Israel the aggressor, not Gazans; Condemn Israel’s violence, not Palestinian resistance

Young opponents of Israel's war of terror protest, in Sydney, August 2, 2014. Photo by Susan Price.

By Tony Iltis

August 2, 2014 -- Green Left Weekly -- “This is not a war. It is genocide”, reads a popular slogan on homemade signs at protests against Israel’s current attack on the Gaza Strip. 

The body count is enough to illustrate the one-sidedness of the violence. For the first nine days of their assault, Israeli forces pounded the besieged territory from the land, sea and air, but did not send forces in. About 250 people were killed in these nine days. Only one was Israeli.

Israeli ground operations that started on July 17 increased the casualty rate for both Palestinians and Israelis. By August 1, 1592 Palestinians and 66 Israelis had been killed, the New York Times said. That is 24 Palestinians killed for every Israeli.

Dramatically larger than the disparity between the two sides in overall numbers killed is the disparity in the number of civilians killed.

On the Israeli side, only three of the fatalities were civilians — 95% of Israelis killed by Palestinians were combatants. 

Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem published figures on July 31 that showed that between July 8 and July 30 less than 14% of the Palestinians killed by Israelis were combatants. 

Three Palestinian combatants have been killed for every Israeli combatant while 473 Palestinian civilians have been killed for every Israeli civilian.

About a quarter of the Palestinians killed have been children and adolescents.

The body counts do not show the terrible material damage inflicted by the Israeli assault. Homes, shops, schools, hospitals, agricultural infrastructure, sewerage treatment, water supply, the territory’s power station, cat breeding kennels and a home for disabled people have all been bombed.

Illegal siege

The suffering caused by this destruction is amplified by the illegal starvation siege that Israel and its allies have held Gaza under since 2006. This not only deprives the territory of basic necessities but has prevented reconstruction following previous Israeli onslaughts in 2006, 2009 and 2012.

Deliberately targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure is a war crime. Israel claims it tries to avoid killing civilians.

As evidence it cites its practice of dropping “warning” leaflets on areas it is about to obliterate, and sending text messages and recorded phone messages to randomly selected residents.

These warnings usually only arrive a short time before the bombs, shells and missiles.

Using these warnings Israel advises Gaza residents to flee while preventing them from doing so. No area in the Gaza Strip is safe and it is Israel that makes leaving the territory impossible.

The UN has advised Gaza residents to shelter in UN buildings such as schools and has advised the Israeli military of their location and guaranteed that they shelter only civilians and house no Palestinian combatants or weapons.

These locations have been routinely targeted by Israeli forces and have been the scene of many of the civilian casualties.

Central to Israeli propaganda is the claim that Israel is defending itself from mortars and rockets fired from the Gaza Strip by Palestinian resistance groups.

These claims ignore the fact that these mostly home-made weapons are generally used responsively. Before the current Israeli assault, resistance fighters had largely refrained from firing weapons out of the territory for two years. 

Since the assault began, mortar and rocket fire from Gaza has been described by Israeli propaganda as attacks on Israeli civilians. Their low kill rate is cited as evidence of Palestinian incompetence and Israeli military prowess, but does not, according to Israel’s narrative, lessen Palestinian culpability because they are targeting civilians.

This ignores the fact that most Israelis killed outside the Gaza Strip by rockets and mortars fired from inside the territory have been soldiers, not civilians.

Absurd logic

Israel’s illogical narrative claims that despite killing mostly civilians, Israel’s use of high-tech “precision” weapons means that they are not targeting civilians.

Yet it says Palestinian resistance fighters, who use imprecise low-tech weapons (the only weapons available to them), are guilty of targeting civilians — regardless of the fact that they mostly kill soldiers.

The absurdity of this Orwell-meets-Monty-Python logic is obscured by its endless repetition. The powerful Western imperialist countries, the international groups they control and their corporate media remain unanimous in their support for Israeli violence.

This includes the United Nations. However, the scale of the killing and destruction in Gaza, Israel’s targeting of UN sites and increasing global public awareness created by the rise of international movements in solidarity with Palestine and social media has forced the UN to make some pretence at neutrality.

