BURY MY HEART IN GAZA
We thrash, curse for air
As our strangler declares, look
How violent the Arab
– Haiku for the Headlocked, by Zein El-Amine
Rami El-Amine makes the case that Israel’s war on Gaza is not about the kidnapping of Israeli teenagers, rockets, or tunnels. It’s about Israel taking advantage of an opening created by the failure of the U.S. sponsored “peace talks” and counter-revolution in the Arab world to collectively punish the Palestinian people for resisting Israel’s occupation and crush any possibility of Palestinian liberation.
For the third time in eight years Israel has launched a devastating war against the people of Gaza. Israeli leaders proudly refer to these assaults on human beings as “mowing the grass” and boast of periodically thinning out Palestinian resistance. Roughly 3/4 of the 1.7 million Palestinians who live in Gaza are refugees, descendants of thousands of Palestinians driven from their homes and land (ethnically cleansed) inside present day Israel by Zionist militias and the Israeli military during the Arab Israeli war in 1948 and then again during the Six Day war in 1967.
Refugee or not, they have all become prisoners because of the siege Israel, later joined by Egypt, imposed on the territory a year after it “withdrew” in 2005. Then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, known as the Butcher of Beirut for his leading role in the 1982 invasion of Lebanon and complicity in the Sabra and Shatilla massacre (killing close to 20,000 Lebanese and Palestinians), concluded that Gaza was more trouble than it was worth in terms of building Greater Israel.
Even though Israel evacuated the 8,500 settlers and pulled out its troops, it maintained control of the land, sea, and air around Gaza. Israel controls what and who can come in and out, including fuel, water, and telecommunications. This means it is still the occupying power and has responsibilities as such under international law. But Israel has never had any regard for international law, mainly because the U.S. has consistently thwarted any efforts to enforce it.
BACKGROUND: HAMAS AND THE SIEGE
In the wake of Israel's 2005 faux withdrawal, elections were held in Gaza as well as the West Bank in 2006. What no one expected, including a lot of Palestinians, was that the Islamist party Hamas would win these legislative contests for the Palestinian National Authority (PA, the interim governing body over certain Palestinian areas established in the 1993 Oslo Accords). Hamas trounced the Fatah Party which up to that point had dominated Palestinian politics and held the presidency of the PA under Mahmoud Abbas. Israel refused to recognize the results and began a campaign of repression (with Fatah’s approval) against Hamas, imprisoning many figures who had just been democratically elected to the legislature.
As part of this repressive effort, the U.S., with Israel’s backing, helped arm and train Fatah to carry out a coup against Hamas in the Gaza strip. Hamas pre-empted it and ousted Fatah from Gaza in June 2007. Following Hamas’ victory, Israel (and most likely Fatah) worked with Egypt to close the Rafah border crossing, Gaza's only non-Israeli controlled passage where some goods were allowed to trickle in. This completely sealed the territory from the outside world in a suffocating siege.
The results have been catastrophic: 80% of Gazans live below the poverty line and depend on UNRWA, 40% of the working population is unemployed, 56% of families are food insecure, and one report stated “Gaza’s only fresh water source is now too dangerous to drink and is contaminated with fertilizer and human waste”. (All even before this latest war.) The siege will make any reconstruction impossible. Which is why Gazans, not just Hamas, reject any long term ceasefire that doesn’t lift the siege and allow people and goods to travel freely across all its borders.
All this is erased from the narrative used by Israel and its supporters, whose ever-shifting rationale for war finally settled on the claim that it was "self-defense" against Hamas tunnels. As if dispossession, occupation, and oppression of an indigenous population by a colonial settler state has nothing to do with it, and that the right of an occupied people to resist their occupier by any means necessary, including armed struggle, does not exist.
MASS MURDER, MASSIVE DESTRUCTION
As of August 4, 1,865 Palestinians had been killed. More than a third were women and children (clearly noncombatants). An additional 9,470 people were injured and 450,000 displaced. Close to 10,000 homes have been completely or partially destroyed, plus 24 health centers, hospitals and clinics, 167 schools and 6 universities.
And there are human beings – not blades of grass - behind each and every one of these numbers.
Simply put, it is a massacre. The 11th most powerful military in the world backed by all of the major imperial countries is unleashed against a mostly destitute refugee population. But even as one U.N. official after another accused Israel of war crimes, the Pentagon gave Israel more grenade launchers and ammunition and Congress approved $225 million in military funding. This is in addition to the $3.1 billion in military aid the U.S. already gives Israel every year.
