Posts Tagged ‘Eric Ruder’

Answering Obama’s Afghanistan deceptions

December 11, 2009

Eric Ruder, Socialist Worker, December 8, 2009

Barack Obama’s December 1 nationally televised address to announce a further escalation of 30,000 troops to Afghanistan cemented his role as a war president who bears responsibility for the U.S. war on that country. It also marked Obama’s assumption of the task of providing the justifications, alibis and obfuscations needed to cloak U.S. military aims in an aura of legitimacy.

Eric Ruder goes through Obama’s speech and counters seven of Barack Obama’s worst half-truths and lies about Afghanistan.

President Barack Obama speaks on Afghanistan at West Point (Pete Souza | White House)President Barack Obama speaks on Afghanistan at West Point (Pete Souza | White House)

DECEPTION NO. 1: “We did not ask for this fight…[T]he United Nations Security Council endorsed the use of all necessary steps to respond to the 9/11 attacks…and only after the Taliban refused to turn over Osama bin Laden, we sent our troops into Afghanistan.”

HERE, BARACK Obama is repeating a lie that has been told and retold so often that it goes completely unexamined in the mainstream press. Countless Western newspapers reported on the Taliban’s offers to hand over Osama bin Laden, so long as the Bush administration provided Afghan government officials with evidence of bin Laden’s involvement in the September 11 attacks–something that any sovereign nation, like the U.S., would require before agreeing to an extradition.

Continues >>

Accessories to Israel’s war crimes

October 23, 2009

Eric Ruder looks at the Goldstone report documentation of war crimes committed during Israel’s Gaza offensive–and the criticism unleashed by PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ willingness to help Israel suppress the report.

Socialist Worker, October 22, 2009

Families returned to what was left of their homes in Jabalia, Gaza

Families returned to what was left of their homes in Jabalia, Gaza

THE UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) adopted a resolution October 16 to forward a report documenting war crimes committed during Israel’s three-week Gaza offensive in late 2008 and early 2009 to the UN Security Council–the first in several steps that could ultimately lead to war crimes tribunals against Israel.

Two weeks before, Palestinian representatives to the UNHRC had requested a delay of the vote in response to prodding from the U.S. and Israel, which tried to bury the Goldstone report–named for Richard Goldstone, the former South African Supreme Court justice who authored the 575-page report–because it meticulously documented Israeli war crimes.

Continues >>

The new movement against Israel’s apartheid

February 28, 2009

Eric Ruder looks at the new movement taking shape in this country and around the world–for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel and its oppression of the Palestinian people.

Some 5,000 people turned out in Los Angeles to demonstrate against Israel's war (David Rapkin | SW)

THE RUTHLESS assault on the 1.5 million Palestinians of Gaza marked a decisive turning point in Israel’s six-decade war of conquest.

In the course of 22 days, Israeli air strikes, artillery shells and invasion forces killed 1,400 Palestinians, injured 5,000 and devastated Gaza’s civilian infrastructure. The onslaught also shattered the illusion that–after more than a decade of a “peace process” that was supposed to establish a Palestinian state–Israel has any intention of letting Palestinians realize their aspirations for self-determination.

The ferocity of Israel’s offensive, the enormous loss of civilian life (more than 90 percent of those killed and wounded were civilians) and the unanimous support for the carnage across the Israeli political spectrum shocked the world. Hundreds of millions of people watched in horror as the images of devastation and reports of civilians burned by white phosphorous bombs or buried in the rubble of their former homes filled evening news broadcasts.

But the assault on Gaza has also brought a change of another sort. It stirred a commitment among people around the world that the time has come to do something about the intolerable conditions facing Palestinians.

Labor unions, student groups and other organizations have responded to the renewed calls from Palestinians for a campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) to put pressure on Israel to end its apartheid policies toward the Palestinian population, both within the state of Israel itself and under Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza.

What you can do

If you want to learn more about the growing struggle against Israeli apartheid, see the Global BDS Movement Web site and the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott Web site.

Union activists considering ways to bring up the issue in their own locals will find handy materials at the Canadian Union of Public Employees Ontario Web site.

Haidar Eid has written an article titled “Sharpeville 1960, Gaza 2009” that recounts his experiences during Israel’s war and adds his voice to call for an international movement to boycott, divest and sanction Israel, modeled on the anti-apartheid movement.

The One Democratic State Group has issued “A Call from Gaza” that asks activists and organizations to demand that their governments sever ties with Israel, and calls for Israel’s war criminals to be brought to justice.

In Britain, student groups at two dozen universities organized sit-ins and building occupations to demand that their educational institutions condemn Israel’s war crimes, cancel speaking events or honorary titles for Israeli officials, donate surplus supplies such as computers and books to Palestinian schools, and grant scholarships to students from Gaza.

