Why Gaza must suffer again: The four guilty parties behind Israel’s attack

A short interview broadcast by CNN late last week featuring two participants – a Palestinian in Gaza and an Israeli within range of the rocket attacks – did not follow the usual script.

For once, a media outlet dropped its role as gatekeeper, there to mediate and therefore impair our understanding of what is taking place between Israel and the Palestinians, and inadvertently became a simple window on real events.

The usual aim of such “balance” interviews relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is twofold: to reassure the audience that both sides of the story are being presented fairly; and to dissipate potential outrage at the deaths of Palestinian civilians by giving equal time to the suffering of Israelis.

But the deeper function of such coverage in relation to Gaza, given the media’s assumption that Israeli bombs are simply a reaction to Hamas terror, is to redirect the audience’s anger exclusively towards Hamas. In this way, Hamas is made implicitly responsible for the suffering of both Israelis and Palestinians.

The dramatic conclusion to CNN’s interview appears, however, to have otherwise trumped normal journalistic considerations.

The pre-recorded interview via Skype opened with Mohammed Sulaiman in Gaza. From what looked like a cramped room, presumably serving as a bomb shelter, he spoke of how he was too afraid to step outside his home. Throughout the interview, we could hear the muffled sound of bombs exploding in the near-distance. Mohammed occasionally glanced nervously to his side.

The other interviewee, Nissim Nahoom, an Israeli official in Ashkelon, also spoke of his family’s terror, arguing that it was no different from that of Gazans. Except in one respect, he hastened to add: things were worse for Israelis because they had to live with the knowledge that Hamas rockets were intended to harm civilians, unlike the precision missiles and bombs Israel dropped on Gaza.

The interview returned to Mohammed. As he started to speak, the bombing grew much louder. He pressed on, saying he would not be silenced by what was taking place outside. The interviewer, Isha Sesay, interrupted – seemingly unsure of what she was hearing – to inquire about the noise.

Then, with an irony that Mohammed could not have appreciated as he spoke, he began to say he refused to be drawn into a comparison about whose suffering was worse when an enormous explosion threw him from his chair and severed the internet connection. Switching back to the studio, Sesay reassured viewers that Mohammed had not been hurt.

The bombs, however, spoke more eloquently than either Mohammed or Nissim.

If Mohammed had had more time, he might have been able to challenge Nissim’s point about Israelis’ greater fears as well as pointing to another important difference between his and his Israeli interlocutor’s respective plights.

The far greater accuracy of Israel’s weaponry in no way confers peace of mind. The fact is that a Palestinian civilian in Gaza is in far more danger of being killed or injured by one of Israel’s precision armaments than an Israeli is by one of the more primitive rockets being launched out of Gaza.

In Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s attack on Gaza in winter 2008-09, three Israelis were killed by rocket attacks, and six soldiers died in fighting. In Gaza, meanwhile, nearly 1,400 Palestinians were killed, of whom at least 1,000 were not involved in hostilities, according to the Israeli group B’Tselem. Many, if not most, of those civilians were killed by so-called precision bombs and missiles.

If Israelis like Nissim really believe they have to endure greater suffering because the Palestinians lack accurate weapons, then maybe they should start lobbying Washington to distribute its military hardware more equitably, so that the Palestinians can receive the same allocations of military aid and armaments as Israel.

Or alternatively, they could lobby their own government to allow Iran and Hizbullah to bring into Gaza more sophisticated technology than can currently be smuggled in via the tunnels.

The other difference is that, unlike Nissim and his family, most people in Gaza have nowhere else to flee. And the reason that they must live under the rain of bombs in one of the most densely populated areas on earth is because Israel – and to a lesser extent Egypt – has sealed the borders to create a prison for them.

Israel has denied Gaza a port, control of its airspace and the right of its inhabitants to move to the other Palestinian territory recognised by the Oslo accords, the West Bank. It is not, as Israel’s supporters allege, that Hamas is hiding among Palestinian civilians; rather, Israel has forced Palestinian civilians to live in a tiny strip of land that Israel turned into a war zone.

