Posts Tagged ‘killed and injured Palestinians’

Crime and accountability in Gaza

February 26, 2009

Toufic Haddad, The Electronic Intifada, 24 February 2009

Will Israel be held accountable for its destruction in Gaza? (Matthew Cassel)

Now that the smoke has at least temporarily cleared from Gaza’s skies, credible human rights reports have filtered in describing the utter devastation that took place throughout the course of Israel’s 22 day assault “Operation Cast Lead.” The figures are truly shocking. According to statistics by the Gaza-based Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, at least 1,285 Palestinians were killed, of which 895 were civilians, including 280 children and 111 women. Another 167 of the dead were civil police officers, most of whom were killed on the first day of the bombing when they were graduating from a training course. More than 2,400 houses were completely destroyed, as were 28 public civilian facilities, (including ministries, municipalities, governorates, fishing harbors and the Palestinian Legislative Council building), 29 educational institutions, 30 mosques, 10 charitable societies, 60 police stations and 121 industrial and commercial workshops.

Casualty statistics by Palestinian military groups appear to corroborate the number of civilians killed versus militants. According to their respective Arabic-language websites, Hamas lost 48 fighters, Islamic Jihad, 34, the Popular Resistance Committees, 17, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, one. It is not known how many fighters Fatah lost, though their participation in the resistance was certainly less than that of Hamas, which clearly led the Palestinian side. These reports should also be considered credible because it is highly unlikely a group would suppress its casualty figures given that their fighters’ deaths are perceived as acts of martyrdom, for which the faction proudly advertises its sacrifices. Family members of dead fighters would also not accept any other classification. We can safely assume therefore that the remaining killed militants were Fatah members, former or current security force personnel, or individuals who took up arms when the fighting erupted.

Information from Israeli sources has also surfaced regarding different aspects of the planning and functioning of the Israeli military during the campaign. It is now known for example that the idea to bomb the closing ceremony of a Gaza police training course was planned and internally criticized within the Israel army months before the attack. According to the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz correspondent Barak Regev, “A military source involved in the planning of the attack, in which dozens of Hamas policemen were killed, says that while military intelligence officers were sure the operation should be carried out and pressed for its approval, the [Israeli army’s] international law division and the military advocate general were undecided.” Israel went ahead with the bombing anyway, killing dozens of civil police officers whose limp dismembered bodies were captured in chilling images broadcast the first day of Israel’s campaign.

It was also revealed by Haaretz that “Israel used text messages, dropped flyers from the air and made a quarter of a million telephone calls to warn Gaza residents.” Given that 50 percent of Gaza’s residents are below the age of 16 and are unlikely to have independent telephone lines, a quarter million telephone calls covers a considerable portion of Gaza’s households. This is a backhanded acknowledgment of the fact that almost everybody in Gaza was threatened in Israel’s campaign.

Israeli politicians also appear aware of the devastation they have wrought in Gaza, and the war crimes charges they are likely to face because of their targeting of the civilian population. One minister told Israeli military correspondent Amos Harel “When the scale of the damage in Gaza becomes clear, I will no longer take a vacation in Amsterdam, only at the international court in The Hague.” According to Harel, “It was not clear whether he was trying to make a joke or not.”

How is one to approach the existence of indisputable evidence showing that Palestinian civilians were a deliberate target in Israel’s campaign? This is not the case of “collateral damage,” nor is this the case of one of the most sophisticated and powerful armies operating in one of the most densely populated areas of the world.

The technicalities of the legal cases pressing for war crimes charges should be left to qualified lawyers and human rights workers. Indeed the process is well on its way, with one petition already filed in Belgium. The Israeli government is also set to approve a bill that will grant aid to officers who do face suits for alleged war crimes. The military censor has already issued orders to the press not to reveal the identities of officers involved in the Gaza campaign.

As these debates begin, it’s important to stress three points. First, the policy of targeting civilians in Gaza was nothing new. The medieval siege which was clamped on Gaza since the Hamas victory in the 2006 elections preventing access to fuels, foods and medical supplies, was part and parcel of the same policy directed at the civilian population. Adding the military dimension whereby Israeli army personnel sitting in bunkers in Tel Aviv bomb civilian areas with unmanned drones, is only a difference of degree, not principle.

