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It's Time to End the "Last Taboo"

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It's Time to End the "Last Taboo" - by Stephen Lendman

The "Last Taboo" was the title of eminent Palestinian-born writer, scholar and activist Edward Said's essay written shortly before his death in September, 2003. It was also the title of distinguished author and documentary filmmaker John Pilger's chapter about Palestine in his important new book Freedom Next Time that's reviewed and can be read at sjlendman.blogspot.com. Said explained his title in what he wrote: "The extermination of the Native Americans can be admitted, the morality of Hiroshima attacked, the national flag (of the US) publicly committed to flames. But the systematic continuity of Israel's 52-year oppression and maltreatment of the Palestinians is virtually unmentionable, a narrative that has no permission to appear." It appeared boldly and courageously in Pilger's book, and it's long past time for it be prominent in the mainstream as well to finally expose Israeli crimes and demand they end. It's especially important now as Israel just began an intensive military assault against the defenseless people of Gaza, which, before it ends, may result in many deaths, great destruction of property and an overwhelming humanitarian disaster even beyond the one already existing in The Occupied Territories.

Few people anywhere have suffered more or longer than the beleaguered Palestinians. For nearly four decades they've lived under a harsh and unending Israeli occupation of their land. They've endured a continued assault to seize it, a loss of their personal and economic rights and a denial of any chance for justice or their very humanity. These courageous people remain isolated in their own land with little support from the outside. Yet it's never broken their spirit as they continue their heroic efforts to survive and struggle to gain their freedom.

The Israeli Assault on Gaza

This article documents events in besieged and now reoccupied Gaza since the Palestinians responded to continued Israeli Defense Forces' (IDF) attacks against them by striking at an Israeli military post near Kerem Shalom crossing, southeast of Rafah, on June 25 killing two IDF soldiers, injuring several others and capturing a third. The Israeli response was swift and deadly but has not yet been unleashed fully as the IDF decides when to enter Gaza full force to launch an assault against the defenseless people there already under seige. The Palestinian strike followed a series of bloody June Israeli attacks on Gaza including the widely reported beach shelling that killed 8 Palestinians and injured 32 others including 13 children. The Israelis admitted shelling the beach but denied responsibility for the deaths. They falsely claimed a Palestinian planted mine killed the civilians there despite the forensic evidence clearly proving otherwise. The corporate media reported the Israeli version of events but ignored the evidence refuting it preventing the public from knowing the truth. It also never reported that the so-called Israeli Gaza withdrawal of its 8,500 settlers in 21 settlements last August wasn't that at all. That staged media event was little more than the resettlement of Gaza's Jewish residents to new homes in Israel proper and the West Bank on other seized Palestinian land. Furthermore, the IDF didn't withdraw. It merely redeployed away from the settlements it was guarding to new positions on the border. Gaza continued to be under de facto occupation and sealed off whenever the IDF wished, as it's now done, and along with the West Bank remains one of the world's two largest open air prisons.

The Palestinian June 25 raid was its response to continued IDF daily attacks against Gaza throughout June that killed about 30 people, injured many more and caused much destruction of property. Following the incident, the IDF launched "Operation Summer Rain" that included closing all border crossings, sealing off the territory to restrict movement in and out including humanitarian supplies such as food and medicine, and surrounding the territory awaiting orders to launch a major assault which it's now begun. The IDF has also stepped up its artillery shelling that has gone on continually for months. It's been firing 200 - 300 or more shells per day into northern Gaza, many close to civilian homes. It's also launched round the clock air attacks with F16 fighter jets and helicopter gunships firing air-to-surface missiles and dropping one-ton bombs on civilian facilities; it's conducting mock air raids; and it's aircraft are breaking the sound barrier over Gaza at low altitudes deliberately inflicting eardrum shattering and terrifying sonic booms against the helpless people.

In addition, air strikes destroyed the three main bridges in the Gaza Valley cutting off the northern part of the Strip from its center and southern parts, preventing vital transportation from moving normally to provide essential needs to the people. The bombardment also destroyed the main pipe providing water for the Nusairat and al-Boreij refugee camps and knocked out the Strip's only electricity generation plant cutting off power for 80% of the population and preventing water pumps and sanitation facilities from operating. These actions increase the likelihood of a growing humanitarian crisis becoming worse with food shipments, medical supplies and other essentials cut off which may lead to starvation and a major health disaster. They're also a form of collective punishment against Gaza's civilian population which is a violation of international law according to the 1949 Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War. Israel now and in the past has routinely ignored this Convention, including article 33 under it that prohibits reprisals against protected persons and their property. The world community so far has yet to take notice or speak out against what's ongoing other than weak-kneed and disingenuous calls by world leaders and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan for both sides to show restraint. It's hard finding the right words to respond properly to such an outrageous statement, what little else has been said, and most importantly to what hasn't been but should be.

Israeli warships also went further committing a hostile act by entering Syrian airspace and buzzing President Bashar al-Assad's home in Latakia in a deliberately provocative act before being intercepted and forced to turn back. This illegal incursion reflects Israel's continued hostility toward Syria's leadership which it accuses of harboring and supporting Hamas leaders the IDF has targeted for assassination. It may signal further Israeli action to come, with the Bush administration's full support, against a government both countries see as an enemy. An ominous sign of such potential action came in a veiled threat Israel just made against Syria vowing to strike against "those who sponsor" the Palestinian resistance.

