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‘Protective Edge’ has nothing to do with protection

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I just flew overnight from Tel Aviv to New York. As I dozed in my seat, crossing the Atlantic, Israeli forces killed some 30 Palestinians in Gaza, bringing the death toll up past 80 on the beginning of third day of Israel’s latest air offensive on the Strip.

Among those killed in the night’s airstrikes was a family of eight in southern Khan Younis, a five-year-old boy in northern Beit Lahiya. Another nine were killed when warplanes targeted a cafe on the beach, where locals were gathered to watch the World Cup semifinal match. By the time you read this piece, the toll will have risen over the 100 mark. The majority of the dead will be civilians. Innocents who want to flee to protect their families will have nowhere to go, and will sit in their homes in the thick summer heat, listening to explosion after explosion, praying for their children’s sake the bombs stay far away.

As the bodies pile higher, the unanswerable question “How could anyone do this?” pounds louder in the ears of the observer. An easier question, perhaps, is “Why is Israel doing this, again, right now?” Through the rising smoke of the airstrikes, the answer becomes clear: To keep Gaza isolated, to keep Hamas radical, and to satisfy the Israeli public.

This, of course, is not the official version of the story. Israeli authorities and its military have an official explanation for why they started the escalation. Weeks before “Operation Protective Edge” began on Tuesday, Israel had been increasingly intent on targeting Hamas. According to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, members of the Islamist faction were responsible for kidnapping and murdering three Israeli teens — Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaer, and Eyal Yifrah. Israeli forces responded by rounding up and jailing much of Hamas’s remaining leadership in the West Bank. And as tensions soared amid the Israeli army’s military search campaign in Hebron and Nablus, which killed six Palestinians, militant groups in Gaza fired hundreds of rockets at Israeli communities. Holding Hamas responsible for all rockets launched from the Strip, Israel vowed to strike the faction’s powerhouse hard, destroying its military infrastructure and assassinating its key leaders.

Indeed, in speeches, on social media, and in propaganda campaigns targeting Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, Israeli authorities have in the summer months focused their energy on defaming Hamas, as if in preparation for the Gaza air offensive. Cultivating political capital from the teen murders into clout, Israel prepared the international community for the deadly campaign it was about to carry out in Gaza.

“The despicable kidnapping of and murder of the students can not go by in silence, and those responsible in Gaza must pay the price,” Deputy Ministry Tzipi Hotevely said the evening the teens were found dead near Hebron.

“The government of Israel must declare a war to the death on Hamas, which is responsible for the murders, and return to a policy of assassination.”

There’s one problem. Hamas leadership in Gaza almost certainly did not have any involvement whatsoever in the killing of the teenagers. In fact, at the time of the kidnappings, Hamas was moderating itself. In Gaza it had been starved out, blockaded with no support from the international community, not even Egypt, and in June it agreed to let the Palestinian Authority take over Gaza. Implicit in that reconciliation deal was a commitment to nonviolence and recognition of Israel, though Hamas would have to gradually introduce those policies as not to lose popular support on the ground. Things may have finally been improving for Gaza residents, as the international community welcomed the shift in government (much to Israel’s chagrin). Why, at that point, with its head barely above water, would Hamas choose to do something as stupid as commanding an attack that would ruin its last attempt to stay afloat?

As many have noted, one of the two prime suspects in the case is Marwan Qawasmeh, a known member of a radical family clan known to stir up trouble during Hamas-Israel ceasefires. As Shlomi Eldar says in his late June analysis of the kidnapping, the actions of the Qawasmeh family have perhaps resulted in the assassinations of more Hamas leaders than actions of the leadership itself. The family claims Hamas affiliation, but Hamas has repeatedly, if quietly, denounced the clan’s actions. Israel knows this, but is always keen to find opportunities to smack Hamas down. In addition to however many uninvolved Palestinian civilians stand in the way.

And there are several other problems with Israel’s explanation for its latest round of lethal airstrikes on the Strip. First of all, the rockets being fired at Israel from Gaza before Tuesday were not launched by Hamas. Given, for Israel, Hamas — as the authority in the Strip — is responsible for all rocket fire coming from its territory. But as of early June, Hamas is actually not the authority in Gaza. The Palestinian Authority is. Hamas leader Ahmad Yousef stressed this point days before Israel launched its operation.

“From a political point of view, (PA Prime Minister) Rami Hamdallah is responsible and he can give orders to security services to intervene” to prevent rocket attacks, Yousef said.

“Hamas is not ruling the Gaza Strip and so it’s not responsible for protecting borders.”

