Over the last week, the news has been dominated by stories about retaliatory strikes by Israel against Hamas targets in the Gaza strip, and the suffering of the Israeli people as they are warned into safe rooms many have in their homes by Israeli government air raid sirens. The heart wrenching stories about the emotional pain and suffering of the Israeli people is terribly upsetting, and with its ubiquity in media coverage it is no wonder that the leader of the free world can only re-iterate the position held by American conservatives and liberals alike, that Israel has the right to defend itself.
However, to those of us who regularly keep abreast of events occurring around the globe, there are common themes throughout the media coverage of the "conflict" that give one pause. Anyone who has kids has heard "he started it" or "she started it," but when those exact sentiments are being put forth by the information ministry of one side of the "conflict" and unquestioningly echoed by the major news outlets, one has to start to question - the same as we would with our children - whether the information we're being given actually tells the full story.
A person's views are merely a product of the information from which they are drawing their conclusions, so we're only as good as the information we're given. The reality is that we are being given only a very small part of the story in relation to this "conflict" so it comes as no surprise that the information to follow in this post will be upsetting to some. For that I cannot apologize, because one should never apologize for speaking the truth, however uncomfortable that truth may be.
Why we should question the overwhelming focus on Palestinian rockets
When stories from Fox News and The New York Times are providing an identical viewpoint, namely that Israel is merely defending itself against rocket attacks from Palestine, with both news organisations basing their reporting on the same Israeli government sources, one must start to question whether we're actually being given the full story.
When one of the most advanced and powerful militaries of the world - the IDF, supplied and financed by US taxpayer money, equipped with F-15 and F-16 jets, a missile defence system, Apache and Cobra helicopter gunships, a fleet of US-designed drones, an arsenal of nuclear weapons and literally billions of dollars of firepower - so consistently repeats that low-yield un-steerable primitive rockets are a grave threat to the people of Israel, a critical mind would question how big of a threat those rockets could pose to such an immense "defence" structure. The reality is startling.
Since 2000, reports conclude that these rockets have killed somewhere between 25 and 61 Israelis. These are lives that should not have been lost, and I absolutely agree that rocket attacks on Israel by militants should stop. My heart goes out to the three Israelis who lost their lives earlier this week to just such an attack.
However, over the same period, 2000-present, the IDF - with their myriad of weapons - have killed roughly 6,000 Palestinians. From a numerical standpoint, what is the biggest threat here? Is something that has caused the deaths of 60 people so much more of a threat than something that has caused the deaths of 6000 people, thus requiring the vast majority of coverage in relation to this on-going conflict?
It is also important here to again note that I do not in any way wish to disparage Israeli casualties. Over the 2000-present period referenced above, over 1,000 Israelis have been killed by Palestinians. As any other human being with a conscience, I mourn the loss of their lives. However, no human being with a conscience should allow themselves to forget that over that same period 1,477 Palestinian children have also been killed. All human lives should be considered equal, and no amount of media focus on the suffering of one side of a "conflict" should allow us to forget the immense suffering of those on the other side of that "conflict".
Current "conflict" in context
Only a few weeks ago the UN outlined how Gaza will be uninhabitable by 2020. The cause of this situation is made abundantly clear in the report; the blockade of Gaza by the IDF under the pretext of "defence" has made the Gaza economy "fundamentally unviable". The report came to the following conclusion:
It is essential that the inhabitants of Gaza are able to exercise and enjoy the full range of fundamental human rights to which they are entitled. They must be able to live safe and secure lives free of the various forms of violence which afflict them at present; benefit from proper health care, education and housing; elect and hold accountable representatives of government; be subject to fair and impartial justice; and have ready access to the world beyond Gaza for religious, educational, medical, cultural, commercial and other purposes.The fact that the US finances the Israeli blockade of Gaza to the tune of $3 billion a year makes facing the suffering of the people of Gaza very difficult for Americans in particular. It is therefore not surprising that we Americans are prone to accepting Israel's assertions in relation to what has been happening and what is happening now, namely that Israel is under attack and defending itself accordingly.
