Israeli Assault Injures 1.5 Million Gazans

Gaza Diary

Nazareth — This week the death toll in Gaza passed the 1,000 mark, after nearly three weeks of Israeli air and ground attacks. But surprisingly, no one has reported an even more appalling statistic: that there are some 1.5 million injured Palestinians in Gaza. How is it possible that such an astounding figure could have passed by the world’s media?

The reason, apparently, is that they have been relying on the highly unreliable statistics provided by official Palestinian sources. It appears that the Palestinian health ministry only records as wounded those Gazans who need to stay in hospital because of the severity of their injuries.

That means they only count the more than 4,500 Gazans who have suffered injuries such as severe burns from exploding Israeli phosphorus shells; shrapnel wounds from artillery rounds; broken or lost limbs from aerial bombardment; bullet wounds; physical trauma from falling building debris; and so on.

But in fact there is another, far more reasonable standard for assessing those injured, one that provides the far higher total of 1.5 million Gazans — or every surviving Palestinian in Gaza. The measure I am referring to is the one employed by Israel.

Here is an example of its use. In September 2007, the international media reported that 69 Israeli soldiers had been wounded when Palestinian militants fired a rocket into the Zikim army base near the Gaza Strip. The rocket struck a tent where the soldiers were sleeping.

It is worth noting the details of the attack. Israeli officials related that, of the 69 wounded, 11 had moderate or severe injuries and one was critically injured. A few more had light wounds. The rest, probably 50 or more, were injured in the sense that they were suffering from shock.

So, if we apply the same standard to Gaza, that would mean 1.5 million Gazans have been wounded. Or is there still some doubt about whether the weeks of bombardment of Gaza, one of the most densely populated places on earth, have left the entire civilian population in a deep, and possibly permanent, state of shock?

* * * * * * * * *

Talking of Gaza’s civilians, where did they all go? Israel’s so-called “war” on Gaza must be the first example in human history of a conflict where there are apparently no civilians. Or, at least, that is the impression being created by the world’s leading international bodies, from the World Health Organization to the United Nations. Instead they refer to a new category of “women and children.”

Thus, those 1,000-plus dead Gazans are broken down into percentages defined in terms of “women and children” and the rest. The earliest figures stated that about 25 percent of Gaza’s dead were “women and children”, and that has steadily climbed close to the 50 per cent mark since Israel’s ground invasion got under way.

The implication — one with which Israel is presumably delighted — is that the rest are Palestinian fighters, or “terrorists” as Israel would prefer us to call them. It also suggests that every man in Gaza over the age of 16 is being defined as a non-civilian — as a combatant and, again by implication, as a terrorist. In short, all Gaza’s men are legitimate targets for Israeli attack.

This is not very far from the position recently attributed to Israeli policymakers by the daily Jerusalem Post. The newspaper reported that officials had come to the view that “it would be pointless for Israel to topple Hamas because the population [of Gaza] is Hamas.”

On this thinking, Israel is at war with every single man, woman and child in Gaza, which is very much how it looks. Maybe we should be glad that the category of “women and children” is still being recognized — at least, for now.

* * * * * * * * * * *

The myths about the blockade of Gaza are so legion it is almost impossible to disentangle them. But let’s try tackling a few.

The first is that the blockade was a necessary response to the election of Hamas.

Tell that to John Wolfensohn, special envoy to the Quartet, comprising the US, UN, Europe and Russia, from May 2005. His job was to oversee the disengagement. Wolfensohn was succeeded by the far less principled Tony Blair, the former British prime minister.

In an interview with the Haaretz newspaper in 2007, Wolfensohn explained why he had resigned a year into his job, in April 2006. Shortly after the disengagement in summer 2005, he said, Israel and the US had violated the understandings made to ensure the border crossings into Gaza remained open after the Jewish settlers left. “Every aspect of that agreement was abrogated,” he said.

The economy collapsed as a result, as Gaza’s farmers saw their produce rot at the crossings, and unemployment and disillusionment among Gazans rocketed. “Instead of hope, the Palestinians saw that they were put back in prison. And with 50 percent unemployment, you would have conflict.”

It was the closure of the crossings that Wolfensohn believes partly explains Hamas’ success in the subsequent elections, in early 2006. So, according to Wolfensohn, Israel’s blockade pre-existed Hamas’ rise to power and began when Fatah were still the rulers of Gaza.

The second myth is that the blockade was an attempt, if a futile one, to get Hamas to recognize Israel’s “right to exist.”

Tell that to Dov Weisglass, former prime minister Ariel Sharon’s fixer in Washington. It was he who suggested the true goal of the blockade, which Israel intensified immediately following Hamas’ electoral triumph. The policy would be “like an appointment with a dietician. The Palestinians will get a lot thinner, but won’t die.”

In short, according to Weisglass, Israeli policy in Gaza was “collective punishment” inflicted on the civilian population for choosing Hamas — a policy that, should it need pointing out, is a grave violation of international law and a war crime.

The hope, it seems, was that Gazans would, as they sank into abject poverty, manage to summon up the energy to overthrow Hamas. It didn’t happen.

