When the LORD your God delivers them into your power and defeats them, you must put them to death. … for you are a people holy to the LORD your God; the Lord your God chose you out of all nations on earth to be his special possession.
— Deuteronomy, 7:2-6
And Joshua said to the army, . . . “The Lord has given you the city. The city shall be under solemn ban: everything in it belongs to the Lord. No one is to be spared except the prostitute Rahab.”
— Joshua, 6:17
Now listen to the voice of the LORD. This is the very word of the LORD of Hosts: … “Spare no one; put them all to death, men and women, children and babes in arms, herds and flocks, camels and asses.”
— 1 Samuel 15:2-4
Throughout modern history powerful nations have waged war against relatively weak neighbors with the expectation that they would both win and somehow benefit from having done so–as they usually do. But they also realize the need to justify their aggression by seeming as if they are somehow threatened by their victims. They themselves are presumably under attack, but fortunately big and powerful enough to win in the end. This fraudulent cultivation of public support was perhaps best (and most laughably) illustrated by Hitler’s frenzied speeches denouncing Poland’s military threat against Germany in order to justify its 1939 invasion. The same approach was used by the American government in the Mexican War (with the shelling of Fort Brown) , the Spanish-American War (with the sinking of the Maine), the Vietnam War (with the Tonkin incident), the 1989 invasion of Panama (with one dead marine), and of course the 2003 Iraq invasion (with the bogus WMD threat). Israel has done the same at the expense of Palestinians since 1948, as documented by Donald Neff’s three books through the 1967 war. Israel’s current assault on Gaza once again fits the pattern, this time by imposing a tight embargo and occasional incursions to provoke harmless rocket attacks that can be publicized to justify a full-scale assault on a relatively defenseless population of 1.5 million inhabitants trapped in Gaza.
Surprise attacks by weak nations against superior enemies have been a different matter. The most famous example, of course, was Japan’s 1941 air strike against Pearl Harbor. George Washington resorted to surprise attacks against Hessian troops in 1776 and the British at Yorktown in 1781. Arab nations did the same against Israel in the 1973 Gaza War. Many other such examples may be cited across the world, some of which have resulted in victory. What I am suggesting here is that the effectiveness of Israel’s present assault on Gaza results from its combination of self-serving propaganda typical of dominant aggressor-nations with its use of an overwhelming surprise attack that could only be considered a defensive necessity by the public at large because of a relentlessly supportive editorial bias in the American news media. Israel has maintained an extravagant 100-1 kill ratio at the expense of Palestinians, roughly 40 percent of whose fatalities have been identified as civilians, and yet public opinion in both Israel and the United States continues to accept the excuse that Israel’s effort is entirely defensive.
Even the New York Times (hereafter NYT) and Washington Post (hereafter WP), two of the most responsible American newspapers succumb to this bias despite their effort to seem otherwise. Such may be observed when they explicitly defend their coverage, for example in Clark Hoyt’s January 11 NYT editorial piece, “Standing Between Enemies,” and when they explicitly defend Israel itself, for example in Steven Erlanger’s January 17 NYT article, “Weighing Crimes and Ethics In the Fog of Urban Warfare.” Here every sentence–every period and comma–is favorable to Israel’s role despite ample evidence to the contrary. The presence of Hamas fighters is repeatedly cited to justify killing civilians in the presence of U.N. workers who insist to anybody who will listen that there have been no Hamas fighters in the vicinity. And the euphemistic notion of “asymmetrical” casualties replaces the uncomfortable word combination “kill ratio,” but with no indication to what extent asymmetry has been stretched.
Also painful is Erlanger’s neglect of the Zeitoun massacre last week compared to the more specific reports of Tom Eley and Tim Butcher published elsewhere as well as Taghreed el-Khodary and Isabel Kershner’s January 10 NYT report, “For Arab Clan, Days of Agony in a Cross-Fire.” Erlanger neglects to recount how Israeli troops herded many dozens of captured civilians into a single Zeitoun building, then bombed it three times, or how the building was packed for days with dead and dying Palestinians, or how those who tried to escape were shot down by Israeli troops stationed nearby for this purpose, or how Red Cross workers defied the threat of Israeli troops to shoot and kill them as well if they tried to retrieve four small children tucked against their mother’s rotting corpse, all of them too weak to remove themselves. If anything this horrific ever happened to an Israeli mother and children, there would probably be a four-column photograph across the top of the front page and the story would pass into media legend as a modern counterpart to the Holocaust.
Not that NYT and WP coverage is invariably biased favorable to Israel. In his January 19 NYT News Analysis, “Parsing Gains of Gaza War,” Ethan Bronner concedes the excessive violence of Israel’s invasion, quoting Israeli pundits who describe it with the Hebrew phrase, “baal habayit hishtageya” (“the boss has lost it”), the use of calculated rage to intimidate lesser people. After summarizing the typical litany of complaints against Hamas, Bronner also concedes its victory in the sense that its leadership has suffered few losses comparable to the death and injury of Palestinian civilians. By implication, further conflict would be undesirable because it can be expected to increase Israeli casualties in house-to-house combat as well as lifting the 40 percent civilian kill ratio to an excessive level for retaining international public support.
In the same issue of the NYT, Sabrina Tavernise and Taghreed el-Khodary’s piece “Shocked and Grieving Gazans Find Bodies Under the Rubble of Homes,” confirms the earlier reports of Eley, Kershner, and Butcher & Khodary regarding the extreme violence against Palestinians. And a third article in the same issue, Isabel Kershner’s “Rebuilding Begins Upon a Wobbly Truce,” treats with relative optimism the broad effort at this point to initiate negotiations. There is little to criticize in these three articles as a comprehensive assessment of the present situation in Gaza. One only regrets that the coverage was less adequate just days before, when its full impact on American public opinion might have helped to discourage Israel’s tactics at an earlier stage.
Apropos of the Gaza crisis preceding the January 6 invasion, this bias supportive of Israel has played a significant role in at least two instances: first the NYT’s almost total neglect of Israel’s November 4 surprise attack which provoked Hamas’ resumption of rocket fire that could be publicized to justify the December 27 air attack on Gaza; and, secondly, the total lack coverage for a day or so preceding the Dec. 27 attack, helping to guarantee its success as a surprise attack. These two surprise attacks (the first no less than the second) set the stage for a military campaign of crucial importance to Israel, the Palestinians, and the region as a whole. Yet the American press inclusive of both the NYT and WP fell short of providing a full account of the confusion preliminary to Israel’s attack exactly when it mattered the most, and in both instances with obvious benefit to Israel’s strategy.
