Reasons for War?
On January 18, Israel and Hamas agreed to a weeklong cease-fire. Prime Minister Olmert declared Israel had achieved its objectives. “Hamas was hit hard, in its military arms and in its government institutions. Its leaders are in hiding and many of its men have been killed,” said Olmert.
More than 1,100 Palestinians lay dead, more than a third women and children, countless more wounded and Gaza’s physical infrastructure destroyed or badly damaged. 13 Israelis died. Hamas still rules Gaza – from within, but has no control of its borders – and presumably can still smuggle weapons in from Egypt.
The truce is beyond shaky as President Obama takes office with an unqualified “I support Israel” policy and a core of Israeli kiss asses for advisers (Dennis Ross and Martin Indyk as examples).
The world witnessed another stupid and lopsided war in which Israel delivered deadly round of rockets and bombs into civilian neighborhoods in Gaza. As people shook their heads in disgust and bewilderment, NY Times columnist Thomas Friedman explained the two possibilities: “If Israel is trying to eradicate Hamas or trying to educate Hamas, by inflicting a heavy death toll on Hamas militants and heavy pain on the Gaza population. If it is out to destroy Hamas, casualties will be horrific and the aftermath could be Somalia-like chaos. If it is out to educate Hamas, Israel may have achieved its aims.”
A small price to pay — 1,400 dead – to learn an important lesson! Obviously the newly educated but now less numerous Palestinians will shout “Never again” as their slogan opposing Hamas in the next elections in Gaza thus showing that they “understand the consequences of previously voting for Hamas.” (Jan. 14)
Friedman also labeled Bush’s invasion of Iraq “the most noble act of US foreign policy since the Marshall Plan.” (NY Times, Nov. 30, 2003)
In 2006, Friedman praised Israel for successfully teaching a lesson by bombing and killing 1,000 plus Lebanese. “Israel’s counterstrategy was to use its Air Force to pummel Hezbollah and, while not directly targeting the Lebanese civilians with whom Hezbollah was intertwined, to inflict substantial property damage and collateral casualties on Lebanon at large. It was not pretty, but it was logical. Israel basically said that when dealing with a nonstate actor, Hezbollah, nested among civilians, the only long-term source of deterrence was to exact enough pain on the civilians — the families and employers of the militants — to restrain Hezbollah in the future.”
One problem emerged with Friedman’s logic: Hezbollah emerged far stronger from the 2006 Israeli invasion; Israel much weaker.
Luckily, fanatic Arab militants seem to reject Friedman’s pedagogical method. Imagine, if they began to teach Jews around the world a similar lesson about the violent consequences that would result from supporting Israel! Imagine Friedman’s equivalent writing for the Nazi propaganda machine explaining how killing civilians in London, Leningrad or Warsaw would educate those supporting resistance to the folly of their loyalties!
The Friedman clones on op-ed pages and print and TV newsrooms throughout the West allows Israeli propaganda to prevail. But not as much as previously!
In a McClatchy/Ipsos poll of 1000 Americans adults, 44% supported Israel’s use of force, and 44% blamed Hamas for the Israeli invasion. Only 14% thought Israel had started the conflict. 57% thought Hamas was using excessive force, while only 36%, Israel. (LA Daily News, 1/14/09)
The media mostly omitted coherent history of Israel occupying Gaza after the 1967 Six-Day War and its subsequent illegal occupation of the territory; or that the UN has repeatedly demanded in resolutions that Israel withdraw. After Hamas won the 2006 Gaza elections, Israeli authorities stopped delivering tax revenues on imports that the Gaza government needed to pay bills and police.
Israeli blockaded the Gaza border – an act of war under international law. This provoked the rocket firings into Israel, most of them missing human targets. Simultaneously, Israelis fired missiles into Gaza killing and wounding far more people than the inaccurate Palestinian missiles. The Israeli blockade stopped medical supplies as well, leading to more death and disaster.
The US press didn’t print the most outrageous pro Israel statements.
