Half drowned in the torrents of supportive speech and prose lavished here and in Europe on Israel’s criminal onslaughts on the Palestinian inhabitants of Gaza, one naturally tends to compare and contrast such paeans to those extended to kindred barbarities by Israel in the past. Is the amen chorus louder, softer or more or less the same?
If you stick to highway traffic through the columns and bulletins of the major media, aside from some passable stuff on the cable news shows, the flow of ignorant drivel seems as toxic as ever, maybe worse, since Israel has tried to empty Gaza of all reporters. The Israelis wipe out whole families, phone apartment blocks to terrify the occupants with boasts that their homes will shortly be blown up, and the Israel claque here stresses the consummate humanity of the attackers. Charles Krauthammer in the Washington Post celebrates the birth of the new year by extolling Israel for being “so scrupulous about civilian life.” Professor Alan Dershowitz dishes out congratulation for Israel’s “perfectly proportionate” onslaught.
One thinks back to Martin Peretz in 1982 inscribing in The New Republic glowing sermons on the doctrines of humanity instilled in the IDF, words written not long before Israeli generals gave the green light for the killers of the Phalange to go to work, disemboweling women in the camps under the indifferent or admiring gaze of IDF personnel.
Bomb ghettos and civilians die. We write as news comes that Israeli gunners have managed to shell and kill nearly 50 Palestinians, including women and children, fleeing a United Nations-run school in Gaza. We can guarantee that Israeli claims about Hamas’s use of that school are already on the wires. Since no one is going to quiz him on the matter of bombing civilians, let us quote Hamas leader Khaled Meshal, who Cockburn interviewed in Damascus last May on the subject of violent tactics. (The full interview appeared in the May 2008 print edition of CounterPunch.)
Meshal: “Unfortunately, the insistence on violent repression by our assailants leads to innocent blood on the street. Since 1996, 12 years ago, we have proposed to exclude civilian targets from the conflict on both sides. Israel did not respond to that. When Israel insists on killing our kids, our elders and senior citizens and women, and bombarding houses with the gunships, F16s and Apaches, when Israel continues these attacks, what is left for the Palestinians to do? They are defending themselves with whatever they have. Our (Qassam) missiles and rockets are very crude. Hence we fire them, within their own capabilities, in reaction to Israeli atrocities. If we had smart missiles — and we wish that some countries could give us these — rest assured that we will never aim at anything except the military targets.”
You say it’s ludicrous to allow Meshal such self-exculpation? No more ludicrous, in fact far less so, than endlessly citing Israeli generals about the essential humanity of their enterprises, since Meshal confesses to the crudity of the Qassams, whereas the Israelis ladle out bosh about the “sophistication” and accuracy of their fusillades.
Of course, the guaranteed lethal inaccuracy of all bombing and shelling in populated areas ensures that you end up with some horror like Qana in 1996 (Operation Grapes of Wrath, launched by Shimon Peres before an election), where Israeli artillerymen killed more than 100 refugees, including many women and children, in the compound of a U.N. peacekeeping force. In that instance, the response of apologists for Israel was to claim that Hezbollah had staged the whole thing and planted the bodies there.
Should we be thankful that President-elect Barack Obama initially declined all comment on Israel’s attacks? “No comment” is probably better than the likely alternative: full-throated applause, a la Bush, for Israel. Then the carnage at the U.N. school moved Obama to break his silence, saying, “The loss of civilian life in Gaza and Israel is a source of deep concern for me.” The fact that Gaza comes first in that sentence will no doubt prompt some angry columns claiming that Obama is tilting toward the Palestinians. Of course, his consistent groveling to the Israel lobby has been widely noted. Obama’s hand-picked mentor in the Senate, after all, was Joseph Lieberman.
But if the elites are as solidly part of the amen chorus as they have been down the decades, once you leave the corporate and political highways and get on the side roads of the Internet, the picture is changing. The precipitous decline of the Old Information Order is marked in the shift in opinion, noted in a Dec. 31 Rasmussen poll showing that while Americans remain overwhelmingly supportive of Israel, they are split almost evenly on the question of whether Israel should attack Gaza — 44 percent in favor of the assault and 41 percent against it. The same poll showed that in contrast to solid Republican cheers, only 31 percent of Democrats are supportive of Israel’s attack, unlike their elected representatives. On Obama’s “Change” Web site, there has been pressure from the Democratic base for Obama to condemn Israel’s attacks.
That’s a faint ray of hope. Otherwise, it’s a bleak panorama. Israel’s long-term drive to leave Palestinians a few patches of ground in a balkanized West Bank continues with no serious international challenge, as does its determination never to accept Hamas — the democratically elected Palestinian government — as a negotiating partner.
Why do so if you have the United States behind you and can haul Mahmoud Abbas out of his kennel whenever necessary?
What alternative does Hamas have but the rockets?
Israel’s intransigence probably means the suicide bombers will soon be put to work again.
This article originally appeared in the January 2009 edition of CounterPunch.
Jeffrey St. Clair is the author of Been Brown So Long It Looked Like Green to Me: the Politics of Nature, Grand Theft Pentagon and Born Under a Bad Sky. His latest book is Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.