Second, it is important to point out the modus operandi used in Gaza was entirely predictable, based on how Israeli and American military analysts and journalists were openly discussing the results of Israel’s failed campaign in Lebanon in 2006. For example, Anthony Cordesman, a military analyst for the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, visited Israel after the July 2006 war and interviewed its military personnel to assess its setbacks. His subsequent recommendations for correcting Israel’s tactics in future confrontations read like a blueprint for what Israel was doing to Gaza. “From Israel’s viewpoint you have to use force even more against civilian targets,” Cordesman explains. “You have to attack deep. You have to step up the intensity of combat and you have to be less careful and less restrained.”

Cordesman’s conclusions derived from his belief that Israel’s “deterrence” had suffered serious erosion throughout the course of the second Palestinian intifada and especially during the July 2006 war. In the latter case, the support provided by the Lebanese civilian population to Hizballah was seen as instrumental in the movement’s ability to embed itself locally before and during the war. This enabled it to build up a formidable civilian and military infrastructure, and importantly, to deprive Israel of sufficient intelligence regarding its activities. As The New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman explained, deliberately attacking civilians was necessary in order “to educate” them not to allow Hizballah to operate from their areas. If they don’t learn the lesson, their areas would be bombed again. Israel also tried to teach Palestinians a lesson in Gaza again, though its students are still just as unlikely to get the point.

That this military doctrine could have been identified, criticized and stopped before it was allowed to be put into action one more destructive time, leads to the third and final point. A military strategy that overtly embraces tactics aimed at bludgeoning a civilian population into submission, could not stand on its own were it not for a deeper more sinister logic which has prepared the acceptance of such crimes in advance — both vis-a-vis the international community and domestically within Israel. Here there are many culprits, and even more accomplices. But it suffices to say that the dehumanization of Palestinians in general, and those in Gaza in particular, reached unconscionable levels in years past.

During the first Palestinian intifada, the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin famously wished that “Gaza would just sink into the sea.” During the second intifada, Israeli chief of staff Moshe Ya’alon defined the Palestinians as a threat akin to “cancer” which Israel was applying “chemotherapy” to, but one day might be forced to use “amputation.” He also emphasized that Israel’s strategy towards the Palestinians needed to “burn into consciousness” their own defeat as a people.

After the January 2006 election of Hamas, and particularly after the Islamic movement’s take over of Gaza as it sought to pre-empt a US-sponsored coup against it, the rhetoric against the Palestinians of Gaza was ramped up to feverish pitches. Gaza became “Hamastan, Hizballahstan and al-Qaedastan” wrapped into one, according to Ya’alon, with Iran at Israel’s southern doorstep. The people of Gaza were to be put “on a diet,” according to Dov Weissglas, an adviser to former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, “but not to make them die of hunger.”

The list of dehumanizing quotations is long and demeaning. If these ideas were restricted to the confines of Israeli military and political circles, while they would remain reprehensible, they could at least be contained. The problem is that they have been allowed to flourish throughout the US beneath the much broader discursive umbrella of the “War on Terror.” Principled opposition to the farce of this “war” has virtually been non-existent within the Republican and Democratic parties. All we heard during last year’s election campaign was how one party was going to fight it better than the other. No mainstream media organization has also dared to expose the “War on Terror” as a tool to implement American imperial ambitions, despite the acknowledgement by the former Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan, that invasion of Iraq was about oil.

All of a sudden the Palestinian question, whose basis is rooted in a classic anti-colonial nationalist struggle having to do with fighting an occupation for freedom and self-determination, is transformed into a pathogen which must be eradicated. How easy is it to forget that substantial numbers of countries throughout the world today only achieved independence after bitter armed struggles against occupation and their colonial masters. How convenient to elide that Europe itself had to believe in and organize an armed resistance to occupation when Nazism covered more than half of its landmass.

The transformation of the Palestinian struggle from its colonial birth, to its modern day public execution broadcast on CNN is facilitated through an insipid daily process whereby Palestinians, and people who look and sound like them — non-English speaking Arabs and Muslims — are constantly imagined and reproduced through a litany of military experts, commentators, Hollywood movies, drama series and even video games. The goal is to divide, stereotype and dehumanize at all cost, because providing nuance, history and context is the cardinal sin of the current corporate media age. America and Israel need terror to end now. Arabs and Palestinians need to accept their fate as subhuman entities, who become the object by which other countries erect their deterrence, as though it were a question of national virility.

