Sunday, December 27, 2009
Reflection: This Terrible Anniversary Of Israel's Ignition Of The Gaza Blitzkrieg
Jeremy R. Hammond, editor of the online Foreign Policy Journal, is the author of the book, "The Rejection of Palestinian Self-Determination." He provides a eye-opening perspective on the Gaza Holocaust:
"One year ago today," writes Hammond, "Israel launched 'Operation Cast Lead', a murderous full-scale military assault on the small, densely populated, and defenseless Gaza Strip. The operation resulted in the massacre of over 1,300 Palestinians, the vast majority civilians, including hundreds of children.
This includes only those killed directly by military attacks. The actual casualty figure from Israel’s policies towards Gaza, including the number of deaths attributable to its ongoing siege of the territory, is unknown.
The official pretext for the operation given by Israel and parroted unquestioningly in the Western media is that Israel had to respond with force as an act of self-defense against to an onslaught of rocket attacks against southern Israel from Hamas and other militant groups in Gaza.
Even if this were true, nations acting in self-defense against armed attacks must respect international law designed to protect civilians in time of war. Israel flagrantly violated the Geneva Conventions and other relevant treaties governing the use of force during the course of its operation, committing numerous war crimes.
But the stated pretext itself does not stand up to scrutiny. Six months prior to the assault on Gaza, Israel and Hamas had agreed to a cease-fire. Under the terms of the truce agreement, Hamas would end its rocket attacks against Israel and Israel would similarly cease attacks against Palestinians in Gaza and lift its siege on the territory.
Hamas, for its part, lived up to its obligations under the truce. It fired no rockets into Israel and actively pressured other groups to similarly refrain from launching attacks.
Israel, on the other hand, never lived up to its obligations under the truce. From the beginning, Israel declared a “security zone” on Gaza’s side of the border and Israeli soldiers repeatedly violated the truce by firing at Palestinians, guilty of merely trying to access their own land.
Israel also never eased its siege of Gaza. Israel controlled (and continues to control) the borders of Gaza, its airspace, and its coast, and implementing a near total blockade, including preventing by force the delivery of humanitarian goods into the territory.
Rather than easing the siege, Israel continued to let in only minimal amounts of humanitarian supplies (a practice that also continues today), just enough to prevent a total humanitarian catastrophe, thus keeping the population of Gaza in a state of despair and on the verge of human limits, with untold consequences on the health and mental well-being of the Palestinians.
The complete breakdown of the truce agreement came on November 4, when Israel launched airstrikes and a ground incursion into Gaza, killing four Palestinians. This violation of the cease-fire resulted in its effective undoing.
Israel’s official reason for the attack was its claim that militants were digging a tunnel under the border. The more credible explanation, however, was that Israel wanted to provoke Hamas into launching rockets and thus to claim a pretext for the full-scale military assault that Israel had, at that time, by its own account, already been planning.
Indeed, from the beginning of the truce, it appeared Israel’s intent was to provoke a violent response in order claim a pretext for its military assault. While Hamas scrupulously observed the cease-fire, Israel took deliberate actions to undermine it. Besides those already noted, Israel also stepped up operations against Palestinians in the West Bank, such as the assassination of members of Islamic Jihad shortly after the announcement of the truce.
Islamic Jihad militants in Gaza responded to that incident by firing rockets into Israel, but Hamas criticized the attacks and pressured Islamic Jihad to cease, including with the threat of arrests, and the tenuous truce continued to hold, for a time.
A greater and more provocative action was necessary in order to completely undermine the truce, and Israel’s November 4 attack proved to be that action. From that day forward, the so-called “cease-fire” consisted of tit-for-tat attacks on a daily basis, with Israel launching repeated attacks on Gaza and Hamas and other militant groups launching rockets into Israel.
Israel had achieved the pretext it was looking for in order to gain the political cover necessary to wage its assault on the civilian population of Gaza.
And make no mistake; Operation Cast Lead was a war on a civilian population, an extremely murderous act of collective punishment.
The death toll itself stands as an undeniable testament to that, but the manner in which Israel waged its operation also leaves no doubt as to its true objective.
As already noted, Israel claims its operation was designed to end rocket attacks. In truth, it was Israel that deliberately violated and undermined the truce.
Israel also claims its operation was aimed at militants. As evidence of its respect for international law and extraordinary efforts to prevent the loss of innocent life, Israel notes the fact that it dropped thousands of leaflets on Gaza prior to its operations warning civilians to flee the oncoming assault.