It is to be conceded that the NYT’s neglect of the Gaza story was generally sparse once the April, 2008, peace accord between Hamas and Israel seemed to result in an effective modus vivendi beneficial to all parties concerned. There seemed to be no story to tell. If mentioned at all, Gaza coverage was accordingly kept on the back pages, completely overshadowed by the U.S. election campaign and events in the Near East. The NYT and WP only took interest again after the Nov. 4 attack with reports emphasizing Hamas rocket fire that obliged Israeli incursions as retaliation against this rocket fire, of course with the cause-and-effect sequence reversed favorable to the Israeli cause. As a result, the American public at large remained sympathetic with Israel once the propaganda spigots were fully opened after the December 27 surprise attack. However, the situation was all too plain for those who had paid closer attention. A clear and impartial grasp of Israel’s intentions was already possible based on reports published by the NYT and WP as late as a few days before the attack, especially if these were checked against leftist and Arab sources, the latter including Al Jazeera, Al Manar, imemc.org, Electronic Intifada, Uruknet.info, not to forget Israel’s version of the NYT, Haaretz.
But first a bit of history just a few years earlier in Gaza. In the year 2003. the “Road Map” peace plan sought by England’s Prime Minister Tony Blair obliged Israel to engage in serious negotiations toward a peace treaty with Palestinians in exchange for Britain’s participation in Iraq‘s invasion and occupation [see Con Coughlin’s American Ally, pp. 274-75]. By 2004, however, Prime Minister Sharon could dilute this quid pro quo by substituting Gaza and a couple of West Bank settlements for a full-scale peace treaty. In response, Palestinians elected the Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas to be their President at the beginning of 2005 with the primary objective of resuming the effort to obtain a full-scale peace settlement. However, Sharon refused to negotiate, after which Palestinians elected the more militant Hamas party a year later. Surprisingly, Hamas’s chose as Prime Minister, Ismail Haniya, the most peaceable member of its top leadership, who soon joined with Abbas in seeking a 10-year peace settlement with Israel. However, Sharon responded once again with an intensification of hostilities, culminating with Operation Summer Rains in June and the occupation of Beit Hanoun in November. This escalation caused a split between Hamas and Fatah that was nevertheless resolved with the creation of a coalition, the Palestinian National Unity Government, whose primary objective was once again a peace settlement. However, Israel with the support of the U.S. plotted a Fatah coup d’etat that was thwarted by Hamas, ending with Fatah’s expulsion from Gaza in June, 2007. Israel’s siege of Gaza followed despite the Road Map, the Arab League’s 2002 and 2008 peace proposals, and President Bush’s abortive Annapolis Conference in November of the same year.
By June, 2008, hostilities between Israel and Gaza dominated by Hamas had persisted to such an extent that a resumption of negotiations seemed long overdue. This is when our story begins, almost exactly six months ago, told in the present tense and with wording as close as possible to the original reports in order to emphasize the sense of immediacy. The NYT coverage is emphasized, but with frequent additions from the WP as well as a variety of other sources.
Isabel Kershner’s June 17 NYT article, “Israel Seems to Make Progress in Talks,” suggests a possible truce with Hamas. According to Haniya, “talks brokered by Egypt for a period of calm with Israel [are] nearing completion and that he [hopes’ for a ‘happy ending.’” Kershner explains, “”towns and villages in southern Israel have been under continual rocket and mortar fire from Gaza in recent months, while Gaza has been subject to frequent Israeli military strikes aimed at militants and incursions.” Most recently, Israeli troops killed three militants in Gaza as they were trying to plant explosive by the border fence, one Israeli civilian was lightly wounded by rocket fire, and at least one Palestinian militant was killed in a retaliatory strike.
Isabel Kershner’s June 18 NYT article, “Israel Agrees to Truce with Hamas on Gaza” makes the surprise disclosure that “Egypt has been mediating the truce for months” behind the scenes and that “an Egyptian-brokered deal” between Hamas and Israel would include “an end to frequent military strikes” as well as “an easing of some of the economic sanctions on Gaza in exchange for the halt of rocket and mortar fire from Gaza . . . that has killed four Israeli civilians this year.” No indication is given here how many Palestinians have been killed over the same period. Apparently the duration of the treaty would be six months. Israel is expected to open the commercial crossings as soon as the truce comes into effect, and two weeks later Egypt would host talks at reopening the Rafah crossing on its border with Gaza. The article ends, “Israel is insisting that Hamas halt all fire from Gaza, and will hold it responsible for actions by smaller groups.” Last minute hostilities preceding the acceptance of the accord include three Israeli air strikes in Gaza, killing six Palestinian militants and in retaliation 10 rockets fired at Israel.
Griff Witte and Ellen Knickmeyer’s June 18 WP article, “Israel, Hamas Agree on Gaza Strip Truce,” emphasizes that the agreement would be implemented in phases, with Israel easing the year-old siege on Gaza if Hamas stops attacks, and with Israel granting permission to open the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt if there is progress on the release of the captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. It is estimated that Israel could begin allowing more supplies into Gaza as early as Sunday, June 22. Additionally it is disclosed that Hamas at first lobbied for the truce to apply to both Gaza and the West Bank, but Israel limited negotiations to Gaza. It is also disclosed that Israel had contemplated an invasion of Gaza to oust Hamas, but Olmert and his top aides rejected this option out of concern that the campaign would bog down against Palestinian counterinsurgents. Nevertheless, an unnamed Israeli official warns, ‘If this [accord] breaks down, there will not be another attempt at a cease-fire. There will be a large-scale Israeli operation. This has to hold.”
The unsigned June 19 WP editorial, “Truce in Gaza – A Middle East Conflict is Postponed,” explains, “Hamas is the immediate beneficiary of the deal – one reason the government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert [has been] slow to agree to it. One year after it drove out the secular administration of President Mahmoud Abbas, the Islamist movement has consolidated control over Gaza as well as having demonstrated that it can force Israel into acknowledging its authority. If a border crossing with Egypt is reopened, as the agreement contemplates, relatively normal life and commerce could resume in the territory.” Obviously, such an outcome would be at least dangerous in the opinion of whoever wrote the editorial.