Finally, and perhaps most importantly: militant groups in Gaza are only an extremely minor threat to Israel. Their rockets are usually homemade, inaccurate, and ineffective. Many of them are intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome system as well. While Hamas’s rockets are slightly more effective than those of Islamic Jihad and other factions, they still rarely do any damage or cause injuries. Since 2001, approximately five Israelis have died from rocket fire each year. Meanwhile, over 80 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli airstrikes in three days. Israel didn’t have to deal with Hamas rockets due to the 2012 ceasefire, but this week, leadership chose to engage in open war with Hamas, a war that would garner public support for Israel nationally and internationally as it pummeled its opponent and Palestinian passersby.

Dissecting Palestinian unity

So if Israel isn’t striking Gaza to protect its citizens or to get direct revenge for the murder of the three teens, then why?

For starters, Israel’s political interests were threatened the moment Hamas signed a reconciliation deal with the PA. Contrary to Israeli leaders’ statements, a moderate Hamas would be far more challenging to Israel than a radical one. The unity government sworn in in early June was an opportunity for Gaza to access the international community. Gaza’s government would be considered legitimate unlike the former Hamas government. The economic blockade that had been in place since the Islamist movement took power would no longer be considered justified, and would be gradually lifted, loosening Israel’s grip on the coastal enclave. With the West Bank and Gaza united under one government, Palestinians would have taken another step toward a two-state solution, earning praise from Washington, Europe, and the like.

But as has been made increasingly obvious, Israel is not interested in a two-state solution, at least not the one the international community envisions. It is interested in confiscating more land and continuing settlement expansion, in gaining control over more natural resources, in pushing Palestinians into Indian reservation-like bubbles of territory, in judaizing East Jerusalem and completing the construction of its illegal separation wall. Meanwhile, it is also interested in continuing to receive three billion dollars yearly by the US.

In order to maintain this status quo largely under the guise of security concerns, Israel needs to be perceived as under constant threat. A militant, isolated Gaza and a radical, violent Hamas are a perfect means for Israel to achieve its goal of perpetuating the post-Oslo reality. The real threat to this Israeli interest was the new Palestinian unity government and the international community’s failure to reject it at Israel’s request. This in addition to a few other embarrassments to Israel’s reputation vis-a-vis the US.

Another important element to remember is that war in Gaza is seen as necessary to Israeli society. The left calmly nodded that force was needed in response to rocket attacks but that the air force should do its best to avoid civilian deaths. The right, meanwhile, had already responded to the deaths of the three students with calls for Palestinian blood (which was spilled, we all remember, a day after the teens’ funerals). Now, as the airstrikes hit Gaza one after the other, Israelis gather on hilltops to watch. Officials serve blood and vengeance up on a platter for Israeli society to consume. And when Israel comes under international scrutiny for killing an excess of civilians, it simply blames Hamas.

One can only conclude that now more than ever, Israel is acting to promote its political agenda at any cost, all with a complete disregard for the humanity of Palestinians. And unfortunately, the international community is much too quick to accept the Israeli narrative than it is to see what is altogether clear from the facts on the ground: Israel is not threatened. The Israel offensive on Gaza has nothing to do with self defense. The offensive isolates Gaza, radicalizes Hamas, and satisfies Israelis, all while garnering international support.

In the few hours it took me to write a first draft of this article, Israeli warplanes killed five more Palestinians. One of them was an eight-year-old boy in Deir al-Balah, who died when an airstrike hit his home. As I send it off to be published, the number has already passed 100. The names of the victims are enumerated in this constantly-updated list.

Graham Liddell

Graham Liddell is an editor at Middle East Eye. He formerly worked as a staff writer for Ma'an News Agency in Bethlehem. His writing has appeared in The Detroit News, AlterNet, and Muftah, among other publications.

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35 Responses

  1. a blah chick on July 12, 2014, 8:24 am

    I think that’s a great picture. The pilot looks like a sightless, deaf automaton, doing the bidding of this masters without a thought or the risk of blood splatter.

    • just on July 12, 2014, 8:36 am


      • a blah chick on July 12, 2014, 9:15 am


        I heard that when Gene Roddenberry was working on Star Trek he insisted that the makeup for the show’s creatures or aliens always show the eyes. He felt that being able to see the eyes allowed the audience to feel some human engagement with the character, be they hero or villain.


      • tree on July 12, 2014, 3:41 pm

        He felt that being able to see the eyes allowed the audience to feel some human engagement with the character, be they hero or villain.

        Interesting point.

        And yet the most adorable set of aliens on the original Star Trek were the tribbles, with no discernible eyes, just a lump of trilling fur. And I think one of the most poignant and humanistic, for lack of a better word at the moment, episodes was the one about the Horta, a big blob of a rock-like creature, first reviled as a monster, and later revealed as a mother trying to protect her children from slaughter.

