Those who speculated that a second-term Obama would be more disposed to take a staunch stand against Israel can now discard yet another comforting illusion about their great liberal saviour. His strident professions of support for Israel over the past few months were genuine expressions of abject servility, rather than just mere electoral posturing. On Sunday, during the bloodiest day of the ongoing assault on Gaza, he reiterated his abiding commitment to Israel’s right to massacre Palestinians at will and on the flimsiest of pretexts, grandly declaiming that ‘no country on earth …would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens’, and reaffirming that the US was ‘fully supportive of Israel’s right to defend itself.’
The self-abasing performance had a rehearsed ring to it. After all, Obama has had ample time to hone his talent for obsequiousness to AIPAC and the lobby since the closing month of 2008, when he similarly baulked at censuring Israel as it proceeded to massacre 1400 Palestinians in Operation Cast Lead. But whereas back in 2008-9 his President-elect status was a source of generous speculation that Israel was seeking to exploit a window of opportunity, in anticipation of the incoming administration adopting a stronger line than its predecessor, no such sympathetic interpretation is possible now that Obama already occupies the White House. Netanyahu, it appears, has too much experience of dealing with a supine Obama to entertain any serious fear of a US rebuke.
The constant allusions to ‘self-defence’ that litter the statements of Israel’s apologists are almost invariably framed as banalities: ‘Israel has a right to self-defence’, ‘No country can be expected to tolerate missiles.’ The phraseology is peculiar since these are statements with which no reasonable person who subscribes to international law could disagree. Yes, self-defence is a right possessed by all nations – that goes without saying. But compare these maxims with the way in which Israel actually disports itself and you will find a glaring disparity, and also discover why Israel’s supporters routinely confine their statements to the level of abstractions.
The current assault on Gaza is the latest salient manifestation of a protracted Israeli campaign of aggression, designed to transform the densely populated strip into an open-air prison and its denizens into a submissive population too affrighted by Israeli brutality to assert their human rights. Ever since Hamas was elected government, Israel has maintained a punishing blockade and limited imports of foodstuffs and other necessaries to the bare minimum required for survival, putting Gazans, in the cold-blooded words of one Israeli official, ‘on a diet.’ This oppressive siege has been punctuated by periodic, bloody forays into the strip to maintain a state of ever-present apprehension and inspire Palestinians with a dread of their jailer’s capricious nature. Who knows what Israel might do, who it might kill next, if crossed?
The statistics vouchsafe a telling glimpse into the real objectives that underpin Israel’s military ventures. According to the human rights organisation B’Tselem, at least 750 Palestinian civilians who were not participating in ‘hostilities’ were killed during Operation Cast Lead, compared to a grand total of 3 Israeli civilians. In the three years since Cast Lead, Israel has killed 300 Palestinians, at least 80 of whom have been civilians not engaged in any military activity. Contrast this with the figure of 8 Israeli civilians killed during the same period. The term ‘hostilities’ has a political coloration and is often used by mainstream journalists to skew statistics in Israel’s favour. Since these hostilities were initiated by Israel, who is to say that the deaths of some Palestinians are rendered less objectionable by the fact they were engaged in resistance against aggression – or that these deaths should be disregarded when calculating the full extent of Israel’s depredations? In any event, the statistical imbalance is sufficiently clear to cast serious doubt on Israel’s claim that it only targets combatants, and any civilians who happen to be killed are unfortunate collateral.
Critics of Israel who bemoan its counterproductive military approach, on the grounds it inadvertently leads to the deaths of civilians and tarnishes Israel’s ‘humane’ image, are missing the point. The object of military strikes is to terrorise the Palestinian population and remind them of Israel’s overwhelming military might – its ability to attack Gaza with impunity and regardless of world opinion. The current series of strikes follow a well-worn pattern of Israeli provocations designed to elicit a Palestinian response which will then serve as a pretext for a full-blown assault on the population. On November 5th, prior to the killing of Hamas military chief Ahmed al-Jabari on the 14th, Israel shot a mentally disabled, 20 year old man (Ahmad al Nabaheen) then prevented medics from attending him for four hours. A little known fact is that Israel maintains a perimeter that extends half a kilometre into Gaza, and any Palestinian, like al Nabahenn, with the misfortune to stray into this no-man’s land is considered fair game for Israeli snipers. On November 8th, not content with having killed a defenceless mentally disabled man, Israeli soldiers killed a 13 year old boy, Ahmad Abu Daqqa, whilst he was playing football. Two days, Israel shot two more chidren, then targeted a funeral service, killing two mourners. The message Israel is seeking to convey is unmistakeable to all but mainstream journalists and Western political leaders – no-one in Gaza is safe from Israel’s wrath.