The third myth is that the blockade was designed to put pressure on Hamas to end the rocket fire into Israel.

Tell that to Ehud Barak, the defense minister, and Matan Vilnai his deputy. This pair was plotting an invasion of Gaza throughout the six-month ceasefire with Hamas, and in fact much earlier.

In truth, they ignored every diplomatic overture from Hamas, including offers of indefinite truces, while they invested their energies in the coming ground invasion. In particular, they worked on plans, noted in the Israeli media back in spring 2008, to “level” Gaza’s civilian neighborhoods and create “combat zones” from which civilians could be expelled.

One aspect of the blockade that seems to have been overlooked is the way it has been used to “soften up” Gaza, and Hamas, before Israel’s attack. For three years Gaza’s population has been denied food, medicines and fuel.

Every general knows it is easier to fight an army — or militia — that is cold, tired and hungry. Could there be a better description of the Hamas fighters, as well as those “women and children,” currently facing Israel’s tanks and warplanes?

Jonathan Cook, based in Nazareth, Israel is a winner of 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). Read other articles by Jonathan, or visit Jonathan's website.

5 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. bozh said on January 16th, 2009 at 10:54am #

    we don’t know how many fighters has isr killed/maimed in the raid of gaza. possibly less than a hundred. some israeli soldiers in gaza have reported that they are fired upon but can’t see who is firing and from where the shooting came.

    so, barack, calls for a weeklong truce because his soldiers are not ready for war; only crimes, i may emend his ‘explanation’.
    isr had been stopped. thnx

  2. mary said on January 16th, 2009 at 11:51am #

    Today 34 more Palestinians have been killed including a mother aged 30 and her five children. (Ma’an News)

    A mother and her five children killed in an airstrike an Al-Bureij home – Friday dead at 34 – Israeli strikes continue
    Date: 16 / 01 / 2009 Time: 18:09

    Gaza – Ma’an – A mother and her five children from the Al-Batran family were killed Friday afternoon in an Israeli airstrike on their home in the Al-Bureij refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip.

    Palestinian medical sources identified the dead as 30-year-old Manal, and her children 12-year-old Wala, 8-year-old Izz- Ad-Din, 10-year-old, Bilal, 11-year-old Islam, and seven-year-old Ihsan.

    The death toll for Friday is at 34; the total death toll since Israel launched its first airstrikes on Gaza on 27 December is 1,155 including 370 children, and 85 women. There have been 5,015 injured in the attacks including 1,745 children.

    5:00 A man was killed while riding his motorcycle in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip.

    4:00pmThree members of one family were killed and a fourth injured as an Israeli missile hit Rafah.

    12:00 An Israeli airstrike on a car near the Al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza City killed two and injured a third at noon.

    11:30am An Israeli artillery shell killed a six-year-old girl according to officials at Kamal Udwan Hospital in northern Gaza. Medics said the shell landed on a group of children in the town of Jabaliya.

    11:00am Medical officials said that 14-year-old Issa Ermelat was killed when Israeli forces shelled the area near the near An-Nejma market in Ash-Shaboura refugee camp in the city of Rafah. Another person was injured in the attack.

    9:30 Medics At Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis said that 22-year-old Mamdouh Abdel Latif Abu Ruk died of wounds he sustained two-days ago in the town of Abassan.

    ***Updated 19:41 Bethlehem time

    Meanwhile, the two female war criminals, Livni and Rice, are enacting a carve-up of the Rafah crossing area preliminary to a ceasefire because as Ms Livni says it is ‘a vital component for the cessation of hostilities’. It is just a device to tighten the Gaza siege. Words fail – they have no hearts. Sweep the dead and injured away out of sight just in time for the Inauguration so that the next lot of killers have a clean run. Who said that Obama wasn’t black or brown – just gunmetal grey?

    Our state broadcaster (the BBC) have not mentioned any of the details of today’s killings nor the continuing attacks. Instead, all day long, we have had coverage of the Miracle on the Hudson and the brave pilot. Anything to divert attention from the atrocity – ‘Get me a timeline on that’ screams the editor.

  3. Emma said on January 16th, 2009 at 1:07pm #

    Mary, you have made a very good point about the BBC’s one-sided and feeble coverage of the Gaza movement and the background, history and reasons of the resitance that has created Hamas. The BBC have given too much time to the Israeli version and have never bothered to challenge the lies that they have been telling. For a fair coverage, it was essential that they give a preliminary explanation to why Hamas was fring rockets, how few Israelis had been killed over the last 8 years, who had frist broken the ceasefire, and the huge number of Palestinians that have been shelled to death since 2005. It is like giving a murderer or rapist more air time than the victim and letting them present their side of the story first. Can you imagine this?

  4. mary said on January 17th, 2009 at 1:17am #

    Whilst Livni and Rice waved their piece of paper around (did you know that Israel and the US shared a border!) and kissed each other, a Palestinian doctor who works in an Israeli hospital lost his three daughters in Beit Lahiya, in the north east of Gaza, to an Israeli tank shell.

