatred is still
shocking, although it's actually old news, as attested by the legacy
of Rabbi Meir Kahane, by the Rabbis who called for Yitzhak Rabin's
head (and the dutiful Kahanist who obliged them), by the authors of
books (cited in Max Blumenthal's Goliath) on when and why it
is permissible to kill goyim. But it shouldn't be surprising: this
sort of racist hatred occurs in every society where one social group
arrogates itself to a cult of superiority over others.
Chris Hedges: Israel Is Captive to Its 'Destructive Process': Cites
Raul Hilberg on a well-known but not irrelevant case, then generalizes:
The belief that a race or class is contaminated is used by ruling elites
to justify quarantining the people of that group. But quarantine is only
the first step. The despised group can never be redeemed or cured --
Hannah Arendt noted that all racists see such contamination as something
that can never be eradicated. The fear of the other is stoked by racist
leaders such as Netanyahu to create a permanent instability. This
instability is exploited by a corrupt power elite that is also seeking
the destruction of democratic civil society for all citizens -- the goal
of the Israeli government (as well as the goal of a U.S. government
intent on stripping its own citizens of rights). Max Blumenthal in his
book Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel does a masterful
job of capturing and dissecting this frightening devolution within Israel.
[ . . . ]
When all this does not work, when it becomes clear that the Palestinians
once again have not become dormant and passive, Israel will take another
step, more radical than the last. The "process of destruction" will be
stopped only from outside Israel. Israel, captive to the process, is
incapable of imposing self-restraint.
Paul Woodward: Israelis take pride in 'how few' Palestinians they kill:
"True. And so what?" Given all the firepower Israel can muster, the fact
that they've only killed a little more than 200 Palestinians in more than
a week of bombardment interesting, and certainly a measure of restraint,
even though the seeming randomness of who gets killed where and the
conspicuously high concentration of women and children among the dead
doesn't suggest much precision. On the other hand, one could say --
not that I've heard anyone even conjecture it -- that the inability of
Gaza's rockets to hit anyone suggests that they are deliberately aimed
at nowhere rather than ineptly targeted: that they are in fact meant
to be nothing more than symbolic gestures. In some sense the military
aspect of the conflict feels like Kabuki theater, where the status quo
The current assault on Gaza, like previous ones, has little to do with
destroying Hamas or establishing "quietness," as Benjamin Netanyahu puts
it. It is a ritual beating whose purpose is to re-assert the authority
of the Palestinians' military overlord. [ . . . ]
On the other side, in spite of Israel's assertions that it exercises
restraint, every day we witness new examples of senseless violence --
today with the deaths of Ahed Bakr, aged 10; Zakaria, 10; and two other
boys from the Bakr family, both named Mohammad, aged 11 and nine. These
children were struck down by an Israeli missile while playing on a beach.
How can Israel which kills "so few" Palestinians, explain why so many
are children and babies?
Part of the reason is that war is sloppy so while Israel can regulate
the overall level of carnage, they can't eliminate accidents, but also
it's sort of a distinction without a difference. It's well known that
Israel's war logic is to impose such a high price on rebellion that its
"enemies" will eventually desist and give up. Part of that price is
exacted by killing "militants" (often defined as any "military age"
male), but there are many other ways of exacting that price, including
house demolitions, expulsions, jail, and killing one's loved ones. The
only downside to being so indiscriminate is that people may come to
view Israelis as monsters, but as long as they are feared that doesn't
seem to bother Israel much.
Bob Dreyfuss: The Palestinians Must Put an End to Suicidal Hamas:
Usually an astute critic of the Middle East, but I think Dreyfuss has
missed the boat here, when he approvingly quotes Bret Stephens, "Israel
has no stupider enemy than Hamas." Hamas was almost certainly not
responsible for the kidnappings that escalated the current hostilities,
and they were even more certainly targeted by Netanyahu in an effort to
break up the unity efforts between Hamas and Fatah. It is true that
Hamas has hurt its international image by escalating rocket attacks on
Israel, and in doing so they've given Israel a widely accepted excuse
to inflict massive suffering upon Gaza. On the other hand, they're not
deeply compromised by complicity with Israel like Abbas, and as long as
Abbas gets nothing for his obsequiousness -- which if Netanyahu gets
his way will be forever -- Hamas will maintain its popular credibility.
(And if you bother to read their proposed ceasefire terms they might
even start to recover from the international smear campaign Israel and
the US have waged against them.) They may, as Dreyfuss says, be a "useful
boogeyman" to Israel, but he errs in concluding they're "Israel's useful
For a contrary view on Hamas, see
(which also has a lot on Kerry's pathetic diplomacy).
Finally, I want to cite one more piece:
John Feffer: Mowing the Lawn in Gaza, which goes back to 2006, to
the specific wrong turn that lead to today's seemingly intractable
conflict. (Of course, it doesn't explain the entire conflict, which
goes back much further, most critically to 1948, but the die was cast
Like the Algerians in 1990 and the Egyptians in 2012, Gazans went to
the polls in 2006 and voted for the wrong party. Rather than supporting
the secular choice, they cast their ballots for Hamas. Not all Palestinians
are Muslim (6 percent or so are Christian). But by opting for the Islamic
Resistance Movement -- Hamas, for short -- Gazans had effectively nullified
their own ballots.
It didn't matter that the EU and other institutions declared the elections
free and fair. The results were what mattered, and Israel's judgment carried
the day. Even though the newly elected government extended an olive branch to
both Israel and the United States, the Israeli government didn't consider
Hamas a legitimate political actor.
"Israel stated that Hamas were terrorists and Western leaders did not
challenge this line," writes Cata Charrett in
an excellent piece at Mondoweiss. "On the contrary, they refused
to meet diplomatically with Hamas leaders, they cut off all possible financing
to the newly elected government, and they supported Israel's complete sanction
and seizure of Gazan territory." A direct peace overture to President George
W. Bush offering a long-term truce went unanswered.
Israel's political leadership -- the PM at the time was Ariel Sharon --
took this position because it wants to sustain a state of military occupation
and it dreads any resolution to the conflict. The US political leadership --
that was G.W. Bush -- acceded to Israel because it was stupid (and because
the Israel desk was run by foreign agents like Elliott Abrams). Hamas offered
a fresh opportunity to work on resolving the conflict, especially if we had
been willing to negotiate short-term accommodations (like truces for economic
freedom) instead of focusing on "final status" issues, which had proved so
difficult for both sides. Moreover, Hamas had credibility from not having
been involved in the Arafat deals and decisions, and they offered the prospect
of bringing a far greater degree of Palestinian unity to the table than Abbas
could ever achieve on his own. However, by rejecting Hamas, the US allowed
Sharon and his successors to ignore every US-backed peace proposal.
We should be clear here: while Israel has no desire for peace, the
US has no future in the Middle East without it. In its efforts to form
a unity government with Fatah, Hamas has offered the US a present, but
in order to use it the US now has to stand up to Israel in favor of the
sort of ceasefire that Hamas has offered. That's a tall order for Obama
and Kerry, one that requires them to rise above their basic political