8 January 2009 Edition
GAZA: The myths and realities of Israel's mass murder
BY EMMA CLANCY
AT the time of writing, at least 630 Palestinians have been killed and more than 2,700 wounded in Israel’s air onslaught on the Gaza Strip that began on 27 December – and now Israeli tanks, ground troops and artillery shells have joined the assault. More than 2,200 families were displaced across the Gaza Strip before the ground invasion began on 4 January and several thousand more are reported to have fled their homes since the invasion began.
Since Israeli troops moved in, the UN suspended aid distribution in the territory. As a result of the economic siege imposed on Gaza by Israel, the US and the EU since March 2006, and strengthened since June 2007, at least a million of Gaza’s 1.5 million residents – half of whom are under the age of 15 – are completely dependent on food aid from UN agencies.
Humanitarian organisation Save the Children said that 50,000 children were already suffering from malnutrition in Gaza before the latest offensive began as a result of the blockade. The UN reports that hospitals are stretched to breaking point and a million Gazans are now without electricity in the freezing cold and face “serious hunger” while the Red Cross reported that water supplies were under threat for half a million.
Those killed and injured are victims of an internal Israeli political struggle in the lead-up to the general election scheduled for 10 February. It is a dismal indictment of the political culture in Israel that the ‘moderate centre’, personified by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni of Kadima and Defence Minister Ehud Barak of the Labour Party – both contestants for prime minister next month and the joint architects of the air assault and invasion of Gaza – is attempting to out-do the extreme right Likud opposition, led by Binyamin Netanyahu, by displaying its willingness to slaughter Palestinians for ‘Israel’s security’.
Israel aims to crush the ability of Hamas to fire rockets into Israel, weaken the organisation and prevent it from building up any significant military capabilities and, of course, to punish the civilian population of Gaza for its support of Hamas.
Early in the air strike campaign an Israeli spokesperson said:
“Anything affiliated with Hamas is a legitimate target.”
In the Gaza Strip, where Hamas – which was elected in 2006 to lead the Palestinian Authority (PA) – runs the civil service and police as well as providing social services to the population through its network of charitable organisations, “legitimate targets” have consisted of mosques, schools, ambulances, open fields, children’s playgrounds, residential areas, refugee camps, the Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Education and, of course, the graduation ceremony of the traffic police!
The Islamic University in Gaza, with 20,000 students, more than 60 per cent of whom are women, was deemed a “legitimate target”.
The proportion of civilians among the dead reported by the UN and the international media – 25 per cent – appears to be based only on women and children casualties. Making the assumption that every man in Gaza is a Hamas fighter makes the thorny diplomatic issue of the civilian body count less difficult for Israel to deal with.
That the UN and international media has gone along with this clearly flawed methodology is nothing short of astounding. In no other situation on the planet would the entire male population of a particular territory be treated by these international bodies as combatants simply due to their having the misfortune to live under military occupation.
‘Holocaust in the making’
In January 2006, in the first elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council to be held in the OPT for a decade, Hamas’s Reform and Change list won 74 out of 132 seats; Fatah won 45.
Speaking about the Israeli “disengagement” from Gaza in August 2005, the late Israeli scholar and Palestine solidarity activist Tanya Reinhart wrote:
“Israel does not need this piece of land, one of the most densely populated in the world, and lacking any natural resources.
“The problem is that one cannot let Gaza free, if one wants to keep the West Bank. A third of the occupied Palestinians live in the Gaza Strip. If they are given freedom, they would become the centre of Palestinian struggle for liberation, with free access to the Western and Arab world.”
While the blockade of movement of goods and people was tightened following the outcome of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) elections in January, the siege was in fact already being put in place from the moment Israel withdrew its 8,500 settlers from Gaza.
UN Special Rapporteur Richard Falk has described the siege as “a prelude to genocide” and “a holocaust in the making”.
In Gaza, in the lead-up to the bombardment, hundreds of Palestinians have died silently, in desperate need of basic medical supplies including insulin and cancer treatment. The latest international boat carrying vital supplies, organised by the Free Gaza movement in December, was rammed by an Israeli gunship, which prevented it from reaching its destination.
The border crossings remain closed. The permanent opening of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt is Hamas’s immediate diplomatic goal.
Having taken a battering in world public opinion after the slaughter of more than 1,000 people in its failed war on Lebanon in July-August 2006, during which 291 Palestinians were also killed, Israel’s public relations machine is today in overdrive, with politicians, diplomats and lobbyists exerting every effort to justify the state’s latest brutal attacks on its neighbours.
The line coming from Israel, backed by the US and parroted by the majority of the mainstream international media, is that Israel was responding to the violation of a six-month ceasefire by Hamas, that Israel had the good nature to pull its 8,500 settlers out of Gaza in 2005 and so Gaza is “no longer occupied”, and that Israel has been suffering under a barrage of rocket attacks ever since and has shown enormous tolerance.
The themes of Israeli victimhood, restraint and lack of alternative options are constant – but don’t withstand a moment’s scrutiny.
In addition to maintaining the siege and a steady pace of repressive incursions into the West Bank, the Israeli military killed six Hamas members in a raid on Gaza on 4 November and Hamas responded by firing a wave of rockets into Israel. The ceasefire Hamas was supposed to have “violated” had not only been destroyed by Israel in November – it had expired on 19 December.
Following the November assassinations, Hamas resumed Qassam attacks and said it did not intend to renew the ceasefire after its expiration unless the border crossings were opened.
