Global Trends by Martin Khor

Monday 12 January 2009

More pain as war on Gaza continues

Despite a UN resolution, Israel is intensifying its war on Gaza, with the use of new terrifying weapons, as its wider objectives become more clear.


This is now the third week of the Israeli war on Gaza, and it seems to get even more horrific than the already extreme brutality applied on the helpless Palestinians.

Israel is preparing for “Stage 3” of its military exercise, having dropped leaflets on Gaza city warning people to stay away from “Hamas targets.” 

Since Hamas and government buildings have already been destroyed, the dropping of leaflets seems more like a device by Israel to avoid blame when it intensifies its rain of terror that will kill and maim more civilians.

Palestinians are reporting “white clouds” appearing in the sky, and human rights groups are warning of the Israeli use of white phosphorous shells dropped from the air, each of which disperses the phosphorous to an area the size of two football fields.

It causes the most painful injury and death, burning the skin to the bone.  The use of white phosphorous against civilians is banned under international law.  The Times of London first exposed the use of this weapon on 8 January, reporting how doctors in Gaza hospitals are describing how they are seeing patients with very unusual burns that are very deep and cannot be controlled.

The effect of this weapon is just one strand of the terror the people of Gaza are subjected to.  As borders are closed, the Palestinians cannot get out of the war zone, unlike in other wars where civilians move to seek refuge in other areas.

The Gaza civilians are really sitting ducks, subjected to land, air and sea bombardment.  After the UN Security Council resolution last week calling for an immediate ceasefire, Israel intensified its attacks.  The UN Secretary General could only register his “disappointment” in a phone call to the Israeli Prime Minister.

The United States abstained from the Security Council vote, putting all the blame on Hamas.  Don’t expect any change when Barrack Obama assumes the Presidency next week. The US Congress on Saturday voted overwhelmingly (350 to 4) to fully support Israel in its war moves, and Obama will no doubt take note of this.

Israel has waged a huge propaganda war.  It made use of the 6-month ceasefire from June to prepare the bombardment (as admitted by an Israeli leader who said that Israel had in the past several months had pinpointed targets to attack) as well as a comprehensive public relations exercise.

“When the attack began, a tide of diplomats, lobby groups, bloggers and other supporters of Israel were unleashed to hammer home a handful of carefully crafted core messages to ensure Israel was seen as the victim, even as its bombardment killed Palestinians,” according to The Observer of London on 4 January.    

This was something planned long ahead, said the former Israeli ambassador to the UN who was recruited to coordinate Israel’s efforts.  The Observer reported that in Israel’s briefings to its lobbyists, the same core messages were repeated: that Israel had no choice but to attack in response to Hamas rockets, that the attacks are only targeted at Hamas fighters, that if civilians die it is because Hamas hides among ordinary people.

According to the Observer article, in the Israeli propaganda plan, Hamas is to be portrayed only as terrorists.  Its actions are nothing to do with the continued occupation of the West Bank, the blockade of Gaza, or Israel’s continued killing of many Palestinians since they pulled out of Gaza.

The Israeli media war has played out the way the Observer article predicted.  Israel has projected the message that Hamas deserved the attacks as it refused to extend the ceasefire at the end of December, when Israel in fact broke that ceasefire when it launched air and ground attacks in early November, killing six Hamas personnel.   

The big issue of contention for Palestinians is Israel’s tightening blockade of Gaza, supported by the US and EU, which has choked off the supply of food, medicines, water supply, electricity – a form of collective punishment for the citizens for electing Hamas.

Hamas, the elected government, is portrayed as criminal when it attempts to obtain weapons for security against a deadly enemy. But Israel is portrayed as doing the natural thing when it gets billions of dollars of the most sophisticated weapons, aircraft and ships, mainly from the United States

There is no objection from the Western governments when bombs with white phosphorous are used against civilians.