So who is chiefly to blame for the escalation that currently threatens the nearly two million inhabitants of Gaza? Though Hamas’ hands are not entirely clean, there are culprits far more responsible than the Palestinian militants.

First culprit: The state of Israel

The inciting cause of the latest confrontation between Israel and Hamas has little to do with the firing of rockets, whether by Hamas or the other Palestinian factions.

The conflict predates the rockets – and even the creation of Hamas – by decades. It is the legacy of Israel’s dispossession of Palestinians in 1948, forcing many of them from their homes in what is now Israel into the tiny Gaza Strip. That original injustice has been compounded by the occupation Israel has not only failed to end but has actually intensified in recent years with its relentless siege of the small strip of territory.

Israel has been progressively choking the life out of Gaza, destroying its economy, periodically wrecking its infrastructure, denying its inhabitants freedom of movement and leaving its population immiserated.

One only needs to look at the restrictions on Gazans’ access to their own sea. Here we are not considering their right to use their own coast to leave and enter their territory, simply their right to use their own waters to feed themselves. According to one provision of the Oslo accords, Gaza was given fishing rights up to 20 miles off its shore. Israel has slowly whittled that down to just three miles, with Israeli navy vessels firing on fishing boats even inside that paltry limit.

Palestinians in Gaza are entitled to struggle for their right to live and prosper. That struggle is a form of self-defence – not aggression – against occupation, oppression, colonialism and imperialism.

Second culprit: Binyamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak

The Israeli prime minister and defence minister have taken a direct and personal hand, above and beyond Israel’s wider role in enforcing the occupation, in escalating the violence.

Israel and its supporters always make it their first priority when Israel launches a new war of aggression to obscure the timeline of events as a way to cloud responsibility. The media willingly regurgitates such efforts at misdirection.

In reality, Israel engineered a confrontation to provide the pretext for a “retaliatory” attack, just as it did four years earlier in Operation Cast Lead. Then Israel broke a six-month ceasefire agreed with Hamas by staging a raid into Gaza that killed six Hamas members.

This time, on 8 November, Israel achieved the same end by invading Gaza again, on this occasion following a two-week lull in tensions. A 13-year-old boy out playing football was killed by an Israeli bullet.

Tit-for-tat violence over the following days resulted in the injury of eight Israelis, including four soldiers, and the deaths of five Palestinian civilians, and the wounding of dozens more in Gaza.

On November 12, as part of efforts to calm things down, the Palestinian militant factions agreed a truce that held two days – until Israel broke it by assassinating Hamas military leader Ahmed Jabari. The rockets out of Gaza that followed these various Israeli provocations have been misrepresented as the casus belli.

But if Netanyahu and Barak are responsible for creating the immediate pretext for an attack on Gaza, they are also criminally negligent for failing to pursue an opportunity to secure a much longer truce with Hamas.

We now know, thanks to Israeli peace activist Gershon Baskin, that in the period leading up to Jabari’s execution Egypt had been working to secure a long-term truce between Israel and Hamas. Jabari was apparently eager to agree to it.

Baskin, who was intimately involved in the talks, was a credible conduit between Israel and Hamas because he had played a key role last year in getting Jabari to sign off on a prisoner exchange that led to the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Baskin noted in the Haaretz newspaper that Jabari’s assassination “killed the possibility of achieving a truce and also the Egyptian mediators’ ability to function.”

The peace activist had already met Barak to alert him to the truce, but it seems the defence minister and Netanyahu had more pressing concerns than ending the tensions between Israel and Hamas.

What could have been more important than finding a mechanism for saving lives, on both the Palestinian and Israeli sides. Baskin offers a clue: “Those who made the decision must be judged by the voters, but to my regret they will get more votes because of this.”

It seems Israel’s general election, due in January, was uppermost in the minds of Netanyahu and Barak.

A lesson learnt by Israeli leaders over recent years, as Baskin notes, is that wars are vote-winners solely for the right wing. That should be clear to no one more than Netanyahu. He has twice before become prime minister on the back of wars waged by his more “moderate” political opponents as they faced elections.