Gaza never had a chance. It has always been the slum of slums, with its million and a half residents crammed into a plot of land with no real means of sustaining itself. After 60 years of dispossession, and 41 years of military occupation, who was really listening to the residents of its eight refugee camps, 40 percent of whom are unemployed, 80 percent of whom live on UN handouts? Who needs to ask these questions anyway? Palestinians know they have Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni looking after their best interests. During the war, she openly declared that what was happening in Gaza was good for the Palestinians.

Serious questions of accountability lie embedded in how Israel was allowed to deliberately target Gaza’s civilian population. The world’s ability — or inability — to address these questions leaves a stark dichotomy difficult to avoid: either the world upholds a moral stance that civilians are an illegitimate target in war, by which account Israel’s political and military leaders must be tried and sentenced for their crimes. Or the world allows this principle to be violated, as it was in Gaza, and accepts the consequences of a world in which power and violence definitively determine right from wrong.

Toufic Haddad is a Palestinian-American journalist based in the West Bank town of Bethlehem. He is also the co-author of Between the Lines: Israel, the Palestinians and the US “War on Terror” with Israeli author Tikva Honig Parnass, published by Haymarket Books, 2007. He can be reached at tawfiq_haddad AT yahoo DOT com.

Israel Is Committing War Crimes

January 13, 2009

Hamas’s violations are no justification for Israel’s actions.

By GEORGE E. BISHARAT | The Wall Street Journal, January 10, 2009

Israel’s current assault on the Gaza Strip cannot be justified by self-defense. Rather, it involves serious violations of international law, including war crimes. Senior Israeli political and military leaders may bear personal liability for their offenses, and they could be prosecuted by an international tribunal, or by nations practicing universal jurisdiction over grave international crimes. Hamas fighters have also violated the laws of warfare, but their misdeeds do not justify Israel’s acts.

The United Nations charter preserved the customary right of a state to retaliate against an “armed attack” from another state. The right has evolved to cover nonstate actors operating beyond the borders of the state claiming self-defense, and arguably would apply to Hamas. However, an armed attack involves serious violations of the peace. Minor border skirmishes are common, and if all were considered armed attacks, states could easily exploit them — as surrounding facts are often murky and unverifiable — to launch wars of aggression. That is exactly what Israel seems to be currently attempting.

Israel had not suffered an “armed attack” immediately prior to its bombardment of the Gaza Strip. Since firing the first Kassam rocket into Israel in 2002, Hamas and other Palestinian groups have loosed thousands of rockets and mortar shells into Israel, causing about two dozen Israeli deaths and widespread fear. As indiscriminate attacks on civilians, these were war crimes. During roughly the same period, Israeli forces killed about 2,700 Palestinians in Gaza by targeted killings, aerial bombings, in raids, etc., according to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem.

But on June 19, 2008, Hamas and Israel commenced a six-month truce. Neither side complied perfectly. Israel refused to substantially ease the suffocating siege of Gaza imposed in June 2007. Hamas permitted sporadic rocket fire — typically after Israel killed or seized Hamas members in the West Bank, where the truce did not apply. Either one or no Israelis were killed (reports differ) by rockets in the half year leading up to the current attack.

Israel then broke the truce on Nov. 4, raiding the Gaza Strip and killing a Palestinian. Hamas retaliated with rocket fire; Israel then killed five more Palestinians. In the following days, Hamas continued rocket fire — yet still no Israelis died. Israel cannot claim self-defense against this escalation, because it was provoked by Israel’s own violation.

An armed attack that is not justified by self-defense is a war of aggression. Under the Nuremberg Principles affirmed by U.N. Resolution 95, aggression is a crime against peace.

Israel has also failed to adequately discriminate between military and nonmilitary targets. Israel’s American-made F-16s and Apache helicopters have destroyed mosques, the education and justice ministries, a university, prisons, courts and police stations. These institutions were part of Gaza’s civilian infrastructure. And when nonmilitary institutions are targeted, civilians die. Many killed in the last week were young police recruits with no military roles. Civilian employees in the Hamas-led government deserve the protections of international law like all others. Hamas’s ideology — which employees may or may not share — is abhorrent, but civilized nations do not kill people merely for what they think.

