War In Gaza

Posted by Alan Gillis | 1/13/2009 04:37:00 PM | , , , , , , , , | 0 comments »

The Israeli Defence Forces are pulverizing Gaza. From the air and sea and now the ground assault with heavy Israeli armour and soldiers carving up Gaza into manageable pieces. The big push is on for Gaza City center, the apparent Hamas stronghold. It's as though the Israelis have mounted a fierce campaign to crush some powerful modern Gaza army threatening Israel, and a hostile people that can't be persuaded to surrender unless they and their cities are smashed. But Gaza has no real army apart from Hamas fighters and police, and ordinary Gazans want peace. So do Israelis.

Day 18 of the IDF's surgical operation against Hamas has been so gigantic and horrific, that you can only call it War. The video and pictures of horror coming out of Gaza tell the real story, contradicting the reasonable sound bites from politicians, diplomats, and key personnel from the IDF. Even the statistics of 870 Gazans dead, maybe 3,000 wounded versus 13 Israelis dead, are misleading. With statistics it looks like the IDF is right. A better idea would be to get the IDF to tell us just how many rockets hit Gaza, how many bombs and shells, just what is the tonnage here? A one ton bomb can wipe out a neighborhood and how many neighborhoods have the Gazans lost? What's the IDF doing anyway, destroying neighborhoods? With few Hamas hard targets, what else are they going to do with all that firepower except destroy the life of Gaza, like gamblers who figure if you hit enough numbers on the roulette table, you're going to win.

To soften this dirty war, the media as usual impose their own family values on the graphic face of war and terror. Understandable, you don't want your real kids to see real blood and guts spilled, real children maimed and killed. Yet it's OK in a horror movie or a nasty video war game. A calm and reassuring media coverage, avoids stirring the outrage people would feel, that people might stop with big demonstrations outside the UN or at embassies and parliaments. There have been some strong protests in France with cars burning in Paris. Perhaps too, if the media published the terrifying reality, it would only blunt our revulsion to violence as movies and games have done. Though shocking images of violence in Gaza are available on the Internet from Gazans themselves. They live with violence. They want it broadcast. Getting the full story in Gaza is difficult. Since November foreign press reporters haven't been allowed into Gaza by the Israelis apart from those already there. A few are now embedded with Israeli Army units. Many more international reporters and photojournalists are still trying to get in. Israel's highest court has agreed they should be allowed in, but not the Israeli government which is ignoring the ruling.

In the West Bank, it's the quiet before the storm, with some orderly demonstrations for peace in Gaza and sporadic violence. Anti-Israel anti-American demonstrations have been suppressed by the Palestinian Authority, including a ban on the Hamas flag. Last week Palestinian riot police broke up a Gaza rally at Birziet University, beating students with clubs and hauling away protesters in vans. A clash between Hamas and Fatah supporters broke out in Ramallah. In East Jerusalem Israeli policemen put down a violent demonstration. It's hard to say how deep the rift is in the West bank between Fatah and Hamas, except there's anger on both sides. The inner breakdown in Palestine, the Hamas-Fatah split certainly hurts all Palestinians. But Hamas has a popular legitimacy even if it's banned in the West Bank, unlike its characterization by Israel and the U.S. as a terrorist organization hiding out in Gaza.

With a long enough preamble, 8 days of heavy bombing, the IDF massing for an invasion, why did governments and media fail to see the inevitable assault on Gaza? Halfway around the world, I saw it coming in "Rockets In Gaza". The Security Council at the UN was quickly alerted by a Libyan resolution for a cease-fire, but the Americans scuttled it. This is an astounding failure in American diplomacy, though it didn't get much media coverage. A strong UN resolution for a cease-fire with some sanctions if it failed, for either Hamas or Israel, might have worked or bought Gaza some time. Now with the invasion in full swing, instead of a bold UN Resolution, there's finally a watered-down one. The U.S. is still not onboard, though only abstaining this time. According to the media, both sides in the conflict shrugged it off. Unworkable say the Israelis. We weren't consulted says Hamas. Yet Hamas did consider the Resolution and Khalid Meshaal replied at length, oddly again not much reported.