On July 30, after the sixth attack on a UN school where civilians were sheltering, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said: “This morning, a UN school sheltering thousands of Palestinian families suffered a reprehensible attack. It is unjustifiable, and demands accountability and justice.

“I want to make it clear that the exact location of this elementary school has been communicated to the Israeli military authorities 17 times, as recently as last night, just a few hours before this attack.

“They are aware of the coordinates and exact location of where these people are.”

However, on August 1, when a UN-brokered 72-hour ceasefire broke down after only 90 minutes, Ban joined US President Barack Obama in blaming Palestinian resistance group Hamas.

The ceasefire ended when Israeli soldiers attacking a tunnel inside Gaza clashed with Palestinian resistance fighters. Two Israeli soldiers were killed and one was reported captured.

This was immediately followed by a resumption of Israeli bombing and shelling that killed more than 100 Palestinian civilians in the next 12 hours, as well as a resumption in Palestinian rocket and mortar fire.

Obama’s response was: “Israel has the right to defend itself.”

Ban and Obama unquestionably accepted the Israeli interpretation of the ceasefire as meaning Israeli soldiers were allowed to continue destroying defensive military infrastructure inside Gaza, but that Palestinian combatants were not allowed to resist.

They also followed Israel in describing the capture of an Israeli soldier in combat as “kidnapping” and demanded the unconditional release of the soldier.

Neither the UN nor the US has ever pressured Israel to release the hundreds of Palestinians, including minors, held without charge in Israeli “administrative detention”.

The West’s pro-Israel narrative does not just provide the framework for corporate media reporting of the violence, it provides the framework for all international attempts at negotiation.

This narrative exists to obscure the fact that Israel is a militarised, ethnically exclusive state while the Palestinians are a colonised people. 

The conflict is often portrayed as war between Israel and Hamas. However, Hamas is not a state, it is a political movement with an armed wing.

In 2006, when Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories in the West Bank and Gaza held elections for the Palestinian Authority, a Hamas-led coalition won.

The US and Israel tried to reverse this through coup d’etat, although Hamas retained control on the ground in Gaza. Israel’s siege on Gaza was imposed in response.

Hamas' offer rejected

The right of people living under military occupation to resist is recognised by international law. Hamas has also agreed to abandon armed struggle if Israel allows an independent Palestinian state to be formed in the territories it has occupied since 1967 — the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.

The media has reported Hamas rejecting ceasefire proposals. This is because none involve the key demand to lift the siege on Gaza, which is itself a form of violence.

The proposals have been for Palestinian groups to disarm in return for Israel halting its current onslaught, but keeping the siege and its ability to resume the onslaught whenever it chooses.

Despite the corporate media’s best efforts, global public sympathy for Palestinians has risen dramatically with the rising body count.

On July 30, 60 Australian parliamentarians signed a statement condemning Israeli violence, which noted: “In the last two days, Palestinian children have been killed at a rate of one per hour.”

However, the statement also said: “The rockets fired from Gaza are not in any way justified and insofar as they threaten and harm civilians are illegal under international law.

“However, these imprecise rockets cannot be compared with the broad-scale bombing of Gaza by Israel which has one of the world’s largest military forces.”

It is false to say that they are breaching international law or targeting civilians. Also, in a conflict between an apartheid state (in which only one ethnic group enjoys full rights) and a subject population whose ethnicity excludes them from full rights, calling on both sides to lay down their arms is a mistaken approach. 

A July 21 resolution by the Australian Greens, while generally supportive of Palestinians and opposing Israeli violence, supported “Amnesty International’s calls for the UN to impose a comprehensive arms embargo on Israel, Hamas, and Palestinian armed groups”.

Israel has one of the biggest and most technologically sophisticated arms industries in the world. Not only does it export weapons worldwide but major powers such as the US buy some of their most advanced weapons from Israel.

An embargo would not diminish Israel's capacity to massacre civilians.

On the other hand, an embargo on Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups would inevitably mean tightening the siege on Gaza.

Condemn Israel’s violence, not Palestinian resistance

By Mel Barnes

August 2, 2014 -- Green Left Weekly -- The Australian Greens have faced criticism for their position on Israel’s war on Palestine.

