Israel’s Onslaught on Gaza: Criminal, for Sure; But Also Stupid

In contrast to the grim forecasts of many fine contributors to this site over the past days, your CounterPunch editors have been inclined to take the view that Israel’s onslaught on Gaza, appalling though the carnage has been, is not only a crime but a blunder, like the attack on Lebanon in 2006, which demonstrated Israel’s military weakness, and the corruption of its armed forces after long years of bravely tormenting unarmed Palestinian peasants at check points, sawing down their olive groves and crushing their homes with bulldozers and high explosive.

The left has a tendency to demonize its enemies in terms of proficiency in administering their dastardly onslaughts. Through this optic, the claims of the arms manufacturers are always taken at face value, whether about the effectiveness of bunker busters, or devices to detect Hamas’ Qassams. In our latest newsletter we print a long interview with Hamas’ leader in Damascus, Khaled Meshal, conducted by CounterPuncher Alya Rea, myself and others, including former US Senator James Abourezk. Meshal made a case for Israel’s decline in military effectiveness:

Meshal: Since 1948, if we want to draw a curve of Israel’s progress, do you think that this curve is still heading up, or maybe is at a plateau, or is heading down? I believe that the curve is now in descent. And today, the military might of Israel is not capable of concluding matters to Israel’s satisfaction. Since 1948, you may notice that Israel has defeated 7 armies. In ’56 they defeated Egypt. In ’67 they defeated 3 countries: Egypt, Syria, and Jordan. In ’73, the war was somewhat equal in both sides between Egypt and Israel, if not for Nixon’s airlift  to Israel’s forces at that time, the map of the world would be different. In ’82 Israel defeated the PLO in Beirut.

Khaled Meshal. Photo by ALEXANDER COCKBURN. Copyright 2009.

But since ’82, 26 years ago, Israelis has not won any war. They did not defeat the Palestinian resistance, and they did not defeat the Lebanese resistance. Since that time, Israel has not expanded but has contracted. They have withdrawn from southern Lebanon and from Gaza. These are indicators that the future is not favorable to Israel. Then today Israel, with all its military capabilities – conventional and unconventional – are not enough to guarantee Israel’s security. Today, with all these capabilities, they can’t stop a simple rocket from being launched from Gaza.

Hence the big question is, can military might ensure security? Hence, we may say that when Israel refuse the Arab and the Palestinian offer, a state of Palestine on the border of 1967, Israel is losing a big opportunity. Some years down the road, a new Palestinian generation, new Arab generations, may not accept those conditions, because the balance of power may not be in Israel’s favor.

Hamas, as I remarked last week,  has been greatly strengthened by the current attack and the status of President Abbas reaffirmed as a spineless collaborator with Israel; Mubarak likewise; Syria and Turkey alienated from Western designs; Hezbollah and Iran vindicated by the world condemnation of Israel’s barbarous conduct. For months Israel besieged Gaza, starving its civilian inhabitants of essential supplies with no effective international reproach. It’s hard to take dramatic photographs of an empty medicine bottle, but  easy to film a bombed out girl’s dorm or a Palestinian mother weeping over the bodies of her five dead daughters, featured on the front page of the Washington Post two weeks ago. Efforts to keep  reporters out of Gaza have not been entirely successful, and both UN and Red Cross workers on the ground have sent outraged reports denouncing Israel’s barbarities. They have also been fierce State Department memos from USAID workers.

As we go into the weekend,  an admittedly toothless resolution in the UN calling for a ceasefire was not vetoed by the US. The UK Guardian ran a story on Friday suggesting that my view expressed last week, that there were two ways to read Obama’s initial silence about the onslaughts – which he was finally forced to break after Israel killed nearly 50 women and children trying to shelter in the UN School. The Guardian story began:

The incoming Obama administration  is prepared to abandon George Bush’s ­doctrine of isolating Hamas by establishing a channel to the Islamist organisation, sources close to the transition team say.

The move to open contacts with Hamas, which could be initiated through the US intelligence services, would represent a definitive break with the Bush presidency’s ostracising of the group. The state department has designated Hamas a terrorist organisation, and in 2006 Congress passed a law banning US financial aid to the group.

The Guardian has spoken to three people with knowledge of the discussions in the Obama camp. There is no talk of Obama approving direct diplomatic negotiations with Hamas early on, but he is being urged by advisers to initiate low-level or clandestine approaches, and there is growing recognition in Washington that the policy of ostracizing Hamas is counter-productive. A tested course would be to start ­contacts through Hamas and the US intelligence services, similar to the secret process through which the US engaged with the PLO in the 1970s. Israel did not become aware of the contacts until much later.

One has to caution that there could be more than one reason for such a leak from the transition team – including an alert to the Israel lobby to start piling on the pressure to head off any such contacts. With men like Emanuel and “special assistant on the Middle East” Dan Kurtzer at Obama’s elbow, I imagine the Israeli embassy won’t have much difficulty in monitoring Obama’s plans, though his National Security Advisor, Jim Jones, apparently once filed a report to Condoleezza Rice with criticisms  of Israel’s conduct so harsh that the whole report was hastily deep-sixed.