Shimon Peres, a dove by no standard except a peculiar Israeli one, launched an attack on Lebanon, Operation Grapes of Wrath, that cost him the election in 1996. And centrists Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni again helped Netanyahu to victory by attacking Gaza in late 2008.

Israelis, it seems, prefer a leader who does not bother to wrap a velvet glove around his iron fist.

Netanyahu was already forging ahead in the polls before he minted Operation Pillar of Defence. But the electoral fortunes of Ehud Barak, sometimes described as Netanyahu’s political Siamese twin and a military mentor to Netanyahu from their commando days together, have been looking grim indeed.

Barak desperately needed a military rather than a political campaign to boost his standing and get his renegade Independence party across the electoral threshold and into the Israeli parliament. It seems Netanyahu, thinking he had little to lose himself from an operation in Gaza, may have been willing to oblige.

Third culprit: The Israeli army

Israel’s army has become addicted to two doctrines it calls the “deterrence principle” and its “qualitative military edge”. Both are fancy ways of saying that, like some mafia heavy, the Israeli army wants to be sure it alone can “whack” its enemies. Deterrence, in Israeli parlance, does not refer to a balance of fear but Israel’s exclusive right to use terror.

The amassing of rockets by Hamas, therefore, violates the Israeli army’s own sense of propriety, just as Hizbullah’s stockpiling does further north. Israel wants its neighbouring enemies to have no ability to resist its dictates.

Doubtless the army was only too ready to back Netanyahu and Barak’s electioneering if it also provided an opportunity to clean out some of Hamas’ rocket arsenal.

But there is another strategic reason why the Israeli army has been chomping at the bit to crack down on Hamas again.

Haaretz’s two chief military correspondents explained the logic of the army’s position last week, shortly after Israel killed Jabari. They reported: “For a long time now Israel has been pursuing a policy of containment in the Gaza Strip, limiting its response to the prolonged effort on the part of Hamas to dictate new rules of the game surrounding the fence, mainly in its attempt to prevent the entry of the IDF into the ‘perimeter,’ the strip of a few hundred meters wide to the west of the fence.”

In short, Hamas has angered Israeli commanders by refusing to sit quietly while the army treats large areas of Gaza as its playground and enters at will.

Israel has created what it terms a “buffer zone” inside the fence around Gaza, often up to a kilometre wide, that Palestinians cannot enter but the Israeli army can use as a gateway for launching its “incursions”. Remote-controlled guns mounted on Israeli watch-towers around Gaza can open fire on any Palestinian who is considered to have approached too close.

Three incidents shortly before Jabari’s extra-judicial execution illustrate the struggle for control over Gaza’s interior.

On November 4, the Israeli army shot dead a young Palestinian man inside Gaza as he was reported to have approached the fence. Palestinians say he was mentally unfit and that he could have been saved by medics had ambulances not been prevented from reaching him for several hours.

On November 8, as already noted, the Israeli army made an incursion into Gaza to attack Palestinian militants and in the process shot dead a boy playing football.

And on November 10, two days later, Palestinian fighters fired an anti-tank missile that destroyed a Jeep patrolling the perimeter fence around Gaza, wounding four soldiers.

As the Haaretz reporters note, Hamas appears to be trying to demonstrate that it has as much right to defend its side of the “border fence” as Israel does on the other side.

The army’s response to this display of native impertinence has been to inflict a savage form of collective punishment on Gaza to remind Hamas who is boss.

Fourth culprit: the White House

It is near-impossible to believe that Netanyahu decided to revive Israel’s policy of extra-judicial executions of Hamas leaders – and bystanders – without at least consulting the White House. Israel clearly also held off from beginning its escalation until after the US elections, restricting itself, as it did in Cast Lead, to the “downtime” in US politics between the elections and the presidential inauguration.

That was designed to avoid overly embarrassing the US president. A fair assumption must be that Barack Obama approved Israel’s operation in advance. Certainly he has provided unstinting backing since, despite the wildly optimistic scenarios painted by some analysts that he was likely to seek revenge on Netanyahu in his second term.

