Israel and Illegally Occupied Gaza
Before our very eyes, days on end, and with some in the media as accomplices, Israel has indiscriminately killed Palestinian children, women and men, held captive in their Occupied Territory of the Gaza Strip. From land, sea and air, the US-financed and-backed “eleventh strongest military power in the world” is shelling, bombarding and bombing 1.8 million blockaded Palestinians in Gaza, “also described by The Christian Science Monitor as ‘the most foreign-aid dependent society on earth.’” (“BBC Radio Interview,” gregory harms .blogspot.com, Aug. 4, 2014) A besieged people, struggling to flee the “pinpoint” attacks and ground invasion of the self-described “most moral army on the world.”
Guided by “humanitarian” concern for civilians, Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) drop leaflets to forewarn Palestinians to flee their homes, or alert them on the phone that they have five minutes to “get out.” (“’Roof Knocking’: The Israeli military’s tactic of Phoning Palestinians it is about to bomb,” By Adam Taylor, The Washington Post, July 9, 2014) The IDF even provides a “knock on the roof” with “a non-explosive device,” that notifies families to leave immediately as a missile strike might only be moments away before” their home “is obliterated.” (“Israel ‘Roof Knocking’ Video Raises Question: Warning or Human Rights Violation?,” By Jeff Stone, International Business Times, July 15, 2014)
But the 1.8 million enclosed Palestinians have no place to go, and no bomb shelters in which to be safe. Even the supposedly recognized neutrality of UN shelters, to which over 200,000 Palestinians sought refuge, is violated. A number of the shelters have been bombed, killing families who had fled to them for safety after being warmed to leave their homes by “the most moral army in the world.” (“At Least 15 Dead as Israel Strikes Gaza Market,” by VOA News, Voice of America, July 30, 2014; “Gaza crisis: Rafah school strike ‘criminal’ – UN chief,” BBC News, Middle East, Aug. 3, 2014)
Originally driven by Israeli military forces to a strip of land the size of Detroit, the Palestinians in Gaza not only live in one of the densest places on earth, they are crowded into what is condemned as the world’s “largest open-air prison.” So, for the IDF, it is almost like a barbaric shooting fish in a barrel. A recent count of the toll as a consequence of “Israel’s right to defend itself”: “nearly 1900 Palestinians dead– including huge numbers of civilians and hundreds of children—and close to 10,000 people injured.” (“’Mission Accomplished’: Israel Withdraws Troops After Nearly 1,900 Killed in Gaza,” by Jon Queally, staff writer, Common Dreams, Aug. 5, 2014)
The UN states that 250,000 people, a quarter of Gaza’s population, have been displaced. (“Unicef: A quarter of Gaza’s population displaced,” www.itv.com, Aug. 3, 2014) With “5,510 Gaza homes” bombed into rubble, and “nearly 30,920 others partially damaged. (“5,510 Gaza homes destroyed by Israel: Minister,” www.middleeastmonitor.com, Aug. 3, 2014) Along with the destruction of schools, mosques, factories, market places, hospitals, UN shelters, and the only power plant, which cut the electricity, affecting water supply, sanitation and sewage systems, and medical care. Even Gaza’s children, playing on the beach or sitting on a rooftop, proved to be fair game. This current war crime is against a blockaded people, half of whom are fifteen years of age and younger.
Israel’s reported casualties: sixty-four soldiers and three civilians. (“’Mission Accomplished’: Israel Withdraws Troops After Nearly 1,900 Killed in Gaza, Ibid)
The resistance of democratically elected Hamas [a point which many in Western media outlets ignore or simply deny] to Gaza’s illegal occupation is just and according to international law. But Hamas’s weapons are no match for Israel’s military might. Its limited rockets are almost like sling shots, compared to Israel’s over 90% effective anti-rocket protective Iron Dome, and land, sea and air power. And while Gaza’s oppressor attacks on-the-ground, from the sea and in the air with far superior weapons, Hamas’s only other recourse is underground, using tunnels to fight back as an oppressed people. The tunnels also offer a way of smuggling life-sustaining goods to “the most foreign-aid dependent society on earth.”