Isabel Kershner’s June 20 NYT article, “Truce Starts for Israel and Hamas in Gaza,” stresses that many Israeli and Palestinians sense that the truce is “doomed from the start.” In fact, most Israeli believe that Hamas will “exploit the quiet to increase its strength, or will fail to control other militant groups in Gaza, making a military confrontation unavoidable in the end.” Among the Gaza Palestinians, on the other hand, there is a widespread optimism that border crossings will open in the immediate future. Because Israel’s earlier strategy was to “squeeze Hamas out of power in Gaza,” the truce is generally considered a victory for Hamas. Obviously more constrained, the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority Salam Fayyad, describes the truce as “a good thing” and offers the assurance,“Our platform is based on nonviolence.”
Isabel Kershner’s June 25 NYT article, “Rockets Hit Israel, Breaking Hamas Truce,” tells of Palestinian rocket fire as a breach of the five-day old truce. The Islamic Jihad, a small extremist group, takes responsibility for attack, saying it has been “a response to an Israeli military raid in the West Bank city of Nablus at dawn on Tuesday, in which a senior Islamic Jihad operative and another Palestinian man were killed.” Nevertheless, the truce applies only to Gaza, so retaliatory attacks from Gaza in response to Israeli operations on the West Bank are felt to be unacceptable according to the terms of the truce.
Griff Witte and Samuel Sockol’s June 25 WP article, “Gazan Rockets Threaten Truce,” etc. confirms the reaction of Israel to the rocket attack. An Israeli official is quoted to the effect that Israel would not open its border crossings with the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, as planned, and would stay closed until further notice. Also mentioned is a visit of Israel’s Prime Minister Olmert to Egyptian President Mubarek to discuss the arrangement. Among the issues discussed is the fate of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who is being held captive in Gaza. “We demanded, and we received, promises that the Rafah crossing will not be opened until the solving of the Shalit issue,” insists an official in Olmert’s office, but Mubarak explains in a later TV interview that the issues should not be linked. According to Hamas officials, the Shalit release can only be linked with the release of Palestinian prisoners.
Isabel Kersher’s June 27 NYT article, “Truce is Strained as Militants Launch Rockets and Israel Keeps Goods Out of Gaza,” indicates that two rockets launched against Israel are used to justify a continuation of the embargo for a second day. A rocket attack three days earlier justified Israel sealing the border crossings on Wednesday, which in turn has led to the rocket attack on Thursday. Meanwhile, Gaza farmers have reported that Israeli troops along the border opened fire on them to keep them away from agricultural land near the border fence. Two elderly Palestinian men have been seriously wounded by the army gunfire, including an 82-year-old farmer. Also, Israeli Navy vessels have fired on Palestinian fishermen to keep them outside proscribed areas close to the shore. Members of the Islamic Jihad have admitted firing three rockets in retaliation for an Israeli raid that killed one of the group’s senior commanders in the West Bank. A spokesman for Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades explains, “The rocket attack on Thursday was in response to Israeli violations.” He adds, “Any calm deal must end Israeli attacks on our people in the West Bank, too.”
There is almost a total lack of NYT and WP coverage for the better part of the next five months relevant to the peace accord except for a couple of stories about the effectiveness of the embargo in response to continuing rocket attacks. This relatively peaceful interlude is suddenly interrupted by an unsigned November 6 NYT piece, “Gaza: Rocket Fire and Israeli Strike Disrupt Cease-Fire,” which reports an event of pivotal importance–Israel’s November 4 incursion into Gaza that breaks the ceasefire with Hamas. Coincidentally, this is the same day as the U.S. presidential election that makes Obama the next U.S. President. The article is only 67 words long, short enough to be quoted here in its entirety:
Hamas fired dozens of rockets at Israel from the Gaza Strip on Wednesday after Israeli forces killed at least five Palestinian militants in an eruption of violence that disrupted a four-month-old truce. The rockets caused no deaths. Israeli forces later killed a Palestinian who the military said had taken part in the rocket attack.
Significantly, the article neglects to indicate how many Israeli troops were involved and the fact that Israeli force included tanks and helicopters additional to the troops. Nor does it provide any indication that this is the first major transgression against the June accord, initiating Hamas’s resumption of rocket attacks on Israel for the next two months as well as the restoration of incursions by Israeli troops into Gaza. It is not until December 19 that Ethan Bronere’s NYT article, “A Gaza Truce Undone by Flaws May Be Revived by Necessity,” finally mentions this escalation in the third-to-last paragraph, attributing it to Israel’s decision to destroy a tunnel Hamas had been digging near the border. [More about Bronner’s useful article later]
It should be mentioned that a useful January 12 summary of the press response to the Nov. 4 incursion, Jim Lobe and Ai Gharib’s Electronic Intifada piece, “U.S. media didn’t report Israeli ceasefire violation,” mentions a slight enlargement of the story in a later NYT edition on November 5 and cites British, Canadian, and Australian sources that actually took into account with the magnitude of the issue at the time. Lobe and Rharib also mention a Tzipi Livni “Meet the Press” interview in which she totally neglects to mention the November 4 episode, and they indicate that a Nexis search “made no reference to the raid in the transcripts of any television public-affairs broadcast during the period.” They emphasize that this is “a particularly significant omission given the fact that about 70 percent of U.S. citizens say their main source of international news comes through that medium.”
A November 5 WP article attributed to Reuters, “Hamas Fires Rockets At Israel After Airstrike,” starts by referring to “35 rockets [fired at] Israel on Wednesday, hours after the Israeli arm killed gunmen in the Hamas-ruled territory.” It then indicates no damage has been done and that Hamas has asserted responsibility for the attacks, the first such military action since June. It also explains that five of the six gunmen were killed in air strikes late in the afternoon after they fired missiles at Israeli forces who were destroying a tunnel built by Hamas fighters to kidnap an Israeli soldier at a later date. A sixth was supposedly killed by Israeli troops while advancing to destroy the tunnel. Other reports have reversed this sequence, suggesting that the five were killed in the tunnel and the sixth (or seventh) while firing rockets at a later time. The Israeli incursion is described as a “rare” Israeli military operation since the cease fire began. A Hamas spokesman, Sami Abu Zuhri, is quoted saying that the Nov. 4 raid is a major violation of the accord and proves that Israel is not interested in continuing the cease-fire. However, an Israeli army spokeswoman offers the assurance, “this is a pinpoint operation to thwart an immediate threat and there is no intention to bring about the end of the cease fire.”