  2. just on July 12, 2014, 8:28 am

    Israel = Offensive ‘Edge’. Offensive Occupation. Offensive.

    Murderers. Deliberate and premeditated murders. All CNN shows is Wolf walking to a shelter, with a manufactured breathless voice. Why doesn’t he go to Gaza?

    Thanks for your perspective and analysis, Graham.

    • Kay24 on July 12, 2014, 8:50 am

      Oy vey, the drama with Wolfie. Having nothing to show to exaggerate the violence and killing of children, the wolf man was shown running to a shelter again, and again. Not an oscar award winning performance. Ben Wiedeman was more realistic in his reporting and it seems he was shaken by what he heard and saw, children being massacred and in shock. As if to show they are having a hard time, there was a news item that a rocket had exploded near a family home, and the five children were treated for “shock”. I guess they should be treated for something, but they cannot be compared to the little boy who had his head blown off in Gaza. Much as they try, even Blitzers reporting cannot be compared to Ben Wiedeman, and there is no doubt who the real victims of Israel’s rage is.
      We should not forget the rage and calls for revenge from Israel’s leaders and ugly chants from mindless Jewish mobs, calling for the deaths of Arabs, when 3 of their kids were killed (we still have no proof who did that crime). HOW MUCH MORE should the Palestinians feel rage and want revenge, for the DELIBERATE butchering of their children, going on right now? Zionist hypocrisy in action.

      • a blah chick on July 12, 2014, 1:12 pm

        “Oy vey, the drama with Wolfie. Having nothing to show to exaggerate the violence and killing of children, the wolf man was shown running to a shelter again, and again.”

        Do you not see the risks this brave man is taking? He could have fallen and dislocated a knee cap!

  3. can of worms on July 12, 2014, 8:30 am

    Israeli government: We are attacking Hamas because “The despicable kidnapping of and murder of the students can not go by in silence”

    Look at the videos and pics of hysterical Palestinian parents whose children are killed– and then look at the calm, smiling and piercing gazes of any of the mothers of Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaer, and Eyal Yifrah

    my view is the 3 are alive unless proven otherwise

  4. annie on July 12, 2014, 8:37 am

    bringing the death toll up past 80 … the number has already passed 100.

    it’s 125 now

    • biorabbi on July 12, 2014, 11:48 am

      Source please Annie. Do you have a counter? I keep reading various numbers. Thanks.

    • Blownaway on July 12, 2014, 9:30 pm

      And the Jewish Daily Forward notes that – if rogue Hamas members did carry out the murders – it was not with the permission or knowledge of Hamas leadership:

      In the flood of angry words that poured out of Israel and Gaza during a week of spiraling violence, few statements were more blunt, or more telling, than this throwaway line by the chief spokesman of the Israeli military, Brigadier General Moti Almoz, speaking July 8 on Army Radio’s morning show: “We have been instructed by the political echelon to hit Hamas hard.”

      That’s unusual language for a military mouthpiece. Typically they spout lines like “We will take all necessary actions” or “The state of Israel will defend its citizens.” You don’t expect to hear: “This is the politicians’ idea. They’re making us do it.”

      It was clear from the beginning that the kidnappers weren’t acting on orders from Hamas leadership in Gaza or Damascus. Hamas’ Hebron branch — more a crime family than a clandestine organization — had a history of acting without the leaders’ knowledge, sometimes against their interests. Yet Netanyahu repeatedly insisted Hamas was responsible for the crime and would pay for it.

  5. Kay24 on July 12, 2014, 8:41 am

    These grand sounding names are simply hogwash to hoodwink the world, once again, that Israel is “defending” itself. The number of Palestinian civilians that are killed on these killing sprees by Israel, really tell the true story, and are the ones who need the protection, not the monsters who are inflicting such suffering.

    This is a one sided killing spree. A massacre that we keep encouraging with the “Israel has a right to defend itself” bull sheet, kept repeated ad nauseam by Obama, Hagel, Kerry, and other zionist servants. NO mention or concern for the real victims, those who are losing their children, women, men, and having their homes blown into pieces.
    Shame on our leaders who have lost their sense of decency, and keep showing unwavering support for a brutal occupier, using our tax money to keep the armed to the teeth, while unarmed, unsheltered people, are being blown up. I am ashamed that we are complicit in this massacre, and that we have lost our moral compass, by ignoring the real victims in this crime spree by Israel. The Obama administration openly support Israel, but does not have the basic decency, to do something about the human casualties resulting from the use of American weapons. I guess after waging wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, killing brown skinned Muslims, is quite okay, and we only show compassion to those as violent as us.
    When Russia invaded Ukraine, the US moved faster than you can say Uncle Sam, and imposed sanctions on Russia, urging the world community to do so. It has been decades since Israel brutally occupied the Palestinian territories, many massacres, usage of deadly weapons against civilians, white phosphorous, blockades, shooting civilians near fences, control of water, arrogantly stealing lands despite US condemnation, and STILL not a word about sanctions against these criminals.
    It has been decades too. What’s with the hypocrisy? If anyone thinks Russia is going to take us seriously, think again.

