Nov 17, 2012

Israeli attack on Gaza: al-Jabari killing and airstrikes not just about rockets

Israeli attack on Gaza and protesters in Ottawa
Top: BBC worker Jihad Masharawi holds the body of his 11-month old son 
Ahmad after an Israeli strike on the family home in Gaza City. 
Bottom: Canadian protesters in Ottawa.

When Israel launched Operation Cast Lead in 2008 it was shortly before an election. Around 1,400 were killed in Gaza in what some critics dubbed "the election war." Another election is pending in Israel and Gaza is once again the target of Israeli airstrikes. Netanyahu has a need to look tough, especially perhaps with talk of a return of Olmert who oversaw the Cast Lead operation.

On November 14, after feigning compliance with a truce Israeli forces assassinated Hamas military chief, Ahmed al-Jabari. The killing was the opener for yet another Israeli operation-with-a-name - Operation Pillar of Defense. The Israeli PR machine has been working overtime to justify recent attacks as a response to rockets fired from Gaza and to warn of what may follow.

Over this weekend the HQ of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh was destroyed in an airstrike. Israel's hawkish foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman warns of a "crushing response" still to come.

Much has changed in the region since the last Israeli invasion of Gaza. Arab nations under new leadership are keeping a close watch on current developments, in particular Egypt. During a recent visit to Gaza the Tunisian foreign minister, Rafik Abdesslem, condemned Israeli aggression and said it was in violation of international law:

"Israel should understand that many things have changed and that lots of water has run in the Arab river... It should realise it no longer has a free hand. It does not have total immunity and is not above international law … What Israel is doing is not legitimate and is not acceptable at all."

As was the case during Operation Cast Lead, some western media outlets paint a picture of Israel righteously defending itself against the bad guys in Gaza - a narrative that stretches credulity given Israel's record of territorial violations and aggression. It ignores other motives underlying Israeli actions.

Writing in Mondoweiss Annie Robbins questions if the Israelis provoked rockets from Gaza in order to sabotage the Palestinians' UN bid. She asks if Israel is using "the threat of another full on war against Gaza as a bargaining chip against the international community's support for an upgrade of Palestinian statehood at the UN later this month?"

Truth is these periodic flare ups are often triggered by aggressive Israeli tactics that include provocations and on occasion targeted assassinations. It's not enough for them to impose collective punishment on the prison called Gaza, the situation is also manipulated ruthlessly to create opportunity and justification. No surprise given Israel's history of apartheid-like policies, land grabs, illegal settlements and military aggression.

The propaganda value of incoming rockets shouldn't be underestimated. In the lead up to an Israeli election they have become a political issue.That said, the rockets - many homemade - have been hyped in some news reports as more of a menace than they are in reality. Many land in uninhabited areas. Sure, they have been responsible for death and injury and do create heightened concern among Israeli civilians, but given the numbers of rockets fired there have been relatively few deaths over the years - certainly when  compared with the human death toll wreaked by IAF strikes on heavily populated Gaza. In the recent Israeli air offensive more Palestinians were killed in Gaza in a single day than Israelis killed by rockets in the past three years.

More on the IDF propaganda behind rocket attacks - here.

The fault for this ongoing cycle of violence lies at Israel's doorstep due to its refusal to move in a constructive direction. It has refused to deal in any meaningful way with Palestinian leadership in the four years since Operation Cast lead. Talk of a "peace process" is a complete sham. Israel has been more focused on stealing Palestinian land than entering into anything that passes for peace talks. The current Gaza offensive, especially if it goes to a land invasion, creates justification for further land grabs and the assertion of Israeli sovereignty.

Dov Khenin of the Hadash party said in a recent speech - "Time and again in recent years they [Palestinian leadership] extend the hand, towards communication, towards peace, and they encounter a policy of rejection! That rejection has wasted four precious years!"

What Israel does instead is keep hostilities on a slow burn. This allows for occasional flare ups that offer opportunities to up the ante for strategic reasons or political advantage. The result is that the cycle of violence continues with no end in sight.

The rockets create an opportunity to pose as the victim. When you present as the victim it's easier to get away with crimes and a brutal occupation and, to quote the Haaretz journalist Gideon Levy - the treatment of Palestinians  as 'subhuman.'

Levy mentions a story from the last Gaza operation when two Israeli military dogs were killed. The dogs received front page treatment in Israeli papers with comments by grief stricken handlers and other admirers. Meanwhile the hundreds of Palestinian citizens being killed in airstrikes would get a cursory mention in an out-of-the-way paragraph or two buried elsewhere in the paper. No names, no photos, no history. Just "disposable humans."

None of it is ever Israel's fault. The refusal to accept responsibility extends to the distrust of international law. Israel is the exception and a lot of this attitude is driven by pro-Israel media in the west with its selective coverage and spin when there is much they should be challenging. It is the ongoing reluctance on the part of the west, in particular the US, to hold Israel to account that risks taking the region toward a disaster.

The focus on rockets takes the spotlight off the crime behind-the scenes... the conditions in which Gazans are compelled to live under conditions of occupation. 

Gaza is one of the most densely populated areas in the world. Unemployment runs around 25 per cent. Noam Chomsky recently returned from a visit. In his article Impressions of Gaza he writes in the first paragraph:

"... it hardly takes more than a day in Gaza to begin to appreciate what it must be like to try to survive in the world’s largest open-air prison, where a million and a half people, in the most densely populated area of the world, are constantly subject to random and often savage terror and arbitrary punishment, with no purpose other than to humiliate and degrade, and with the further goal of ensuring that Palestinian hopes for a decent future will be crushed and that the overwhelming global support for a diplomatic settlement that will grant these rights will be nullified."

Noam Chomsky's article in full - here.

The economy of Gaza has been severely damaged by the Israeli land, air and sea blockade. Many Gazans are refugees, refused the right of return to their ancestral homes because they aren't Jewish. Their people were driven out of what is now Israel during the Nakba (Zionist ethnic cleansing) in the 1940's. Israel has denied the Palestinians it evicted any rights or reparations. Homes and lands were simply seized.

This is the background of the beleaguered strip that has been the target of repeat incursions by an Israeli force equipped with F-16's, Apache helicopters, drones, back-up nuclear warheads - all the hardware available to one of the world's most powerful military machines. Despite the massive imbalance between the opposing forces, a lot of western media coverage without any embarrassment presents the contest as though it is some kind of an equal fight. Nothing could be further from the truth.