A November 6 WP article, just a day later, by Nidal al-Mughrabi of Reuters [very possibly the same author], “Israel-Hamas Truce Tenuous After Violence,” indicates in its first sentence that the incident has “disrupted a four-month-old truce along the Gaza Strip’s frontier.” It also tells of Hamas rocket attacks in retaliation, including salvos that landed on the coastal city of Ashkelon without having caused any casualties. It quotes Hamas sources who indicate that “calm could return if Israel held its fire,” and Israel’s defense minister [Barak] is also quoted insisting, “Israel [does] not want the truce to collapse,” and “We have no intention of violating the quiet. We have an interest in perpetuating the calm. … But whenever it is necessary to thwart operations against Israel Defense Force soldiers or the civilians on the Gaza outskirts, we will act.” Barack Obama is also quoted to the effect that “resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would be a priority for hs administration.” It is disclosed that a summit is planned in Cairo the following week and that Condaleezza Rice is scheduled to arrive in the region on Thursday, presumably to participate in the summit. One of the most important issues to be resolved according to al-Mughrabi is the release of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in exchange for an acceptable number of Palestinian prisoners who have not killed Israeli. Significantly, there is no reference to the Cairo “summit” in any of the other news reports.
Several additional reports can also be mentioned here relevant to the November 4 attack. Published on November 5, an International Middle East Media Center (IMEMC) report, “Israeli army kills five Qassam fighters in Gaza,” indicates that Israeli soldiers supported by tanks and armored vehicles have invaded the central Gaza Strip early Tuesday evening and fired several shells at a number of homes. At the same time, Military helicopters hovered over the area firing flares and missiles. Israeli army spokesmen nevertheless assure reporters that the invasion does not constitute a violation of the cease-fire but has instead been a “legitimate step to remove an immediate threat to Israel from Gaza.”
In a November 5 IMEMC report, “Israeli invasion ongoing; seven fighters killed,” the IMEMC quotes an Israeli military spokesperson that the attack has been intended to prevent the use of a tunnel to abduct an Israeli soldier. Israeli troops were forced to detonate the tunnel, which was dug under one of the buildings, thereby killing the Palestinian fighters inside the tunnel. Otherwise, the Israeli spokesman insisted, “This invasion has a certain target and does not aim at violating the truce.”
According to a November 5 BBC report, “Rockets fired after Gaza clashes,” “Tuesday evening’s fighting broke out after Israeli tanks and a bulldozer moved 250m into the central part of the coastal enclave, backed by military aircraft … Residents of central Gaza’s el-Bureij refugee camp said a missile fired from an unmanned Israeli drone flying over the area injured another three Hamas gunmen.”
Ten days later, Sara Flounder’s article in workers.org, “Israel Invades Gaza again; Palestinian resistance continues,” provides even more information about what happened:
The Israeli Army invaded the Gaza Strip on Nov. 4 with tanks, helicopters and jet aircraft. … According to reports in the Palestinian media, Israeli soldiers and tanks accompanied by military helicopters firing flares and missiles invaded an area east of Deir al-Balah, in the central Gaza Strip, while Israeli jets shelled an area east of Kahn Younis in the southern part of Gaza. The next day Israeli tanks moved into Beit Hanoun in the northern part of Gaza.
Here the sequence seems plain once the Nov. 5 Israeli incursion is taken into account: (1) an Israeli incursion early on Nov. 4; (2) Hamas’s rocket attack later in the day; and (3) a second Israeli incursion the next day. Like a typical starter motor, Israel’s two incursions put the cycle of retaliatory strikes back in motion again seven weeks preceding the December 27 air attack.
In retrospect, it cannot be discounted that the supposedly preemptive attack of Nov. 4 is conducted on the day of the U.S. election, when the world’s attention is focused on Obama’s victory instead of events in the Near East. This presumably accidental timing would suggest Israel seeks to intensify hostilities against Hamas with a minimum of publicity, thereby letting Hamas’ acts of retaliation be publicized as unprovoked hostility to justify Israel’s invasion of Gaza. This sequence is in fact what later happens–the question remains to what extent it has been planned in advance with the November 4 attack setting the stage for all that followed. It should also be taken into account that Hamas might have been more circumspect in response to the Nov. 4 and 5 attacks if the Israeli blockade of Gaza were not so devastating to its inhabitants.
A November 15 WP article by Linda Gradstein, “As Israel-Hamas Clashes Continue, Gazans Face Crisis – Closed Border Halts Food Aid from U.N.,” indicates that Israeli and Palestinian fighters have clashed repeatedly since the Nov. 4 attack, leaving at least 10 Hamas fighters dead. Meanwhile, there is a shortage of medicine in Gaza hospitals, and the U.N. announces on Nov. 9 that it is closing its food-distribution program because it cannot resupply its warehouses. Moreover, most of Gaza City has been dark since Thursday night [November 13]. when Gaza’s main power plant ran out of fuel. “It is unprecedented that the U.N. is unable to get its supplies in to a population under such obvious distress,” John Ging, the senior U.N. official in Gaza, says in a telephone interview. He also indicates that the present crisis would not have occurred if U.N. suppliers had not been prohibited from building up their reserves during the cease fire. According to al-Khodari, 80 percent of Gazans live below the poverty line and the average per capita income is $2 per day. Israeli spokesman Peter Lerner says Israel had planned to open the border crossings, but maintained the closure after Israeli intelligence warned that Palestinian gunmen planned to attack the crossings.
