Business as Usual

The list of settler ambushes upon Palestinian women and children and unarmed men in the West Bank is endless.  It grows day by day with more and more ferocity. In fact, there have been more than a thousand such documented attacks by rabid settlers on Palestinian civilians, although many more go unreported as futile.  Of late the victims of settler violence have begun to include other Jews.

With predictable panic, once again the Israeli government is running about aimlessly blaming the victim for inviting their own victimization. This time it was a youthful Eritrean Jew who foolishly ventured out in public where he was slaughtered by a frenetic mob of Zionist settlers because they thought he was Palestinian. As the mortally injured Jew was evacuated from the clutches of the mob that had stomped and beaten him, his killers screamed over and over again “Death to Arabs”; hundreds of others raced off through the streets of Jerusalem crying out for more Palestinian blood in a frenzied search for new victims. In another recent attack by one Jew on another, a masked settler attacked Israeli-American Rabbi Arik Ascherman, co-founder of the anti-Zionist group, Rabbis for Human Rights, an association of religious leaders that often accompanies Palestinian farmers to protect them from settler attacks as they work their groves in the occupied West Bank. The settler kicked and punched the rabbi before holding a knife to his neck apparently threatening him for his efforts on behalf of Palestinians.

How much easier would it be if only those damn Arabs would simply start to wear a yellow crescent stitched onto their clothing so that the racist hatred that is Zionism can find a fail-safe way to attack them, and not other Jews, as the Zionists pursue the “final solution” which so many seek. Or, perhaps a prominent shiny number tattooed on the inside arm of all Palestinian men under 40 years of age would do the trick. Why 40? It’s the cut-off point for Palestinian access to prayer at Al Aqsa, in Jerusalem. That’s right, under Israeli law, you must be over forty years of age to pray in one of the most revered sites in all of Islam — a religion fast approaching almost two billion people; a quarter of the world’s population! It seems the combination of relative youth and faith is a deadly combination for all who embrace it- just ask the Zionist settlers from Brooklyn armed to the teeth with automatic weapons and fire bombs in the West Bank because they not only have a sacred right to bear high-tech weapons, but apparently a divine mandate to use them, or other means of deadly violence, against Palestinian civilians because of their race, religion or politics whenever the “spirit” moves them.

Just last month the spirit obviously moved settlers who burned to death 18 month old Ali Dawabsha and his parents as they were asleep in their West Bank home- according to Israel it was the isolated work of so-called “vigilantes.” Before that it was 16 year old Mohammed Abu Kdair who was burned alive following his abduction by settlers last year from the occupied East Jerusalem neighborhood of Shuafat. In the days leading up to his slaughter, settlers marched throughout Jerusalem shouting out “Death to Arabs” all the while under the protection of Israeli security forces. Before that a settler ran over a 5 year old Palestinian boy in the southern occupied West Bank. Zakariya Mohmoud al-Umour survived; however, 5 year old Enas Khalil was not so lucky. She died following an earlier hit-and-run attack by a settler not far from Ramallah, the putative seat of power for the Palestinian Authority. It’s “business as usual.”

Meanwhile, not to be undone by the march of recent history, Israeli ethnic cleansing is in full swing in East Jerusalem with the government erecting more and more of its Warsaw ghetto- like walls around an ever expanding area of the ancient Holy City which, along with numerous heavily armed checkpoints, is part of a strategic effort to completely isolate, indeed choke off, its dwindling age-old Palestinian community and to tightly monitor and control its every movement. Underground streets and age old Suqs once teeming with Palestinian workers, shoppers and students are now entirely deserted with shops shuttered, and local residents too terrified to venture out into streets now controlled by cops, soldiers and rampaging mobs of explosive settlers. Of course, its done for “security” reasons — it always is.

