The humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza is entering its third week. Israel says it has managed to destroy most of the Hamas targets, an ‘achievement’ that came with a price tag of more than 1,000 human lives. Countless other people have sustained minor or serious injuries and thousands of other civilians are without any food, water or shelter.
So is it really that Israel wants to show the world that it is the mightiest military force in the world? Is it also true that the Jewish state wants to give a clear signal to the international community that it operates with its own rules of engagement? These questions, along with many others are answered by the distinguished historian at the University of California, Mark LeVine. He is a professor of Middle East history at the University of California, Irvine, and is the author of Heavy Metal Islam: Rock, Resistance, and the Struggle for the Soul of Islam. His another book ‘An Impossible Peace: Israel/Palestine Since 1989’ will be published very soon.
Following is the photo story described in the words of Mr. Mark LeVine:
The Israeli government’s argument that this is a purely defensive war, launched only after Hamas broke a five-month old ceasefire has been challenged by observers and think tanks alike. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who helped facilitate the truce, wrote in his Washington Post (dated 08-01-09) article: “I know from personal involvement that the devastating invasion of Gaza by Israel could easily have been avoided”.
Meanwhile, center-right Israeli think tank, the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, published a report titled “Six Months of the Lull Arrangement Intelligence Report” on 31 December confirming that the violation of 19 June truce occurred after Israel killed half a dozen Hamas members on 4 November without provocation and then placed the entire Strip under even more intensive siege the next day.
According to a joint Tel Aviv University-European university study, this fits a larger pattern in which Israeli violence has been responsible for ending 79% of all lulls in violence since the outbreak of the second intifada, compared with only 8% for Hamas and other Palestinian factions. (Photo – Abid Katib/Getty Images).
Indeed, the Israeli Foreign Ministry seems to realise that this argument is losing credibility. During a conference call with half a dozen pro-Israel professors on Thursday, the NY Consul General focused more on the importance of destroying the intricate tunnel system connecting Gaza to the Sinai, claiming that such tunnels were “as big as the Holland and Lincoln tunnels”. (Photo – Reuters)
He also went on to claim that lions and monkeys had been smuggled through the tunnels to a zoo in Gaza. In reality, the lions were two small cubs, who were drugged, thrown in sacks, and dragged through a tunnel on their way to a private zoo. (Photo – Mohammed Salem/Reuters)
The claim that Hamas will never accept the existence of Israel has proved equally misinformed. Hamas deputy political head Mousa Abu Marzook in a 6 January opinion article published in Los Angeles Times made clear their intention for negotiations and underlined the inconsistent demands made by Israeli government and its chief ally, Washington D.C. (Photo – Ahmed Jadallah/Reuters)
The claim that Israeli forces have gone out of their way to diminish civilian casualties, long a center piece of Israel’s self-image as an enlightened and moral democracy even during war, are falling apart with each new family, 10, 20, and 30 strong, buried under the rubble of a building in Gaza. (Photo – Said Khatib/AFP)
Anyone with an internet connection can Google “Gaza humanitarian catastrophe” and find the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Occupied Territories and read the thousands of pages of evidence documenting the reality of the current fighting, and the long term siege on Gaza that preceded it.
The Red Cross, normally scrupulous in its unwillingness to single out parties to a conflict for criticism, sharply criticized Israel for preventing medical personnel from reaching wounded Palestinians, some of whom remained trapped for days, slowly starving and dying in the Gazan rubble amidst their dead relatives.
John Ging, head of Gaza operations for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, visits a UN school on Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2009. The United Nations has flatly denied Israeli claims that Palestinian fighters were using the UNRWA school compound bombed on January 6, in which forty civilians were killed, to launch attacks, and has challenged Israel to prove otherwise.
The Israeli strike on the UN run school on Tuesday 6 January killed at least 42 people, in Jabaliya refugee camp. Many of the dead were children.
Numerous flippant remarks by senior Israeli politicians and generals, including Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and General Dan Harel declaring their intention to leave “not one Hamas building standing” in Gaza, and refusing to make a distinction between civilian people and institutions and fighters. “Hamas doesn’t distinguish between Jews and Arabs and neither should we” is how Livni put its — are being seen, rightly so, as admission of war crimes.
Indeed, in reviewing statements by Israeli military planners leading up to the invasion, it’s clear that there was a well-thought out decision to go after Gaza’s civilian infrastructure–and with it, civilians.
Following is an excerpt of what Major General Gadi Eisenkot said in interview with Israeli newspaper Haaretz published on 5 October: “We will wield disproportionate power against every village from which shots are fired on Israel, and cause immense damage and destruction. From our perspective, these [i.e., entire villages] are military bases,”. He added: “This isn’t a suggestion. This is a plan that has already been authorized”.
Causing “immense damage and destruction” and considering entire villages as “military bases” are absolutely prohibited under international law. Eisenkot’s description of this planning in light of what is now unfolding in Gaza is a clear admission of conspiracy and intent to commit war crimes. Comments made by the Israeli Major Gen. renders any argument by Israel that it has tried to protect civilians and is not engaging in disproportionate force unbelievable.
On the ground, the evidence mounts ever higher that Israel is systematically violating a host of international laws, including but not limited to, Article 56 of the IV Hague Convention of 1907, the First Additional Protocol of the Geneva Convention, the Fourth Geneva Convention (more specifically known as the “Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of 12 August 1949”), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the principles of Customary International Humanitarian Law.
