Israel may yet win its current battle in Gaza, but only by killing even more of the Palestinians it holds captive there with no means of escape. Israel is, of course, a major military power; indeed it is the most militarized nation in the world.i But this is the result of the support it enjoys from the most powerful military and propaganda machine human beings have ever produced, the US.ii Israel has been the biggest recipient of US foreign assistance every year since 1967 – over $81.3 billion dollars in 50 years – and is the largest importer of US arms.iii An Israeli victory in this battle, as in the past, would thus say rather more about the extent of its support from its international backers (including also Canada and the UK) than about Israeli political, military or even moral acumen.
Whatever the outcome of this battle however, Israel has already lost the war. Despite its occupation and blockade of Gaza, Israel has remained unable to isolate or marginalize – let alone destroy – the Palestinian resistance that is now represented by Hamas. Operation Protective Edge is certainly not going to accomplish this. Indeed, quite the contrary. The daily demonstration of Hamas’ resilience and its increasingly sophisticated fighting capability leave little doubt the organization has emerged as the strongest faction within Palestinian society fighting Israel’s decimation of what remains of Palestine.iv The recent statement by doctors, academics, teachers, judges, businessmen, journalists, women’s and human rights activists and other prominent public figures supporting the Hamas position that no cease-fire is acceptable without the lifting of the blockade demonstrates the unity and resolve of Gazans to end this illegal action by Israel and Egypt once and for all.v Even its enemies now define Hamas as the first real Palestinian army.vi With demonstrations in the West Bank and Israel threatening to irrupt into another full-blown Intifada, this Palestinian army will hardly be relegated to the sidelines as collaborationist.
Further, the movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions initiated by Palestinian civil society in 2005 has been growing by leaps and bounds. Initially met with the simplistic charge of being anti-semitic, the BDS campaign is daily winning over public support, including from student groups, unions, churches, academic and professional associations, artists, athletes and ordinary consumers.vii The strength of this grassroots campaign revealed even before the latest atrocity that Israel was losing its ability to control its image in global public opinion (outside the United States, that is). Israel is no longer able to take for granted its occupation of the moral high ground simply through its racist reassertions of Palestinian inhumanity and Islamist barbarity.
Indeed, so greatly has Israel’s standing slipped that the United States and Europe were compelled last week to ground flights into Tel Aviv, sending the clear message that Israel had better put a lid on things before they spiraled out of control.viii The day before, the United Nations Human Rights Council voted to launch a new investigation into possible Israeli war crimes in Gaza. Israel’s response to these developments was to shell a UN school being used as a shelter in Beit Hanoun, killing fifteen more Palestinians and injuring two hundred. This was hardly the most effective – or even rational – means to reclaim its public standing or to reassure its international backers. Instead, the attack on the school revealed just how out of control the Israeli strategy has become. The hubris of colonial power!
Israeli war crimes, although horrific, are nothing new. The last time around, the UN commissioned Judge Goldstone to investigate the violence in Operation Cast Lead (December 2008), when over 1,417 Palestinians were killed – 926 of them civilians, 437 children. The subsequent Goldstone Report found that Israeli troops had indeed committed war crimes.ix Israel denounced the Report while its international backers turned a blind eye, further weakening the UN and leaving intact Israel’s strategy of killing Palestinian civilians, including children. Moreover, pro-Israeli pressure led Judge Goldstone to later cast doubt on the Report’s findings. Citing information provided by the Israeli Defense Forces regarding its investigations into its own actions, Goldstone expressed his “confidence” that Israel would “respond accordingly” to the case of one “negligent” officer in what the Report regarded as the most serious of the attacks on civilians – the “killing of some 29 members of the al-Simouni family in their home.”x Criticizing the UN for its “bias against Israel” and declaring Hamas (morally? innately?) incapable of investigating its own “war crimes”, Judge Goldstone disowned the findings of the Report that will always bear his name.
The shelling last week of the UN school being used as a shelter for Palestinians fleeing the destruction of their homes and neighborhoods attests to how well placed Judge Goldstone’s ‘confidence’ was in Israel’s ‘due processes’ of investigating its “operational misconduct.”xi The death toll in the current assault on Gaza now stands at over 1,030 Palestiniansxii (mostly civilians) and 46 Israelisxiii (mostly soldiers). Israel’s supporters cannot claim innocence from complicity in this massacre of civilians. The Israeli establishment has already begun its propaganda campaign against the new UN investigation that has yet to be established, preemptively denouncing it as “biased” and a “kangaroo court”.xiv Past experience demonstrates that Israel has been able to get away with (mass) murder; this time around, activists have to be prepared for the concerted international action that will be required to ensure that Israel is held to account for its war crimes.