Not to worry, however, as the number of potential targets for this very public 21st century pogrom is fast dwindling. Indeed, countless Palestinian families have been forcibly evicted from Jerusalem with their residency “rights” revoked by Israel over the last decade or so as their historic homes have been demolished to make room for new illegal Zionist settlements, or other development projects funded largely by US based Christian Zionist supporters. During this period, almost a thousand Palestinian homes have been destroyed or simply handed over intact to Zionists in East Jerusalem, with but a few building permits issued to those other than Jews or Christians.

For those shocked by the now very public face of racist chants, some things just don’t change. Long before the theft of Palestine in 1948, “Death to Arabs” was a popular chorus among adoring Zionists ever-ready to applaud acts of savage terrorism used against Palestinians in the Holy Land, almost always, civilians the intended victims. It rang out loudly in the early 1930s when hundreds of Palestinians were killed, shot or lynched, and their homes and businesses burned to the ground by roving gangs of immigrant European Zionists. Not much later in the same decade “Death to Arabs” once again echoed throughout their homeland as hundreds of Palestinians were murdered by bombs placed in various urban centers where they were known to congregate — in one such bombing 53 civilians were murdered in Haifa. Never at all very far from the settler mindset or language, “Death to Arabs” was again prominent during last year’s murderous assault on Gaza when settlers picnicking on hill tops overlooking Gaza were heard to shout it out as they cheered each new artillery shell, missile or bomb that exploded on the defenseless civilian population below.

From the very beginning of Israel, Palestinian civilians have been a prime target of its “para-military” and military forces. Thus, in the April 10,1948 official Red Cross report of its findings about what occurred at Deir Yassin, its representative Jacques de Reynier noted upon entering one of the houses in that small farming community:

I found some bodies cold. Here the ‘cleaning up’ had been done with machine guns, then hand-grenades. It had been finished off with knives, anyone could see that. The same thing in the next room, but as I was about to leave, I heard something like a sigh. I looked everywhere, turned over all the bodies, and eventually found a little foot, still warm. It was a little girl of ten, mutilated by a hand-grenade, but still alive . . . everywhere it was the same sight.”

According to official reports of British authorities assigned the investigation of the Israeli attack on Deir Yassin, 260 men, women and children had been butchered to death. The survivors, at the point of hysterical collapse from shock and grief, recorded their hideous experience for the British authorities: “families had been lined up and shot down in a barrage of gun-fire; young girls raped; a pregnant mother was first slaughtered and then had her stomach cut open by a butcher’s knife; a girl who tried to remove the unborn child from the woman’s womb was shot down. Some of the victims were slashed to pieces with cutlasses . . . women had bracelets torn from their arms and rings from their fingers, and parts of some of the women’s ears were severed in order to to remove ear-rings.”

Not long thereafter the small town of Ramleh located near the new “Jewish” city of Tel Aviv was also attacked; its villagers were rounded up and warned that if they resisted they too would suffer the same fate as had occurred in Deir Yassin, news of which had already spread throughout Palestine. With the town surrounded by troops, the villagers sought sanctuary in a local church. Outside, the Archbishop, who held a white flag, told approaching soldiers “we are civilians, not soldiers, not fighters, leave us in peace.” Ignoring him, several soldiers entered the church where they seized some of the young villagers and took them away, never to be seen again. Later, bodies were found scattered on the road and in-between the houses and down the side-streets. According to a twelve year old eye-witness, Khalil Wazir, “No one not even women and children, had been spared if they were out in the street. This was the first stage. After that, they dismissed us.  They drove us out of the homes and out of town.” Khalil Wazir, who never forgot that day, was to become known as Abu Jihad and along with Yasser Arafat went on to found Fatah.