Deliberate attacks on civilians that lack strict military necessity are war crimes. Israel’s current violations of international law extend a long pattern of abuse of the rights of Gaza Palestinians. Eighty percent of Gaza’s 1.5 million residents are Palestinian refugees who were forced from their homes or fled in fear of Jewish terrorist attacks in 1948. For 60 years, Israel has denied the internationally recognized rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes — because they are not Jews.

Although Israel withdrew its settlers and soldiers from Gaza in 2005, it continues to tightly regulate Gaza’s coast, airspace and borders. Thus, Israel remains an occupying power with a legal duty to protect Gaza’s civilian population. But Israel’s 18-month siege of the Gaza Strip preceding the current crisis violated this obligation egregiously. It brought economic activity to a near standstill, left children hungry and malnourished, and denied Palestinian students opportunities to study abroad.

Israel should be held accountable for its crimes, and the U.S. should stop abetting it with unconditional military and diplomatic support.

George E. Bisharat is a professor at Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco.

Israel’s Collective Punishment of Gaza

January 8, 2009

by Professor Marjorie Cohn

Since Israel began its war on Gaza 11 days ago, more than 560 Palestinians – about a quarter of them civilians – have been killed. Some two thousand Gazans, including hundreds of children, have been wounded. Israel’s “Operation Cast Lead” marks an escalation of Israel’s two-year blockade of the Gaza Strip which has deprived 1.5 million Palestinians of necessary food, medicine, fuel and other necessities.

Israel is using white phosphorous gas, an illegal chemical weapon that burns to the bone. Dr. Mads Gilbert, a member of a Norwegian triage medical team working in Gaza, has documented Israel’s use of Dense Inert Metal Explosive (DIME), which cuts its victims to pieces and reportedly causes cancer in survivors. Gilbert, who has worked in several conflict zones, said the situation in Gaza is the worst he has ever seen. Two United Nations schools have been hit by airstrikes, killing at least 30 people. The New York Times reported on Monday that Gazan hospitals are full of civilians, not Hamas fighters.

The targeting of civilians violates the Fourth Geneva Convention. Since the rockets fired from Gaza into Israel cannot distinguish between civilians and military targets, they are illegal. But Israel’s air and ground attack in Gaza violates Geneva in four ways. First, it constitutes collective punishment of the entire population in Gaza for the acts of a few militants. Second, it targets civilians, as evidenced by the large numbers of civilian casualties. Third, it is a disproportionate response to the rockets fired into Israel. Fourth, an occupying power has an obligation to ensure food and medical supplies to the occupied population; Israel’s blockade has created a humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Israel’s airstrikes and ground assault on the people of Gaza have little to do with the Gazan rockets, which hadn’t killed any Israelis for a year before Israel’s current military operation. Israel’s leaders are bombing and attacking Gaza in order to gain an advantage in the upcoming Israeli elections in February.

Foreign Minister Tsipi Livni is locked in a tight race with Benyamin Netanyahu, who has criticized Livni for her “soft” treatment of the Palestinians. The Israeli government seeks to do as much damage as possible to Gaza while Bush is still in office. The New York Times cited several Middle East experts who “believe that Israel timed its move against Hamas, which began on Dec. 26, 25 days before Mr. Bush leaves office, with the expectation of such backing in Washington.” Obama, in spite of his unequivocal support for the policies of Israel during the campaign and his deafening silence about the recent casualties, is an unknown quantity.

Israel would be unable to carry out its aggressive policies in Gaza without the support of the United States, which gives Israel $3 billion in U.S. taxpayer money each year. The F-16 bombers and Apache attack helicopters Israel is using on Gaza were bought with U.S. money.

The war on Gaza also violates U.S. law. The Human Rights and Security Assistance Act mandates that the United States cease all military aid to Israel, which has engaged in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights. The Arms Export Control Act prohibits U.S. weapons from being used for any purpose other than inside the borders of a country for self-defense. Targeting schools, police stations and television broadcast centers is not self-defense.

Although Israel’s supreme court ordered the government to allow international media into Gaza to report on the situation there, Israel has refused. But, according to the New York Times, Israel has given “full access to Israeli political and military commentators.” Ethan Bronner, the Times bureau chief in Jerusalem, said, “Israel has never restricted media access like this before, and it should be ashamed . . . It’s betraying the principles by which it claims to live.”

