Is history repeating itself? Prime Minister Netanyahu tried to repeat what former Israeli PM Olmert and his cohorts tried to accomplish four years ago: pounding Gaza into submission while gaining right-wing support. This attack could also be a bellwether for future aggression directed at Iran (Gaza is, of course, weaker than Iran). The Israeli spin machine failed to make the attack on Gaza appear as “self-defense” and will fail at all its other goals just like what happened in 2006 and 2008.
Now that guns have gone silent in Gaza, thanks in large measure to the Egyptian brokered ceasefire deal, it is prudent to reflect on the causes and consequences of this latest round of mass carnage in the Holy Land. While both Israel and Hamas have claimed their objectives were achieved, justifying their willingness to cease fire, the fact remains that only Palestinian noncombatants have been made the victims of this needless war. US corporate media, to a large extent, followed Israel’s prescripted war message and did not even challenge Israel’s media blackout.
Americans have not seen the full extent of Israel’s excessive use of firepower, some of which have been declared illegal by the United Nations to be used against civilians. Contrary to Israeli claims only targeting militants, more than 80% of the 1,000 injured or killed in Gaza have been Palestinian civilians, of whom half were children and women. More than 150 homes have been destroyed, in addition to hospitals, schools, public buildings, and places of worship. As more corpses are removed from under the rubble of destroyed buildings, the full extent of Israel’s objectives has yet to be unearthed.
As in past failed attempts, Israel invaded Gaza hoping to destroy Hamas, indiscriminately catching Palestinian civilians in the crossfire. Hamas’s military and popular strength seem to have emerged unscathed. In fact, it is evident that Hamas has achieved a diplomatic coup as evidenced by the position of the Egyptian government and the rest of the Arab countries. As such, it is a legitimate demand to bring Israel’s leaders to account for their war crimes and use of prohibited weaponry.
Deservedly, body and rocket count of the invasion of Gaza has received much media coverage. The carnage, however, becomes more intolerable once we delve into Israel’s miscalculations about its relation with Hamas, and the upcoming Israeli elections and timing of another presidential cycle in the United States.
Cunningly, Israel has repeatedly claimed that it had “no choice” but to wage war on Gaza on November 14. But this claim, however, contradicts with the fact that Israel’s military and political leadership took many aggressive steps, climaxing with the assassination of a major Hamas leader, all during the ceasefire that escalated a crisis with Hamas, and possibly even provoked Hamas to create a pretext for the assault. This wasn’t a war of “no choice,” but rather a very avoidable war in which Israeli actions instigated.
Israel’s history is replete with examples of its deliberate use of violence and other provocative measures to trigger reactions in order to create a pretext for their military action and to portray its opponents as the aggressors and Israel as the victim.
If Israel’s goal were simply to end rocket attacks on its civilians, it would have solidified. It could have addressed Hamas’ longstanding ceasefire proposals for a complete end to rocket fire on Israel, in exchange for Israel lifting its crippling seven-year siege of Gaza. Israel’s rationale for the blockade, of course, is a subterfuge which convinces no one but an American public lulled by a pro-Israel media, and a bought-and-paid-for political leadership, into believing the blockade is a purely defensive measure. The truth is that the blockade is one of Israel’s many forms of mass torture of the Palestinian population held down by a brutal military occupation.
The timing and the impetus to create a ‘new reality’ are the products of several factors unrelated to the urgency for Israel to provide security to its citizens.
The main factor was the pressure surrounding the impending Israeli elections set to take place in early January, though no government minister will acknowledge this. The situation in southern Israel was becoming unbearable for one million people, and both PM Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak undoubtedly saw this as a political liability with elections near. Nor could they postpone this until too close to elections, lest that too become a liability.
But as the vastly more powerful actor holding nearly all the cards in this conflict, the war in Gaza was ultimately Israel’s choice. And for all this bloodshed and violence, Israel must be held accountable. The bloody history of the Israel/ Palestine conflict did not begin with Hamas’s crude rockets. It began in 1948 with the dispossession and subsequent exodus of millions of Palestinians. No amount of Israeli force will quell Palestinians’ determination to end their misery by ending Israel’s occupation; and to this goal, the world led by the United States must commit itself.
Dr. Aref Assaf is president of the American Arab Forum, a think tank specializing in Arab and Muslim American affairs.