Also, it should be remembered that Israel’s belligerence towards Gaza, and the easing of domestic pressure on Israel to negotiate with Hamas or reach a ceasefire, has largely been made possible because Obama forced US taxpayers to massively subsidise Israel’s rocket interception system, Iron Dome, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Iron Dome is being used to shoot down rockets out of Gaza that might otherwise have landed in built-up areas of Israel. Israel and the White House have therefore been able to sell US munificence on the interception of rockets as a humanitarian gesture.

But the reality is that Iron Dome has swung Israel’s cost-benefit calculus sharply in favour of greater aggression because it is has increased Israel’s sense of impunity. Whatever Hamas’ ability to smuggle into Gaza more sophisticated weaponry, Israel believes it can neutralise that threat using interception systems.

Far from being a humanitarian measure, Iron Dome has simply served to ensure that Gaza will continue to suffer a far larger burden of deaths and injuries in confrontations with Israel and that such confrontations will continue to occur regularly.

Here are the four main culprits. They should be held responsible for the deaths of Palestinians and Israelis in the days and, if Israel expands its operation, weeks ahead.

About Jonathan Cook

Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His new website is jonathan-cook.net.
Posted in Gaza, Israel/Palestine, Israeli Government, Occupation

{ 13 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. Cliff says:

    Excellent article Mr. Cook.

  2. tokyobk says:

    The argument that Hamas is appropriately defending Gaza (including on the logic that “no country would tolerate misled fired into their territory”) is partisan but arguable.

    The idea that Hamas is a non-agent, though making a better story in the West, might be disappointing news to its leadership.

    People that fire rockets into enemy territory (yes I am talking about Israel and from Gaza) might be justified but never innocent.

    • Mooser says:

      “People that fire rockets into enemy territory (yes I am talking about Israel and from Gaza) might be justified but never innocent.”

      Okay then, they aren’t innocent. If I had to deal with Israel, you know, I don’t think I would be so innocent either. There, happy now? Those Hamas fellas, they heap bad men! Swarthy, too, darn it!

      OBTW, tokyobk, I missed your immediate, unconditional, and deeply-felt “condemnation” of Israel’s actions, and your demand they stop, and your personal declaration that Israel’s actions are unacceptable, along with the list of the concessions Israel must make immediately to ameliorate the horrible situation. I know you can write, and it must be very moving.
      Could you give me a link to it?

  3. seafoid says:

    The European Union is the fifth culprit

    Israel’s economy is propped up by exports to the EU.
    None of the countries in which Jews were exterminated in the 1940s will vote for Palestinian independence. Shafting the Palestinians is second nature to the EU. It is easier than facing up to European history.

    • Walid says:

      Leave some of the blame for the Arabs. Last night at yet another useless Arab League emergency meeting to discuss what’s happening in Gaza, Qatar’s PM described how the Arabs were also guilty of what’s happening in Gaza since they have been participating in the physical and economical siege of Gaza. Despite all the brotherly visits and noises coming from Egypt, Rafah crossing remains tightly shut and no different from the days of Mubarak; from the Daily Star that left out some important parts of Sheikh Hamad’s speech:

      “Qatar PM slams ‘wasteful’ Arab League meetings
      November 17, 2012 07:54 PM

      CAIRO: Qatar’s prime minister on Saturday delivered a biting criticism of Arab League meetings during emergency talks in Cairo, and called for a review of the pan-Arab body’s dealing with the Palestinian issue.

      “Our meetings have become a waste of money and a waste of time,” Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani told Arab foreign ministers gathered to draw up a response to Israel’s attack on Gaza.

      “We are meeting today and we will issue a statement. The statement will mean nothing,” he said.

      “The whole situation needs a clear and honest review… We can’t keep giving hope without delivering,” Sheikh Hamad said.

      He said money pledged to the Palestinians after previous Israeli attacks had failed to reach the Palestinians.

      “They received nothing… Gaza needs to receive the money we have already pledged.”

      “They need housing, schools, hospitals. This is what we should be offering them. We have been used to pledging things and not carrying them through,” Sheikh Hamad said.