In South Africa, dockworkers refused to unload a ship carrying Israeli goods. The action had a special symbolic significance, given the inspiring example of the South African struggle that overturned apartheid in 1994. As the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC) stated in a February 4 press release:

Coming weeks after the massive Israeli massacre in Gaza, this distinguished expression by SATAWU [the union of South Africa’s dockworkers] of effective solidarity with the Palestinian people in general, and with Gaza in particular, sets a historic precedent that reminds us of the first such action during the apartheid era taken by Danish dock workers in 1963, when they decided not to offload ships carrying South African products, triggering a similar boycott in Sweden, England and elsewhere.”

Dockworkers in Greece threatened to block a ship carrying weapons to Israel during the Gaza offensive, and in late January, the Maritime Union of Australia endorsed the call for a BDS campaign, and pledged to boycott all Israeli vessels, as well as all vessels bearing goods arriving from or going to Israel.

In the U.S., a wave of student occupations is taking shape, starting with the University of Rochester and New York University, and others in the planning stages.

In Canada, the Ontario division of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), which represents some 200,000 government and other public-sector workers, passed a motion calling for an academic boycott of Israel and an end to any research or investments that could benefit the Israeli army. British and French academics have likewise issued statements calling for a boycott of Israel.

Thus, despite the trauma inflicted during the Gaza offensive, the emerging BDS movement has given a renewed sense of optimism to millions of Palestinians who have felt for years that the world shrugged as they faced daily threats to their existence. As the BNC continued:

If Gaza today has become the test of our universal morality and our common humanity, the fast-spreading BDS movement around the world has passed the test with flying colors. In fact, worldwide support for BDS against Israel in reaction to its war crimes…has shown that international civil society fully recognizes that Israel must be held accountable before international law and must pay a heavy price for its atrocities and ongoing willful destruction of Palestinian society.

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NEVERTHELESS, SOME people raise objections about whether a BDS campaign is justified or effective–or both. Does it make sense to describe Israel as an apartheid state, they ask–and in any case, will a BDS campaign have the desired effect?

While some who raise such considerations would defend Israel no matter how blatant its injustices, others have honest questions about such issues, which deserve careful answers, especially considering that so many people are just learning about the Palestinian struggle.

Though Israelis generally recoil at any comparison of Israel and South Africa, the shared pattern of racist discrimination and control is unmistakable.

“Apartheid was an extension of the colonial project to dispossess people of their land,” said South African cabinet minister Ronnie Kasrils during a visit to Jerusalem. “That is exactly what has happened in Israel and the Occupied Territories–the use of force and the law to take the land. That is what apartheid and Israel have in common.”

Kasrils should know what he is talking about. He is one of a handful of Jews who was active as guerilla fighters in the African National Congress during the anti-apartheid struggle.

Even a few prominent Israeli politicians draw the connection between Israeli and South African apartheid.

“The Intifada is the Palestinian people’s war of national liberation,” wrote former Israeli Attorney General Michael Ben-Yair in 2002 in Israel’s Ha’aretz newspaper, referring to the Palestinian uprising of that year. “We enthusiastically chose to become a colonialist society, ignoring international treaties, expropriating lands, transferring settlers from Israel to the Occupied Territories, engaging in theft and finding justification for all these activities…We established an apartheid regime.”

Indeed, Palestinians today endure the Israeli equivalent of the pass laws of South Africa’s white minority regime. In East Jerusalem and the West Bank, Palestinians must spend hours waiting to pass through checkpoints to travel distances that should take minutes–all while suffering humiliation and abuse at the hands of Israeli soldiers. Then there are the house demolitions, the strangulation of the economy and the constant threat of worse, in the form of targeted assassinations or violence from Jewish settlers.

“The similarities between the situation of East Jerusalemites and Black South Africans is very great in respect of their residency rights,” says John Dugard, a professor of international law who helped construct South Africa’s human rights law in the post-apartheid era, and now serves as the UN’s chief human rights monitor in the West Bank and Gaza. “East Jerusalem has territorial classification that has the same sort of consequences as race classification had in South Africa in respect of who you can marry, where you can live, where you can go to school or hospital.”

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BUT EVEN if Israel can be accurately called an apartheid state, won’t a BDS campaign–and especially a cultural, academic and sports boycott–make impossible precisely the kind of exchange necessary to end Israeli apartheid?

As Haider Eid, a resident of Gaza, a professor of English literature, and a member of the steering committee of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, explains:

The same argument was used against the academic, cultural and sports boycott of South Africa.

In the 1970s and ’80s, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan talked about ‘constructive engagement’ as a way to defend their diplomatic ties with South Africa. Some academics and athletes echoed these same arguments. But they forget that they are making an abnormal situation into a normal one. The international community had to make it clear to the white racists of South Africa that what they were doing was unacceptable.