But the fact is this is not evidence of Israel’s respect for innocent life, but rather strong evidence that its killing of civilians was deliberate and intended. For starters, civilians, told to flee, had nowhere to go. No place in Gaza was safe from Israel’s attacks. Furthermore, in some cases civilians were told to go to city centers, and, after many had done so, those same locations were then purposefully bombed by Israel.
Israel’s claimed respect for innocent life is also belied by its means of indiscriminate warfare. Israel heavily bombarded civilian population centers. It deliberately and systematically targeted civilian locations with protected status under international law, including schools and hospitals.
Israel also used indiscriminate weaponry, including white phosphorus munitions. The use of white phosphorus is permitted under international law for illuminating the battlefield or creating smokescreens. However, its use as an incendiary weapon (it is also a chemical weapon, in that its incendiary effect is the result of a chemical reaction) is a violation of international law and a war crime, particularly when used indiscriminately against populated areas and civilian locations such as schools, as it was in Gaza.
Moreover, Israel, demonstrated extreme contempt for and defiance to the United Nations and the international community by deliberately targeting U.N. sites within Gaza. It targeted U.N. clinics, schools, and other compounds.
Israel attacked humanitarian convoys attempting to deliver much needed supplies to the desperate people of Gaza, and in other cases prevented medical teams, including from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) from reaching victims of its assault, also a war crime.
Israel also deliberately targeted a U.N. warehouse where humanitarian supplies were being stored, attacking the site with white phosphorus munitions, resulting in the warehouse and goods inside catching fire and nearly burning to the ground.
All of these actions by Israel, all well documented and incontrovertible, constitute grave war crimes under the Geneva Conventions and other relevant treaties of international law.
The U.S. Role
Israel’s contempt for innocent life, for the international community, and for international law is perhaps matched only by the U.S. willingness to support Israel’s crimes against the Palestinian people.
Simply stated, without U.S. support, none of this could go on.
The U.S. supports Israel financially. Aid to Israel is on the order of $3 billion a year. This money is given, unlike aid to other countries, with no strings attached, and with little to no oversight about how it is to be used.
Even if it is not used directly to finance Israeli policies and activities in violation of international law, such as its ongoing occupation of the Palestinian territories, construction of settlements in the West Bank, construction of a its “separation barrier” within the West Bank, destruction of Palestinian homes and other property, killing of Palestinian civilians, etc., U.S. financial support allows Israel to free up other funding for these illegal activities. It effectively rewards Israel for criminal actions.
The U.S. supports Israel militarily. And military equipment provided by the U.S. is used by Israel for actions constituting war crimes under international law. The massacre in Gaza was carried out with the help of U.S.-provided Apache helicopter gunships, U.S.-provided F-16 fighter bombers, and U.S.-provided munitions, including white phosphorus and cluster munitions.
This military support to Israel is not only a violation of international law and relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions calling on member states not to provide material support for Israeli crimes, but it is also a violation of U.S. law. Besides international treaties such as the U.N. Charter and the Geneva Conventions constituting “the supreme Law of the Land” under the U.S. Constitution, U.S. law forbids the exporting of military equipment to countries that routinely violate international law and commit offenses against human rights. Yet U.S. military support for Israel continues unabated.
The U.S. supports Israel diplomatically. The principle means by which the U.S. does so is through the use of its veto power in the U.N. Security Council. While Israel was using U.S. military hardware to murder innocent Palestinians, the U.S. was actively trying to stall a cease-fire resolution to give Israel more time to carry out its assault.
A watered-down version of the resolution was finally found acceptable to the U.S., which reportedly was ready to vote in favor, but after receiving a call from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, while not going so far as to cast a veto, instead abstained rather than casting a vote for a resolution rightfully critical of Israel."
Well-said, Jeremy. Now if only enough of the American public finally wakes up to the fact that they can help put a stop to the Israeli bloodletting & destruction of the remains of Palestine, if they'd just send a loud, consistent message to each of their congressmen.
And don't lose faith. That brutal Apartheid South African Regime finally crumbled, to be replaced by a birth of new freedom. So, too, will its even more brutal cousin, Apartheid Israel.
A free Palestinian nation can emerge from the ashes. And it will, if Americans armed with the truth just say no to tax contributions for any more of this appalling oppression, murder, and mayhem.
In the meantime, the brave people of Gaza--like those South Africans that once shouted "Cry Freedom!"--will not go down, no matter how many of their children the Israeli storm troopers slaughter.
“No one can take my identity
Away from me,
Not tanks or guns or bombs
Meant to desecrate me and kill me.
My country lives in me.
I am the cry of liberty
No matter what they take from me,
They can't take away my identity
Or my dignity.
Palestinian am I.”