UK Foreign Secretary, William Hague, has said that ‘Hamas bears principal responsibility for the crisis.’ Perhaps he should familiarise himself with the aforementioned chronology of events. Or maybe he should at least listen to Gershon Baskin, a top Israeli negotiator who was involved in mediating the deal that brought about the release of Gilad Shalit, and who has maintained diplomatic contacts with Hamas since then. Over the past few weeks, Baskin has been involved in negotiations with Hamas to establish a permanent truce, and according to him, Israel’s leaders consciously proceeded to sabotage such a possibility by assassinating Hamas military chief Ahmed al-Jabari. This calculated act is of a piece with the killing of four Hamas members in November 2008, which was similarly designed to obviate a ceasefire agreement and usher in Operation Cast Lead.
Yesterday (Sunday 18th November) an Israeli bomb flattened the home of the Dalu family, killing 11 civilians (including 4 children). Israel, of course, issued its usual perfunctory excuses about the difficulties involved in targeting Hamas militants, and the mainstream media duly reported them without demur. According to the IDF, at the time of writing the Palestinian death toll stands at 95. At least 22 of the fatalities, according to medics, are children. The terrified testimonials of Gazans living in fear of Israeli bombs (which can be found on B’Tselem’s website) are proof that these strikes are having the effect intended by the sadists who formulate Israeli policy. The following excerpt detailing the plight of one Gazan family is emblematic of the daily terror which thousands endure:
‘Since the start of the attack on Gaza on 14 November 2012, the firing of missiles has not stopped, night or day. At night it actually increases and they fall everywhere, even in areas near our house. They shake the foundations of the house and we feel as if it’s about to fall down on our heads.
The children are not going to school because everything is cancelled. They run around the house all the time and feel suffocated and ask to go outside. Of course we cannot let them go out because the situation is very dangerous. They sleep with their mother because they don’t want to sleep at night in their own beds because of the sound of the missiles. If one of them wants to go to the bathroom, he insists that his mother or grandmother go with him
It’s to be expected that accounts such as these rarely merit a mention by the mainstream media, always so wary of falling afoul of Israel’s well-oiled PR machine. But one has to wonder how far the complaisance of mainstream commentators extends. Does their spineless reporting of Israeli aggression, for instance, apply when members of their own profession are the victims? Indeed, it seems it does. In its war on journalism, Israel has not simply limited itself to spouting falsehoods. On Sunday, it targeted two media buildings in Gaza city, on the dubious grounds that an antenna was being used by Hamas, presumably to transmit instructions to its operatives. 8 journalists were wounded – one of them lost a leg. But, of course, whilst these casualties were regrettable, we all know they resulted from cowardly Hamas using civilians as human shields. Journalists can thus rest assured in the knowledge that should they be killed by the IDF, their deaths were not intended.
There are only so many times that Israel can avail itself of the ‘self-defence’ argument before people begin to weary of the patent absurdity involved in conferring the benefit of the doubt on a country which seems to have a morbid preoccupation with war – war against the Palestinians, war against Iran, war against Syria, and war against anyone who seeks to expose the true nature of the apartheid regime. Whilst world leaders and mainstream journalists can be relied upon to incessantly parrot the standard tropes of ‘self-defence against Hamas missiles’, there is a rising tide of revulsion amongst ordinary people against the licence afforded Israel to behave in whatever way it sees fit. The public mood is changing, and far from being a display of strength, Israel’s more and more frequent resort to violence is an admission of weakness. Aware that it is steadily losing the PR battle and that its stock has endured an irreversible decline following its sanguinary escapades over the last decade, Israel has come to rely increasingly on brute force as a way out of its difficulties. Is it a coincidence that the Israeli attack comes at a time when the Palestinian Authority is submitting a bid for recognition as a member state of the UN – an application which is likely to be approved by a majority of the world’s nations? In the face of diplomatic pressure, Israel’s standard retort has always been to launch a fresh attack on the Palestinians. Eventually, however, it will have to face the fact that such an approach is subject to the law of diminishing returns. As abhorrence mounts of Israel’s punitive air strikes, and disbelief in its hollow justifications becomes widespread, Israel will have to choose between granting the Palestinians the right to live in peace and dignity and becoming a pariah state in the eyes of the world.