In short the Palestinian people of Gaza must be enabled to live dignified, healthy and productive lives in peace and security, both now and in the future.
Mainstream media spin
An open letter last weekend signed by linguists including Noam Chomsky acknowledge this reality. The letter states the following:
Bias and dishonesty with respect to the oppression of Palestinians is nothing new in Western media and has been widely documented. Nevertheless, Israel continues its crimes against humanity with full acquiescence and financial, military, and moral support from our governments, the U.S., Canada and the EU.The letter outlines how the specific chain of events that brought about this escalation of "conflict" continues to be thoroughly misrepresented in the media. Every major news outlet in the US asserts that the Israeli attacks are in response to rockets from Gaza. In the words of John Glasner on Antiwar.com:
As in every vicious military offensive Israel carries out in Gaza, the dominant narrative is that it is a response to rocket fire from Gaza into southern Israel. This is how it’s being reported in the US, and this is how virtually every American understands it.How this latest “conflict” actually came about
And it’s a lie.
Contrary to what the media is reporting, the current flare-up did not start from rockets fired around the 14th of November; rather it began on November 5th, when mentally ill Ahmad Nabhani was shot by the IDF for approaching the border fence with Israel. (The discussion of how this fence makes Gaza the world's largest open-air-prison will be left for another day)
In response to the perceived "threat" from the man shot on the fifth, IDF tanks and helicopter gunships entered Gaza on 8th November - this time, the "threat" they confronted and killed was a 13 year old boy playing soccer with his friends.
On November 10th rockets were then fired by dissidents in Gaza - an attack that injured 3 IDF soldiers, but that was not carried out by Hamas; rather carried out in spite of a cease-fire being maintained by "Israel's sub-contractor" in Gaza, Hamas leader Ahmed Jabari, who had been steadfast in exerting his influence to dissuade members of Hamas as well as other dissident groups from carrying out retaliatory attacks.
The next step in the escalation is well documented - Jabari was killed by an IDF airstrike, signalling the start of what would become "Operation Pillar of Defense".
It is logical to conclude from this chain of events that the Israeli government endeavoured to provoke a response from Hamas, going so far as to (in their own words) "eliminate" the man standing in the way of a Hamas response.
The focus on rockets hide war crimes being carried out by Israel
While the media focuses on rockets from Gaza, Google news offers an array of stories from Israel but none from Palestine in the "real-time" coverage on their US site, and every major news organization in the US regurgitates Israeli government talking points as though they were facts, the punishment of the people of Gaza continues unabated.
The words of Canadian resident of the West Bank Diana Buttu serve to explain the situation:
It is with horror that I watch the latest events in Gaza unfold. As a Canadian based in the West Bank who once lived in Gaza, I know the fear that is currently running through the veins of each man, woman and especially child as they face Israel’s unrelenting aerial and naval bombardment. My time in Gaza was marked by long periods of aerial bombings and sonic booms. I still– 6 years later – live with those horrible memories and the sheer sense of helplessness and hopelessness that ensued.Though all people of conscience mourn the loss of the 3 Israeli civilians killed since Wednesday by a rocket, we cannot allow that and the on-going rocket fire to blind us to the fact that over that same period of time 40 Palestinians have been killed - among them 8 children and a pregnant woman – and 393 others have been injured.
