The estimates of Palestinians killed in the recent Israeli invasion and destruction of Gaza runs somewhere around 1,184, including 844 civilians and 281 children; although these are surely underestimates (decomposing bodies are still being unearthed from rubble in areas that the IDF wouldn’t allow entry to humanitarian organizations). It must be noted that the overwhelming number of people killed were noncombatant civilians, many times apparently intentionally targeted, as in the Zeitoun massacres (although, as Noam Chomsky observes, it matters little whether they were intentionally targeted or whether they have been killed out of “depraved indifference,” which is arguably more heinous), the bombing of a United Nations compound “which contained the UNRWA warehouse” which held “’hundreds of tons of emergency food and medicines set for distribution…to shelters, hospitals and feeding centers,’” all destroyed, and other similar examples. Israel used white phosphorous (which can burn through skin down to the bone), which is a war crime, one among many others committed by Israel, bombed schools, police stations, Mosques, villages, homes, refugee camps, hospitals and ambulances, more war crimes, and decided to begin the assault, as Chomsky writes, “shortly before noon, when children were returning from school and crowds were milling in the streets of densely populated Gaza City. It took only a few minutes to kill over 225 people and wound 700, an auspicious opening to the mass slaughter of defenseless civilians trapped in a tiny cage with nowhere to flee.”
The above alone, hardly the totality of horror Israel inflicted upon the Gazan population, is clearly indefensible, disproportionate and evil. The pretext Israel used to unleash its violent blitzkrieg upon Gaza was the firing of homemade rockets into Israel (rockets that have accounted for the deaths of eleven Israelis in the three years between 2004-2007, according to B’Tselem, the Israeli Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories), which are war crimes. However, U.S.-Israeli propaganda pretends that these rocket attacks threaten the very existence of Israel and its military, one of the most technologically sophisticated and the fourth largest on the planet Earth – a claim so preposterous as to not warrant a response – that the rockets are entirely unprovoked and simply the product of the inherently savage “two-legged beasts” (to borrow a slur used by Israeli politicians). However, the rocket attacks were a reaction to Israel’s ending of the ceasefire when they killed six Palestinian militants on November the fourth, as Amnesty International and others report, and the brutal and relentless blockade of Gaza that has turned it into essentially the largest prison on Earth.
Ha’aretz, one of Israel’s main newspapers, also reported that the invasion of Gaza had been planned six months in advance, even as the ceasefire was initially being negotiated. It was these rocket attacks Barack Obama referred to when he said that “if missiles were falling where my two daughters sleep, I would do everything in order to stop that.” Noam Chomsky points out that he is only “referring to Israeli children, not the many hundreds being torn to shreds in Gaza by US arms.” Outside of this one comment Obama made, he remained silent, an act of political cowardice. This doesn’t bode well for the future. Neither does the fact that Obama’s Chief of Staff and his adviser, Rahm Emanuel and Dennis Ross, are both Israel-first extremists. Obama’s silence on the death and destruction in Gaza was a shaming moral disgrace and his most recent comments about Israel-Palestine represent a continuation of carte blanche support for Israeli aggression, expansion and rejectionism. Chomsky observed on Democracy Now! that "the thrust of his remarks...is that Israel has a right to defend itself by force, even though it has peaceful means to defend itself, that the Arabs must—states must move constructively to normalize relations with Israel, but very carefully omitting the main part of their proposal was that Israel, which is Israel and the United States, should join the overwhelming international consensus for a two-state settlement. That’s missing."
While Israel no doubt is entitled to security – although Israel pursues expansion over and against security at every turn – Hamas does not pose an existential threat to the state of Israel. Furthermore, there are multiple ways by which to pursue security and reduce terrorism. I’ve discussed these subjects before here on my blog and will put this discussion to the side for now. The most obvious way forward, the first step, is the peace process, which, since the election of Sharon, has been aborted.