Israel will no doubt continue to justify its genocidal politics by offering its usual Islamophobic platitudes, that is, Palestinians don’t value human life; Hamas is a terrorist organization; they use their own children, families and communities as human shields; Israel lives daily under the threat of extinction, etc. etc. And its political backers, particularly those in the US, Canadian and European media, will continue to help peddle this racist colonial discourse, demonizing Hamas and dehumanizing Palestinians. Some of them may even wring their hands as they do so. But it is clear that Israel has been pushed to the brink by the strength of the Palestinian resistance. Operation Protective Edge has now taken Israel over the edge as it lashes out in a largely self-defeating – albeit murderous – strategy. All Israel has to offer is more massacres, more death, more destruction. This violence has to be made to stop immediately.
The situation is dire for Palestinians, particularly in Gaza, but it is certainly far from hopeless. The anger and resistance of Gazans is inspiring Palestinians in the West Bank and in Israel to rise up again; even Mahmoud Abbas was pushed into expressing solidarity with the Hamas position on the cease-fire.xv
Palestinians have demonstrated again and again their resolve to end the Israeli occupation of their lands. The inspiration of this resistance is further felt in the growing support around the world for the BDS movement’s call for an arms embargo on Israel.xvi The challenge to activists internationally is to intensify the pressure for this embargo. To do otherwise while Israel’s military arsenal becomes even bigger is to be complicit in its genocide of the Palestinians.
The Middle East is no longer what it was in 1967, nor even in 2008. The US defeats in Afghanistan and Iraq have, at least for now, changed the climate for Western occupations, invasions and interventions in the region, the Sisi regime in Egypt notwithstanding. Israel seems to have learned nothing from these defeats. The Palestinians on the other hand certainly have; they are ensuring that the days of the blockade are now numbered.
Sunera Thobani is Associate Professor at the University of British Columbia.
i Lobe, J. ‘Israel Ranked World’s Most Militarized Nation’, Inter Press Service News Agency. November 14, 2012.
ii Marcus, J. ‘US in major arms deal with Israel’, BBC News Middle East. April 22, 2013.
iii Hartung, W. and F. Berrigan, ‘Report: U.S. Arms Transfer and Security Assistance to Israel – World Policy Institute – Research Project, World Policy Institute. May 6, 2002.
iv Eldar, S. ‘Gaza tunnels take IDF by surprise’, Al Monitor. July 20, 2014.
v ‘No ceasefire without justice for Gaza’, Electronic Intifada. July 22, 2014.
vi Eldar, Shlomo. ‘Hamas, the first Palestinian Army’, Al Monitor. July 23, 2014.
vii See ‘BDS victories’, www.bdsmovement.net
viii ‘Europe lifts ban on flights to Tel Aviv airport’, BBC News. July 25, 2014.
ix Ziyaad Lunat and Max Ajl, ‘A glimmer of hope’, Electronic Intifada. November 12, 2009.
x Goldstone, R. ‘Reconsidering the Goldstone Report on Israel and war crimes’, The Washington Post. April 1, 2011.
xi Goldstone, R. ‘Reconsidering the Goldstone Report on Israel and war crimes’, The Washington Post. April 1, 2011.
xii BBC News Middle East, ‘Hamas-declared ceasefire in Gaza stalls as conflict continues’, BBC. July 27, 2014.
xiii ‘Hamas ‘declares Gaza ceasefire’’, BBC News, July 27, 2014
xiv Ahren, R. ‘Will Goldstone @ be as bad as the first one?’, The Times of Israel. July 26, 2014.
xv BBC News Middle East, ‘Gaza conflict: Abbas backs Hamas ceasefire demands’, BBC. July 23, 2014.
xvi ‘Nobel laureates call for arms embargo against Israel’, NSNBC International. July 21, 2014. See also Jivanda, T. ‘45, 000 gather in London to protest Israeli action’, The Independent. July 26, 2014.