At a Palestine rally in Melbourne on July 26, Victorian Greens senator Janet Rice was booed for calling for an arms embargo on both Israel and Palestine. At a Palestine rally in Brisbane on the same day, Greens candidate Jake Schoermer had a shoe thrown at him for condemning violence on both sides, New Matilda reported.

To condemn both sides of this conflict is severely out of touch with the reality of what is happening in Gaza right now. This is not a war between equals, but a heavily armed oppressive state carrying out a reign of terror against a besieged territory in which 1.8 million people are crowded into an area just 360 square kilometres in size.

For the past seven years, Israel has maintained a brutal siege of Gaza, closing it off (with Egyptian assistance) to the outside world. Israel maintains strict control over the movement of goods in and out of the Strip, and has out Gaza on a “starvation diet”, in the words of an Israeli official.

Gaza is an open-air prison. There are reports that right now 95% of the water is undrinkable. There is not enough medicine and power is unreliable. Israel has turned the Strip into a living hell.

This is the context for the demand, not just by Hamas but all Palestinian factions, that a ceasefire with Israel requires lifting this siege.

This is the context in which homemade rockets are fired from Gaza. The small number of deaths they cause are no less tragic because of the sheer unevenness in the death toll.

However, for Gazans, in their open-air prison shut off from the outside world, the rockets are the only means of indicating their refusal to surrender.

To change this situation, we must join the growing international movement to isolate Israel, to force Western governments to break ties with the terror state and force it to cease its crimes. If this global movement were to succeed, then the conditions behind the rocket fire would cease.

This is our task, not “condemning both sides”, when one side is committing genocidal violence and the other is resisting it.

There is also a major logical flaw in the call for an arms embargo on both sides. That is, Israel has a highly developed arms industry and exports weapons. An arms embargo would not, by itself, disarm Israel — it would still be fully capable of unleashing the sort of wanton destruction it has over the past weeks.

What, however, would an arms embargo on Gaza entail? Israel and Egypt already seek to impose such a thing with the siege. The Greens' call, however well meaning its motivation, actually becomes a call to strengthen the siege — and leave Gazans even more defenceless.

The ongoing rocket fire is used as an excuse by the Israeli government to continue its war, claiming self-defence. But the violence is a continuation of Israel’s colonisation and occupation of Palestine that has been going for more than 60 years.

There are many Greens members and parliamentarians who understand this. But the Greens have been trying to make themselves a small target on the issue of Israel/Palestine ever since the Murdoch media attacked them over their support for the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign on Marrickville council in Sydney.

There has long been a consensus that Australian politicians should avoid criticising Israel. There are some inside the Greens who fear that their party would be unelectable if they spoke up for Palestine.

The support of the Australian government, and other Western governments, is essential for Israel to maintain its ongoing occupation. This political support allows Israel to continue to flout UN resolutions that call for it to immediately stop the expansion of illegal settlements in Palestinian territory. Financial and military aid — about US$3.1 billion from the US alone — helps it crush Palestinian resistance.

But as the war crimes committed by Israel during its latest offensive have grown, Australian public opinion is turning and cracks in the political consensus are beginning to show.

A group of parliamentarians from the Australian Labor Party and the Greens have signed an open letter condemning “the ongoing Israeli military bombardment and invasion of Gaza”. The 55 state and federal MPs and senators, including independent Nick Xenophon and Andrew Wilkie, said: “We call on Australian politicians to support an immediate cessation of hostilities and a ceasefire deal which includes an end to Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories and to the blockade of Gaza.”

Like the solidarity movements with East Timorese living under Indonesian rule or Black people in apartheid South Africa, action by people around the world can make it impossible for the Israeli regime to continue.

The Socialist Alliance says the occupation and siege of Gaza must end. It supports the Palestinian right to self-determination and recognises the ongoing resistance and mass action of Palestinians, including the BDS campaign.

It calls on the Australian government to end its uncritical support for Israel and break links with the Israeli state. The Australian government should follow the lead of the Latin American governments, such as Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, Chile and El Salvador, who have withdrawn their ambassadors from Israel in protest — or go one better and join Venezuela and Bolivia in expelling Israel’s ambassador and breaking diplomatic ties, as these countries did in 2009.

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From GLW issue 1019