Why does Israel get away with such blatant war crimes, supported by our government, much of mainstream media, and with the blessings of “Christians United for Israel”– and the silence of many faith leaders and citizens? Because “Israel has a right to defend itself,” we are repeatedly told by its prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, by President Obama, by bipartisan politicians in Washington, and by many in the dominant press. The issue is framed as Hamas shooting rockets into Israel and Israel retaliating to defend itself. Here the context– Israel’s occupation of and continuing war crimes against the Palestinian people– disappear in the blurring of cause and effect.
Quite a reinterpretation of reality is needed to convince people that “Israel has a right to defend itself” against the resistance of the very people it is oppressing. Even more camouflaging of reality is demanded when one considers the shocking disproportionate deaths and destruction Israel’s “Operation Protective Edge” is presently inflicting on the citizens of Gaza. Much of mainstream media is up to this revision of reality. Especially America’s most influential newspaper, The New York Times. The blurring of cause and effect is seen in New York Times news stories reducing responsibility for the Israeli/Palestinian conflict to the level of “both sides”—which means that the conflict is not one-sided, which conveniently hides Israel’s illegal occupation of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
Certain captions, photos and stories in The New York Times give the impression that responsibility for the current warfare between Israel and Gaza is shared by “both sides,” with Israel’s occupation and war crimes hidden between the lines. Such as, this front-page story’s caption: “Neighborhood Ravaged on Deadliest Day So Far For Both Sides in Gaza.” The story is illustrated by two photos. The top photo shows Palestinian paramedics carrying a person on a stretcher; and in the bottom photo we see Israeli soldiers carrying a coffin, over which is draped the flag of Israel. And the opening paragraph frames the story: “The mayhem began in the early hours of Sunday morning in Shejaiva . . . where Israeli forces battled with Hamas militants. Terrified civilians fled, sometimes past the bodies of those struck down in earlier artillery barrages.” The story’s slant follows: “By dusk it was clear that Sunday was the deadliest single day for the Palestinians in the latest conflict and the deadliest for the Israeli military in years.” (By Anne Barnard and Isabel Kershner, July 21, 2014)
Another front-page New York Times story, also appeared on July 21, with this caption on the inside page on which the story continued: “In Gaza, Both Sides Engage in a Battle of Words, Hatred and Muddied Reality.” The “both sides” tilt appears in the opening paragraph: “The Gaza-based interior ministry advises its supporters in a You Tube video that whenever talking about the dead, always add ‘an innocent citizen.’” On the other side: “In Israel, the message is quite different: Those same victims are described as ‘human shields’ sacrificed by the ‘heartless’ Hamas ‘terrorists’ that rule Gaza.” (“In the Battleground of Words, Hatred and Muddied Reality,” By Jodi Rudoren, July 21, 2014)
This “Battleground of Words” story continues with more examples of “the clash of narratives,” in “the struggle for domestic and international opinion . . . by both sides.” But the last word is given to historian and former Israeli ambassador to Washington, Michael B. Oren, who says,”’In classic dehumanizing scenarios, whether in Nazi Germany or in Rwanda before the genocide, you refer to the enemy as cockroaches and that enables you to kill them on a large scale.’” He continued, “’We’re not calling Palestinians cockroaches.’ Still, he added, ‘It’s very difficult to feel compassion for the other when you have rockets aimed at your family.’” (Ibid)
The photo image on the front-page of the following New York Times story provides another example of the blurring of radically different realities. The photo shows five Jews huddled behind a wall, with the boldface caption, “Raining Death and Suffering in Israel and Gaza.” Underneath the caption are these words: “Mourners at the funeral of an Israeli soldier killed by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip took cover on Tuesday during a Palestinian attack. In Gaza on Tuesday, an Israeli strike hit the territory’s only power plant, cutting electricity. Page A6.”