In spite of the one-sided pro-Israel media coverage in the United States, Newsweek said, “Does it make sense for America to support [Israel’s] policy of punishing Hamas by making life unbearable for 1.5 million Gazans by denying aid and economic development? The answer is no.” An editorial in the Los Angeles Times called for “an end to a blockade that amounts to the collective punishment of Palestinians under Hamas rule.” And the New York Times editorialized that “the longer the Israeli incursion. . . the more Hamas’s popularity grows among its supporters.”

Hundreds of thousands of people around the world are protesting Israel’s aggression in Gaza. Ten thousand demonstrated in Israel and scores have taken to the streets in Europe, the Middle East and throughout the United States.

A recent Rasmussen Reports poll found that Americans generally “are closely divided over whether the Jewish state should be taking military action against militants in the Gaza strip.” But Democratic voters overwhelmingly oppose the Israeli offensive by a 24-point margin (31-55%). Republicans, on the other hand, overwhelmingly support it (62-27%). Nevertheless, Democratic Party leaders have followed Bush in their uncritical support for Israel.

The United States has blocked a ceasefire resolution in the Security Council. In the absence of council action, the General Assembly is empowered to act under the Uniting for Peace Resolution 377. Assembly president Miguel D’Escoto, who has been critical of Israel’s actions in Gaza, said that “the time has come to take firm action if the UN does not want to be rightly accused of complicity by omission.” The Human Rights Council should send a high level fact finding mission to Gaza.

It’s time to call a halt to the violence and bloodshed.

Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and President of the National Lawyers Guild.  She is the author of Cowboy Republic: Six Ways the Bush Gang Has Defied the Law and co-author of Rules of Disengagement: The Politics and Honor of Military Dissent (with Kathleen Gilberd), which will be published this winter by PoliPointPress.  Her articles are archived at (The views expressed in this article are solely those of the writer; she is not acting on behalf of the National Lawyers Guild or Thomas Jefferson School of Law)

At Least 425 Killed in Gaza as Israel Running Out of Things to Bomb

January 2, 2009

Mosques, Minor Ministries Become Targets As Airstrikes Displace Thousands,

Posted January 1, 2009

An Israeli air strike today killed Nizar Ghayan, an influential Hamas figure, as well as nine women and 11 children. Though the overall toll in the strip is difficult to ascertain amid the chaotic situation on the ground, reports are that the toll is now at least 425 dead and over 2,000 wounded.

And as Israel defends its decision to reject the international call for a ceasefire, the air strikes continue apace, though they are running into one obstacle: after six days of salvos into the densely populated strip the Israeli military is really running out of interesting things to bomb.

Sure, they blew up Ghayan’s home, but past that a campaign that began with blowing up police stations and universities is rapidly giving way to strikes on mosques and attacking the long abandoned education ministry and transportation ministry.

Near Rafah, Israel has destroyed most of the tunnels used to smuggle goods in from Egypt, and displaced thousands of residents who live near the border. Admittedly, in a 130 square mile strip with no escape on any side one can only be displaced a relatively short distance, but the hundreds of families are now taking refuge in a UN-managed school.

Increasingly, hospitals are the only place truly safe from the strikes, and even then Israel has been sending out accusations that the hospitals are being used to hide terrorists, so whether they’ll remain exempt from attack remains to be seen.

Related Stories

compiled by Jason Ditz [email the author]

Bush, Obama, and the Gaza Blitz

December 30, 2008

by Patrick J. Buchanan |, Dec 30, 2008

Unwilling to control its fighters, who fired scores of missiles into Israel at the end of their six-month cease-fire, Hamas gave Israel the provocation it needed to deliver a savage blow to the Palestinian enclave in Gaza.

Saturday was the bloodiest day in the history of the Palestinian people since being driven from their homes in the war of 1948. One thousand were killed or wounded, as the Israeli air force conducted over a hundred strikes – on graduation ceremonies for Hamas fighters, police stations, and storage sites for rockets.

About Israel’s right and duty to defend its border towns, there is no dispute. When Hamas permits Gaza to be used as a launch pad for rockets, it must expect retaliation. Nor can Hamas claim some right to dictate the limits of that retaliation.

Yet the wisdom of so savage a retribution for rockets that killed not one Israeli is open to question. And crass Israeli politics seems to be behind this premeditated and planned blitz.

With Likud’s hawkish “Bibi” Netanyahu ahead in the polls for the Feb. 10 election, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Labor’s candidate, had to show that he, too, could be ruthless with Hamas.