Gazans have nowhere to run to for safety. Supposed safe zones – like U.N administered shelters, whose locations have been given to Israel dozens of times – are hit by Israeli fire. Israel even knocked out Gaza’s only power station, a clear act of collective punishment.
In one day, July 30, Israel hit a U.N. shelter at a school in the Jabaliya refugee camp (19 killed), Al Shifa hospital (10 killed), and then again the Shujaya neighborhood where it had committed the biggest single massacre (50 killed), this time targeting the market (17 killed). After the deliberate targeting of the school in Jabaliya, whose GPS coordinates UNRWA sent to Israel 17 times, the Commissioner General of UNRWA Pierre Krähenbühl tweeted: “This is 6th time one of our @UNRWA schools has been struck. Our staff are being killed. This is a breaking point."
NOT ABOUT KIDNAPPED ISRAELIS, ROCKETS, OR TUNNELS
Israeli propaganda, echoed 24/7 by the mainstream U.S. media, tells the world that Hamas started this round of conflict when it kidnapped the three Jewish yeshiva students. Not only is there no proof that Hamas did it but when their bodies were found on July 1 it came out that the government had known for some time that they were dead and that Hamas' leadership had not ordered the action. The Israeli authorities had sealed the case and used the country’s stringent censorship laws to give them more time under Operation Brother’s Keeper to go after Hamas. It was the perfect cover because the kidnappings had struck a deep nerve with the Israeli public.
In Operation Brother’s Keeper Israel conducted massive sweeps of homes and offices, arrested around 800 Palestinians - 60 of whom had just been released during the Galid Shalit prisoner exchange in 2011- and killed 9 protesters.
Netanyahu’s government whipped up hysteria against Palestinians creating the climate in which 16-year-old Palestinian resident of Jerusalem Mohammed Abu Khdeir was kidnapped and burned alive on July 2. Shortly afterwards, three Jewish Israelis from the extremist group Betar were arrested and confessed to the crime.
The government tried to portray this brutal murder as some isolated incident. But it is part of a pattern. Palestinian citizens of Israel, who make up 20% of the population, not only face institutional racism as second class citizens but have seen racism grow among Jews in Israel, not just against Arabs but African immigrants as well. In addition to the growth of far right groups like Betar, “Death to Arabs” and “Arabs Out” have become common chants at protests. After the kidnapping of the three students, there were numerous attacks on Arabs and their businesses. When Abu Khdeir’s burned body was found they exploded in protest in Jerusalem, Haifa, and other cities.
The combination of the suffocating effects of the siege and the Israeli crackdown put pressure on Hamas to act. Israel’s bombing of a tunnel that killed nine Hamas members on July 7 gave Hamas little choice but to retaliate. This was the first time it broke the ceasefire agreed to in November 2012. (Israel had broken the ceasefire numerous times.)
ISLAMOPHOBIA AND RACISM
Like other colonial massacres from Wounded Knee to My Lai, this assault on Gaza is inseparable from racism. Israel's "mowing the grass" language is an insight into an entire way of thinking: Use racism to dehumanize a specific group of people and you can justify mass murder as simply “collateral damage”.
This is how Israel was able to put down the second intifada and how it’s been able to get away with murdering thousands of innocent women and children in its three wars on Gaza. It blares to the world that all Palestinians are beasts whose goal is to kill Jews, that Hamas = Islamist = Anti-Semitic=Terrorist. So anything done to stop "these savages" is justified. And in this war the racism has reached fever pitch, with open calls for genocide against Palestinians issued by prominent Israelis (here and here.)
Glenn Greenwald explains how this racism skews reality in the American media:”...when Palestinians overwhelmingly kill soldiers (95% of the Israeli death toll) who are part of an army that is blockading, occupying, invading, and indiscriminately bombing them and killing their children by the hundreds, that is “terrorism”; when Israelis use massive, brutal force against a trapped civilian population, overwhelmingly killing innocent men, women and children (at least 75% of the Palestinian death toll), with clear intentions to kill civilians, that is noble “self-defense.”
DESTROYING PALESTINIAN SELF-DETERMINATION
Beneath this eruption of racist killing, Israel has calculated political goals.
The first is collectively punishing Palestinians for Fatah and Hamas’ formation of a unity government which had just been finalized in June. Netanyahu was furious about this even though it was a product of his torpedoing of Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace efforts. After Abbas went out on a limb to make concessions, Netanyahu refused to release 26 Palestinian prisoners and made it clear he wasn’t interested in any peace deal. It was then that Abbas began discussions with Hamas regarding a unity government.