I have no problem with the exchange of academic ideas. But I myself am an academic. I have been invited to five conferences over the last year, but I have not been allowed by the Israelis to leave Gaza. Why should there be such preoccupation about the freedom of exchange of ideas with Israeli institutions when Israel itself denies such exchange to Palestinians in all spheres of life?

Also, it’s important to point out that we are only talking here of boycotting institutions, not individual academics, and we are in favor of exchange with Israeli academics who object to Israel’s occupation, who support the right of return of the more than 6 million Palestinian refugees scattered throughout the region and so on. Israeli academic institutions, on the other hand, have unfortunately supported the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, supported the dispossession of Palestinian refugees since 1948, and have not raised their voices against the latest massacre in Gaza.

An international campaign of the sort that was essential to the eventual victory of the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa is just as essential–if not more so–in the case of Israel because of the blanket support Israel receives from the U.S., the European Union and the United Nations Security Council.

The U.S., for example, gives billions of dollars annually–in the form of both military and economic aid–to Israel, and this support is crucial to Israel’s ability to continue its policy of territorial expansion and repression of Palestinians.

Likewise, the European Union in recent years has expanded, rather than reduced, its economic ties with Israel, a development that no doubt encouraged Israeli leaders to carry out the recent Gaza massacre without fear that such conduct might jeopardize their economic and political standing in the world.

The United Nations regularly reaffirms resolutions stipulating that Israeli settlements are illegal under international law and calling on Israel to accept the return of Palestinian refugees. But when it comes to enforcing its resolutions, the UN, which is beholden to world powers such as the U.S., won’t take any action to compel Israel to live up to its obligations under international law. As Eid explains:

We’ve lost faith in governments, in the United Nations, and the rest of the so-called international community. We’ve said our only hope is with civil society organizations, unions and solidarity movements–and this is what is happening right now.

We don’t want people just to react to the Gaza massacre for a couple of months, and then forget about it. We want this to continue. Israel is under fire now from civil society organizations. This is a historical moment, and we must seize it.

Israel’s deadly ceasefire

January 19, 2009

Eric Ruder reports that the number of Palestinian dead in Gaza will continue to rise despite Israel’s “ceasefire.”

The aftermath of Israel's assault on Gaza (Sameh A. Habeeb)

The aftermath of Israel’s assault on Gaza (Sameh A. Habeeb)

ISRAEL DECLARED a unilateral ceasefire Sunday after a 23-day onslaught on Gaza that left more than 1,250 Palestinians dead and more than 4,000 wounded. Among the dead are at least 280 children and 95 women, according to estimates by the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, and there are 860 children and 488 women among the wounded.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert claimed that the Israel Defense Force (IDF) had waged an effective and successful campaign in Gaza.

“The conditions have been brought about that enable us to say that the aims of the operations have been reached,” said Olmert. He said Israel “will consider withdrawing completely from Gaza at a date that suits us,” on the condition that rockets are no longer fired from Gaza at southern Israel.

Olmert said the Hamas, the Islamist party that controls what exists of a government in Gaza, “has been dealt a very serious blow, both in terms of its military infrastructure and the infrastructure of its government. Many of its people have been killed. Its leaders are in hiding. The tunnels that armed them have been destroyed.

Twelve hours later, Hamas leaders declared their own ceasefire, but made full Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and the opening of Gaza’s border crossings a condition of a full end of hostilities.

“We stress our demand that Israel withdraw its forces within a week and then open the crossings to humanitarian aid and various types of merchandise,” read the statement from Hamas. Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhoum added, “A unilateral ceasefire does not mean ending the aggression and ending the siege…These constitute acts of war, so this won’t mean an end to resistance.”

As news of the ceasefire spread, Gazans who had fled the fighting returned to shocking scenes of destruction–overturned cars, torn-up streets, sewage running in the streets, leveled homes and still smoldering mosques and government buildings. Many bodies remain buried in homes flattened by Israeli tanks or strafed by air strikes.

In fact, the menacing sound of Israeli drones circling overhead, the churn of tank treads and the occasional crackle of gunfire were steady reminders that Israel’s “ceasefire” hadn’t ended the killing, and reports of Israeli attacks on civilians continued to pile up.

According to the BBC, “At least 1,600 people, displaced from their homes, were sheltering in a UN school in Gaza [Sunday] morning when it took a direct hit from an Israel shell. Two young brothers, aged five and seven, were killed.”