      “There must be a clear policy to deal with the situation. It’s not the first time Gaza has been attacked… We need a clear plan. This situation has divided the Arab world,” he said.

      “The peace process is not working, the Quartet (the United Nations, United States, European Union and Russia) is not working… We are not declaring war, we want a peaceful process… I’m not talking about war, I know our capabilities… I’m talking about standing by our Palestinian brothers,” he said.”

      link to dailystar.com.lb

      • piotr says:

        Interestingly enough, only Iraq proposed to actually do something that Arab countries can do, namely cut oil exports.

        They could negotiate with CIS not to increase their exports.

        In a nutshell, Arab countries can do two things:

        a. in short term, make a temporary oil embargo until the hostilities are stopped and a credible ceasefire enacted

        b. in longer term, end the siege of Gaza — Qatar pledged 400 million aid years ago, but nothing like that may happen if it has to be delivered through Israel, been there and have not done that (Qatar, that is).

        • Talkback says:

          I can’t remember which Israeli politician (or general?) said that if he was an Arab/Muslim he had played the ‘oil card’ a long time ago.

        • Woody Tanaka says:

          I would agree that the Arab world has to step up with an Oil embargo. I would go further and state that the Muslim world has to step up, too. They need two, twenty, a hundred A.Q. Khans, sprouting in every Arab State in the region. Nothing short of that will stop the zionist beast.

  4. crone says:

    “None of the countries in which Jews were exterminated in the 1940s will vote for Palestinian independence. Shafting the Palestinians is second nature to the EU. It is easier than facing up to European history.” ~ seafoid

    So, because the German government (and others) exterminated Jews in the 1940s they must allow, yea even subsidize, the extermination by the Jews of Palestinians for as long as Jews choose to do so? What kind of logic is that? (please understand that I use the term “Jews” here in context, only to follow the apparent ‘reasoning’ of the EU… I mean no offense, I am aware that it is the Israeli government doing the killing ~ along with the others Mr. Cook has pointed out)

    The fact is Germany and other EU countries are duplicating the crimes they committed in the 1940s… over and over, and over again… except of course, now ‘Arabs’ are being killed.

    “Never Again” must apply to Jews only…

    Too bad the EU can’t see that they are only replicating European history, creating more guilt for their children and grandchildren to bear.

    seafoid, I would add another culprit… probably the biggest factor of all… GREED.

    The ‘settlers’ coming to the ME to get free housing… Americans (whose ancestors have been there, done that) sticking their heads in the sand and simultaneously shouting we are entitled to our way of life, we need and we deserve that oil and the US military should take it wherever it finds it. (Heck, we (Americans) don’t even bother to economize or save energy ~ at least we did that under the Carter administration)… all the while criticizing the Israelis for wanting their government to ‘contain’ the Palestinians at any costs.

    Perhaps we should try waking to the reality that we are all one, we share this little spaceship called earth together… and our individual ‘footprints’ are becoming bigger rather than smaller, our hate of the other is growing instead of diminishing, or better yet disappearing.

    I hope there will be more incidents like the one at CNN… I hope that the Israeli attacks on journalists in Gaza will stir something in the conscience of those who serve in the media… if they still have one. I hope more and more people turn off the propaganda machines called TVs … and I hope for a movement of people refusing to pay their taxes ~ etc. Most of all, I hope for us to stop killing each other.

    All I have is ‘hope’ ~ let me know if you have something better.

  5. Avi_G. says:

    Excellent article, Mr. Cook. Very thorough.

    Thanks.

  6. kalithea says:

    In 2008 President-elect Obama deferred all questions regarding Cast Lead and the rising number of Palestinian civilian casualties to President Bush, but NOT SO FAST, his conscience is getting a second opportunity to clear itself, so instead he runs off to Myanmar, how ironic, but really Mr. President, HOW LONG DO YOU THINK YOU CAN HIDE from your own conscience???? Karma is getting the last word on you!

  7. Rusty Pipes says:

    Excellent article. Do you have a link to the CNN broadcast of the interviews and was it available on CNN America, CNN International or both?