Provoking Hamas knowing that the response would include missiles fired into Israel, Netanyahu also aimed to send a message to Washington and the world: to have security for Israelis means there can never be a Palestinian state, even in its truncated two-state/limited sovereignty version. On July 11, Netanyahu held a press conference in which he publicly rejected the two state solution saying “There cannot be a situation, under any agreement in which we relinquish security control of the territory west of the River Jordan.” This didn’t come as a surprise to anyone familiar with Netanyahu. Liberal Zionist Peter Beinart explains, “In reality, what has changed are not Netanyahu’s views but his willingness to publicly acknowledge them.”
So this war is clearly about, as Rashid Khalidi says, “Israel’s permanent control over Palestinian land and Palestinian lives” and “denying Palestine self-determination, freedom, and sovereignty.” It’s about putting an end to the two state solution. Only this goal made Netanyahu willing to risk the world's disapproval of his massive, indiscriminate attack on everyone and everything in Gaza.
Netanyahu's calculation that Israel could get away with killing on a massive scale was also influenced by the triumph – at least for now – of repressive, counter-revolutionary forces in wake of the Arab Spring. A counter revolution spearheaded by Saudi Arabia and the new Egyptian military government created a situation in which, Israel believed, Hamas was isolated and could be destroyed. Saudi Arabia has always worked clandestinely with Israel, usually through the U.S., to undermine liberation struggles in the Middle East. But this time the pro-Israel tilt of the Saudis, the Egyptian government and others has been so pronounced it even made the front page of the New York Times. These regimes were even able to mostly quell grassroots protests against the Israeli assault in much of the Arab world.
ISRAEL STILL LOSES
With a ceasefire that may actually hold now taking, what is the balance sheet?
Israel succeeded in killing a lot of Palestinians. It whipped the Israeli Jewish population into frenzy of hatred that will further strengthen the Israeli right wing. It showed once again that its allies in the U.S. – the Israel Lobby of hard core Jewish and Christian Zionists, much of the media and official elite – have the power to keep Congress fully in Israel's corner. And that Obama, Kerry and his team, while sending plenty of signals that they are not happy with Israeli over-reach – are unwilling to lift a finger to stop Netanyahu, and in fact at crunch time just keep sending Israel more arms and protecting it at the U.N.
But by every other measure, Israel has lost. Palestinian resistance has not been destroyed. Though the balance of forces against Palestinian freedom remains unfavorable, determination to fight in Gaza, in the West Bank, among Palestinians within Israel's 1967 borders, and in the diaspora have all increased. Hamas is only one part of a broader resistance culture, and when people are under occupation, siege, and war every few years they will find a way to fight back. Juan Cole points out, “Hamas is perfectly capable of building more rockets, even if they are smaller and have less range than the imported ones. And killed leaders can be replaced by their cousins.”
And Israel has decisively lost the battle for global public opinion. Even in the U.S., more see Israel as the aggressor and the bully than ever before. Even in Congress there are slight cracks. Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota has become the first congressperson to publicly state that an end to the blockade of Gaza is crucial for any lasting ceasefire – and also for any measure of justice.
In Europe criticism of Israel has been so intense the Senior Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in Prime Minister David Cameron’s (Conservative) cabinet, Sayeeda Warsi, resigned in protest of the government’s Gaza policy. There have been large demonstrations against the Israeli assault and on August 5 a group of activists shut down Elbit Systems, an Israeli arms factory near Birmingham.
In the U.S. there have been some sizeable anti-Gaza War demonstrations in San Francisco, New York, and Washington DC where tens of thousands converged on the White House August 2. But just as significantly was a wave of direct actions across the country, many of which were led by or involved large numbers of Jews from groups like Jewish Voice for Peace or the newly formed #IfNotNowWhen.
Everywhere it’s clear that Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) campaigns are having an impact. On August 4, George Soros’ investment firm sold its shares in the Israeli company Soda Stream which had attracted world attention earlier this year because of a campaign to get actress Scarlet Johansen’s to step down as their spokesperson.
The U.S. has also seen more celebrities speak up than ever before--Dwight Howard, Rihanna, and Selena Gomez - even if some of them did just tweet and delete.
One of the most moving projects is #GazaNames. It’s a slideshow with music featuring Chuck D, Jonathan Demme, Gloria Steinem, Wallace Shawn, Tony Kushner, Mira Nair, Brian Eno and many other well-known figures holding handwritten signs with the name and age of a different Palestinian civilian killed in Gaza.
What makes it more powerful is that it’s not just these celebrities, but many other ordinary people who’ve uploaded a picture of themselves holding a similar sign.
Add your voice to the call to end the siege of Gaza and fight for Freedom for Palestine, Freedom for All!
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the entire War Times project
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