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Gaza Catastrophe: Resource Conflict? Natural Gas, Palestinian Elections, and Israel's Subversion of the 'Peace Process'

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Israel claims it is fighting in Gaza to stop Hamas rocket-fire against Israel, the continuation of which constituted a flagrant breach of the six-months ceasefire. Hence, the objective of the military operation is limited by the aim of putting an end to the rocket-fire. In fact, the current outbreak of violence cannot be understood without analysing the asymmetries in military violence between the two parties; the structural dynamic of the conflict in the context of the character of the Israeli occupation; the central role of recent discoveries of substantial natural gas reserves in Gaza; and joint Anglo-American and Israeli attempts to monopolise the lucrative (and strategic) energy resources through a political process tied to a corrupt Palestinian Authority run by Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah Party. Hamas’ unprecedented victory in democratic elections in 2006 fundamentally threatened these plans. Operation Cast Lead, the concurrent Israeli military venture, was operationalised as a war plan in early 2008, and already finalised in detail as far back as 2001 by Israeli military intelligence. Its execution in late December 2008 into January 2009 is designed to head-off not only domestic Israeli elections, but more significantly, the outcome of further incoming Palestinian democratic elections likely to consolidate Hamas’ power, to permanently shift the balance of geopolitical and economic power in its favour. The long-term goal is the “cantonization” of the Occupied Territories making way for increased Israeli encroachment, and ultimately the escalation of Palestinian emigration.


Disproportionate Violence – 700: 4


Who bears primary responsible for the violence? You decide:


Nearly 700 Palestinians are dead, and 4,000 Palestinians injured. Around 15,000 civilians – half of them children – have been forced to flee their homes, now turned to rubble. (Save the Children Alliance, 02.01.09) Israeli human rights groups, like B’Tselem (The Israeli Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories) based in Jerusalem, confirm that the Israeli military is committing war crimes by intentionally targeting the civilian population in Gaza.


As I write, here comes news of example: “Israeli shelling kills dozens at UN school  in Gaza” reports the London Guardian. More than 40 Palestinians were killed “after missiles exploded outside a UN school” in Jabaliya refugee camp by two Israeli tank shells, “where hundreds of people were sheltering from the continuing Israeli offensive.” Several dozen civilians were wounded. The school was clearly marked according to officials. And elsewhere, “at least 12 members of an extended family, including seven young children, were killed in an air strike on their house in Gaza City.” Hours earlier, “three young men – all cousins – died when the Israelis bombed another UN school, the Asma primary school in Gaza City,” where about 400 Palestinians had sought shelter “after fleeing their homes in Beit Lahiya in northern Gaza.” Israel claimed they were targeting Hamas fighters using the UN school as cover, but UN officials confirmed that no Hamas operatives were at the bombed school.


As foreign journalists remain banned from entry into Gaza for for no plausible reason, Israeli human rights groups like B’Tselem are reporting extensively on the deliberate mass destruction of civilian life and infrastructure by Israeli forces. B’Tselem points out that Israeli officials have described how the entirety of Palestinian society can be considered as providing a support network to Hamas, and is therefore a legitimate target.  But worse, the stories that B’Tselem brings to light, ignored by mainstream media pundits, are deeply horrifying. Here are some examples:


On 1 Jan. 2009, the Israeli army killed four women and eleven children in the Jabalya refugee camp. B’Tselem comments: “Such extensive loss of civilian life constitutes a grave breach of international humanitarian law and cannot be justified on military grounds.” (B’Tselem, 4.01.09) The Israeli human rights group documents dozens of eye-witness testimonies confirming. On 4th January, “soldiers opened fire from a tank toward a passenger taxi outside Gaza City. The four children in the taxi witnessed their mother and another woman killed.” On 27th December, two Palestinian toddlers “aged three and six, stepped out of their home to feed chickens in the yard. Before they reached the coop, the house was hit by the bombing of a nearby building.” The three year old was killed.