A month later, in a December 14 NYT article, “Hamas, Showing Split, Hints It may Extend Truce,” Taghreed El-Khodary and Isabel Kershner tell of a mixed response by the Hamas leadership to the impending cessation of the June Peace Accord. On one hand, Khaled Mashal, an exiled leader in Damascus, insists on Hamas’s satellite TV station Al Quds that “the truce was limited to six months and ends on Dec. 19.” However, Mahmoud Zahar, the senior Hamas leader in Gaza, says there will be a meeting of the leadership of Hamas and other groups on the following Sunday, December 21, to determine the possibility of renewing the treaty. Addressing a large crowd of 200,000 Palestinians in Gaza, Hamas’ Prime Minister Haniya criticizes Israel for its strict embargo and continuing aggression, but avoids making any definitive pronouncements about the extension of the truce. The choice is thereby left open. Meanwhile, Israeli spokesmen express their readiness to extend the truce. The senior Israeli Defense Ministry official Amos Gilad goes to Cairo to discuss extending the truce with Egyptian mediators. Mark Regev, a spokesman for Prime Minister Olmert announces, “Israel has been willing, and continues to be willing, to abide by the understandings reached with the Egyptians,” but then adds that calm [is] conditioned on Hamas stopping the daily rocket fire from Gaza.
In their article, El-Khodary and Kershner also summarize events since June: “A tense calm largely prevailed for the first months of the truce, showing that Hamas has been able to control smaller militant groups in Gaza.” But that began to unravel Nov. 4, they explain, when Israeli forces entered Gaza for the first time since June to blow up a tunnel that, according to Israel, Hamas was planning to use to capture soldiers along the border. Six Hamas militants were killed on the night of the tunnel raid. Since then, Hamas has fired some 250 rockets and mortar shells from Gaza at Israel without killing anybody, whereas at least 10 more Palestinian militants have been killed in Israeli strikes. Meanwhile, Israel has tightened its blockade of Israel, and life in the Israeli towns and villages around Gaza has become intolerable.
In his long and eloquent Dec. 15 piece, over a month later, “Israel’s Crime Against Humanity,” in Truthdig, Chris Hedges quotes Princeton law professor Richard Falk to the effect that Israel’s embargo of Gaza constitutes a “crime against humanity” suggestive of the Warsaw Ghetto. More specifically, Falk suggests, it constitutes “a flagrant and massive violation of international humanitarian law as laid down in Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.” Hedges details all of the problems endured in Gaza without food, drugs, water, electric power, adequate hospital care, and the rest of the necessities of life. He also summarizes the sequence of events in the simplest possible terms:
The point of this Israeli siege, ostensibly, is to break Hamas, the radical Islamic group that was elected to power in 2007. But Hamas has repeatedly proposed long-term truces with Israel and offered to negotiate a permanent truce. During the last cease-fire, established through Egyptian intermediaries in July, Hamas upheld the truce although Israel refused to ease the blockade. It was Israel that, on Nov. 4, initiated an armed attack that violated the truce and killed six Palestinians. It was only then that Hamas resumed firing rockets at Israel. Palestinians have launched more than 200 rockets on Israel since the latest round of violence began. There have been no Israeli casualties.
Actually, the accord had been obtained in June, not July, and four Israeli citizens had been killed by rocket attacks by this time in December. Otherwise, this retrospective account is entirely accurate–more than can be said of earlier U.S. coverage.
In his Dec. 19 NYT article, “A Gaza Truce Undone by Flaws May Be Revived by Necessity,” Ethan Bronner tells of Hamas rocket fire having increased as well as Israel’s warplanes firing missiles and even further tightening of the border crossings by Israel. In other words, Bronner says, the June 19 agreement is over. Each side accuses the other of bad faith and violations of the accord. Rockets from Gaza never stopped entirely during the truce, and Israel never allowed a major renewed flow of goods into Gaza. The reason, Bronner explains, is that the agreement had “no mutually agreed text or enforcement mechanism.” Hamas officials emphasize their understanding on June 19 that Israel would open the crossings within two weeks and allow the transfer of goods that had been banned during the previous year. They argue that their effort to step the rockets has been largely successful, indicating that while more than 300 rockets had been fired into Israel in May, only from 10 to 20 were fired in July. In August from 10 to 30 were fired, and in September from 5 to 10. In contrast, the shipment of goods into Gaza never increased more than 25 to 30 percent, far short of the 500 to 600 truckloads delivered daily before the border was closed a year earlier. In response, Shlomo Dror, chief spokesman for Israel’s Defense Ministry, explains, “The Palestinians wanted to have one or two rockets a week to keep our people in tension. … The moment we fail to react to one rocket we encourage them. Our only choice was to close the crossings when rockets came in.”
A December 20 AP article published by the NYT, “Israel: Hamas Formally Ends Truce,” is short enough to quote in its entirety:
Hamas formally announced the end of its unwritten, often-breached truce with Israel on Friday, as Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip fired four rockets into southern Israel. The Israeli military said two rockets were fired Friday morning and two more after sunset. It also said troops guarding Israeli farmers in fields adjoining Gaza came under sniper fire from across the border. No injuries were reported. In a statement posted on its Web site, Hamas said it was Israel that had ended the truce by imposing an economic blockade on Gaza carrying out military strikes and hunting down Hamas operatives in the West Bank. Thousands of Gazans rallied in Khan Yunis, … in support of the militant group Islamic Jihad.
A December 20 WP article by Steve Weizman, “Hamas Formally Suspends Truce – Gazans Accuse Israel of Breaches, etc.,” quotes Hamas, “Since the enemy did not abide with the conditions … we hold the enemy fully responsible for ending the truce, and we confirm that the Palestinian resistance factions headed by Hamas will act.” Israeli spokesmen insist that the truce [does] not have an official expiration date and that Israel is interested in prolonging understandings with Hamas. An opinion poll this week indicates that 74 percent of Palestinians and 51 percent of Israelis want the truce to be extended.
A December 22 WP article by Ben Lynfield,“Livni and Netanyahu vow to oust Hamas after Gaza rocket,” tells of 20 Palestinian rockets having been fired against southern Israel since the six-month cease fire ended two days ago. In response both Tzipi Livni and Benyamin Netanyahu vow to topple Hamas in Gaza despite Prime Minister Olmert’s warning, “A responsible government doesn’t rush into battle, neither does it shy away.” Barak, the Labour leader, warns that more than 20,000 troups would be needed to stop the rocket fire. Lieutenant General Moshe Yaalon, Likud’s security expert, recommends the assassination of Hamas leaders, but Yossi Alpher, a leading analyst, suggests it is time for Israel to admit it lacks a “workable strategy.”
