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Though the Israeli death toll has sat firmly at three since early Thursday morning, Palestinian casualties and injuries have soared. Furthermore, Palestinian medical sources are reporting a critical shortage of basic supplies.
At the time of writing, on the sixth day of Operation Pillar of Defense, the total Palestinian death toll has reached 115 and the number injured hovers around 900, Ma’an News Agency reports. Israeli strikes have destroyed two media buildings, crushed countless homes, mangled part of a soccer stadium, and killed several families.
Militants in the Gaza Strip have fired thousands of rockets on Israel, including distant cities such as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem for the first time in history.
On Monday, Amnesty International acknowledged the dire state of affairs and called for an international arms embargo and the deployment of international monitors.
As the crisis goes from horrifying to worse, the most important question is whether this could have been avoided.
Security or Hegemony?
Two days before Israeli forces assassinated military chief Ahmad Jabari, Hamas summoned the leaders of Gaza’s many armed brigades. Upon the conclusion, it was immediately announced that they would respect a ceasefire if Israel stopped airstrikes.
The informal truce was short lived. Israeli airstrikes never stopped, and thus rocket fire continued. After a short lull in the exchanges, Jabari’s car was hit by an Israeli missile, killing him and a passenger. Within two hours of the strike on Gaza, bombs were dropped on 20 “terror sites” across the narrow coastal enclave, seven Palestinians were killed, and dozens were injured.
That the attacks were unnecessary from a security perspective became even clearer when Gershon Baskin, an Israeli peace activist and negotiator for the 2011 release of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, revealed that Jabari received paperwork for a final truce agreement with Israel, including a detailed strategy to maintain a lasting ceasefire.
Until that point, no Israeli civilians had been killed by rocket attacks in 2012. Within 24 hours, the Palestinian death toll reached the double digits, and three Israeli civilians were killed by a direct rocket strike on a civilian home in southern Israel.
Security was not the guiding factor behind the decision to launch another full scale military operation on a 365 square kilometer patch of land that has essentially become an overcrowded prison. The purpose of this assault is to maintain hegemony in a rapidly changing region—and to do so at gun point.
Ethnic cleansing: taking Israel at its own word
At almost the same moment that Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu told the English-speaking world that he was ready for another Egyptian-brokered ceasefire, he was simultaneously announcing his willingness to launch a ground invasion of Gaza.
For weeks, Israeli leaders have been tossing around the possibility of invading Gaza, and at almost a month before a senior military official floated a test balloon in an interviewwith an Israeli news channel when he spoke of reoccupying Gaza and sending soldiers “house by house.”
Once the assault began, officials were able to voice their plans more freely. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that Israel did not go far enough in the 2008-09 war: “If Israel reenters Gaza, we cannot be stopped in the middle; it needs to go all the way.”
Minister of Interior Eli Yishai, head of the ultra-theocratic Shas party, aptly summarized the government’s intentions: “The goal of the operation is to send Gaza back to the Middle Ages. Only then will Israel be calm for forty years.”
On Sunday a publicly esteemed rabbi, Yaakov Yosef, delivered a sermon to soldiers in Hebron and urged them to “learn from the Syrians how to slaughter and crush the enemy.”
IDF major Gilad Sharon, son of former Israeli PM Ariel Sharon, openly called for civilian carnage:
There should be no electricity in Gaza, no gasoline or moving vehicles, nothing. Then they’d really call for a ceasefire,” he wrote. “We need to flatten entire neighborhoods in Gaza. Flatten all of Gaza. The Americans didn’t stop with Hiroshima – the Japanese weren’t surrendering fast enough, so they hit Nagasaki, too.
He continued, clarifying his position on civilian casualties: “To prevent harm to innocent civilians in Gaza will ultimately lead to harming the truly innocent: the residents of southern Israel. The residents of Gaza are not innocent, they elected Hamas. The Gazans aren’t hostages; they chose this freely, and must live with the consequences.”
This absurd racism almost directly channels the former Deputy Defense Minister’s threat to inflict a “bigger holocaust” on Palestinians in 2008.
It is a strange phenomenon that Israel’s staunchest defenders jump through hoops to absolve it of the crime of ethnic cleansing while its own officials and public figures regularly embrace the accusation.
Americans as Accomplices
It isn’t surprising that the Obama administration pledged its undying support for Israel’s latest military campaign—the sculptors of US foreign policy have long since decided that Palestinian self-determination does not mesh with American imperial designs on the region.
Yet Israeli efforts to win the international public have been an astounding failure—its immense digital and social media efforts have failed to curb (let alone block) the constant flow of bloody images and horrifying reports from the embattled coastal strip. Destructive air strikes on at least three media buildings in Gaza City have backfired and sparked almost unconditional criticism.
Much of the world has rightly expressed unequivocal condemnation. The United States, however, seem to be the exception: a CNN poll released on Monday revealed that almost roughly four times as many Americans sympathize with Israel over the Palestinians during the present violence, and that over twice as many believe military action on Gaza is justified.
President Obama echoed popular American sentiment when said he supports Israel’s unconditional right to protect its citizens from rocket fire and thereby simultaneously denied Palestinians that very same right.
Despite the oft repeated but entirely unjustified belief that American media outlets are laden with anti-Israel bias, Americans overwhelmingly view Palestinians as the aggressors. Indeed, it is commonplace to hear someone saying Hamas indoctrinates children and threatens the existence of Western civilization.
Yet no major publications presented the accurate chronology of events leading to this outbreak of violence; nor have corporate media outlets reported on Israeli officials’ recent threats to ethnically cleanse Palestinians.
Israeli policy makers seized an opportunity to destabilize Gaza and ensure the preservation of Hamas: so long as the Jewish state can claim that its existence is under threat from a militant Islamist organization, the international community can do little to hinder the colonial settler policy that steadily usurps the remains of the West Bank one plot of Palestinian land at a time.
Israeli civilians have been put in greater danger because of this military campaign, and armed Palestinians scarcely have the means of putting up a fight against one of the largest armies in the world. Both of these points are critical: this is neither defense nor war.
Patrick O. Strickland is an American journalist based in Ramallah. He is the head Palestine Editor for BikyaMasr.com.