A press release issued by the Al Mezan Center confirmed similar acts of aggression throughout Gaza. “Shooting and shelling from artillery batteries, tanks and naval vessels have occurred in various areas throughout the day,” according to the release. “Israeli aircraft also launched raids on open areas. At 10:30 a.m. [Sunday], Israeli troops opened fire at civilians who were trying to reach their homes in Khuzaa village, east of Khan Younis. A man, 22-year-old Mahir Abu Irjila, was killed as a result. The victim and his family had evacuated their house and stayed in a UN shelter.”

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ISRAEL ANNOUNCED that it would continue to occupy positions in Gaza until it could be certain that no more rockets would be launched at towns in southern Israel, and warned that any such fire would be met with “a massive, disproportionate assault,” according to Israel’s Ha’aretz newspaper.

But the announcement of the “ceasefire” was enough to draw praise from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who was meeting with European leaders at the Egyptian resort of Sharm al-Sheikh. “This should be the first step leading to the full withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza,” said the secretary general.

But the terms of what was agreed to at Sharm al-Sheikh betray the complicity of the international community in the barbarism inflicted on the residents of Gaza during the last three weeks.

Six European countries–Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the Czech Republic–agreed to supply soldiers and technological assistance as part of efforts, in alliance with Egypt and the U.S., to stop Hamas from transporting weapons into Gaza. No officials from these countries uttered a word of criticism of Israel’s blatant disregard for civilian life and infrastructure.

Thus, there was no rebuttal to Olmert, who was also present, when he stated, “We did not want to hurt them or their children…They are the victims of Hamas.”

Olmert and other Israeli leaders have regularly returned to this justification–that Hamas had it within its power to stop Israel’s attack, but failed to do so–for unleashing the world’s fourth most powerful military against the residents of Gaza, who lack even basic necessities, such as adequate food, medical supplies and electricity.

Three years ago, Israel unilaterally withdrew its military forces and settlers from Gaza, but remained in control of all traffic into and out of Gaza via land, sea and air–which is why many observers describe Gaza as the world’s largest prison colony, with 1.5 million residents eking out an appalling existence in squalid refugee camps.

If Israeli officials really believed that the civilian casualties were “victims of Hamas,” they wouldn’t have been so concerned with barring reporters and photographers to suppress reports of the carnage in Gaza from the military’s punishing assault.

Nevertheless, enough reports did leak out to spark massive protests–across the Middle East, and throughout Europe and the U.S. These protests were not only larger than previous demonstrations in support of the Palestinian struggle for self-determination, but they were also accompanied, especially in the U.S., by a significant increase in polls showing opposition to Israel’s attack.

It will be up to activists in the U.S. and elsewhere around the world to seize on the enormous outpouring of sympathy for Israel’s victims in Gaza to build a sustained movement against the apartheid conditions facing Palestinians.

In the words of Haidar Eid, a Gaza resident who helped to spearhead a call for an international movement to sanction, boycott and divest from Israel, Israel’s attack on Gaza could be “the Sharpeville Massacre in 1960, when 69 Blacks were killed by the white racist regime of apartheid South Africa.” As he said in an interview with last week:

This massacre gave rise to the [divestment] campaign against apartheid South Africa, which ultimately led to the release of Nelson Mandela in 1990 and his election as the first Black president of multicultural, multiracial, secular, democratic South Africa as we know it now.

Gaza could be the spark that could initiate a different ‘new Middle East’ than what Condoleezza Rice talked about in 2006. She meant a ‘new Middle East’ characterized by American and Israeli hegemony. What I’m saying now is that I can see the birth pangs of a new Middle East characterized by the end of despotic, dictatorial pro-American regimes.

A war to crush the Palestinians

January 17, 2009

Eric Ruder argues that Israel’s rhetoric about Hamas “terrorism” is a pretext for an attempt to crush the Palestinian national movement.

After two weeks, Israel's assault on Gaza had claimed nearly 1,000 lives

TO U.S. politicians and mainstream media commentators, the justification for the massacre in Gaza is simple and unquestioned–that Israel is responding to Palestinian “terrorism” in the form of rocket attacks aimed at southern Israel.

“Israel has no choice but to take military action,” said former Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney, in a phrase repeated by politicians across the political spectrum. For the Democrats, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid declared, “I think this terrorist organization, Hamas, has got to be put away.”

In U.S. politics, these two arguments–that Israel had no choice but to defend itself, and that it faces a terrorist assault–are sufficient to excuse even the most senseless killing of Palestinian civilians and wanton destruction of Gaza’s infrastructure by Israeli forces.

But like so much that passes for fact in the U.S. discussion about the Israel-Palestine conflict, these arguments obscure all the essential dynamics of Israel’s war on the Palestinian people.

First, Hamas scrupulously observed a cease-fire from the summer of 2008 until Israel launched a raid November 4 that killed six Hamas members. The attack took place as the U.S. and international media focused its attention on the election of Barack Obama. Only after Israel broke this most recent cease-fire did Hamas militants fire rockets at Israel.