On the other hand, a December 22 Reuters article, “Hamas says open to new truce in Gaza,” by Nidal Mughrabi, Aziz el-Kaissouni, Dan Williams, and Adam Entous, indicates that Palestinian armed groups have halted rocket fire against Israel for 24 hours at the request of Egyptian mediators. Shortly before the truce is set to expire, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh telephones Turkish Prime Minister Tavyip Erdogan to ask that he convince Israel to lift its blockade, and Erdogan assured him he would. Isaac Herzog, a minister of Olmert’s security cabinet, assured Israel’s public, “I like many of my colleagues, am ready to continuing the calm, on terms that are comfortable for Israel.”
A December 23 WP article by Matti Friedman, “Hamas Tells Fighters to Hold Fire for 24 Hours, etc.” indicates that Hamas has ordered gunmen to hold their fire for 24 hours on December 22 because of the possibility that the truce with Israel can be restored. Also, Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar indicates on Israel’s Channel 10 TV that the Palestinian Islamist group is interested in renewing the truce with Israel. However, since three rockets have fallen by nightfall, Israel signals that the cargo crossings remain sealed and it is preparing for a possible offense. Mubarak, who brokered the initial truce, invites Israel’s Foreign Minister Tzipi Lvvni to Cairo to discuss a new arrangement. Her spokesmen say she is prepared to listen but would also complain about the rockets and mortar fire. Analysts nevertheless think both sides want to renew the truce, since past incursions have not stopped the rocket fire and an Israeli ground operation into Gaza would probably result in heavy casualties for both sides.
A December 23 WP editorial , “More Rockets from Gaza,” etc., predicts that if and when full-scale hostilities begin, Hamas will shift from homemade rockets to Iranian missiles that could reach large Israeli cities. It is also suggests that a ground invasion might trigger bloody conflict that could spread to the West Bank and Lebanon. The author also mentions the apparent decision of Hamas’s Damascus-based leadership to end the cease-fire regardless of the suffering this might bring, apparently with the expectation that Israel would be forced to lift the blockade on Gaza. What seems ignored by the Damascus leadership is the fact that Israel is in the midst of a heated election campaign with two leading candidates both of whom are taking a “predictably hawkish tack.” With the U.S. in the midst of a presidential transition, it would be unlikely to impose any outcome unacceptable to Israel’s new government.
A December 24 AP article published by the NYT, “Israel: 3 Militants Killed in Gaza,” is short enough to quote in its entirety:
Israeli forces killed three Palestinian militants on the Gaza border on Tuesday, the deadliest clash since a truce expired Friday between Israel and Hamas, the militant group that rules Gaza. Israel said the three militants were planting explosives in northern Gaza along the border fence. Soldiers crossed a few yards into Gaza and engaged the Palestinians, who threw grenades. The soldiers returned fire, killing the three, according to Israeli news media.
A December 24 NYT article by Isabel Kershner, “Gaza Rocket Fire Intensifies,” indicates that a Hamas militant has been killed in an Israeli air strike, while more than 60 rockets and mortar shells have been fired at Israel without killing anybody. Most of the rockets fired out of Gaza are locally made, Kershner reports, “short-range projectiles that fall within a few miles of the border.” But at least two of those fired Wednesday [Dec. 24] are imported Katyusha-type rockets with a longer range. Kershner also reports that Israel’s security cabinet has held a meeting that has lasted about five hours, but with no details having been made public regarding any decisions about Gaza.” Israel’s official spokesman Mark Regev says, “a renewal of mutual calm [is] possible but that Israel’s patience [is] running out.” Some Israeli officials call for tough military action, but Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak maintain a policy of restraint. Unnamed defense officials are quoted to the effect that a military invasion would be costly in lives on both sides and would not guarantee an end to the rocket fire.” Also quoted is Mahmoud Zahar, a senior Hamas official, to the effect that “Hamas would consider renewing the truce if border crossings were opened to allow the regular transfer of goods into Gaza.” Kershner ends the article by quoting a nameless Israeli official that Israel would have allowed about 40 trucks of humanitarian aid to enter Gaza on Wednesday, but cancelled those plans as a result of the heavy rocket and mortar fire.”
In a December 26 NYT article provided by Reuters, “Israel Issues an Appeal to Palestinians in Gaza,” Israel’s prime minister, Ehud Olmert is quoted as having issued on Christmas a “last minute” appeal to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip to reject the militant leadership of Hamas and stop firing rockets at Israel, warning that he would not hesitate to use force. According to the article, “He [Olmert} issued what amounted to a public call to Gazans to overthrow Hamas, the Islamic group that controls the territory. “I’m telling them now,” he [says]. “It may be the last minute. There will be more blood there. Who wants it? We don’t want it.” Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, a leading candidate in the Feb. 10 election, holds emergency talks with President Mubarak of Egypt, who cautions against escalation. Ms. Livni says Hamas [has] to pay for “unbearable” rocket fire, insisting, “Enough is enough.” According to a Palestinian official, an unnamed Egyptian source is quoted as having appealed to Hamas leaders “to calm the situation so as to avoid an Israeli military escalation.” In Gaza, however, a Hamas spokesman, Fawzi Barhoum, warns that Israel would “pay the price” for any attack.
Significantly, neither the NYT nor WP provides any coverage whatsoever on December 27, the day of Israel’s surprise air attack. The question suggests itself whether these two newspapers and/or anybody in the federal government is aware of this likelihood. Is the American press so closely aligned with Israel’s government that it actually participates in a news blackout exactly when it is needed in order to mount a surprise invasion?
On December 27, as indicated, Israel finally launches a full-scale air attack against Gaza. As recounted by Taghreed El-Khodary and Ethan Bronner in their NYT December 28 article, “More than 225 Die in Gaza as Israel Strikes at Hamas,” a major Israeli surprise air attack is launched on Saturday, December 27, that produces the highest death toll for Gaza in years. Many of the victims are shoppers and school children who have been freely walking in the Central Food Market as well as police cadets in a nearby graduation ceremony held in an open square. About 500 Palestinians are also wounded in what amounts to a totally successful surprise attack. Despite Israeli claims of targeting Hamas fighters and security posts, according to IMEMC’s December 28 article, “Israeli Offensive in Gaza,” “the army [shells] mosques, blacksmith workshops, local media agencies, charitable societies, police stations, detainees’ affairs societies and … the Islamic University in Gait. It is estimated that there have been at least a hundred targets, including the Saraya security compound in Gaza city, the municipal building of the town Beit Hanoun, the police station of the Shija’via neighborhood of eastern Gaza city, two additional Hamas police posts in central Gaza Strip, and a variety of Hamas-run charities.