Israel has bombed a UN school, killing over 40, and Israeli troops led families to shelter in a building which was later bombed, killing 30 people.

Robert Fisk, the renowned journalist and Middle East expert, says it is amazing so many Western leaders and media editors have bought the old lie that Israel takes great care to avoid civilian casualties.  

He lists many Israeli atrocities of the past which he covered as a journalist, in which the massacre of civilians was deliberate.  These include the 17,500 dead in Israel’s 1992 invasion of Lebanon, the 1,700 Palestinian civilian dead in the Sabra-Chatila massacre, the 1996 Qana massacre of 106 Lebanese civilian refugees at a UN base, the massacre of the Marwahin refugees who were ordered from their homes by Israelis in 2006 then slaughtered by an Israeli helicopter crew, the 1,000 dead in the bombardment and invasion of Lebanon in 2006, almost all of them civilians.

Fisk predicted that Israel would certainly justify its attack on the UN school by saying Hamas was in the school.  He was right.  Israel first said that Hamas rockets were fired from the school and later changed that to from the vicinity of the school.

Two other articles in The Independent (7 January) throw even more light on the war on Gaza.  Donald Macintyre reported that stopping Hamas rockets (from being launched

from Gaza into Israel) is only the stated objective of Israel’s war.

Some Israeli leaders, like President Shimon Peres, want to teach Hamas a lesson and damage its capability.  And more hawkish leaders, such as Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, want regime change in Gaza – a toppling of Hamas and its replacement by its Fatah rival.

Seen in this light, the Hamas rockets are only the pretext to win public support  for the war unleashed on Gaza, while the other two are the wider and real objectives and explain why Israel is so extensively and indiscriminately bombing Gaza, to take out Hamas and to collectively punish civilians until they stop their support for Hamas.

The other article, by Deborah Orr, and headlined “There wouldn’t have been Gaza rockets without the blockade”, explains that the blockade imposed on Gaza is a core grievance that Hamas and ordinary Palestinians have against Israel and the Western countries that support it.

She criticizes the Middle East envoy Tony Blair and others who believe that there can be a ceasefire very soon if the tunnels from Egypt that provide Gaza with weapons, among other things, are closed off.

Orr said it is a shame that Blair did not express his ambitions another way, that a ceasefire can be negotiated soon if legitimate channels for importing all goods but arms into Gaza is opened up.

But such a suggestion might be seen as critical of Israel’s position as a “reluctant aggressor and defensive state”.  The “international community” has so completely accepted Israel’s justification for its war that their spokespersons are “careful not to refer to any Israeli action that can be viewed as provocative, such as its suffocating 18-month blockade in that tiny, overpopulated strip of land.”

Calling for the blockade to be dismantled, Orr remarked that under a ceasefire, there is no justification for the continued siege against Gaza, yet Israel continued to do this during the 6-month ceasefire that Hamas delivered because it wishes to disrupt the ability of Hamas to govern the Palestinians who voted for it.

 “It is unreasonable to attack Gaza because it does not respect a ceasefire that brings it no benefit but only further pain.  It is unreasonable to undermine he democratic choices its people have made, because we do not approve of them.

“It is unreasonable to sabotage Hamas in its social work as a region’s selected administrator, because we fear this may also burnish its popularity as an anti-Zionist group.  Yes, the rockets must stop.  But so must the siege.”

Meanwhile protests against Israel and its Western supporters have sprouted all over the world.  Malaysians in their thousands have staged demonstrations, rallies and vigils in many towns. 

The protests have also taken place in Israel, the West Bank, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Iran, London, Washington, Indonesia and so on.

Among the most touching of the protests was the attendance of Friday prayers by hundreds of Palestinians in Gaza in the spot where their mosque had been bombed to rubble just a few days earlier.

The mosque may be bombed out, but our faith is not shaken and our resistance is strengthened, according to an old man interviewed on the spot by Al Jazeera.  One day we will just build a bigger mosque, he said.