Since the Harvard Law Review is Running the Country, Let’s Look at Its Past

Read CVs of  the  impending Obama administration and you trip over the  Harvard Law Review, starting with its former president, B. Obama. The top tier of Justice Department  is to be stuffed with Harvard Law Review veterans: David Ogden, Deputy Attorney General,Harvard Law Review from 1979-81; Elena Kagan, Solicitor General, supervising  editor of the Harvard Law Review, and graduated magna cum laude in 1986; Tom Perrelli, Associate Attorney General, managing editor of the Harvard Law Review, graduating magna cum laude in 1991. (The promising Dawn Johnsen, chosen to be  Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel and most recently teaching at the University of Indiana, went to Yale Law School. Johnsen wrote harshly of Yoo’s torture memo. “Where is the outrage, the public outcry?!  The shockingly flawed content of this memo, the deficient processes that led to its issuance, the horrific acts it encouraged, the fact that it was kept secret for years and that the Bush administration continues to withhold other memos like it–all demand our outrage.”)

The Harvard Law School grads may take a different line, since they hail from an institution disgraced by Alan Dershowitz, a torture fan.
For an unsparing memoir of the spineless performance of the Harvard Law School in the red-scare  McCarthy era I strongly recommend Jonathan Lubell’s account in our latest newsletter of how the School’s profs in the early 50s, led by Dean Erwin Griswold – later LBJ’s Solicitor General — tried to compel Jonathan and his twin brother David to testify about their activities as undergraduates at Cornell, opposing the Korean War. The Lubell boys stood firm and were then told they would not be welcome at the Harvard Law Review –though their scholarly attainments should have guaranteed them slots there. No Law School grad would sit next to them at lectures or at their table in the School’s dining room. As some told them in later years, they feared that any contact with the Lubells would endanger their own careers. The School even pondered expelling them. Both Lubells went on to distinguished legal careers.
Hamas and the Harvard Law School, cheek by jowl in the latest newsletter. Subscribe now. You also get a great piece by P. Sainath on neoliberal terrorism in India There’s an excellent probe by Steve Higgs into the possible environmental causes of autism and a homage by yours truly to the late great English environmental writer Roger Deakin.

Subscribe Now!

Send Those Fan Letters Packing!

CounterPuncher Gary Murrell, who teaches at Grays Harbor College in Aberdeen, in Washington state, recently had this excellent  letter in  The Daily World, a newspaper published in Aberdeen.

I was astonished at the sentiments expressed by Mike Root, Angela Bishop and their fifth grade students as related in Callie White’s article in the Aberdeen Daily World, “Harbor kids remember our soldiers serving overseas,” that appeared on Christmas Day.

Ms. White characterizes as “overreaching” one student’s fear of being shot on the way to school if U.S. troops were not occupying countries around the world. Ms. Bishop singled out for approval a fifth grade student’s letter that claimed U. S. soldiers are “making a ‘path of peace’ for generations to come. You are out on the battle field fighting for independence of the present and future.” Mr. Root asks, “what better way to cheer a soldier up than with a pack of fan letters from his
class …”

Let me take Mr. Root’s comment first. What better way? One thing that occurs to me would be for thousands of citizens in our community to take to the streets, with their children and their children’s teachers, marching, demonstrating, demanding that the U. S. government withdraw all U.S. troops from more than 750 bases in more than 125 countries around the world. Thousands of citizens marching on Washington, D. C. demanding the end to the U. S. empire and the restoration of our republic. Thousands of citizens demanding that government look to the general welfare rather than the welfare of generals.

Where did Ms. Bishop’s students learn that the invasion of another country in a preventive war, a war crime, means that U. S. soldiers are making a “path of peace” and “fighting for independence?” In her class, by writing letters to “heroes?” Peace for whom; independence for whom; at what cost? This is a fantasy land and a disservice to the young people who will one day be called upon to take the place of those occupation forces — called upon by recruiters in their schools, urged on by teachers who filled them with propaganda about the heroic actions of U. S. troops overseas.

U. S. soldiers are not fighting for liberty; they are occupying countries that the United States invaded. Heroes? Our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the 150,000 mercenaries who supplement them, are being used as imperial storm troopers, as occupation forces. Torture. Indiscriminate killing. Secret prisons. Extraordinary renditions. The compliance of citizens in these grotesque actions has been extracted through fear. Of course, the “overreaching” student reflects the propaganda being fed to all of us — we are fighting them over there so we don’t have to fight them here.

What better way, Mr. Root? How about teaching students the difference between a republic and an empire? How about teaching students that no republic in history has lasted more than 300 years — that they have been destroyed as they degenerated into empires? Instead of “a pack of fan letters,” how about teaching them to write letters about their inheritance being squandered by the imperial dreams (nightmares?) of their leaders?

Gary Murrell

ALEXANDER COCKBURN can be reached at






Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined!, A Colossal Wreck and An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents are available from CounterPunch.