Since Israel’s invasion of the Gaza Strip from the air with US supplied F-16s and Apache attack helicopters began this past Saturday, the narrative from mainstream media has been consistent: a six-month cease-fire brokered by Egypt over the summer ended when Hamas resumed rocket attacks on Israel’s southern border. Israel, in response, launched air strikes while preparing for a possible ground invasion of the Gaza Strip in order to protect its citizens and force Hamas to accept new terms for another cease-fire.
Ostensibly, the logic proffered by pundits and officials is that anyone can understand the need of a government to protect its people from rocket attacks. “I would ask any decent human being to put himself in the position of those Israelis who with kids are wetting their beds and ask themselves, what would I do? What would I expect my government to do,” opined the Israel ambassador to the US Sallai Meridor on the PBS News Hour. But as is often the case, the mainstream pundits and supporters of the Israeli occupation have it wrong, for more than one reason.
First, let’s get some facts straight. Hamas has indeed been launching increasing rocket attacks into southern Israeli towns along the border since early November of this year, after “Israeli forces entered Gaza to destroy a tunnel that could have been (my italics) used in a cross-border raid,” cites an AP article published in the Voice of San Diego. “Under the truce,” the article continues, “Gaza militants were to halt rocket fire on Israeli border communities. Israel was to end raids on Gaza and allow more goods and people through its border crossings, sealed after Hamas overran the territory in June 2007.”
This clearly illustrates that Israel was the first side to break the cease-fire truce when it broke its promise of halting cross-border raids into Gaza. Furthermore, the Israeli raid also resulted in Palestinian casualties and abductions: “very interestingly enough, last week, as people here were celebrating the election victory of Barack Obama,” said Diana Buttu, a Canadian lawyer and former employee of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, interviewed on Democracy Now, “Israel used that opportunity to go into the Gaza Strip and kill six Palestinians and kidnap another six Palestinians. And since that time, the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire has actually come to a halt.” So, there you have it. The first part of the mainstream narrative that Israel is only responding to rocket attacks that began when Hamas broke the cease-fire is false. But let’s address the rocket attacks themselves.
“Our next-door neighbors are attacking our children day in and day out,” said the Israeli ambassador in the same interview, “and we have to make every effort to damage their ability to attack us.” This effort to protect the children of Israel has meant a major bombing campaign over the entire airspace of the Gaza Strip, not just the locale from where the rockets were being fired from into Israel. Over 345 people have been killed and 1,600 wounded in Gaza at the time of this writing, December 30, 2008. Sixty-one of those killed include women and children. By comparison, 3 Isrealis have been killed by Hamas rocket fire over the last several days
As in the Israeli invasion into Lebanon in the summer of 2006, started when Hezbollah launched attacks on Israeli military targets and kidnapped two Israeli soldiers in an attempt to offer a swap for four kidnapped Hezbollah fighters, the Israeli response then as now was overpowering and disproportionate. According to an Amnesty International report on the Israel-Lebanon War in 2006, the Lebanese government estimated that, “31 ‘vital points’ such as airports, ports, water and sewage treatment plants, and electrical facilities” had been destroyed, as had “around 80 bridges and 94 roads, more than 25 fuel stations and around 900 commercial enterprises.” The report also said that “the number of residential properties, offices and shops completely destroyed exceeds 30,000.Two government hospitals – in Bint Jbeil and in Meis al-Jebel – were completely destroyed.”
In Gaza, so far, a university has been hit as well as civilian homes. Democratic Representative Dennis Kucinich summed up recently the issue of the Gaza crisis and “proportionality” like this in a letter to UN president Ban Ki-moon: “The attacks on civilians represent collective punishment, which is a violation of Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The perpetrators of attacks against Israel must also be brought to justice, but Israel cannot create a war against an entire people in order to attempt to bring to justice the few who are responsible.” As Professor Noam Chomsky pointed out once in a lecture I’d attended, it’d be a bit like if Britain had dropped bombs on Boston, Massachusetts in response to IRA bombings in London (IRA funding support had come from Boston.) Simply put, Israel is hitting civilians to punish Hamas.
In truth, the Israeli invasion into Gaza has been precipitated by back-and-forth skirmishes between Hamas and Israel since Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in June 2007 from its rival Fatah, the US supported Palestinian government which controls the West Bank territory. It’s also pertinent to remember that this latest round of conflict in Israel/Palestine started when Hamas won regional elections back in 2006; elections the US had pushed for, and which the Bush administration immediately rejected.
The Palestinian people learned soon after that the only chance for Palestinian democracy was contingent on the approval of the US and Israel when both countries promptly refused to recognize the Hamas government. According to a recent report in the london Guardian, “As soon as the Hamas-dominated parliament was sworn in, Israel froze contacts with what it called the "terrorist" Palestinian Authority and blocked the transfer of tax and customs receipts, worth about $50m a month.”
Even with the economic blockade, Hamas' political leader Khaled Meshal had intimated Hamas was more or less willing to recognize Israel in exchange for Israel withdrawing all its settlements from the West Bank, viewed as illegal by the UN and European Union. “We have offered a truce if Israel withdraws to the 1967 borders,” Meshal said, “a truce of 10 years as a proof of recognition."
In response, Israel waved off the gesture, and continued to refuse interaction with Hamas. Former President Jimmy Carter’s visit in April to Syria to meet with Hamas leaders also failed to soften the US or Israel’s position. “I have a fundamental difference with President Carter and disagree with his decision to meet with Hamas," then presidential candidate Barack Obama said. "We must not negotiate with a terrorist group intent on Israel's destruction. We should only sit down with Hamas if they renounce terrorism, recognize Israel's right to exist and abide by past agreements." Ironically, Obama never demanded the same standard for Israel. It could continue illegally occupying the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Recognizing Palestine as a state is something Israel is never asked to do.
And in the end, that is the saddest part of this whole story. The incoming administration has all but endorsed Israel’s illegal invasion of Gaza. The claim by David Axelrod, top advisor to Barack Obama, that there is “only one president at a time” is sure convenient. When it’s come to discussing the US economy or Afghanistan, the “good war,” there hasn’t been any hesitation to comment by the Obama team.
By and large, the US position on Israel and its actions (however illegal) with its neighbors is universal: unyielding support. Promises of change on the horizon appear to not amount to much in US Mid-East policy. Innocent civilians on both sides, though primarily the Palestinian side, are ensured to more of the same—a fatal proposition for the Gazans who are now under siege from the border blockade and bombings. “I think that Israel crossed any line of humanity or morality or even legality. And I think what Israel is doing right now there is horrible and has no justification,” said Gideon Levy, reporter for the Isreali newspaper Ha’ aretz. Words of truth that will likely fall on deaf ears.