Under bombardment and now invasion, Hamas spokespersons have repeatedly indicated the group’s willingness to extend the truce but under the condition of ending the blockade.
Israeli, US and EU sanctions against the Hamas-led PA was followed by a bitter factional struggle between Hamas and forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, centred in Gaza, in which 500 Palestinians were killed from 2006 to 2008 and the historical unity of the Palestinian national movement shattered – and physically divided in the two territories.
Civil war was fomented in a plan that began in the US State Department in the immediate aftermath of the election of Hamas in early 2006. Hamas took full control of the Gaza Strip in June 2007.
An adviser to PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, Ahmed Youseff , wrote in a June 2007 Washington Post article that Hamas believes the US-Israeli aim is to “truncate Gaza from any proposed Palestinian state and make it a de facto prison for all ‘undesirable’ aspects of Palestinian nationalism.
“This will culminate in provocations designed to trigger a military response from Israel, which will ‘justify’ a war on Gazans.”
Negotiations have gone on between Israel and President Abbas, to the exclusion of Hamas, since the election in 2006 on the basis of Hamas’s ‘failure’ to comply with the demands laid down by Israel and backed by the Middle East Quartet (the US, Russia, the European Union and the UN).
Without a hint of irony, Israel – which has actively taken every measure it can to prevent a Palestinian state from emerging, has flagrantly violated the conditions of every agreement it has made with the Palestinians and countless UN resolutions, and killed more than 5,300 Palestinians since September 2000 – called on the obliging Quartet to impose three demands on the Hamas government.
It was not enough for the Hamas government to have popular support of the people but it had to “recognise Israel”, honour previous accords made by the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), and renounce armed struggle.
Israel and the US have succeeded in perpetuating myths about Hamas in order to isolate it that ignore the political direction of the movement over the past number of years.
So what are Hamas’s aims?
Essentially, Hamas wants to negotiate a hudna, or long-term ceasefire, with Israel based on a withdrawal of Israeli forces to 1967 borders and Palestinian control over the territories and its borders.
When such a long-term ceasefire is in place, then discussions about the establishment of two states existing side-by-side or a single bi-national state or an alternative solution could begin.
The Gaza Strip and West Bank of the pre-1967 borders comprise 22 per cent of historic Palestine; if the route of the wall is the new border, it will incorporate a further 40 per cent of the West Bank into the Israeli side and dispossess a further 500,000 Palestinians of their land, according to the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Hamas is also seeking the incorporation of Hamas and Islamic Jihad into the PLO, without which, it says, the PLO cannot be the “sole legitimate body” representing Palestinians in negotiations with Israel and the international community.
According to Hamas spokespeople, the group had been envisioning a process whereby a transitional government of national unity could be achieved through Cairo-sponsored reconciliation talks over the next few months and then preparations begin for the next PLC elections, scheduled for early next year.
The reality is that as Palestinians have grown increasingly frustrated with the worsening conditions and utter failure of the 1993 Oslo Accords to deliver positive change, let alone statehood, Hamas, which began life as a religious movement with a sectarian ideology has gained in strength and influence.
In recent years Hamas has been changing its tactics and language and the nature of its rule in the Gaza Strip. Hamas leaders have stated they look to the process that took place in South Africa and in the North of Ireland as valuable experiences which may act as examples on which to model their approach.
The group ended its campaign of suicide bombings in Israel and held to a self-imposed, unilateral ceasefire for the year and a half leading up to the 2006 elections. All the evidence shows that the Hamas leadership understand that their electoral mandate was based on resisting the occupation, not on imposing religious social reforms.
Those who defend Hamas say that the Qassam rockets they have fired into Israeli towns have been used as a tactic of last resort. They say that backed into a corner and responsible for the welfare of 1.5 million people trying to survive under siege, Hamas faced the choice of surrendering its popular mandate and giving in to Israel’s demands or resisting, in however symbolic a way.
Back in November 2006, when Israeli incursions left 52 Palestinians dead in one week in Beit Hanoun, Israeli peace activist and journalist Gideon Levy wrote:
“These futile operations will not stop the Qassams, which are aimed at giving us and the rest of the world a painful reminder of the imprisoned and boycotted Gaza residents’ distress, which no one would notice if it were not for the Qassams.”
Recognition of government
Whereas the US played a relatively constructive role in the Irish Peace Process, partly because of pressure from the Irish-American community, it has failed to exert any pressure on Israel to fulfil its obligations to withdraw from the Occupied Palestinian Territories under Oslo and has actively supported the occupation through its massive, unconditional military aid to Israel.
In the long-term, the international solidarity movement with Palestine must continue to outline the link between the latest Israeli outrages and the previous atrocities committed by the state against its neighbours and the dispossessed Palestinians. This massacre is no aberration but a logical outcome of the goals and ideology of the Zionist movement.
The boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign, while still in its infancy, is growing in strength and will be the most effective means of forcing Israeli governments and public opinion to realise these actions will no longer be accepted.
Hamas remains on the US and EU’s list of proscribed terrorist organisations, a categorisation which helps Israel enormously in its effort to isolate the Palestinian government in Gaza and proceed with its vicious bombardment of the territory.
If EU governments that speak to Hamas ‘secretly’ but at the same time collude with the brutal sanctions regime against Gaza removed the group from the proscribed list, engaged openly and ended the embargo it would go some way towards resolving the crisis, pressuring Israel to engage with Hamas.
At the very least, by looking at the substance of Hamas’s demands and the basis of its support, it would remove the cloak of immunity for Israeli atrocities against the population of Gaza.