    Palestinian Doctor’s Daughters killed while he is interviewed on Israeli TV – ‘Pleas for help from a Palestinian doctor on Friday after his children were killed in an Israeli attack in the Gaza Strip and troops later helped surviving members of the family.

    The telephone call created extraordinary scenes during evening news broadcasts as the doctor, a Hebrew-speaking physician who spoke regularly on Israeli television, said three of his children were killed in a tank strike and others were wounded.

    “My girls were sitting at home planning their futures, talking, then suddenly they are being shelled,” he said in a voice shaking with emotion. “I want to know why they were killed, who gave the order?”

    Izz el-Deen Aboul Aish is a 55 yr old gynaecologist who worked in one of Israel’s main hospitals before Gazans were effectively sealed off behind an Israeli-led blockade on the Hamas-controlled enclave. He often gave interviews to Channel 10 television.

    With Israeli journalists unable to report from the Gaza Strip independently, Aboul Aish acted as a Hebrew-speaking witness who told of the Palestinian civilians’ suffering under fire during Israel’s three-week-old offensive there.

    The deaths of more than 1,150 Palestinians, some 700 of them civilians by one independent count, have left the Israeli public largely unmoved. An overwhelming majority backs a war to end Hamas rocket fire that, before the offensive, had killed 18 people and disrupted life in southern towns over recent years.

    Channel 10 correspondent Shlomi Eldar, who said he had planned a live on-air interview with Aboul Aish on Friday evening, produced a mobile phone in the studio, letting viewers here the voice of Aboul Aish: “My God, my girls, Shlomi,” he said. “Can’t anybody get to us, please?”

    Eldar told his audience: “They have killed his family.”

    He said three of Aboul Aish’s children were killed and two were seriously wounded. Building up the sense of drama, cameras followed him as left the studio, saying he would try to help arrange for their transfer for treatment, and safety, in Israel.

    Surviving members of the family were later shown being transferred to Israeli ambulances and taken out of Gaza. Aid agencies have complained that Israel has not done enough to help Gaza’s hospitals and allow the transfer of some wounded people.

    Aboul Aish’s brother was also wounded and Eldar said two of his brother’s children had also been killed in the incident.

    The Israeli army said troops fired on Aboul Aish’s house because a sniper had fired on soldiers from the building.

    Aboul Aish responded: “All that was ever fired out of our house was love, hugs and acts of peace, nothing else, ever.”
    If you can bear it, there is a You Tube of the poor man’s anguish with this rough translation (not mine).

    “Dr. Ezz-El-Din Abu El-Eish (I hope I am transliterating correctly) is a Palestinian gynecologist from Beit Lahiya, in the NE corner of the Gaza Strip. He works at Israel’s largest hospital, Tel Hashomer near Tel Aviv.

    This impressive and peaceful man has been stranded at home during the war. Israel’s Channel 10 TV has regularly interviewed him by phone about the situation. On one occasion, a tank gun aimed at his home – and Israeli media intervention saved him…

    What we see in the clip [above] is Israeli anchor Shlomi Eldar holding a cellphone with Dr. Abu El-Eish on the other side, howling with misery. A tank shell has just hit his home and immediately killed three of his children (apparently they cut off the first seconds when the shell actually hit).”
    Assaf provides a transcript of the first two minutes:

    “Eldar: …we have on the line Dr. Abu El-Eish, we have been talking with him over the past period… he [his home] was just shelled, his family is wounded, maybe I can replay…

    Dr. Abu El-Eish: No one can get to us… (unclear)… Ya Rabi, Ya Rabi (my god).. [he continues to cry throughout while Eldar talks to the audience]

    Eldar: They killed his family, over the past few days we have been… I think I’m a bit overwhelmed too because,… (tearing up) Dr. Abu El-Eish is a Tel Hashomer physician, [to the doctor] Abu El-Eish we are now in the studio, [back to the audience] and he kept fearing his family would get hurt, once this week he went on air to Gabi Gazit [another anchor], because this was the only way [apparently referring to the previous near-miss incident]…. In short, he was now hit, who was hurt Abu El-Eish?

    Dr. Abu El-Eish: My girls, Ya Allah, Ya Allah

    [around 1:00 into clip]

    Eldar: He has eight children whom he has protected throughout the war, at his home in Beit Lahiya, maybe the only thing we can do is to ask someone who can, maybe in the IDF, Abu El-Eish can you tell me where your house is, maybe they will enable ambulances to get there

    Dr. Abu El-Eish: (unclear) …to save them, to save them, but they are dead already they were hit in the head, it was in their heads [died] on the spot, on the spot, Shlomi, Ya Allah, … what have we done, what have we done [repeatedly]… they killed the family… [more screams in the background]”
    A news report here

  5. truth speaks said on January 17th, 2009 at 1:44am #

    Nice article by mr cook. Thanks also the your comments (emma & mary). Despite the concerted effort to trivialize the physical, emotional and psychological trauma that the poor, hungry and tormented people of Palestine are going through, there are still people like you guys who can see through the smoke screen being put up by BBC, CNN, Fox News and the likes to distort the real problem. When the Isrealis act in this way- with the support of their allies- mainly the US- it just shows how insignificant the lives of ordinary Palestinians are to them.