Meanwhile people get maimed, people die. If the statistics carted out on casualties are right, 25% civilian, that means about 650 Hamas fighters dead. That's 19,350 to go or maybe a hundred thousand more bombs and rockets and shells, never mind automatic weapons fire that shatters windows and doors, blasting useless brick and stone with an overkill of a thousand rounds a house as in Rafah. Though Israel says it doesn't want to destroy Hamas, just their key people and their capacity to launch rockets against Israel. With the conflict simplified into Israelis versus terrorists, the Israeli position sounds reasonable. But the recent history of Gaza doesn't support it.

The Israelis had launched a campaign to cripple Gaza with a blockade 18 months ago still in effect, to punish Hamas for seizing power in Gaza, though Hamas had won the Palestinian election. Yet there was a cease-fire in effect which Israel claims was broken by Hamas rocket fire while Hamas accuses Israel of breaking the cease-fire first. The rockets from Hamas were the provocation for Israel's overwhelming retaliation.

If Israel broke the cease-fire as Norman Finkelstein says and Hamas retaliated, then Israel's War on Hamas is illegitimate, and Gaza the innocent victim.

If we can believe Israel and only Hamas rockets and Hamas must be stopped, why not stick to that? With all the fancy military surveillance and precision weapons, why not hit these Hamas rocket sites from the air? Why not employ surface to air missiles to shoot down incoming Hamas rockets, say with the Patriot Missile batteries the U.S. delivered to Israel way back during the First Gulf War? American weapons are being used against Gaza instead. Too difficult say the Israelis. Short range missiles aren't in the air long enough to get a fix on them. Hamas has no missile bases, just portable home-made rockets and some Grads or maybe some longer range Iranian Fajr-3s. So it's difficult. Well so what? The simpler expedient of demolishing Gaza is better? Better for Israel minimizing Israeli casualties. Well, Gazans won't think so. The Israelis are turning every Palestinian and their children against them. Israel's war machine is sowing the seeds for Perpetual War. There isn't really a precedent for this. Though it started like this:

A homeland secured by a pair of British and French civil servants instigated by Lord Rothschild in a piece of Palestine the Brits controlled, for a people who'd been absent 2,000 years since the days of the Roman Empire when Trajan booted them out for insurrections.

There's a lesson or two there somewhere, then and now for both sides. If the Jews had kept the peace and waited out a page of history, they could have avoided 2,000 years of tragedy. But it wasn't that simple. Religion played a bigger role than Roman occupation. Caligula duly deified by the Roman Senate, even appointing his horse a Senator, ordered a statue of himself placed in the Jewish Holy of Holies like in other temples throughout the Empire. Augustus started the custom in the provinces where there was no shortage of idol worshippers. It hadn't got as far as Israel. That was the limit until Caligula. Was it madness or a Roman Emperor with a wicked sense of humor? Both certainly, but in any case patience and diplomacy failed because of ignorance. Both sides failed to see the consequences.

Then not happy with the British Protectorate, the Israelis started another insurrection, a war of liberation against the British for a new state of Israel. Then the Six Day War that started the Occupation and scattered the Palestinians.

The closest thing to a precedent is the English colonizing Northern Ireland starting in the 1600s and we know how long that took and how much terror was sown and blood was shed before there was peace. Conflicting religions and cultures also played their part, Catholic Irish, Protestant English, privileged modern English interlopers, impoverished and humiliated Irish traditionalists. Do the Israelis want to follow this sort of model of a 300 year war?

Here's a professional Arab video, no blood and guts, but Palestinian children giving vent to their tragedy. If it's propaganda, it's haunting and it still hits home, showing angry children passionately hit hard by death and destruction throughout their short lives. How would any kid feel growing up without a childhood, knowing only the uncertain terror of the present and a future of war? One day when it's their turn they'll fight. Flat and unemotional but official talking heads in suits giving interviews on the Gaza problem on TV isn't propaganda of course.

What is it with governments anyway? Why don't they employ some historians, some thinkers, some doctors? Why is it that in our democracies the rule is only lawyers and businessmen get elected?

The handwriting is on the wall. The IDF will occupy Gaza. It's the only way they can meet Israel's stated objectives. Get ready for a long bitter history.

--Alan Gillis