And as Palestinian activist and author Ali Abunimah has pointed out:

There are no rockets launched at Israel from the West Bank, and yet Israel’s attacks, killings, land theft, settler pogroms and kidnappings never ceased for one single day during the truce. The Palestinian Authority in Ramallah has acceded to all of Israel’s demands, even assembling “security forces” to fight the resistance on Israel’s behalf. None of that has spared a single Palestinian or her property or livelihood from Israel’s relentless violent colonization.

Since Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, Palestinian rocket fire has killed 11 Israelis. During the same period, Israel killed at least 1,400 Palestinians in Gaza, including 223 children.

And during the so-called truce that began last summer, Israel continued its suffocating siege of Gaza, imposing shortages of electricity, food and medical supplies that led to countless deaths, not to mention exacerbating the already inhuman levels of grinding poverty, unemployment and despair.

The inescapable conclusion is that Palestinian rockets fired from Gaza are the excuse for, not the cause of, the Israeli offensive that began on December 27.

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THIS BEGS an obvious question: What are the real reasons for Israel’s attack?

For one, Israel chose this moment with an exquisite sense of timing. According to Israel’s Ha’aretz newspaper, planning for the offensive began six months ago.

The attack was launched between the Christmas and New Year holidays when most Western governments are on hiatus. Further, the Bush administration–an ardent supporter of Israel’s aggression, no matter how bloody–could be expected to be quiet in its twilight while Barack Obama conveniently can conveniently hide behind the excuse that “there’s only one president at a time” (despite his high-profile involvement in setting economic policy in response to the unraveling economy).

At the most basic level, Israel hopes that the military defeat of Hamas will finally give it total and unchallenged control over the flow of goods into and out of Gaza, specifically by destroying the network of tunnels that connect Gaza to Egypt at the Rafah border crossing.

While it is true that these tunnels are used to provide Hamas with military equipment, what the corporate media fails to point out is that the tunnels now provide the vast majority of essential humanitarian supplies–goods that Israel has blocked at the border crossings it controls. As journalist Jonathan Cook wrote:

Israel believes the current invasion will have achieved nothing unless this time it regains absolute control of the Rafah border, undercutting Hamas’s claims to be running the Strip. The “mechanism” therefore requires that technical responsibility is lifted from Egyptian shoulders.

According to the Israeli plan, it will pass to the Americans, whose expertise will be called on to stop the tunneling and prevent Hamas from rebuilding its arsenal after the invasion comes to an end. Israel may additionally seek the involvement of international forces to diffuse the censure the Arab publics are likely to direct at Egypt as a result.

Israel also aims to further destroy Hamas’ institutional means to govern Gaza in order to weaken Hamas’ overall political strength and to create terms for a new cease-fire even more favorable to Israel. This is a longstanding goal of Israel’s political leadership, which it has pursued by a variety of means.

As Avi Shlaim, an Israeli professor of international relations at Oxford University, wrote:

In January 2006, free and fair elections for the Legislative Council of the Palestinian Authority brought to power a Hamas-led government. Israel, however, refused to recognize the democratically elected government, claiming that Hamas is purely and simply a terrorist organization.

America and the [European Union] shamelessly joined Israel in ostracizing and demonizing the Hamas government and in trying to bring it down by withholding tax revenues and foreign aid. A surreal situation thus developed with a significant part of the international community imposing economic sanctions not against the occupier but against the occupied, not against the oppressor but against the oppressed.

Then, Israel turned to more aggressive measures, working with the CIA to deliver guns and money to stoke a Palestinian civil war that Israel hoped would end in the overthrow of Hamas rule by the now fully tamed Fatah faction of Mahmoud Abbas, the current PA president.

But the plan didn’t work out, according to David Rose, who unearthed the details of the operation in an April 2008 Vanity Fair article. He wrote:

[T]he secret plan backfired, resulting in a further setback for American foreign policy under Bush. Instead of driving its enemies out of power, the U.S.-backed Fatah fighters inadvertently provoked Hamas to seize total control of Gaza.

Some sources call the scheme “Iran-contra 2.0,” recalling that [Deputy National-Security Adviser Elliott] Abrams [who was key to the implementation of the Gaza gambit] was convicted (and later pardoned) for withholding information from Congress during the 1980s Iran-Contra scandal under President Ronald Reagan.

There are echoes of other past misadventures as well: the CIA’s 1953 ouster of an elected prime minister in Iran, which set the stage for the 1979 Islamic revolution there; the aborted 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, which gave Fidel Castro an excuse to solidify his hold on Cuba; and the contemporary tragedy in Iraq.

