A war crime in progress

Jason Farbman reports on the latest developments in Israel’s war on Gaza, July 14, 2014.

ISRAEL’S RELENTLESS pounding of a trapped civilian population in Gaza entered a frightening new phase as its bombing campaign continued into its seventh day. On July 13, the Israeli military dropped leaflets warning the residents of northern Gaza that whoever stayed behind risked being caught in an intensifying barrage of air strikes, prompting a panicked exodus of tens of thousands from the area.

At least 160 Palestinians have now been killed and more than 1,000 injured in attacks that have targeted mosques and hospitals. NBC reporter Ayman Mohyeldin tweeted: “1,100 strikes on #Gaza over 4 days. If you do the math that is: 1 strike every 5 minutes every day non-stop. 550 #Hamas rockets into #Israel.” No Israeli deaths and only a handful of injuries have been reported.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised that world opinion would not slow Israel’s military operations, a promise he backed up when the Israeli military began targeting Gaza’s water and sewage systems. The Israeli military also deployed the first ground troops into Gaza since the launching of what it is calling Operation Protective Edge. Some 40,000 reserve troops are at the ready for potential full-scale deployment.

Israel’s brutality comes three months after the collapse of the formal “peace process,”but it is perhaps the best proof that those negotiations could never have achieved a real or meaningful peace. Then on June 12, Netanyahu seized on the disappearance and deaths of three settler boys as a pretext to blaze a path to war.

President Obama has meekly offered to broker a “ceasefire,” which should be little comfort to Gazans now under attack. Obama could signal real interest in peace–or in stopping the ongoing destruction of Gaza–by threatening to stop the $3.1 billion the U.S. sends each year to Israel.

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Implausible excuses for indiscriminate violence

Israel has repeatedly justified its many episodes of military aggression against Palestinians by invoking its right to self-defense. This time, their assault is purported to be in response to the kidnapping and killing of three settler boys as well as to the rocket fire coming from Hamas.

But to this day, Netanyahu has never bothered to offer any evidence of Hamas’ involvement in the settler boys’ disappearance. Despite this lack of evidence, Israel quickly sent 2,500 Israeli troops into Palestinian towns and villages throughout the West Bank in the most extensive military incursions into Palestinian territory since 2002. Hamas, which traditionally takes responsibility for its actions, has vigorously denied any involvement.

It’s important to point out–because the mainstream media has utterly failed to do so–that Israel is carrying out a full-scale military operation against the entire civilian population of Gaza for a crime committed in the West Bank. To state what should be obvious, the West Bank and Gaza are different places. “It’s like insisting the U.S. must stop at nothing to get the perpetrators of 9/11–by invading Iraq,” wrote Barbara Ehrenreich.

Israel’s second claim–of self-defense against rockets fired from Gaza–likewise falls short. There is no equivalency between Israeli military might and the occupied, captive Palestinian population living under Israeli control. For the past few weeks, Palestinians have been held under curfew, with the threat of home invasions by military forces, and more recently confronted by the street violence of right-wing Israeli mobs roaming the streets and chanting, “Death to Arabs!”

But justice in Palestine won’t be achieved by carrying out a tit-for-tat reckoning or going back in time to investigate “who fired first.” Violence between Israel and Gaza occurs in the context of Israel’s ongoing occupation, which under international law gives the occupied the right to resist, including the use of arms. If Israel doesn’t like the resistance, its option is simple: end the occupation.

But Israel wants it both ways: Palestinians are under Israeli control when it comes to expanding settlements, building checkpoints and controlling the flow of goods and money in and out of Palestinian territory. But Palestinians are a separate, independent and “threatening” nation when it comes to deploying one of the most sophisticated and lethal militaries on the planet.

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From Bibi’s mouth to our ears

The absurdity of Israel’s various claims would be self-evident if the mainstream media didn’t act as a mouthpiece for the Netanyahu and Obama administrations. Despite the glaring disparity between heavily armed Israeli troops fighting to seize an ever larger share of Palestine from the land’s indigenous and largely unarmed population, a July 9 headline in the New York Times read, “Israel and Hamas Trade Attacks as Tension Rises.” Unmentioned is the military siege of the previous few weeks, the 66-year-and-counting occupation, or the many previous instances in which Israel has pummeled Palestinian civilians.