The story on page A6 has a large photo, of two Palestinian men signaling frantically with arms outstretched, the one yelling, and flames bursting and smoke billowing behind them, and these words at the bottom of the photo: “Palestinian firefighters responded Tuesday to a blast at Gaza’s main power plant. The attack cut the electricity needed to pump water and sewage systems.” And one reads these words in the story itself: “International efforts to secure even short-term cease-fires have so far failed, and aid groups say indiscriminate battle tactics on both sides have endangered civilians.” (“Loss of Shelter and Electricity Worsens a Crisis for Fleeing Gazans,” By Ben Hubbard, July 30, 23014)
What’s black and white and one-sided all over, and under the cloak of “both sides,” is another New York Times story called, “Pause in the Fighting Gives Civilians on Both Sides a Moment to Take Stock.” Two photos accompany the story. The larger photo, on top, shows houses in a Gaza neighborhood bombed to smithereens, with huge craters where they stood. The descriptive words: “Palestinians inspected the destruction in the Shejaiya neighborhood of Gaza City on Saturday during a 12-hour cease-fire between Israel and Palestinian militants.” The smaller photo, below, is of four women and three men (one a soldier) standing in a room, with these words below the photo: “Israeli civilians and soldiers took cover Saturday in a restroom that is used as a bomb shelter at a restaurant in southern Israel during a rocket attack near the border with Gaza.” (By Ben Hubbard, July 27, 22014)
A comparison of what it is like for “both sides” is seen in the story itself. “Saturday’s cease-fire,” it states, “provided the first daylong relief from violence for civilians on both sides of the conflict since the start of the 19-day war between Israel and Palestinian militants. The 12-hour lull,” it continued, “granted people an ability to move, with Israelis visiting their troops and Palestinians discovering damaged neighborhoods and dead bodies. More than 140 bodies were recovered across Gaza on Saturday—including 21 members of one family.” The story described what it is like for the Israelis: “In southern Israel, where most of the rockets fired by Gaza militants have fallen during the war, the lull allowed residents who had spent recent weeks rushing to shelters to venture out.” They “visited beaches in Ashdod and Ashkelon, Israel Radio reported, and television news contrasted video footage of crowded cafes on Saturday with that from last week when the establishments were empty.” (Ibid)
While The New York Times focuses on “both sides,” and attempts balance in covering the deaths and destruction in Gaza, the primary persons who speak to us, in any detail, through its pages are Israeli officials. This selectivity reveals which side The Times is really on. One example is an August 5 news story titled, “Israel Moves to Wrap Up Gaza Military Operation.” The numerous persons used to tell Israel’s side of the story include: anonymous “Israeli officials” who are repeatedly quoted, “a senior Israeli official,” many more apparently Israeli-sided persons presented as “few believe,” Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and “important member” of his kitchen cabinet “Tzipi Livni.” The comment of Netanyahu is particularly instructive.
The prime minister shared his interpretation of reality, without any question by the reporter. “This operation will end only when quiet and security are restored to the citizens of Israel for a lengthy period.” He went on, “We struck a very severe blow at Hamas and the other terrorist organizations.” His final words: “We have no intention of attacking the residents of Gaza” (italics added)
Gaza “factions” did get in a word—in two of The Times story’s 26 paragraphs. Gaza “factions” demanded that any jointly agreed to cease-fire must involve “Israel withdraw[ing] all troops from Gaza, loosen controls over the movement of goods and people, open border crossings and release prisoners.” And the last word was given to “a Hamas spokesman, Sami Abu Zuhri,” who “said Hamas would not observe the day’s truce, which he disparaged as a media exercise that Israel had announced ‘to divert attention from Israeli massacres.’” (By Steven Erlanger, Aug. 5, 2014)
A July 19 New York Times editorial, called “Israel’s War in Gaza,” refers to “both sides,” and then reveals which side it favors. The editorial begins with the blurring of cause and effect: Israel’s “aerial bombardment” and invasion of “tanks and ground troops” is “to keep Hamas from pummeling Israeli cities with rockets and carrying out terrorist attacks via underground tunnels.” Then more words to blur Gaza’s reality: “The tragedy is that innocent civilians on both sides of the border are paying the price once again.” The editorial proceeds to side with Israel: “There is no way Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was going to tolerate the Hamas bombardments, which are indiscriminately lobbed at Israeli population centers. Nor should he” (italics added).