    • justicewillprevail on July 12, 2014, 10:48 am

      I do find it incredible the way that they come up with this mangled grammar, as if it sounds noble or justified. It is a completely meaningless phrase, vacuous and jarring, and entirely consistent with their indifference to the meaning or value of their bloodthirsty actions. They mangle words, they mangle meaning, they mangle people.

      • Kay24 on July 12, 2014, 12:54 pm

        Yeah they are murdering manglers. I agree.

      • Citizen on July 13, 2014, 3:36 am

        And our mainstream media folks cover up the mangling and manglers. And we taxpayers pay for it all.

  6. Sumud on July 12, 2014, 10:41 am

    According to Richard Silverstein the English name for this is nothing like the Hebrew name, which translates as Operation Solid Rock.

    The name “Operation Protective Edge” has no relation to the original Hebrew name, Solid Rock (Tzuk Eytan). The army’s hasbara department realized that “Solid Rock” just would not due for the foreign audience. It connoted military strength, assertiveness and aggression. Those are all qualities that appeal to Israelis, but don’t look so good to an international audience already predisposed to think the worst regarding Israeli militarism. So it devised the more defensive-minded phrase “Protective Edge.” “Protection” means defending; and it’s always good when Israel has an “edge” over its enemies. Who can find fault with that, right? Right.

    • Rusty Pipes on July 12, 2014, 11:36 am

      I’ve also seen Protective Edge translated as Solid Cliff. I’m thinking of Wile E Coyote scrambling in midair as he realizes he has overshot his goal.

      • annie on July 12, 2014, 11:48 am

        hamas has named it Operation Ramadan the Tenth

        “The reconciliation government will not be dismantled and Hamas has no intention of returning to a divided Gaza Strip and West Bank, or to a split in the two main political movements,” said the official, who asked not to be named. “When Israel attacked our people in the West Bank we could not remain silent. We had to show we’re one people and one nation and must protect our people,” he said.

        When asked whether this should be at the cost of Gazans’ lives he replied:

        “You think we don’t thirst to live in peace and prosperity and not suffer? We didn’t start this war, during which most of the casualties so far have been Palestinian citizens, including many children and women. The war was forced upon us, and we are protecting ourselves.”

        Asked whether Hamas didn’t know Israel would strike at civilians when it escalated the rocket fire, he said the rockets came in response to Israel’s assault on West Bank homes, widespread arrests and re-arrests of former prisoners released in the Shalit deal. “The oppression lasted 14 days, even though Hamas denied being involved in the abduction of the three settlers,” he said, referring to the three teenagers kidnapped and murdered in the West Bank.

        “When Israel started attacking so wildly, people lost their patience and wanted to react to the crimes in the West Bank,” he said. “They couldn’t remain silent. We know what Israel is capable of, we knew Israel would attack fiercely,” he said.

        “But Israel thought Hamas would be silent for longer, they wanted the West Bank to be completely cut off from Gaza. We must change this attitude and prove the Palestinians are one people and cannot be separated,” he said.

        The official said everyone knows Israel would strike hard, but that the Palestinians are not afraid. “We won’t put our hands up and let it do what it wants, anytime, anywhere and without any response.”

        Referring to the cease-fire that ended Operation Pillar of Defense, he said, “We want calm but on condition that Israel respect the agreement from 2012 – to end the aerial attacks against us and the targeted assassinations, to let the fishers fish and the farmers work their land, to allow open borders and the entry of raw materials, and to honor the prisoners’ release deal. We are not afraid and we will not raise the white flag.”

  7. a blah chick on July 12, 2014, 11:32 am

    So, what’s holding up the ground invasion? Mr. Sara afraid some of his “heroes” might get killed or taken prisoner? Shalit 2.0.

    • Sumud on July 12, 2014, 2:06 pm

      Hamas announced they will be firing a new type of weapon on Tel Aviv right about now, 9pm TA time.

      Meanwhile Israeli tanks being transported around the place on flatbed trucks. Not quite amassing at the border… We’ll have to wait and see. I don’t think Bibi has much desire to put ground troops into Gaza. 2008/09 turned out to be a massive PR disaster for Israel and the IDF isn’t much chop except as an occupation army.

