Like so much about the Mideast, what the North American media and our politicians tell us about the current agony of Gaza leaves out more than it includes, and paints a badly distorted picture.
We are told evil Hamas Islamic terrorists backed by Iran are raining deadly rockets on Israel with the intent of destroying the Jewish state. Israel, goes the mantra heard from politicians and the media, `has the right to defend herself.’
True enough. No Israeli government can tolerate rockets hitting its towns. Twenty four Israelis have died from these rockets over the past decade. The firing of these rockets by Palestinians is both useless and counter-productive: it damages their image as an oppressed people, enrages the Israelis, and gives their right wing extremists a perfect reason to launch more attacks on the Arabs and refuse to discuss peace.
Israel has the absolute right to drop hundreds of tons of bombs on `Hamas targets’ inside the 360 sq km Gaza Strip to `take out the terrorists,’ its supporters insist.
Using US-made F-16I jets to bombing Hamas there is like shooting fish in a barrel. Civilians must suffer, says Israel, because the cowardly Hamas hide among them.
But, as usual, this is a cartoon-like version of events that leaves out a great deal of detail.
Hamas, let us recall, won the Arab world’s first real democratic elections there in 2006. Horrified that its stooges in the corrupt, US and Israeli-backed PLO/Fatah led by Mahmoud Abbas were routed, Israel and the US imposed a punishing blockade on Gaza aimed at starving its people into rejecting Hamas and accepting the puppet Fatah.
According to the UN, most Gazans subsist near the edge of hunger. Seventy percent of Palestinian children in Gaza suffer from severe malnutrition. Medical facilities are critically short of personnel and drugs. Gaza has quite literally become a human garbage dump for all the Arabs Israel did not want.
Packed with 1.5 million Palestinian refugees, Gaza is one of the world’s most densely populated places, a vast outdoor prison camp filled with desperate people. In the past, they threw stones at their Israeli occupiers; now they launch home-made rockets.
In January, 2006, Israel began `anti-terrorist’ attacks and raids on Gaza in an effort to overthrow Hamas. Palestinians retaliated by rocket fire. In June, 2008, a cease-fire was brokered. But the skirmishing continued as Hamas fired rockets to protest Israel’s failure to lift the punishing blockage. The blockade was an egregious violation of international law and the Geneva Conventions, but the west went along with it.
Since 2006, over 1,000 Palestinians were killed by Israeli bombing, attack helicopters, tank fire and ground attacks.
That was before the December crisis in which well over 2,000 more Palestinians have so far been killed and thousands more wounded. Israel, as of this writing, claims four dead from rocket fire. Whatever happened to the Old Testament’s `an eye for an eye?’ Israel’s new ratio appears to be 500 to one.
The so-called truce expired just as Israel headed into an early election. Israeli politics played a key role in this crisis. Labor Party leader Barak, and Kadima leader, Tzipi Livini, are trying to prove themselves tougher than Bibi Netanyahu’s hardline Likud Party. Israel’s elections are only six weeks away, and Likud was leading until the air assault on Gaza.
The heavy attacks on Gaza are also designed to intimidate Israel’s Arab neighbors, and make up for Israel’s humiliating 2006 defeat in Lebanon. Kadima and Labor are now up in the polls.
As the current attacks began, Israel’s Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, asserted, `We have totally changed the rules of the game.’
He was right. By blitzing Hamas-run Gaza, Barak presented the incoming US administration with a fait accompli, and neatly checkmated the newest player in the Mideast Great Game – that other `Barack,’ Barack Obama – before he could even take a seat at the table.
Israel’s siege of Gaza looks likely to short-circuit any plans Barack Obama might have had to press Israel into withdrawing to its pre-1967 War borders and sharing Jerusalem. It also puts paid to the current Saudi peace plan, backed by all members of the Arab League, that called for Israel to withdraw to its 1967 borders and share Jerusalem in exchange for full recognition from the Muslim world and normalized relations.
Israel’s security establishment remains dead set against allowing a viable Palestinian state, and refuses to negotiate with hated Hamas. Unable to kill all of Hamas’ men, Israel is slowly destroying Gaza’s infrastructure around them, as it did to Yasser Arafat’s PLO.
Israel is confident its mighty information machine will allow it to weather the storm of worldwide outrage over its Biblical punishment of Gaza. Who remembers Israel’s flattening of parts of the Palestinian city of Jenin, or the US destruction in Falluja, Iraq, or the Shatilla and Sabra massacres?
Though the torment of Gaza was seen across the horrified Muslim world as a modern version of the WWII Warsaw Ghetto uprising, western governments took no action. In his last act of criminal folly, America’s outgoing president, George W. Bush, cheered Israel’s attack on Gaza.
Though Israel’s use of American weapons against Gaza violates the US Arms Export Control and Foreign Assistance Acts, the docile US Congress will remain mute. Israel’s assault on Gaza was launched under cover of the year-end holidays, a well-used Israeli tactic.
Hamas, the militant but still democratically elected government of Gaza, is even less likely to compromise.
Hamas refuses to recognize Israel as long as Israel refuses to recognize Hamas and millions of homeless Palestinian refugees. Ironically, the founder and late leader of Hamas, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, had spoken of negotiations with Israel shortly before he was assassinated by Israel in 2004.
Israel’s hopes that it can bomb Gazans into rejecting Hamas are as ill-conceived as its attempt in 2006 to blast Lebanon into rejecting Hezbullah.
The lapdog Fatah regime on the West Bank installed by the US and Israel after Yasser Arafat was likely murdered, will be further discredited, leaving the militants of Hamas as the sole authentic voice of Palestinian nationalism.
The Muslim world is in a rage. But so what? As Stalin liked to say, `the dogs bark, and the caravan moves on.’ As long as the US gives Israel carte blanche, it can do just about anything it wants. Let the dogs bark.
Obama inherits this mess in a few weeks. During the elections, Obama bowed low to the Israel lobby, offering a new US carte blanche to Israel. His Mideast team looks like it may be top heavy with friends of Israel’s Labor Party. Chances Obama will make any progress towards a real Mideast peace seem dim at this point.
The tragedy of Palestine will thus continue to poison America’s relations with the Muslim world. Those Americans who still do not understand why their nation was attacked on 9/11 need only look to Gaza, for which America is now being blamed as much as Israel.
The entry of Israeli ground troops into Gaza suggests a bloody urban battle in which there will be even larger numbers of Palestinian civilian casualties and growing world outrage.
Unless Israel can make 5-7 million Palestinians disappear, it must find some way to co-exist with them. Israeli leaders on the center and right continue to avoid facing this fact. The brutal collective punishment inflicted on Gaza will likely strengthen Hamas and set back hopes of any Mideast peace by years.