The editorial also picks up on Israel’s selling point to justify the slaughter of the innocents. It charges, “Hamas leaders deserve condemnation for storing and launching rockets in heavily populated areas, cynically knowing they will draw Israeli fire to places where civilians live. Then,” with a wink, the editorial cloaks its approval of Israel’s massacre of Palestinian civilians with these words: “Still, in a call with Mr. Netanyahu, Mr. Obama was right to express concern about the ‘risks of further escalation and the loss of more innocent life.’” President Obama also has it both ways in the editorial, being quoted as supporting Israel’s aggression: ”‘No nation should accept rockets being fired into its borders, or terrorists tunneling into its territory.’”
If Israel has “the most moral army in the world,” by inference Hamas fighters are the least moral. Prime Minister Netanyahu repeatedly calls Hamas “terrorists,” and our State Department has classified Hamas as a “terrorist organization.” Thus the propaganda groundwork has been laid for accusing Hamas fighters of firing rockets from civilian locations, sacrificing Gaza’s citizens to gain international sympathy and support, and even using civilians as shields. These charges allow Israel, and its US supporters, to blame Hamas for, and thus justify, the wholesale murder of oppressed Gaza citizens. Unlike Israel, with its tanks and artillery nestled in unpopulated spaces, the blockaded Gaza’s citizens are crammed into a small space, which allows Israel—and The New York Times—to make such absolving of guilt or responsibility for barbarism, self-serving, charges.
Noura Erakat counters The New York Times charge against Hamas, stated above, in her article titled “Five Israeli Talking Points on Gaza—Debunked.” She states that “one of Israel’s most insidious claims” is its assertion that “Hamas hides its weapons in homes and mosques and schools and uses human shields.” “Insidious” because “it blames Palestinians for their own death and deprives them of even their victimhood.” She states that “international human rights organizations that have investigated these claims have determined that they are not true.” She also writes, “In fact, only Israeli soldiers have systematically used Palestinians as human shields.” The Nation, July 24, 2014) (See also, “In Gaza, Hamas fighters are among civilians. There is nowhere else for them to go,” by Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem, The Guardian, July 24, 2014)
“No nation should accept rockets being fired into its borders, or terrorists tunneling into its territory, The New York Times editorial quotes President Obama as saying. Unless it is “the stateless people who live in Gaza—70 percent of whom are from families expelled from what is now southern Israel,” Abba A. Solomon and Norman Solomon remind everyone in their commentary rebutting The New York Times editorial. (“Editorial Position of the New York Times: Thumbs Up for Gaza Slaughter,” Counterpunch, July 21, 2014)
But The Times is not changing its story. Its August 7 editorial continues to blur reality with its “both sides” narrative. “It was easiest to count the losses,” the editorial begins. “More than 1,800 Palestinians, a majority of them noncombatants, and 67 Israelis killed. United Nations officials said 408 Palestinian children were killed and 2,502 injured,” and “the physical damage in Gaza is estimated at $6 billion.” The editorial then describes the less visible damage done to Israel: “There are important but less tangible costs: the way ordinary Israelis have had to live in fear of rockets; increasingly bitter strains on Israel’s relations with the United States; international criticism of Israel—and the outrage of anti-Semitic protests and violence in Europe.”