The West Bank hasn't been spared either as the IDF conducted nearly 50 incursions into Palestinian communities, razing farmland, raiding homes, seizing five of them for military sites and arresting dozens of civilians including children. In addition, on June 29 the IDF arrested most of the Hamas leadership including eight cabinet ministers, 25 PLC members from the Change and Reform Party affiliated with Hamas, and other Hamas officials claiming they were responsible for the assault against its military post. All these actions are further illegal collective punishment reprisals against Palestinian civilians as are Israeli threats to extra-judicially assassinate Hamas leaders. Middle East correspondent Martin Chulov of The Australian, in fact, reported on July 1 that in a letter to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas Israel threatened to kill democratically elected Prime Minister Ismael Haniyeh if the captured Israeli soldier isn't released. The Prime Minister now fears for his life and has gone into hiding. What will it take to finally get world leaders to take note, show a semblance of courage and rectitude, speak out forcefully against this outrageous threat, and condemn Israel for what it's now inflicting on nearly four million defenseless civilians living under its oppressive heel.

This is a particularly desperate time in the lives of the 1.45 million Gazans who live in 140 square miles of the most densely populated place on earth. Daily life for them has been almost unbearable as they've had to endure continued Israeli oppression without letup. With only their spirit to enable them to resist and armed with little more than rocks, small arms and crude homemade rockets, they're pitted against the world's fourth most powerful military assaulting them at will. The toll has been devastating.

The IDF Assault on Gaza Was Planned Well in Advance

What's now unfolding in Gaza was planned months ago by the Israelis. They've just been waiting for a plausible excuse to unleash it. The capturing, not kidnapping, of one of their soldiers as a POW provided it. So far the US, world community and UN Secretary General support the Israeli action by their near silence. And nothing is said in the major media to condemn a clear crime or report anything about the 9,000 or more Palestinian civilians forcibly arrested, now held in indefinite detention and grievously abused or tortured by the only country in the world to effectively legalize torture according to Amnesty International (the US, of course, now also has). Many of those in custody are political prisoners held administratively without charge, and Israeli human rights monitoring group B'Tselem reports Israel's use of torture is widespread and routine against them.

It must be asked why world leaders aren't speaking out to condemn this practice. International law on it is explicit and long-standing. It forbids the use of any form of torture or degrading treatment under any circumstances. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights outlawed it in 1948. The Fourth Geneva Convention then did it in 1949 banning any form of "physical or mental coercion" and affirming detainees must at all times be treated humanely. The European Convention followed in 1950. Then in 1984 the UN Convention Against Torture became the first binding international instrument dealing exclusively with the issue of banning torture in any form for any reason.

Israel ignores international law (as does its US ally), treats all Palestinians it holds in detention with contempt, and feels free to abuse them at will. The dominant media in the West pay no attention and have no interest. These are the ones John Pilger calls "unworthy victims" in his new book Freedom Next Time. The Israeli soldier, on the other hand, is a "worthy" one, and reports or just hints of his mistreatment would be headline news. He also deserves lengthy front page coverage in our newspaper of record The New York Times which names him so we all know and displays his picture. No Palestinian warrants any attention at all in the Times or the rest of the corporate media. They all remain nameless and faceless.

What's now unfolding in Gaza and the West Bank has been in the works for months. Since the staged summer, 2005 Gaza withdrawal, the IDF has been training for a large-scale incursion and reoccupation of the territory. This was reported earlier this year in Israel's Maariv daily in an interview the paper did with IDF Southern Command General Yoav Galant whose unit is responsible for Gaza. He clearly stated the IDF would employ "more aggressive military activity.......including (re)occupying the Gaza Strip......as a result of increased (Palestinian) attacks." The general may have forgotten to explain those "attacks" with crude weapons were Palestinian responses to daily Israeli attacks on them with the most sophisticated weapons the IDF has short of nuclear ones. He also forgot to explain how Gazans have suffered as a result of these attacks and near daily killings as well as from the effects of a near forty-year brutal occupation of their territory. The general, however, was very clear that "we (the IDF) have a plan to (re)occupy the Strip" (and) "We are in advanced states of preparing forces for readiness." Another IDF official added that "The only way Israel can stop the rockets is by occupying Gaza. It is elementary. The leadership knows it." The official explained further that in recent weeks the IDF completed its training to reenter Gaza and informed its soldiers to prepare and be ready for orders to move in.

It's quite true that the Palestinian resistance has fired about 250 crude homemade rockets from Gaza into Israel in recent months. It's also true these have been in response to the many thousands of unprovoked IDF artillery shells fired at them as well as frequent air attacks and other assaults against them. Little of this is ever reported by the western corporate media, especially in the US, and never with any context to explain the true situation on the ground. It's also not reported that the IDF trained to be ready to react once it got an excuse to do it which the June 25 incident gave it. And it would never be reported or even considered that if the Israeli leadership and IDF seriously wanted to end retaliatory attacks against them including suicide bombings, an easy way to do it would be to stop attacking defenseless Palestinians. The fact that it hasn't shows it won't and doesn't want to. Those "elementary" considerations are never reported or suggested in the mainstream. Apparently the dominant media never thought of it, but their mission isn't to think. It's only to report what government officials say.

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I was born in 1934, am a retired, progressive small businessman concerned about all the major national and world issues, committed to speak out and write about them.

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