Israel spends millions of dollars every year on their hasbra (propaganda) campaign, as is often documented. There are undoubtedly those on this site who are on the payroll of PR firms contracted to Israel, as well as those who get their information from same, who will make the unsubstantiated claim that the Palestinian casualties were human shields – an assertion for which evidence is never given, but which is made often enough for people to start believing it. To those who will make those assertions, I ask this – at any given time, there are thousands of murders unsolved in New York City, thus there logically must be at a very minimum a few hundred murderers loose in New York – shall we start bombing entire NY neighborhoods because there might be suspected criminals there, and blame any residents killed for having the audacity to be in that area in the first place? To those who will echo the assertions made by the Israeli government that the IDF is carrying out “surgical strikes” on “terrorist targets” I ask this: what do you consider surgery? Is removing the lungs of a patient part of a surgery to fix a ruptured spleen? If not, then why does the IDF scalpel cut from the mortal coil the 11 month old son of a BBC reporter? Were Fares Basyouni(9) and Uday Naser (16) tumors for the IDF scalpel to cut? These are human lives, young people who were killed by US-funded IDF bombs, dropped by young men and women conscripted into being Israeli soldiers, young people whose government has decided to turn them into murderers.
What is incredibly disturbing about the on-going bombardment is how the attacks being carried out on Gaza affect the whole of the society. The bombings that have occurred every night over the past week, that have the entire population hiding in their homes for fear of being killed, 700,000 without power, and every last vestige of functioning society – including police stations – being targeted. While Israelis complain that they have to go to their safe rooms periodically due to the government sounding air-raid sirens, people in Gaza – like Mohammed Sulaiman, cut off in the middle of an interview by a bomb blast - who have no safe room to hide in, are facing a barrage from weaponry far numerous and superior to anything that could come from Gaza, a region with no Army, Navy, or Air Force. The people of Gaza are defenseless, and the only thing they have done that could serve as justification for the bombing of their homes and neighborhoods is that they are locked into a densely populated confined space in which also live individuals who can see no peace with the foreign government that has imprisoned them.
Last night the IDF targeted government buildings in Gaza. The explanation given is that Hamas are the government, and the Israeli government decries Hamas as terrorists (much the same as Hitler did with his adversaries in 1933) - is this not the very dictionary definition of committing acts of terrorism, which is “The use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims”? How could the bombing of a government building or the home of a Prime Minister be apolitical?
There is a reason why collective punishment was outlawed by the Geneva Conventions, banning the attacking of civilians by an occupying power. Sadly, collective punishment is exactly what is being carried out by Israeli forces - as Manar Hijaz explains:
The magnitude of Israel's so-called acts of rocket fire retaliation, do not amount to a justified “self-defense” response. Israel's military track record clearly illustrates a complete disregard for the Fourth Geneva Convention laws, which extend protection to civilian populations in an armed conflict (this includes occupied territories).In the words of Israeli General Gadi Eisenkot, “We will wield disproportionate power against every village from which shots are fired on Israel, and cause immense damage and destruction. This isn't a suggestion. This is a plan that has already been authorized.”
The overwhelming violence is aimed at creating a culture of fear and terror in Gaza. In the midst of the ongoing aerial campaign, the IDF texted thousands of Palestinians with the following chilling warning: "The next phase is on the way." Raji Sourani reports via Al Jazeera that "The streets [of Gaza] are deserted as people are too afraid to move." This is the same place that the government of Israel has been actively working to ensure remains in poverty, per cables released by Wikileaks:
"As part of their overall embargo plan against Gaza, Israeli officials have confirmed to (U.S. embassy economic officers) on multiple occasions that they intend to keep the Gazan economy on the brink of collapse without quite pushing it over the edge,"The current situation is the continuation of this same policy of collective punishment - the word conflict is used in quotes above because conflict insinuates that this is a two-sided fight; it is not. The bombing and terror campaign being carried out on Gaza allegedly because of rockets fired into Israel is equivalent to burning down a forest because of having gotten bitten by a mosquito.
However, Israel is not carrying out this latest collective punishment of the people of Gaza for any ideological anti-muslim purpose as extremists may try to claim, but they do have some apparent ulterior motives.