The editorial continues its immoral blurring of reality: “Both sides are tallying the blame. In too many cases, Israel launched weapons that hit schools and shelters and failed to adequately protect Palestinian citizens. But,” the editorial goes on, “Hamas knowingly targeted Israeli civilian centers in violation of any civilized standard and launched weapons from populated areas in what looks like a deliberate effort to draw Israeli fire on innocents. Both sides,” the editorial repeats, “are claiming victory, Israel for wiping out 32 underground tunnels that Hamas intended for attacks on Israel, and Hamas for still being alive.”
The editorial concludes: “The bottom line is that neither side has achieved its main goal of destroying the other.” But the editorial’s real bottom line comes at the end: “Hamas . . . offers Palestinians nothing, but nihilism and endless suffering.”
Oliver Tickell moves us closer to the Palestinians’ “endless suffering”– with the cause and effect in tack. He raises the question: “So what is Israel’s will? He speculates with, “It could be this simple: to finish the job of 1948, when the indigenous inhabitants of southern Palestine were ‘ethnically cleaned’ from the land by Jewish militia, terrorized into abandoning their homes, towns and villages, and forced to seek refuge in the narrow strip of land that is Gaza. (“Gaza”- Is Annexation Israel’s ‘Permanent Solution,’?” The Ecologist, July 31, 2014)
Noam Chomsky exposes the “both sides” narrative employed to blur cause and effect. He cites the horrible carnage Israel has inflicted on the people of Gaza, and then states, “The hideous revelations elicited a different reaction from the Most Moral President in the World, the usual one: great sympathy for Israelis, bitter condemnation of Hamas, and calls for moderation by both sides.” Chomsky continues: “In his August 1 press conference, he [President Obama] did express concern for Palestinians ‘caught in the crossfire’ (where?) while again vigorously supporting the right of Israel to defend itself, like everyone. Not quite everyone,” Chomsky adds. “Not of course Palestinians. They have no right to defend themselves, surely not when Israel is on good behavior, keeping up the norm of quiet-for-quiet: stealing their land, driving them out of their homes, subjecting them to a savage siege, and regularly attacking them with weapons provided by their protector.” (“Outrage, ZNet, August 2, 2014)
Noam Chomsky also refutes the accusation that Hamas is committed to the destruction of Israel. He states, “In reality, it’s leaders have repeatedly made it clear and explicit that Hamas would accept a two state solution in accord with the international consensus that has been blocked by the US and Israel for 40 years. In contrast,” Chomsky points out, “Israel is dedicated to the destruction of Palestine, apart from some occasional meaningless words, and is implementing that commitment.” (Ibid)
Sadly, Israel’s current war crimes against the people in Gaza is triggering a backlash against Jewish people by haters, looking for any reason to act out their anti-Semitism. Sadly, also, the state of Israel and its supporters, seek to deflect criticism of its war crimes by charging that Israel’s critics are anti-Semitic.
Morality disappears in the quicksand of “both sides.” Politicians and pastors and journalists conveniently bury their heads in it. The “both sides” narrative presents an equality that does not exist. Violence is done to the victims’ reality, and justification is provided to sustain the oppressors’ status quo. In the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, “both sides” is the hiding place of war criminals and moral cowards. It is long past time to rid ourselves of the blurring of cause and effect—and act on behalf of the liberation of the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
Rev. William E. Alberts, Ph.D., a former hospital chaplain at Boston Medical Center, is a diplomate in the College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy. Both a Unitarian Universalist and United Methodist minister, he has written research reports, essays and articles on racism, war, politics, religion and pastoral care. His book, A Hospital Chaplain at the Crossroads of Humanity, “demonstrates what top-notch pastoral care looks like, feels like, maybe even smells like,” states the review in The Journal of Pastoral Care & Counseling. The publication of his new book. The Counterpunching Minister (who couldn’t be “preyed” away) is planned for this fall. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.