Hamas, in fact, has called for a reengagement of the peace process, which Israel views as a threat, the “Palestinian peace offensive” as they call it. The state of Israel, it’s militant and illegal settlers and the ultra-Zionists in Israel and world over don’t want peace with the Palestinians, they don’t want the two-state settlement, they want all of Palestine and the eradication of the Palestinians, to “wipe them all out,” to quote a crazed ultra-Zionist at a recent pro-Israel demonstration in New York (note that no one presents these facts as justification for an invasion of Israel). They don’t want a viable Palestinian state, they want to reduce the West Bank and the Gaza Strip into unviable, disconnected ghettos that will be so unbearable that no one would want to stay, continuing a central Israeli policy explicitly made manifest by Moshe Dayan. As Noam Chomsky observes: “The plan for the Palestinians under military occupation was described frankly to his Cabinet colleagues by Moshe Dayan, one of the Labor leaders more sympathetic to the Palestinian plight. Israel should make it clear that "we have no solution, you shall continue to live like dogs, and whoever wishes may leave, and we will see where this process leads." Following that recommendation, the guiding principle of the occupation has been incessant and degrading humiliation, along with torture, terror, destruction of property, displacement and settlement, and takeover of basic resources, crucially water.”
Chomsky fleshes this out writing that "[t]he rocketing is criminal, and it is true that a state has the right to defend itself against criminal attacks. But it does not follow that it has a right to defend itself by force. That goes far beyond any principle that we would or should accept. Nazi Germany had no right to use force to defend itself against the terrorism of the partisans. Kristallnacht is not justified by Herschel Grynszpan's assassination of a German Embassy official in Paris. The British were not justified in using force to defend themselves against the (very real) terror of the American colonists seeking independence, or to terrorize Irish Catholics in response to IRA terror - and when they finally turned to the sensible policy of addressing legitimate grievances, the terror ended. It is not a matter of "proportionality," but of choice of action in the first place: Is there an alternative to violence?
Any resort to force carries a heavy burden of proof, and we have to ask whether it can be met in the case of Israel's effort to quell any resistance to its daily criminal actions in Gaza and in the West Bank, where they still continue relentlessly after more than 40 years.
Israel has a straightforward means to defend itself: put an end to its criminal actions in occupied territories, and accept the long-standing international consensus on a two-state settlement that has been blocked by the US and Israel for over 30 years, since the US first vetoed a Security Council resolution calling for a political settlement in these terms in 1976. I will not once again run through the inglorious record, but it is important to be aware that US-Israeli rejectionism today is even more blatant than in the past. The Arab League has gone even beyond the consensus, calling for full normalization of relations with Israel. Hamas has repeatedly called for a two-state settlement in terms of the international consensus. Iran and Hezbollah have made it clear that they will abide by any agreement that Palestinians accept. That leaves the US-Israel in splendid isolation, not only in words."
Israel claimed that its war aims were to “discredit” Hamas and evoke from the Palestinian population a rejection of Hamas, this of course being the textbook definition of terrorism: punishing civilian populations for political ends.
The destruction of Hamas is impossible, for every Hamas leader killed another will take his place, an even more radical militant. Just as Israel’s disastrous invasion and destruction of Lebanon in 2006 didn’t eradicate the Hezbollah – instead emboldening the terrorist elements within the resistance and shoring up sympathy for the Hezbollah even among Christians, Druze and so on – so too has Israel’s invasion and destruction of Gaza not evoked a rejection of Hamas, but rather served beyond anything Hamas could have done themselves to shore up sympathy and support. An illustrative example is the reaction from one of the “moderate voices in the Arab world, Prince Turki al-Faisal of Saudi Arabia, who said on January 6 that ‘The Bush administration has left [Obama] a disgusting legacy and a reckless position towards the massacres and bloodshed of innocents in Gaza…Enough is enough, today we are all Palestinians and we seek martyrdom for God and for Palestine, following those who died in Gaza.’” Gabriel Kolko, one of the leading historians of modern warfare, observes that Israel “has produced horror in much of the world, creating a new cause which has mobilized countless numbers of people – possibly as strong as the Vietnam war movement. It has made itself a pariah nation – save in the United States and a few other countries. Above all, it has enflamed the entire Muslim world.” Not only has Israel failed at its stated objectives, to “discredit” Hamas and end the rocket attacks – just before the ceasefire Hamas lobbed many rockets into Israel proving that they were still capable of doing so – it has helped garner sympathy and support for Hamas, enflamed not only the entire Muslim world, but the entire world generally. Noam Chomsky has for many years pointed out “that those who call themselves ‘supporters of Israel’ are in reality supporters of its moral degeneration and probable ultimate destruction.”