Once you finish Max Blumenthal’s gripping, indispensable, first-hand account of last year’s Israeli attack on Gaza, you can better understand why the mainstream U.S. media is afraid to review it. The 51 Day War: Ruin and Resistance in Gaza repudiates the conventional history so decisively that readers of the New York Times, the Washington Post, and other major outlets would be stunned into asking some pointed questions about the myths they are being fed.
Blumenthal was brave enough to actually travel inside Gaza during part of the ferocious Israeli air and land assault, (accompanied by Dan Cohen, one of this site’s colleagues), and his eyewitness testimony and chilling, wrenching interviews with Palestinians will form a valuable part of the historical record.
Even those of us who followed Israel’s attack as it happened will still learn plenty from this rushed but still well-crafted account — which is carefully footnoted and is strengthened by Cohen’s photographs.
Blumenthal starts by devastating the mainstream myth about why Israel invaded in the first place. The Israeli rationale, with de facto endorsement by New York Times reporters, is that on June 12, 2014 “Hamas” kidnapped and murdered 3 Jewish teens in the West Bank and then launched thousands of rockets from Gaza as part of an effort to “kill Jews” and “destroy Israel.” Israel was forced to invade to protect itself. As Blumenthal writes, “The violence in Gaza has become a ritual that has confounded many outsiders, leading to the rise of simplistic explanations for the bloodshed as the product of religious extremism, endemic anti-Semitism and intractable conflict.”
Instead, Blumenthal calmly provides an accurate timeline with facts. The West Bank kidnappers were a rogue mini-faction with no real connection to Hamas; the Hamas rockets did not start until Israel arrested hundreds of its members and an airstrike killed seven of them. Most revealing, before the Israeli land invasion, Hamas pleaded for a cease-fire, offered a ten-year truce, and issued a list of modest humanitarian demands aimed simply at lifting the suffocating siege.
But Israel wanted war. And here is where Blumenthal convincingly exposes another mainstream myth: the Hamas Terror Tunnels, supposedly aimed at Israeli kibbutzes and kindergartens. There were tunnels, all right, but nearly all of them were inside Gaza itself, and trained Palestinian resistance fighters used them to give the Israeli invaders a stinging surprise. In reporting that you did not see in the mainstream, Blumenthal describes how one team of Al-Qassam fighters “lured an [Israeli] M113 armored personnel carrier into a field laced with improvised explosive devices,” and then “the vehicle went up in a ball of flames, killing six soldiers inside. . .”
He also writes about another Gazan attack, in which 9 guerrillas videotaped their infiltration through a tunnel into Israel to assault a nearby army base. He quotes Haaretz correspondents who pointed out, “It’s also clear that the militants had planned to storm the position from the start and were not en route to the nearby kibbutz to massacre civilians.”
After these setbacks, Israel halted its ground forces, but continued to destroy Gaza with artillery, air strikes and naval shells. Blumenthal was in Gaza City for part of the air assault. During the 51 days, he explains, “By the army’s own count, it had fired around 3 million bullets — almost two bullets for every one of Gaza’s 1.8 million residents.”
Blumenthal, Cohen, and their interpreter, a remarkable young Palestinian woman named Ebaa Rezeq, gathered painful Gazan accounts of the killing and destruction. Most sickening are Palestinian descriptions of Israeli soldiers summarily executing civilians. Such testimony must understandably be treated with caution, but Blumenthal’s book should at least prompt further impartial inquiry.
Extensive Israeli war crimes become even more plausible once Blumenthal introduces Col. Ofer Winter, a fanatically religious senior Israeli commander. Here is a motivational letter Winter distributed to his troops before the invasion: “History has chosen us to be the sharp edge of the bayonet fighting the terrorist enemy ‘from Gaza’ which curses, defames and abuses the God of Israel’s battles.” Later, Winter says his soldiers were saved by God’s direct intervention: “We were protected by clouds, clouds of divine honor. We — all the warriors — were suddenly covered by a heavy fog, which came with us throughout the attack.”
A truthful profile of Col. Winter and his popularity would reveal a great deal about Israel in 2015, but the U.S. mainstream reporters are careful to keep him hidden.
Blumenthal is clear that Gaza can expect little help from within Israel. He repeats the hard truths of his previous book (Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel), in which he proved that the country continues to move to the far right. “The invasion of Gaza,” he explains, “served as a bonanza for right-wing political mobilization, catalyzing an ultra-nationalist march through the institutions of the Jewish state.”
Max Blumenthal ends his book by leaving a Gaza that is half destroyed but still defiant. On August 26, the day the final cease-fire took effect, tens of thousands of people filled the streets of Gaza City and pledged to continue the resistance. Blumenthal writes, “Among the crowds, a stout middle-aged woman summoned my colleague Dan Cohen to the van where she sat surrounded with children waving the green Hamas banners. ‘I’ll die and I’ll give [up] all my sons if that’s what we have to do to liberate Palestine,’ she declared vehemently.”