This barely scratches the surface of what has been done. Other Israeli human rights groups, UN agencies, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, Save the Children, along with dozens of other credible independent organizations confirm that Israeli forces are indiscriminately targeting the entire Palestinian civilian population, blowing up residential areas, destroying power plants, bombing sewage facilities, annihilating hospitals, pummelling roads, all into bloody rubble.


Compare the hundreds of Palestinians killed, thousands injured, and tens of thousands made homeless, to the fact that only 4 Israelis have been killed due to Hamas rocket-attacks since the outbreak of conflict in December. (Guardian, 03.01.09) Of course, these deaths are condemnable and outrageous. But they are not cases of massive, systematic massacres of civilians - which are precisely what Palestinians have been experiencing under Israeli politico-territorial domination for the last decade.


The Long-Term View - 5000: 14


Consider, for instance, that on 19th September 2007, Israel’s security cabinet unanimously declared the entire Gaza Strip an “enemy entity” – solely due to ongoing Hamas rocket-fire. Yet that rocket-fire was and is a response to continued indiscriminate Israeli military bombardments. In January 2007, Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) staged three days of air strikes killing 30 Palestinians, and on the 17th, the Gaza strip was placed under total closure. In response, over 150 rockets and mortars were fired into Israel between the 15th and 18th of that month by Hamas. Yet while these caused no injuries or fatalities to any Israelis, in that same period, nearly 700 Palestinians  (including 224 civilians of whom 78 were children) were killed by Israeli extra-judicial executions.


Indeed, over the last 7 years of conflict, a grand total of 14 Israelis were killed by Hamas’ rocket-fire, compared to an estimated 5,000 Palestinians killed by Israeli forces  with advanced American and British-supplied military equipment (Guardian, 30.12.08) “Among those killed in the first wave of strikes”, reports the Guardian, “were eight teenage students waiting for a bus and four girls from the same family in Jabaliya, aged one to 12 years old.”

   Who Broke the Ceasefire?  

It is a matter of historical record that the tentative six-month ceasefire was broken by Israel. On 4th November 2008, Israeli forces raided Gaza late at night killing 6 Palestinians, eliciting Hamas rocket-fire. (Guardian, 05.11.08) By late December, Israel called for a 48-hour truce in retaliatory attacks. An official from the UN Relief and Works Agency reported that Israel flagrantly violated the lull, exploiting the opportunity to drop 100 tonnes of bombs on Hamas government installations. (Ha'aretz, 30.12.08)

  Root Cause of Palestinian Resistance: Structural Genocide  in the Occupied Territories  

After Hamas came to power in democratic elections, Israel imposed a brutal siege on Gaza in 2005, denying 1.5 million Palestinians electricity, fuel, food imports, medical supplies, and vital maintenance goods and spare parts. As water and sanitation services deteriorated, hunger and ill-health intensified, and mortality rates increased. International aid agencies like Oxfam warned of a major public health crisis.

  The UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories, Richard Falk, said that the siege of Gaza warned that the Israeli siege of Gaza, threatening the lives of an entire civilian population, expressed genocidal intent:  

“Is it an irresponsible overstatement to associate the treatment of Palestinians with this criminalized Nazi record of collective atrocity? I think not. The recent developments in Gaza are especially disturbing because they express so vividly a deliberate intention on the part of Israel and its allies to subject an entire human community to life-endangering conditions of utmost cruelty. The suggestion that this pattern of conduct is a holocaust-in-the-making represents a rather desperate appeal to the governments of the world and to international public opinion to act urgently to prevent these current genocidal tendencies from culminating in a collective tragedy... But it would be unrealistic to expect the UN to do anything in the face of this crisis, given the pattern of US support for Israel and taking into account the extent to which European governments have lent their weight to recent illicit efforts to crush Hamas as a Palestinian political force.”

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Dr Nafeez Ahmed is an investigative journalist, bestselling author and international security scholar. A former Guardian writer, he writes the 'System Shift' column for VICE's Motherboard, and is also a columnist for Middle East Eye. He is the winner of a 2015 Project Censored Award for Outstanding Investigative Journalism for his Guardian work.

Nafeez has also written for The Independent, Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The Scotsman, Foreign Policy, The Atlantic, Quartz, Prospect, New (more...)

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