If there were any mediation between Netanyahu’s talking points and the pages of major U.S. newspapers, coverage of Israel’s military siege beginning with “Israel searches for three teenagers it says were kidnapped by Hamas,” would immediately be followed with, “by continuing a weeks-long military incursion, despite no evidence being furnished by Netanyahu administration.”

A sharp commentator might even point out how unlikely it seemed that Israel was actually searching for the boys, as Max Blumenthal explained in an article for ElectronicIntifada.net, which revealed that the “Netanyahu government knew teens were dead as it whipped up racist frenzy.”

Perhaps the worst coverage was the literal reversal of Palestine and Israel by ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer. Sawyer reported on the grief of Israeli civilians while playing video footage of Palestinian victims amid buildings reduced to rubble–thus deploying images of destruction perpetrated by Israel to help construct the narrative that Israelis, not Palestinians, were the victims. After a social-media campaign using the sarcastic hashtag #TweetLikeABC, Sawyer was forced to issue an on-air apology. Apologies have yet to come for the remainder of their criminally enabling coverage.

With the Palestinians suffering all the deaths in the conflict, a trickle of news reports have remarked on the enormous imbalance of destruction wreaked by Israel on Palestine. But few if any question the fundamental premise that Israel is exercising the right to defend itself from Palestinian attack. The leap from “Israel defending itself” to “Israel destroying Gaza, virtually unanswered” is full of plot holes, which get plugged with tired cliches about a religious feud raging since the dawn of time over who will inhabit the Holy Land.

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Not-so-secret origins of a war crime

But it’s not at all necessary to go back more than 100 years to understand the roots ofIsrael’s ethnic cleansing of Palestine. And it’s only necessary to recount the last few months of diplomacy to make sense of the current carnage Israel is unleashing.

After the U.S.-backed “peace process” seemed to take its last gasps, Fatah and Hamas announced they would overcome their rivalry and form a unity government.

This infuriated Israeli officials, who have counted among their major accomplishments of the last decade the success of a divide-and-conquer strategy in forcing a schism between Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank. This division supplemented the success Israel enjoyed in keeping the “peace process” going as a two-decade-long opportunity to keep the Palestinian side “talking,” while increasing Israel’s control over Palestinian land through settlement building and other measures to expand its regime of colonial control.

When the “peace process” and the disunity of the Palestinians threatened to end simultaneously, Israel acted quickly in the way it knows best: by directing incredible violence against a captive population under its control, while invoking self-defense as a perpetually embattled Jewish people.

As soldiers invaded Palestinian neighborhoods, mixed areas began to see racist violence, particularly in Jerusalem. The most visible victims of these attacks were Palestinian teenagers Mohammed Abu Khdeir, kidnapped and burned to death by six Israeli right-wingers, and his cousin Tariq, who was brutally beaten by Israeli police.

After generations of anti-Arab fear mongering, Israeli society is so pumped full of anti-Arab racism that Netanyahu can seem restrained by comparison. As the New York Times observed, “Israeli public opinion is more supportive of a major military action than the prime minister or the government.”

According to an Israeli national security advisor quoted in the article, “Israeli public opinion is not only behind the government, but is pushing the government.” Meanwhile images have begun to emerge showing Israelis gathering on hilltop “cinemas” to watch the bombing of Gaza–bringing popcorn with them and cheering as light flashes through the sky indicate another building has been hit.

The very premise of the “peace process” is that negotiations can only happen in good faith between two sides legitimately interested in a resolution. Recent months have made abundantly clear–though it was already–that Israel is ready to use obscene amounts of violence to make sure that there cannot be peace.

Solutions will, therefore, not come from within Israel, which is frighteningly united in its support for yet another crime against humanity in Gaza. The Palestinian struggle for self-determination desperately needs the solidarity of people of conscience from around the world. This global boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement must expose every instance of Israeli racism and colonialism while seeking to challenge the massive amounts of American economic and diplomatic support that make Israel’s project possible.

But in the short run, it’s urgent to build emergency response protests in every city in every country to demand an immediate end to Israel’s terrorism.

Republish with permission from SocialistWorker.org

Photo Credit: Jordi Bernabeu Farrús