      • a blah chick on July 12, 2014, 2:15 pm

        If the projectiles keep flying from Gaza he might not have a choice. I think he’s hoping they’ll stop by then, otherwise he’ll have to send in the troops to find them. And that will provide the world with plenty of scenes of hands-on killing.

      • MahaneYehude1 on July 12, 2014, 2:16 pm


        Hamas announced they will be firing a new type of weapon on Tel Aviv right about now, 9pm TA time.

        Poor organization under blockade with primitive weapon.

      • amigo on July 13, 2014, 9:07 am

        “Poor organization under blockade with primitive weapon.” mehane 1,2or 3???.

        So what shift are your other 2 clan members on.

        Sipping wine while cheering the vile murder of Palestinian Children.

        Proud of your so called most moral army and Apartheid/oppressive/colonialist/war monger blight unto the community of civilised People.

      • Kay24 on July 12, 2014, 3:38 pm

        They don’t have to go into Gaza, they are killing enough of civilians from afar, and bombing homes into nothing but rubble. Much as they try, they can never get rid of Hamas. Haven’t they gone through this so many times before? You have to be stupid to do the same thing, over and over, and expect different results. One Israeli officials was asked why there were no deaths on their side, and he answered “we are taking good care of our people”. Easy for them to say, when they have the support and money of the US, to build shelters, and have a billion dollar iron dome.
        They take “care” of the Palestinian people too, they take care to bomb them in their homes, hospitals, mosques, and even in buildings housing disabled people, with their deadly weapons. They are terrorists who kill occupied civilians, someone should tell Bibi the human animals are his own murderers.

      • Kris on July 12, 2014, 8:17 pm

        Kay24: “Much as they try, they can never get rid of Hamas.”

        Getting rid of Hamas is just a pretext, anyway. Israel is trying to kill the maximum number of Palestinians possible.

        Israel has destroyed water lines and wells, cutting off access to water for 100,000 Palestinians. Israel has destroyed the sewage treatment plant, so raw sewage is flowing into the sea by Gaza. Water in Gaza can’t be chlorinated, due to damage caused by Israel. Israel destroyed the Oxfam obstetric health center, to say nothing of bombing other hospitals.

        In addition to bombing the most heavily populated areas, Israel is deliberately creating huge public health crises that will keep killing Palestinians, especially the babies and children, even after the bombing is stopped.

        Don’t remember where I saw this comment, but I think this is what’s happening: “The difference between the Warsaw Ghetto and Gaza? 70 years.”

      • ivri on July 12, 2014, 7:57 pm

        No, this is not a show and PR is not that critical now that the Iraqi and the Syrian scenes keep supplying the real big numbers all the time. The missile are hidden in houses so cannot be eliminated without huge number of casualties so getting there “on foot”, even in PR terms, is better because means far less civilian casualties. No choice this time – once TA was targeted the invasion and trying to undo of Hamas became imperative. Israel cannot leave its main cities at the whim of Hamas. Once there the Gaza area will be gradually handed over to the PA guys. Egypt, Saudi-Arabia and Jordan prefer the PA, while Syria and Iraq are out of the equation and Hezbollah is busy fighting the Caliphate guys – so circumstances are right. Can`t be clearer

  8. riyadh on July 12, 2014, 12:05 pm

    J.J. Goldberg wrote the definitive article on this in The Jewish Daily Forward

    How Politics and Lies Triggered an Unintended War in Gaza

    • American on July 12, 2014, 1:26 pm

      It wasnt ‘unintended’. Isr let the hate re the israelis kids killing fulminate so they could use it to mount another assault on Gaz and Hamas.

      Why another and this particular assault now?—–because they were coming under more world pressure and criticism than ever before re a final peace settlement for 2 states and the Hamas unity deal was going to be another plus for Palestine to use in their case.
      Isr will never allow 2 states much less 1 state to come about.

  9. American on July 12, 2014, 1:19 pm

    As if we dont know and understand the end game of Israel in every attack—to destroy the Palestines–for Greater Israel.
    Question is–will Isr go all the way this time?

    ”Netanyahu: Gaza War Proves Israel Can’t Allow Palestinian Statehood
    Insists West Bank Would Be ’20 Gazas”’

  10. a blah chick on July 12, 2014, 2:55 pm

    Booms over TA during an anti-war demonstration. I’m following it on Twitter. When the booms came the police ran for cover leaving the demonstrators to the mercy of the fascist counter demonstrators. Seems like people are getting beaten up and chased through the streets.

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