The true motives of Netanyahu's government
Israeli policy experts widely agree that no offensive by Israel will do away with Hamas, and in fact is most likely to strengthen Hamas' control of Gaza. If Operation Cast Lead did not weaken Hamas, then Pillar of Defense isn't likely to either. With the logical conclusion that the escalation to the current state of violence was encouraged on its way by the Israeli government, and they will not be able to do away with their alleged enemy of Hamas with this maneuver, we have to look at other motivations for the Israeli government to go after the population and government institutions in Palestine.
On November 29th - just under 2 weeks from now - the UN general assembly will decide upon whether to grant Palestine status as a member of the UN. In January to come, the people of Israel will go to the polls and vote on who will be the prime minister in the years to follow. When the government has an excuse to scare its own population - with constant air-raid sirens, much like the use of sound in Pavlovian conditioning - into a state of fear (which often leads to an upsurge in support for more hawkish political masters, as was proven by George Bush in 2004), and to simultaneously scare the population of an intransigent neighbor who dares to resist the continuing colonization of their lands by going over their heads to an international body, how could they pass up such an opportunity?
Violence and invasion are not the answer
Don't let yourself buy into the torrent of one-sided information presented by so much of the media, and instead listen to the words of a resident of Kibbutz Kfar Aza (via Haaretz):
The first thing I want to say is: Please don’t defend me. Not like this.There is one thing we cannot allow ourselves to forget: human lives are human lives. Whether they're from one side of the Gaza wall or the other, they are people and they are suffering. Even when our media disregards them, we cannot let ourselves ignore or forget the immense punishment being inflicted upon men, women, and children within the prison walls of Gaza.
I am sitting in my safe room in Kibbutz Kfar Aza and listening to the bombardment of the all-out war outside. I am no longer able to distinguish between “our” bombardments and “theirs." The truth is that the kibbutz children do this better than I do, their “musical ear” having been developed since they were very young, and they are able to differentiate between an artillery shell and a missile fired from a helicopter and between a mortar bomb and a Qassam. Good for them.
Is this what “defending the home” looks like? I don’t understand – did all our leaders sleep through their history classes? Or maybe they studied the Mapai school curriculum or that of Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar (to my regret, the difference is not all that great) – and have wrongly interpreted the word “defense”? Does defending the well being of citizens mean a war of armageddon every few years? Hasn’t any politician ever heard of the expression “long-term planning?"
I know that most of the public will accuse me of being a “bleeding heart.” But I am the one who is sitting here now as mortar bombs fall in my yard, not Sa’ar, not Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and not Labor MK Shelly Yacimovich or Yesh Atid party head Yair Lapid, either. I am the one who has chosen to raise her children here even though I had and still have other options.
It is possible to accuse me of a lack of Zionism, it is possible to accuse me of flabbiness and weak-mindedness but it is impossible to accuse me of hypocrisy. My children have served in combat units in addition to their contribution of “year of service” for the country, voluntarily. We live here and we love this country.
Our war is a war for the coloration of the state, not its borders. For its democratic nature and for human dignity in it. For sanity. So please stop killing civilians on the other side of the fence in order to defend me.
Instead of Operation Pillar of Defense embark on Operation Hope for the Future. This is more complicated, you need more patience and it is less popular – but it is the only way out.
Sun Nov 18, 2012 at 7:48 AM PT: Update 11/18 - I see that the Obama administration once again voiced its support for Israeli strikes on Gaza even as the IDF actively targeted the offices of news media in Gaza.
Meanwhile a different type of statement - from Noam Chomsky - pointed out that the Israeli offensive "is not about stopping rocket fire into Israel" and "is not a war, it is murder."
Some honesty from the Israeli interior ministry with the admission that their goal is to "send Gaza back to the Middle Ages"
Meanwhile Haaretz carried a good op/ed asking for people of both Gaza and Israel to not let their governments continue to push the ongoing campaign of violence.
There are some absolutely horrific images, but I won't be sharing them and as I noted in the comments I hope my words speak for themselves.