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THE IRONY, of course, is that for decades Israel sought to undermine, divide and destroy the Palestinian national movement as embodied in the Fatah faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Israel abetted the growth of Hamas as a means to that end.

As Middle East commentator Stephen Zunes wrote:

Israel initially encouraged the rise of the Palestinian Islamist movement as a counter to the Palestine Liberation Organization, the secular coalition composed of Fatah and various leftist and other nationalist movements.

Beginning in the early 1980s, with generous funding from the U.S.-backed family dictatorship in Saudi Arabia, the antecedents of Hamas began to emerge through the establishment of schools, health care clinics, social service organizations and other entities that stressed an ultraconservative interpretation of Islam, which up to that point had not been very common among the Palestinian population.

The hope was that if people spent more time praying in mosques, they would be less prone to enlist in left-wing nationalist movements challenging the Israeli occupation.

By the early 1990s, even Israel’s wink-and-nod at the growth of Hamas did little to persuade most Palestinians, who were not particularly religious, to abandon their commitment to the PLO, the historic representative of the Palestinian national movement.

It wasn’t until the 1993 “peace process,” by which Yasser Arafat and the PLO were transformed from resistance fighters into the willing accomplices of Israel’s drive to put the West Bank under Israeli hegemony while isolating Gaza, that Hamas began to overtake Fatah’s popularity.

“At the time of the Oslo Agreement between Israel and the PLO in 1993, polls showed that Hamas had the support of only 15 percent of the Palestinian community,” writes Zunes. “Support for Hamas grew, however, as promises of a viable Palestinian state faded as Israel continued to expand its colonization drive on the West Bank without apparent U.S. objections, doubling the amount of settlers over the next dozen years.”

In addition to suppressing the Palestinian struggle for self-determination, Israel aims to accomplish a larger regional goal with the assault on Gaza–namely, to re-establish the deterrent effect of having the most powerful military force in the Middle East. Ever since its humiliating defeat by Hezbollah in the Israeli assault on Lebanon in 2006, Israel has been looking for an opportunity to demonstrate overwhelming power.

Thus, the widespread civilian casualties and destruction of Hamas’ political institutions are purposefully designed to send a message to Iran, Hezbollah and other regional foes that the price of opposing of Israel should not be underestimated.

“The Israeli army needs to address the problem created to its deterrence in 2006,” Efraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, told Agence France Presse. “The army has to change its image among its enemies that it is afraid to use ground forces…It does not necessarily need to be a large-scale invasion, maybe just special units or localized incursions, but the army needs boots on the ground.”

Finally, Israel’s assault on Gaza is the latest attempt to put into practice the Bush administration blueprint for domination of the Middle East by the U.S. and its junior partner Israel. According to Columbia University professor Joseph Massad:

The U.S. has seen this as an opportune moment to fully integrate Israel in the region, so much so that it signaled to its Gulf allies to make proposals for a new regional alliance that includes Israel in its midst. The Bahraini foreign minister suggested a few weeks ago that Israel join the Arab League. Many such proposals have already been made in the past few months welcoming the colonial settlement to the regional alliance against Iran.

Against this U.S.-backed Israeli drive to further colonial domination, Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation is legitimate and just–and protected under international law. No one should be fooled by U.S.-Israeli attempts to use the “war on terror” to excuse their imperial aims.

Blood and tears in the streets of Gaza

December 30, 2008

Eric Ruder reports on Israel’s latest escalation of its barbaric war on the Palestinian people.

Israeli air strikes have killed nearly 300 Palestinians in two days of bombing (Fady Adwan | propaimages)Israeli air strikes have killed nearly 300 Palestinians in two days of bombing (Fady Adwan | propaimages)

GAZA IS under attack by one of the most deadly military machines on the planet–with even worse to come as Israel masses troops for a threatened ground invasion.

Starting at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday morning, Israel’s F-16 jet fighters and Apache helicopters, supplied by the U.S., unleashed a punishing assault on targets of every kind–police stations, mosques, hospitals, media outlets, community centers and buildings owned by the Hamas party.

Gaza is one of the most densely populated places in the world, so the “precision strikes” supposedly aimed at “Hamas militants” were bound to take a toll on the civilian population. By late Sunday night, the official death toll after 36 hours of killing stood at nearly 300.

Meanwhile, Israeli ground forces and tanks were stationed at the border, and the military announced it was calling up its reserves, an ominous sign that the scale of the atrocities could grow worse.

Israel’s all-out offensive caused fury across the Middle East. Thousands took to the streets to protest Israel’s assault and the silence of many Arab regimes as the slaughter of Palestinians was broadcast on television news stations. In several places, anger was directed at the Egyptian government for its unwillingness to open its border with Gaza to relieve the pressure from Israel’s crippling siege of the last 18 months.