Throughout its history, Israel has continued to target Palestinian civilians with brutal overwhelming force designed to extract a deadly price from those who fight on, even if only through their dignity and determination to resist. In October of 1953 Israeli troops, more particularly, “special force” Unit 101, headed up by Moshe Dayan who would later become Israel’s Prime Minister, assaulted the rural village of Qibya. After the troops withdrew, UN observers arrived there and reported:

Bullet-riddled bodies near the doorways and multiple bullet hits on the doors of demolished houses indicated that the inhabitants had been forced to remain inside until their homes were blown up over them … witnesses were uniform in describing their experience as a night of horror, during which Israeli soldiers moved about in their village, blowing up buildings, firing into doorways and windows with automatic weapons and throwing hand grenades.”

That night, Unit 101 slaughtered sixty-six Palestinian men, women and children. Although shocking, it was to pale against the wanton brutality of future attacks in which civilians and civilian infrastructure have been routinely targeted by the Israeli military as part of a conscious campaign to terrorize non-combatants for political purposes.

Even today, the teeming refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila in West Beirut, Lebanon remain home to tens of thousands of Palestinians, some of whom were driven out of their country while still youngsters during the Nakba (the catastrophe) of 1948- the others, almost all descendants of those who fled that first wave of full-on Israeli ethnic cleansing in Palestine. Some three decades ago, Israeli troops invaded Lebanon during its civil war. Although the full extent of the carnage will never be known, between September 16 and September 18, 1982 up to 3,500 mostly Palestinian civilians, largely women, children and the elderly were raped, tortured, killed and mutilated in Sabra-Shatila by Christian Philangist allies of Israel who attacked the camps under the watchful eyes of Israeli troops that had surrounded their perimeters preventing anyone from escaping the slaughter or stopping it.

After the butchery had ended and Israeli troops withdrawn, journalists and observers from the Multinational Peacekeeping Force entered Sabra and Shatila. It was reported that “many of the bodies, after the massacre, were severely mutilated. many of the boys had been castrated, and some were scalped. Some had crosses cut into their bodies.” In a letter to her husband, Janet Lee Stevens, an American journalist wrote:

I saw dead women in their houses with their skirts up to their waists and their legs spread apart; dozens of young men shot after being lined up against an alley wall; children with their throats slit; a pregnant woman with her stomach chopped open, her eyes still wide open, her blackened face silently screaming in horror; countless babies and toddlers who had been stabbed or ripped apart and who had been thrown into garbage piles.

Late in 1982, the U.N. General Assembly declared the carnage an act of genocide, condemning Israel in the “strongest terms for the large-scale massacre of Palestinian civilians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps.” However, neither the UN nor any other international body ever took direct action against it for the massacre, although an Israeli Commission laid personal responsibility for it on Ariel Sharon, the then-Defense Minister, for failing to prevent it. Ultimately, he was punished by becoming Israel’s 11th Prime Minister in 2001 and given another chance to slaughter more Palestinians, this time in their own homeland.

Under Sharon’s tenure, the Second Intifada began in earnest when, in a provocative show of force, he suddenly appeared at Al Aqsa with a thousand heavily armed police shouting out “the Temple Mount is in our hands” – an incendiary repeat of what Israeli soldiers had proclaimed when Israel siezed Quds in the 1967 war. Later, in April 2002 he approved of a plan in which the refugee camp in Jenin, home to some 15,000 Palestinians living within one square kilometer, was attacked- purportedly to route out “terrorist” cells. For ten days hundreds of Israeli tanks, attack helicopters, armored personnel carriers, and F-16 jets were involved in the onslaught on Jenin which was sealed off and then struck round-the-clock by a wide assortment of heavy weaponry. Thousands of shells and missiles rained down on Jenin destroying more than a third of its buildings and rendering useless all of its infrastructure including its water and electricity networks. Although more than a hundred bodies – mostly civilians – were accounted for during the attack, to this day the exact number of those killed, injured and missing remains unknown because after its end, Israel would not permit NGO’s to enter Jenin for many days during which time countless rotting corpses were buried in mass graves, some located far away in the Jordan Valley.