At a rally in New York, reported Max Blumenthal, “a man held a banner reading, ‘Islam Is A Death Cult.’” Some rally-goers “called for Israel to “wipe them [people of Gaza] all out.” (Alternet, Jan 13)
Avigdor Lieberman, leader of Israel Beiteinu, which polls say will soon be Israel’s fourth largest party, demanded in a university speech in Israel that bombing in Gaza continue until Hamas “loses the will to fight.” Lieberman continued: “We must continue to fight Hamas just like the United States did with the Japanese in World War II.” (Jerusalem Post,January 13, 2009)
Instead of reading such statements, the US public got regurgitated reports about Israeli leaders courageously removing troops and settlers from Gaza in 2005. Surprise! On New Year’s Eve CNN asked: who broke the June 2008 ceasefire that led to Israel’s bombardment of Gaza? Mustafa Barghouti got air time. In 2005, this Palestinian physician got almost 20% of the vote for President of the Palestinian National Authority against Mahmoud Abbas. “The world press,” he declared, “is overwhelmed with the Israeli narrative, which is incorrect. The Israeli spokespersons have been spreading lies.”
Barghouti charged that “Israel started attacking Hamas, and never lifted the blockade on Gaza.” CNN’s Rick Sanchez then said he had confirmed Barghouti’s version of the facts. Israel, not Hamas had started the war.
A NY Times columnist (Nicholas Kristoff, January 8), a Wall St. Journal writer (George Bisharat, January 10) and Time (January 8) also questioned Israel’s behavior. (“Why Israel can’t win”)
Until Israel began its Gaza massacre, US and mainstream Israeli media have accepted as axiomatic that Hamas means “terrorists.” Reporters have repeated the line about Hamas using Gaza residents as “human shields” after launching missiles targeting innocent Israelis. Humane and very patient Israel had no choice but to bomb the bejeezus (or the bemohammed) out of the “military installations” — homes, clinics, refugee camps and schools as examples. Israelis naturally feel terrible about the thousands of dead and wounded women and children.
Rashid Khalidi pointed out “as an occupying power, Israel has the responsibility under the Fourth Geneva Convention to see to the welfare of the civilian population of the Gaza Strip.” It has failed miserably to meet this responsibility. (NY Times, January 8)
Pro-Israeli media denigrates cowardly Hamas for seeking shelter among civilians. Imagine, as Uri Avnery suggested, German propaganda during World War II. “The Churchill gang hid among the population of London, misusing the millions of citizens as a human shield. The Germans were compelled to send their Luftwaffe and reluctantly reduce the city to ruins.” Hamas, Uri Avnery wrote, do not “hide behind the population.” Rather, the population views them as their only defenders. (The Progressive, Jan. 11)
In 2006, George Bush pushed free and fair elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council. Hamas won. The residents had become fed up with corrupt and insensitive Fatah, the US backed party of the Palestinian National Authority under President Mahmoud Abbas.
Because Palestinians made “the wrong choice,” Israel shut off fuel and electricity and restricted needed imports and peoples’ movements. The result: high unemployment, extreme poverty and hunger. Israel had used economic means to punish Gaza’s population for its electoral choice. Then, it subjected them to collective military punishment. Israel’s kill and destroy method seems unlikely, however, to convince Palestinians to reject Hamas, just as other people suffering punishment from oppressive military goliaths did not yield to brute force – even those who read Thomas Friedman on pedagogy.
Israel presented its bombing as deterrence, teaching a lesson by killing. Much of the world saw the response as disproportionate and downright barbaric. The US equivalent of suffering in Gaza as of January 16 would have meant 226,000 dead Americans, one third women and children and 1 million plus wounded, a third of them women and children.
Israeli apologists refer to bombing the UN Fakhura school and the Jabaliya refugee camp as inevitable mistakes of a necessary war. Israel must defend its citizens against the Qassam rockets and Hamas fighters had fired mortars from or near the school. Later, Israel showed an aerial photo portraying the school and mortar, but subsequently admitted the photo was a year old.
Although the US public tended to believe Israel’s version, not the retraction, the war has caused confusion. What was this war about? Could it be as banal as gaining seats in the coming elections? That Israeli Defense and Foreign Ministers Ehud Barak and Tzipi Livni have shown their voting publics – elections next month – they have bigger cojones than the hawkish Bibi Netanyahu?
SAUL LANDAU received the Bernardo O’Higgins award from the Republic of Chile for his work on human rights. His latest book is A Bush and Botox World (AK/CounterPunch Press).