Palestine: Israel Escalates Brutal War
Palestine: Israel Escalates Brutal War
By Rohan Pearce
Green Left Weekly
Following Israel’s missile attack on the office of Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh in Gaza City on July 2, the Israeli military issued a statement claiming it was intended to ''secure the safe return’‘ of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was captured by Palestinian militants one week earlier. Haniyeh was not in his office at the time of the strike.
“Is it not astonishing”, asked Ali Abunimah, founder of the well-respected Electronic Intifada website, “that the entire world knows the name and face of the Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, while the hundreds of Palestinian children held in Israel’s dungeons, not to mention 10,000 adult prisoners, thousands held without charge and trial, abducted from their homes in the middle of the night by Israeli occupation forces, remain nameless and faceless before a silent world?”
Abunimah was speaking on the June 28 edition of US radio show Democracy Now about the Israeli military “incursion” in the Gaza Strip. The trigger for “Operation Summer Rain” - the Israeli codename for the invasion, which began on June 28 - was ostensibly the capture of Shalit, a corporal in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) who was seized during a raid on an Israeli military outpost near the Kerem Shalom border crossing. This is one of the main bases from which the IDF has been conducting its continual shelling of Gaza. Responsibility for the guerrilla attack has been claimed by the Popular Resistance Committees.
Aljazeera reported on June 25 that a PRC official said the raid was a response to Israel’s June 8 assassination of Jamal Abu Samhadana, who was the PRC’s founder and director-general of the interior ministry of the Palestinian Authority (PA).
Khaled Amayreh reported in the June 29 edition of the Egypt-based Al Ahram that it was “obvious from the onset that the abduction of the soldier was intended to pressure Israel into releasing Palestinian children and women languishing in Israeli jails, mostly on concocted charges based on false confessions extracted by way of torture and coercion”.
The blistering Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip employed attack helicopters and fighter jets. Two bridges were destroyed and the Gaza Strip’s only power plant was bombed. The San Jose Mercury reported on June 29 that the “power plant does more than provide energy to more than half of the Gaza Strip’s 1.3 million residents. It also fuels critical water and sewage pumps ... The impact of the strike is clear in Gaza City: More than half of the 600,000 residents are without water, and at least two-thirds lack power.”
In the week before the strike on Haniyeh’s office, Israeli forces “arrested” PA officials and Hamas leaders. As much as a third of the PA cabinet had been taken hostage by Israeli forces, according to a June 29 Reuters report. Those arrested include the finance minister and the parliamentary speaker.
The reaction of the “international community” (i.e., the imperialist nations of the West) to Israel’s escalation of its war against the Palestinian people has unfolded like a bloody black comedy with a plot so predictable that press secretaries the world over could easily recycle their statements from the last round of Israeli atrocities.
Any armed resistance by Palestinians in the face of a brutal, racist and illegal occupation is condemned, while the massively disproportionate violence of the Israeli armed forces, delivered through tanks, jets and millions of dollars in US funding, is considered isolated “excesses” or “unfortunate incidents”, like the June 9 obliteration of a Palestinian family on a Gaza beach by Israeli artillery.
UN secretary general Kofi Annan urged Israel “to show restraint” in its military operations in the Gaza Strip, even while noting that Israel’s military operations were sowing the seeds of a new humanitarian disaster. On June 28, White House spokesperson Tony Snow said that while Washington “urges” Israel to ensure that “innocent civilians are not harmed, and also that it avoid the unnecessary destruction of property and infrastructure”, “The hostage-taking and the attacks by Hamas last weekend have precipitated the current events in Gaza”. He added: “Israel has the right to defend itself and the lives of its citizens.”
The June 9 beach massacre was a crack in the myth of Israel “defending” itself from the poorly armed population of the Occupied Territories. In the wake of the massacre, Hamas announced that its unilateral ceasefire, which lasted more than a year, was over. The Israeli bombardment of the Occupied Territories was ostensibly in response to Qassam rocket attacks, but these were mostly ineffective and largely symbolic.
In a June 21 op-ed for the Hebrew-language Yediot Aharonot (a translated version is available from http://www.zmag.org), Tanya Reinhart wrote: “In Israeli discourse, Israel is always presented as the side exercising restraint in its conflict with the Palestinians. This was true again for the events of the past week: As the Qassam rockets were falling on the Southern Israeli town of Sderot, it was 'leaked’ that the Israeli Minister of Defense had directed the army to show restraint.