As on November 4, the surprise attack has been undertaken with total success. According to Haaretz correspondent Barak Ravid on December 28 in “Disinformation, secrecy and lies: How the Gaza offensive came about,” “Israel [had] continued to send out disinformation in announcing it would open the crossings to the Gaza Strip and that Olmert would decide whether to launch the strike following three more deliberations on Sunday – one day after the actual order to launch the operation was issued.” Ravid also discloses that Israeli Defense Minister Barak had initiated plans for the invasion as early as March, 2008, three months before the June accord, and had made these plans operational beginning in November, supposedly in response to Hamas’ resumption of rocket attacks in early November after Israel’s November 4 incursion.
Further trickery is suggested by Les Blough, Editor of Axis of Logic in his provocative article, “The 2008 Attack on the People of Gaza is Like-No-Other and the World Responds,” dated on December 28, “On the day before the attack, the Israeli government [lies] to the Palestinians, telling them they have opened the borders to receive the first shipment of food and humanitarian supplies in 2 months. The Palestinians have been waiting for relief and instead are bombed.”
The exact timing is another matter. Undoubtedly the planes have been scheduled to arrive during the graduation ceremony in order to maximize fatalities among police officers as potential combatants once the invasion begins. According to the Jerusalem Report, as recounted by David Brooks in his January 6 NYT column, “The Confidence Game, ”In the first wave 80 Israeli planes hit more than 100 targets and nearly all of the Hamas military compounds within 3 minutes 40 seconds.” Aerial attacks are sustained throughout the following day, and in response Palestinians shoot dozens of rockets into southern Israel, but without killing anybody. By the end of the year four days later as many as 400 Palestinians have been killed, between twenty and thirty percent of them children, mostly from incessant air strikes, artillery strikes, and gunfire from Israeli warships off the coast. In contrast, only 4 Israeli have been killed by Palestinian rockets.
And thus the initial air bombardment. On January 4, after eight days of incessant bomb attacks, Israeli troops invade Gaza. The invasion has begun.
What is one to conclude from this entire narrative stretching over the past six months and with every chance of persisting into the indefinite future? Several generalizations seem appropriate.
First and foremost, contrary to the repeated insistence of Zionists, Gaza’s Hamas government is not a terrorist organization to be excluded from negotiations. Hamas was first organized in 1987 to provide social services as well as resistance against Israel’s occupation–not much different from Israel’s leadership opposed to British occupation when it took power in 1948. There is also ample evidence the creation and initial growth of Hamas was encouraged by Mossad, Israel’s intelligence service, as a counterweight to the Fatah movement. When Hamas won the 2006 popular election in Gaza, its new prime minister, Ismail Haniya, turned out to be the most conciliatory member of its top leadership, and he soon joined with the Fatah President Abbas in promoting a peace settlement along the lines proposed by the Arab League in both 2002 and 2007. Once again it was Prime Minister Sharon who refused to negotiate, putting into motion everything that has happened since. Moreover, as explained in Khalid Amayreh’s pivotal 2004 article based on inside Knesset sources, “The Second Intifada – An Israeli Strategy,” the conscious intention of Israel ‘s leadership since the beginning has been to intensify violence in order to intimidate and encourage the departure of the Palestinian people. In other words, it is primarily the Israeli who have kept up the role of terrorists, not the Palestinians.
Secondly, Zionist apologists have also repeatedly attacked Hamas for seeking the destruction of Israel, but this is an obvious equivocation on their part. Indeed, some members of Hamas want to “destroy” Israel in the sense of crushing it and reducing its people to devastation, just as many Israeli want to do the same with Palestinians. However, what most of Hamas’ leadership mean by “destroy” is to terminate Israel’s “democratic” theocracy, replacing it with a genuine democracy in which all citizens have equal rights–Palestinians and Christians as well as the Zionist Jews. On the other hand, contrary to Zionist protestations, much of Hamas’ leadership is actually willing to accept a two-state solution whereby the Israeli and Palestinians coexist in two adjoining nations, an arrangement that would permit Israel’s continuation of its anachronistic theocratic status.
Third, there is ample evidence that Hamas and the residents of Gaza wanted (and expected) to avoid warfare. The Dec. 15 NYT article of el-Khodary and Kershner indicates a mixed response among Gaza’s Hamas leadership–as opposed to its exiled Damascus leadership–to the renewal of a peace accord with Israel. Such a renewal was advocated by Zahar and not rejected by Haniya. As indicated in a recent opinion poll reported by Weizman in his December 20 WP article, 74 percent of the Palestinians overall, as opposed to only 51 percent of the Israeli, wanted the truce to be extended. What primarily brought a renewal of overt hostilities was the continuing embargo on Gaza as well as two decisive steps taken by Israel. First its Nov. 4 attack provoked the resumption of rocket fire from Hamas; and second, Israel’s December 27 air attack terminated all talk of a renewed peace accord that had persisted through Christmas and even, arguably, the morning of the attack. It may also be mentioned here that Olmert’s demands as reported by Reuters on December 26 might seem an explicit warning of an impending invasion, but, as reported By Ravid of Haaretz on December 28, the misinformation available to Gaza’s residents that Israel’s war cabinet would meet on Sunday, the day after the attack, to decide the appropriate choice gave Palestinians the false impression that they were safe at least until Monday. Also, Olmert’s demand, as reported by Reuters, that Gaza inhabitants reject its elected leadership on the brink of its invasion was necessarily gratuitous and imposed an impossible condition. It could only be ignored, thus justifying an invasion only in the opinion of the aggressors.
Fourth, both Israel and the Palestinians have repeatedly broken the June verbal accord, but on balance Israel was more culpable than the Palestinians. The tradeoff accepted by both parties was for the Palestinians to terminate rocket attacks in exchange for Israel’s cessation of the embargo against Gaza as well as the termination of military incursions into Gaza. As Bronner documents in his December 19 NYT article, Palestinian rocket fire has been substantially reduced over the past six months as compared to the relentless continuation of Israel’s embargo and its Gaza incursions. As indicated in Gradstein’s Nov. 15 WP article, the effect of this embargo has been severe poverty and sufficient hostility that Hamas rocket attacks could be incited by the November 4 incursion.
