Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Israel Wanted a Humanitarian Crisis

Targeting civilians was a deliberate part of this bid to humiliate Hamas and the Palestinians, and pulverise Gaza into chaos

The scale of Israel’s attack on the Gaza Strip, and the almost daily reports of war crimes over the last three weeks, has drawn criticism from even longstanding friends and sympathisers. Despite the Israeli government’s long-planned and comprehensive PR campaign, hundreds of dead children is a hard sell. As a former Israeli government press adviser put it, in a wonderful bit of unintentional irony, “When you have a Palestinian kid facing an Israeli tank, how do you explain that the tank is actually David and the kid is Goliath?”

Despite a mass of evidence that includes Israel’s targets in Operation Cast Lead, public remarks by Israeli leaders over some time, and the ceasefire manoeuvring of this last weekend, much of the analysis offered by politicians or commentators has been disappointingly limited, and characterised by false assumptions, or misplaced emphases, about Israel’s motivations.

First, to what this war on Gaza is not about: it’s not about the rockets. During the truce last year, rocket fire from the Gaza Strip was reduced by 97%, with the few projectiles that were fired coming from non-Hamas groups opposed to the agreement. Despite this success in vastly improving the security of Israelis in the south, Israel did everything it could to undermine the calm, and provoke Hamas into a conflict.

Israel broke the ceasefire on 4 November, with an attack in the Gaza Strip that killed six Hamas members, and the following day severely tightened its siege of the territory. Imports were reduced to 16 trucks a day, down from 123 daily just the previous month (and 475 in May 2007). Following the unsurprising surge in Palestinian attacks, Israeli officials claimed that an all-out war was unavoidable; without mentioning that an operation had been planned for some months already.

Second, the current operation is only in a limited sense related to both the upcoming Israeli elections and restoring the IDF’s so-called deterrence. While it has been pointed out that a hardline approach to Palestinian “terrorism” can play well with the Israeli public, wars are not necessarily Israeli politicians’ tactic of choice - the Lebanon war was fought a few months after one.

Israel is also supposed to be restoring the reputation and “deterrence factor” of its armed forces, after their humiliation in Lebanon in 2006. Suffice to say that until this weekend’s unilateral ceasefire, in an aid-dependent enclave defended by an almost entirely isolated militia, Israel’s operation had already lasted three times longer than the 1967 war when Israel defeated its Arab neighbours and occupied the rest of Mandate Palestine.

These three suggested motivations have sometimes reached the level of assumed knowledge, providing the background for further comment and reporting. Based on this kind of analysis, then, criticism of Palestinian civilian casualties is framed as “disproportionate” or “heavy-handed”, but fundamentally a case of self-defence. It is understood that any democratic nation would have to respond to terrorist rocket fire, but Israel has gone a bit too far.

There is, however, no shortage of evidence available that points to rather different Israeli aims. Estimates for the proportion of civilian deaths among the 1,360 Palestinians killed range from more than half to two-thirds. Politicians, diplomats and journalists are by and large shying away from the obvious, namely that Israel has been deliberately targeting Palestinian civilians and the very infrastructure of normal life, in order to - in the best colonial style - teach the natives a lesson.

Continued >>

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