The ruthless attack on Jenin was to become a very dark model for future assaults on the tiny Gaza strip enclave which certainly stand among the most savage and criminal in recent history. To say that the 50 day onslaught on Gaza during the summer of 2014 — its third in six years by Israel – was horrific and shocks the conscience of humanity is to understate an evil that has become very much the Israeli standard whenever it seeks retribution for any perceived or concocted slight.

No narrative of the Israeli massacre can do justice to the pain and suffering meted out to a defenseless population of almost two million civilians – 80% already refugees – by one of the world’s most ruthless and proficient killing machine which used some 40,000 tons of explosives on Gaza during its summer-long rampage. At its end, some 2200 were slaughtered, including 550 children, and some 10,000 injured- almost all the victims were civilians. More than 1900 children are now orphaned. Hundreds of thousands of civilians remain internally displaced with 20,000 homes, 26 NGO service providers, a half-dozen dozen UNRWA facilities, 23 hospitals and health-care facilities, 133 schools, 360 factories, 50,000 acres of crop lands and half of Gaza’s poultry stock targeted and destroyed or damaged by Israel. NGO’s are in agreement- if Israel eases its now almost ten year old siege on Gaza, it will still take at least a generation or more to restore it to the poverty levels it knew before the most recent onslaught.

A year has come and gone in Gaza- large chunks of it remain in ruin, electricity and clean running water are scarce, open sewage still runs down some of its streets into the Mediterranean on which it sits because of the Israeli targeted destruction of its infrastructure. Food and medicine are always in short supply as a result of the on-going embargo that strangles its borders. With the world’s highest unemployment rate which now stands at 43% for adults and 60% for teens, there are currently 40,000 young women and men with graduate degrees and PhD’s unable to find work in their chosen fields or any other. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is now just so much a way of life in Gaza with studies indicating that 92% of its children and up to 50% of its teens and adults are either symptomatic, or suffering from its full-on effects.

Meanwhile children sit antsy in classrooms- some ready themselves to take the place of their older brothers and sisters in the Fourth or Fifth Intifada- whatever it takes. They look around classrooms and see empty seats, seats once occupied by friends and neighbors or brothers and sisters, now gone- murdered by Israel last year. They read from books held together by recycled tape and follow their youthful teachers as they write lesson plans on chalks-boards now broken and cracked by Israeli shrapnel- at night, they study at home by candlelight. Like all children they dream of a better tomorrow, one filled with toys and trips and parties. But, deep down they know that one day it will be their turn to follow a long painful trail of resistance that began at Deir Yassin decades ago.

With Gaza completely surrounded and being slowly starved or bombed to death, the West Bank entirely occupied, and mostly annexed, and the Judaisation of Jerusalem now in full swing, is it any wonder that Palestinians continue to resist against a long implemented Israeli plan for their extermination, one way or another. Indeed, some might reasonably argue that a handful of very much isolated and spontaneous vehicle and knife assaults, along with continuing stone attacks by Palestinian youth, no matter what their tragic results, are but a token and not at all coordinated militant response to the full on and long-term ethnic cleansing and genocide well underway in Palestine. While the Israeli government, as always, seeks to charge Hamas with ultimate responsibility for the recent up-tick in Palestinian resistance, it’s clear that the early stages of what appears to be very much the Third Intifada are — like the first two– in the able-bodied hands of Palestinian youth. By the thousands, they have taken to the streets throughout their homeland in a determined effort to challenge the occupation and the ethnic cleansing that is the norm of their life. To them, there can be no business as usual for Israelis, any Israeli, as long as Palestinians by the millions remain stateless and powerless, reduced to little more than convenient vulnerable targets for annihilation by IOF jets or wanton settler brutality, while much of the world looks the other way. Its hard to argue with reason.

Tragically, for many Palestinians it seems as if our world has left them little but two choices to get back home again- victory or death. Its business as usual.

Stanley Cohen, Esq. is an international criminal defense attorney, writer, lecturer and civil rights activist. He may be contacted through his website and a finely curated site of his writing may be found here. Read other articles by Stanley.