Fifth, the explanation for the inability of Hamas to curtail rocket fire entirely is that most of the early rocket attacks were conducted by the Islamic Jihad, a radical group loosely connected with Hamas that kept up these attacks to retaliate against Israeli attacks on the Jihad on the West Bank. Hamas itself did not resume rocket attacks until Nov. 4, after Israeli forces killed six Palestinian fighters in their surprise attack on election day in the United States. As earlier indicated, the imprudence of Hamas in accepting the bait was probably because of the effectiveness of Israel’s embargo at the time as well as the impact of the surprise attack in and of itself.
Sixth, most of the rockets used by the Palestinians have been relatively harmless homemade Kazam rockets, thus accounting for the exceptionally low casualty rate among Israeli as the result of rocket attacks. Not more than eight Israeli were killed during the entire year once the total of four mentioned in Kershner’s June 18 NYT article is added to the four killed after the December 27 attack. It accordingly seems more than likely that Kazam rocket attacks were useful to Israel as a “good” excuse for mounting both the air attack and invasion that followed. Whatever the benefit of these rocket attacks to Hamas’ defense strategy, they have been far more helpful to Israel’s government in producing almost no damage whatsoever while obtaining the needed public support for an enlargement of its operations against the Palestinians. One almost wonders if Zionist agent provocateurs aren’t somehow responsible for what seem to many the dubious use of rockets in the Palestinian cause.
Seventh, the overall kill ratio since December 27 has actually been sustained at 100-1, culminating at the time of the January 17 cease-fire at thirteen hundred Palestinians as opposed to thirteen Israeli troops, four of whom having been killed by friendly fire. Any kill ratio this disproportionate suggests an egregious double standard on the part of the winning side. Do Zionists actually believe the Biblical nonsense that they are God’s chosen people with the license to engage in such one-sided slaughter against their supposed enemies? Not so. All human lives must be treated as being sacred–even Palestinians, including the men, women and children killed since December 27. Those portions of the Bible that say otherwise (Deuteronomy, 7:2-6, etc.) can and ought to be ignored.
Eighth, the question necessarily suggests itself whether Israel had tightened the embargo and mounted its Nov. 4 attack as planned from the very beginning in order to obtain exactly the results that wereproduced, a cessation of the June peace accord followed by a full invasion that could be blamed on Hamas instead of Israel, followed by negotiations on a heavily favorable basis for Israel. Barak Ravid’s disclosure in his December 27 Haaretz article should be no surprise–that Israel’s defense minister Ehud Barak instructed the IDF “to prepare the operation over six months ago.” Barak was said to explain to fellow IDF strategists, “Although the lull would allow Hamas to prepare for a showdown with Israel, the Israeli army needed time to prepare as well.” It accordingly seems more than likely that everything starting with the June peace accord was planned on a contingency basis well in advance. Of primary importance in reverse order of conception was the invasion of Gaza, whose occurrence would be most opportune preceding the September 20, 2008, U.S. inauguration (thus providing the international “surprise” predicted by Vice President Biden, if a couple months earlier than predicted). Then in reverse sequence came a suitable provocation scheduled in time to renew the cycle of violence needed to stir up public support for the invasion (and what better date than the U.S. election?). Finally, at the very beginning, the June peace agreement would provide the time needed to make sufficient preparations over the following six months. This hypothetical game plan might seem absurd verging on paranoia, but we must remember than Barak is an intricate thinker–a clock maker in his spare time. He can be expected to play chess in foreign relations as opposed to the relatively simple strategy of Palestinians, something between checkers and tic-tac-toe as with most of the rest of us.
Ninth, as suggested in Entous’ December 22 WP article, Israel’s upcoming February 10 election cannot be ignored. As an additional bonus to Israel’s current government, the Gaza invasion has tipped Israel’s public support from Netanyahu, an arch-conservative Likud candidate for Prime Minister, to Tzipi Livni supported by Ehud Barak, relatively progressive candidates both of whom have supported a two-state solution one time or another. By proving themselves to be sufficiently hawkish, Livni and Barak have enhanced their image among Israeli voters who would otherwise support the arch-conservative Netanyahu. Once in office, Livni and Barak might actually be able to work with Palestinians and the Obama administration in pursuit of an acceptable two-state resolution of the conflict, presumably with both Hamas and Fatah involved in the creation of their own political entity within the 1967 border suitably adjusted. However, there would be serious problems if such a strategy is in the works. The results would be risky at best and at too great a cost in Palestinian lives. Moreover, if such a strategy fails, a destabilization of Arab states can be expected throughout the region, and the political climate in Israel inclusive of all its parties would shift even further to the right than today. Once Hamas has been crushed–as it can be if Gaza is totally flattened and many thousands more are killed–Fatah would provide a relatively easy target, Abbas himself reduced to nothing more than a “plucked chicken” as once described by Sharon. Zionism’s triumph would be at the expense of the Palestinian people and ultimately, one suspects, the Israeli people as well–at least their self-respect.
And tenth, the option cannot be discounted that Israel’s victory might set the stage for the prevention of any Palestinian state whatsoever. The avoidance of a two-state solution is mostly sought by Israeli who seek full possession of the greater Israel for themselves alone. At present they cannot exactly reject both the current one-state and two-state options, since the only alternative would be the dispersal of Palestinians into cantons equivalent to Native-American reservations and their eventual “transfer” to adjoining states–a modern Palestinian Diaspora entailing everything offensive to Jews about their own historic experience. The immediate tactic is therefore to keep relations in perpetual disruption toward the possibility of such a transfer when it finally presents itself as a reasonable choice. In other words, Ben Gurion and Sharon’s basic strategy (“We must expel Arabs and take their place”) still seems in effect at least as an option relevant to the outcome of the present Gaza operation. Chances seem excellent once again that Israel’s conservative leadership will somehow thwart genuine negotiations in the hope and expectation of obtaining the eventual opportunity to rid the “greater Israel” of its Palestinians once Hamas is out of the picture. The strategy is reminiscent of God’s ultra-chauvinistic pronouncements in the Old Testament and Hitler’s effort to rid Europe of its Jewish population. It’s basically the same motive all over again, though Israel can be expected to avoid an “existential” final solution. One or two Warsaw episodes might be O.K. such as in Gaza right now, but without any need for concentration camps–at least not yet.