“During the week of Israeli restraint, the army killed a Palestinian family who went on a picnic on the Beit Lahya beach in the Gaza Strip; after that, the army killed nine people in order to liquidate a Katyusha rocket. But in the discourse of restraint, the first killing does not count, because the army denied its involvement, and the second was deemed a necessary act of self-defense. After all, Israel is caught in the midst of Qassam attacks, and must defend its citizens. In this narrative, the fact that Israel is content merely to bombard the Gaza Strip from air, sea and land is a model of restraint and humanity that not many states could match.”
A small sample of the weekly reports from the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights gives a glimpse of the “restraint” exercised by Israel in the lead-up to Shalit’s kidnapping: May 4-May 10 - nine Palestinians killed by the IDF, 24 Palestinian civilians, including seven children, wounded; May 11-May 17 - nine Palestinians killed in the West Bank, 41 Palestinians, including 13 children, wounded; May 18-24 - nine Palestinians killed, 26 civilians, including 10 children, wounded.
This isn’t the full story: Missing are the arrests (more than 300 Palestinians were arrested in the period covered above), the destruction of Palestinian property, the economic strangulation of the Occupied Territories, the ongoing construction of Israel’s apartheid wall and the psychological terror inflicted by IDF raids and checkpoints.
The Palestinian Red Crescent Society releases frequent reports of Israeli soldiers delaying Palestinian ambulances at checkpoints in the Occupied Territories and in some cases refusing to allow them to pass at all. In a report covering the week June 10-16, six PRCS ambulances were turned back at checkpoints and three were delayed for longer than half an hour.
War of attrition
While the capture of Shalit provided the pretext for Israel’s assault on the Gaza Strip, “Summer Rain” represents an escalation of Israeli policy since Hamas swept the PA elections in January, not a fundamental shift. An April 11 article in the Ha’aretz quoted an Israeli military official who said that Israel’s vicious campaign of shelling in the Gaza Strip was part of a “war of attrition against Hamas ... the goal is to break them in the end”.
The June 29 New York Times reported the analysis of Ali Jarbawi, a professor at Birzeit University, of the reasons for the current Israeli operation: “The kidnapped soldier matters, he said. 'But he is also a pretext for the Israelis, who also have a score to settle with Hamas.’ Israel, he says, wants a compliant Palestinian Authority.”
The spectacular election victory of Hamas was the product of Palestinian disillusionment with a peace process that promised little and delivered less, and a rejection of rampant corruption in the PA. Hamas beat Fatah, the faction of deceased Palestinian Liberation Organisation head Yasser Arafat that had dominated the PA since its inception in 1994.
The PA was established in the wake of the Oslo Accords, the 1993 agreement between the Israeli government of Yitzhak Rabin and the PLO. While the agreement formally recognised Palestinians’ right to statehood, it didn’t settle contentious issues relating to Palestinian self-determination, such as the illegal Israeli paramilitary “settlements” in the West Bank and the right of return of Palestinian refugees. It also left Israel with substantial control over the Occupied Territories. In the wake of the accords, Arafat and the PLO demobilised the intifada, the popular Palestinian uprising against Israeli oppression.
However, Israeli expansion into the Occupied Territories increased. Between Oslo and the start of the second Palestinian intifada in 2000, housing units in Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories increased from around 167,000 to 488,000. A 2002 report by B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights centre, argued that “the growth of these settlements is fueled not only by neutral forces of supply and demand, but primarily by a sophisticated governmental system designed to encourage Israeli citizens to live in the settlements”.
Instead of leading towards an independent Palestinian state, Oslo ended up entrenching the Israeli occupation and the so-called “peace process” became widely discredited among Palestinians. Hamas was one of the “rejectionist” Palestinian organisations that was free of the taint of the increasingly meaningless Oslo Accords, and of the corruption and nepotism that permeated sections of the PA. Its electoral victory wasn’t just a rejection of Fatah, but an expression of the ongoing will to resist the occupation among Palestinians and their refusal to be content with a pale imitation of independence.
For these reasons, the new Hamas administration has been plunged into conflict with PA President Mahmoud Abbas (a member of Fatah), the Israeli regime and Washington. Israel has withheld Palestinian tax revenue, and PA funding from Western sources has been cut in an effort to starve the administration into submission. Abbas has manoeuvred to try to force Hamas to recognise the supremacy of the Fatah-led PLO in international negotiations.
This latest Israeli assault, far from being an “overreaction” to the capture of an IDF soldier, is part of a strategy to destroy the ability of the democratically elected Hamas government to resist settling the “Palestine/Israel conflict” (as the dispossession of Palestinians is banally labelled) on Israel’s terms and sap the Occupied Territories population’s will to resist.
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