What you can do

Emergency protests have already taken place in cities around the country, with more planned for the coming days–including a national day of action called for Tuesday, December 30. Contact local organizers for details where you live.

For updates on the current situation in Gaza, plus commentary and analysis on the background to the war, read the Electronic Intifada Web site. Electronic Intifada Executive Director Ali Abunimah’s “Gaza massacres must spur us to action” is a good starting point for further reading.

You can also find updated coverage on conditions in Gaza and the efforts of activists to stand up to the Israeli war at the Free Gaza Web site.

Between the Lines: Readings on Israel, the Palestinians and the U.S. “War on Terror,” by Tikva Honig-Parnass and Toufic Haddad, documents the apartheid-like conditions that Palestinians live under today.

For background on Israel’s war and the Palestinian struggle for freedom, read The Struggle for Palestine, a collection of essays edited by Lance Selfa on the history of the occupation and Palestinian resistance.

In the U.S., antiwar coalitions, human rights groups and others organized emergency-response actions, drawing hundreds to demonstrations in cities across the U.S. More protests will take place this week; a national day of action has been called for Tuesday.

Israel’s attack began with simultaneous air raids on more than 30 targets. Within the first nine hours, the Israeli military reported it had dropped more than 100 tons of bombs. Not since the 1967 Six-Day War, when Israel began its occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, have Palestinians in Gaza been subjected to such an outburst of destruction.

In an interview, Dr. Haider Eid relayed the horror as he talked about conditions in Gaza:

I live in Gaza City itself, where most of the air strikes took place. The attacks came just as schoolchildren were returning home from school. It was absolutely horrible. The timing was chosen to cause a massacre.

I rushed to the Shifa hospital–along with ambulances, cars and trucks that were also streaming to the hospital with the wounded. I stood in front of the gate. I don’t like to see the mangled bodies, but this was especially horrible. Cars carried dismembered bodies, detached legs and arms and heads.

The part of this that I’m still trying to cope with are the bodies of the children. This is something you don’t wish on your worst enemies, to tell you the truth. The morgue at the hospital is the largest in Gaza City, but it ran out of space to keep the bodies.

As he talked, a thunderous noise drowned out Haider’s voice. “Oh my God! A huge explosion just took place as I’m speaking with you,” said Haider. “That was very close. Oh my God! Another one! I’m sorry. I must go.” Haider hung up to check on his relatives, and subsequent attempts to reach him have so far been unsuccessful.

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ISRAEL CLAIMED that it launched its offensive on Gaza to defend itself from Palestinian rocket attacks aimed at towns in southern Israel. Predictably, the U.S. backed up this assertion. “The United States strongly condemns the repeated rocket and mortar attacks against Israel, and holds Hamas responsible for breaking the ceasefire and for the renewal of violence in Gaza,” said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

The ceasefire Rice referred to began six months ago, but the terms of it were never honored by Israel, and in fact, it expired days before the assault began.

Under the truce, Palestinian militants agreed to end their rocket attacks against Israel, while Israel was supposed to lift its suffocating siege of Gaza, which has led to critical shortages of all manner of necessities, from flour to electricity to medical supplies.

But the Israeli government didn’t end the siege. The blockade is designed to punish the people of Gaza for the “crime” of voting Hamas into the majority in the Palestinian Legislative Assembly in January 2006 elections. Backed by the U.S., and with the collaboration of rival Palestinian leaders in the West Bank, Israel continued to hope that the population of Gaza would turn against Hamas.

Within Israel, only a tiny number of voices dissented from the claim–thoroughly dominant in the mainstream Israeli and U.S. media–that Israel was acting in self-defense against Hamas’ aggression. Days before the Israeli offensive began, Jerusalem Post columnist Larry Derfner wrote:

We don’t want to see how people in Gaza are living, we block it out of our minds–which, I suppose, is natural for a society at war, but which also keeps that war going longer than it might if we would recognize that Gaza is getting so much the worst of it.

The [Palestinian] Kassam [rockets] have terrorized the 25,000 people in Sderot and its environs, but have caused very, very few deaths or serious wounds. By contrast, Israel has terrorized 1.5 million Gazans, locked them inside their awfully narrow borders, throttled their economy, and killed and seriously wounded thousands of them…

This is crazy. Israel is the superpower of the Middle East, but because we still think we’re the Jews of Europe in the 1930s, or the Israelites under Pharaoh, we spend a lot more time fighting our enemies than we might if we looked at the whole picture, not just our half of it.

There may be a way out of this war, and if Israel does not take it–if it does not accept Hamas’ offer of a ceasefire, which it should have offered Hamas from the beginning–then the principal blame for the war will lie with us. Our arrogance and blindness will get a lot of innocent people killed. And no one has a clue about when, or where, or how it will end.