None of this excuses or legitimizes the firing of rockets or mortars by any Palestinian groups at Israeli civilians and non-military targets. As UN Special Rapporteur Richard Falk declared in his most recent statement on Gaza, “It should be pointed out unambiguously that there is no legal (or moral) justification for firing rockets at civilian targets, and that such behavior is a violation of IHR, associated with the right to life, as well as constitutes a war crime”. But by the same logic, Israel does not have the right to use such attacks to launch an all-out assault on the entire population of Gaza.
In this context, even Israel’s suffering from the constant barrage of rockets is hard to pay due attention to when the numbers of dead and wounded on each side are counted-almost 1000 Palestinian dead and thousands wounded, versus 3 dead Israelis civilians and a few dozen wounded since December 27. Any sense of proportion is impossible to sustain with such a calculus.
Israeli commentators and scholars, self-described “loyal” Zionists who served proudly in the army in wars past, are now publicly describing their country’s actions as disgraceful. In the words of Oxford University Professor Avi Shlaim, Israel is a “rogue” and gangster” state led by “completely unscrupulous leaders”.
Ben Gurion University Professor Neve Gordon declares that Israel’s actions in Gaza are like “raising animals for slaughter on a farm” and represent a “bizarre new moral element” in warfare. In the commentary posted on TheNation.com, he also questions the moral theory of waging a war in Gaza.
Daughter of Holocaust survivors Amira Haas writes of her late parents’ disgust at how Israeli leaders justified their wars with a “language laundromat” aimed at redefining reality and Israel’s moral compass. “Lucky my parents aren’t alive to see this,” she exclaimed in an article posted on Haaretz newspaper website.
A 1943 photograph of Jews in a ghetto in Warsaw, Poland. Israeli forces and Jewish settlers withdrew in 2005, turning the 41 kilometer long strip literally into the world’s largest prison. Around the world people are beginning to compare Israel’s attack on Gaza to the Jewish uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto.
Does it seems any different from the previous photograph?
Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar has declared that their fighters will kill Jewish children all over the world in retaliation for Israel’s killing of Palestinian children in Gaza (should this occur, it would also be an admission of clear intent to commit war crimes).
And yet in the United States-at least in Washington and in the offices of the mainstream Jewish organizations-the chorus of support for Israel’s war on Gaza continues to sing in tight harmony with official Israeli policy, seemingly deaf to the fact that they have become so out of tune with the reality exploding around them.
At my university, UCI, where last summer Jewish and Muslim students organized a trip together through the occupied territories and Israel to see with their own eyes the realities there, old battle lines are being redrawn. The Anteaters for Israel, the college pro-Israel group at UCI, sent out an urgent email to the community explaining that “Over the past week, increasing amounts of evidence lead us to believe that Hamas is largely responsible for any alleged humanitarian crisis in Gaza.”
Indeed, one of the sad facts of this latest tragedy is that with each claim publicly refuted by facts on the ground, more and more Americans, including Jews, are refusing to trust the assertions of Israeli and American Jewish leaders. Even worse, in the Muslim world, the horrific images pouring out of Gaza daily are allowing preachers and politicians to deploy well-worn yet still dangerous and inciting stereotypes against Jews as they rally the masses against Israel–and through it, their own governments.
What is most frightening is that the most important of Israel’s so-called friends, the American political establishment and the mainstream Jewish leadership, seem clueless to the devastating trap that Israel has led itself into-in good measure with their indulgence and even help. It is one that threatens the country’s existence far more than Hamas’s rockets, with their 0.4 percent kill rate; even more than the disastrous 2006 invasion of southern Lebanon, whose weakening of Israel’s deterrence capability in some measure made this war inevitable.
First, it is clear that Israel cannot destroy Hamas, it cannot stop the rockets unless it agrees to a truce that will go far to meeting Hamas’s primary demand-an end to the Gaza siege. Merely by surviving (and it surely will survive) Hamas, like Hezbollah in 2006, will have won. Israel is succeeding in doing little more than creating another generation of Palestinians with hearts filled with rage and a need for revenge.
Second, Israel’s main patron, the United States, along with the conservative Arab autocracies/monarchies that are its only allies left in the Muslim world, are losing whatever crumbs of legitimacy they still had with their young and angry populations. The weaker America and its axis becomes in the Middle East, the more precarious becomes Israel’s long term security. Indeed, any chance that the US could convince the Muslim world to pressure Iran to give up its quest for nuclear weapons has been buried in Gaza.
Third, as Israel brutalizes Palestinians, it brutalizes its own people. You cannot occupy another people and engage in violence against them at this scale without doing even greater damage to your soul. The high incidence of violent crimes committed by veterans returning from combat duty in Iraq is but one example of how the violence of occupation and war eat away at people’s moral centre.
In the US only a small fraction of the population participates in war; but in Israel, most able-bodied men wind up participating in the Occupation. The effects of the latest violence perpetrated against Palestinians upon the collective Israeli soul is incalculable; the notion that it can survive as an “ethnocracy”–favoring one ethnic group, Jews, yet by and large democratic-is becoming a fiction.
Who will save Israel from itself? Israelis are clearly incapable. Their addiction as a society to the illusion of violence-as-power has reached the level of collective mental illness. As Haaretz reporter Yossi Melman described it on January 10, “Israel has created an image of itself of a madman that has lost it”