This comment makes it obvious that the death toll from Israel’s air strikes only count for part of the casualties in the latest phase of the war. Those Palestinians who died as a consequence of Israel’s blockade–a clear violation of international laws prohibiting the use of collective punishment and attempts to physically destroy a people and their society–have to be included.

As Palestinian author and activist Ali Abunimah said in an interview:

The idea that this is about Israel’s “self-defense” is a very partial and one-sided claim. The reality is that Israel asked for a ceasefire with Hamas and got it, during which there were no rockets fired by the Palestinians.

During this so-called ceasefire, Israel continued to maintain a punishing blockade on Gaza, starving people, depriving them of food and medicine. Many people were dying in Gaza, not because of bombs, but because they couldn’t get cancer treatments, insulin and other basic medications. They weren’t even allowed to travel to get medical treatment.

Hundreds of Palestinians have died because of the Israeli blockade. Ehud Barak’s orders to prevent medicine from reaching Gaza were just as lethal and just as intended to kill as his orders to send bombers into Gaza.

Israel’s harsh treatment of Palestinians living in the West Bank further underscores the hypocrisy of Israel’s claim to be defending itself. As Abunimah points out:

There has never been a single rocket fired at Israel from the West Bank. And yet during the period of the so-called truce in the West Bank, Israel continued extrajudicial executions, continued to confiscate Palestinian land, continued to demolish Palestinians homes, continued to kidnap Palestinians and imprison them. Israeli settlers engaged in regular pogroms and rampages, attacking Palestinians and destroying their property.

What was the excuse for that? Israel never needed the excuse of rockets to continue its systematic violence against Palestinians.

– – – – – – – – – – – – –

BECAUSE OF Israel’s debilitating siege, the residents of Gaza are particularly ill-equipped to deal with the physical, medical, humanitarian and psychological consequences of this new offensive.

The statistical measures of Gaza’s desperation are truly awful. Malnutrition in Gaza is comparable to the dire situation of countries in sub-Saharan Africa, affecting some 75 percent of the population–46 percent of children in Gaza suffer from acute anemia. The majority of children suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, and thousands of kids require hearing aids because of repeated exposure to the earsplitting sonic booms of low-altitude flyovers by Israeli fighter jets.

Blood supplies are running critically low. There are chronic shortages of electricity, drinking water, flour, bread and more. Unemployment is well over 50 percent. The economy is in total freefall.

This is all by design. According to the logic of Israeli officials, the pressure is necessary to force Gaza’s residents to turn against Hamas. Such measures have always failed in the past–on the contrary, they have led to ever more intense and desperate anger at Israel’s brutality.

But according to Abunimah, the latest offensive has also exposed a new development–the outright surrender of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and the Fatah wing of the Palestinian national movement that he leads:

For a long time, the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah has been colluding with Israel and the U.S. against Hamas. Since the election in January 2006, the PA has been determined to overturn the election result and to maintain itself in power, and it has done that with guns provided by the U.S. and Israel.

Many Palestinians were not willing to confront this directly because it’s a very painful truth. But the situation in Gaza has pulled the mask off, and Palestinians everywhere are now openly pointing to Ramallah as having colluded directly with the Israelis–and indeed the comments of PA President Mahmoud Abbas in Cairo that Hamas is to blame for this have sickened and revolted Palestinians.

This has laid bare the reality that Abbas is working for the Israelis and is more loyal to them than to the Palestinian people that he claims to lead.

As for the U.S., it has long presented itself to the world as an “honest broker,” as Palestinians struggled to establish an independent state in their homeland.

Yet U.S. economic, military and diplomatic support has been the essential ingredient that allowed Israel to continue its occupation of Palestinian land and its immunity to diplomatic sanctions or international pressure to grant even the basic Palestinian right to the necessities of life.

For activists in the U.S., it’s our responsibility to expose the complicity of the U.S. in the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in Gaza. This means building public demonstrations and protests, as well as ongoing campaigns to pressure the U.S. to end its support for Israel. And it means exposing the lie that Israel is acting in self-defense when it carries out massacres in Gaza.

“What can we fairly ask of Palestinians when 1.5 million people are blockaded, besieged, imprisoned in a giant ghetto, when they cannot eat due to lack of food while living under a so-called truce?” asks Abunimah. “Israel’s idea of a truce is that Palestinians have a right to remain silent while they starve to death.

“Palestinians also have a right to defend themselves. That self-defense may take many forms, but Israel has never respected Palestinians’ right to defend themselves, whether they do so through armed struggle or peaceful means. The Israeli response is always bombs and bullets. That’s the full picture that’s not being exposed anywhere.”

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