Kadima Party candidate and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has an even greater need than the highly decorated Barak to show toughness. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, departing in scandal, wants to exit in a blaze of glory, to blot out the memory of a botched war against Hezbollah that he launched in the summer of 2006.

However, while Israel’s politicians all seem to have a stake in these devastating strikes, Israel herself will pay the price.

Given the casualty toll, over 300 dead and 1,300 wounded as of this writing, Hamas will have to exact its pound of flesh. The Hamas wing that seeks renewed war with Israel will now shout into silence the wing working with Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak on a new cease-fire.

The moderate Palestinian Mahmoud Abbas, who has been talking to Israel, testifying to her good faith, has been made to appear the puppet and fool. A new Intifada spreading to the West Bank, with suicide attacks inside Israel, is now possible.

Moderate Arabs, who have recognized Israel or backed peace, will now be seen by the Arab street as appeasers impotent to stop the public suffering of the Palestinian people.

As for President Bush’s hopes of midwifing a peace that would create a Palestinian state, they are as dead as the Annapolis process he set in train. In advancing peace in the Middle East, Bush’s eight-year record is now a near-absolute failure.

For four years, Bush refused to talk to Yasser Arafat, though Bill Clinton had negotiated with him, as had four Israeli prime ministers, two of whom shared a Nobel Prize with Arafat. In his second term, Bush, after insisting Hamas be included in free elections in Palestine, refused to recognize Hamas when it won those elections.

Arafat was a terrorist and Hamas is a terrorist organization, declared Bush, and we don’t negotiate with terrorists. Yet Bush de-listed Libya as a state sponsor of terror and sent Condi Rice to chat up Col. Gadhafi, though Gadhafi still has on his hands the blood of scores of American school kids from the Lockerbie massacre of 1989 that Libya and Gadhafi engineered

For eight years, like the “dummy” in a hand of bridge, Bush has sat mute as his Israeli partner, Sharon or Olmert, played America’s cards as well as their own. The Bush response to Saturday’s carnage, as anticipated, was to blame Hamas for causing it and urge Israelis to be careful about civilian casualties as they go about their reprisals.

Whatever Israel decides, we support. For eight years that has been the most reliable guide to U.S. Middle East policy.

And Barack Obama? Forty-eight hours after the Israeli blitz began, he and his national security team remain silent.

Hopefully, Obama will bring with him a new Mideast policy, one made in the USA, for the USA. Hopefully, just as Israel has its private links to Syria through Turkey, to Hamas through Egypt, and to Hezbollah, Obama will establish independent U.S. channels to all three, and adopt a separate U.S. policy toward all three, as Israel does.

While the United States must support Israel’s right to defend her towns and to strike bases from which Israelis are being attacked, Obama should denounce the collective punishment of 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza, by Israel’s cutting off their electricity in the dead of winter and denying them the food and medicine many need to survive.

For us to remain silent in the face of this comports neither with our interests or our values. Israel’s policy of withholding from the weak and innocent of Gaza, women and children, the necessities of life, to punish the guilty who rule at the point of a gun, is a policy that Obama should declare the United States will no longer support with tax dollars.


President Bush Winks at Israel’s Slaughter in Gaza, While Obama and Clinton Are Silent

December 28, 2008

Israel recklessly bombed Gaza on Saturday, killing at least 205 Palestinians and wounding at least 350 more, according to Palestinian health officials.

This wholly disproportionate response to Hamas’s immoral but largely ineffective rocket attacks on Israel is guaranteed to further enflame the Middle East.

Not lost on anyone there will be the Bush Administration’s winking at Israel’s attacks.

White Houses spokesman Gordon Johndroe laid all the blame on Hamas.

“Hamas’s continued rocket attacks into Israel must cease if the violence is to stop,” Johndroe said.

Then even as he gave a perfunctory nod toward safeguarding civilians, he showed no displeasure with Israel going after Hamas: “The United States urges Israel to avoid civilian casualties as it targets Hamas in Gaza,” Johndroe said.

Meanwhile, President-elect Barack Obama and Secretary of State-to-be Hillary Clinton were shamefully silent in the first hours after the attack.

Bush’s reaction, and the non-reaction by Obama and Clinton, underscores the point that Hanan Ashrawi made on Saturday. “Israel has gotten used to not being held accountable and to being a country that is above the law,” said the Palestinian legislator and human rights activist. She called the bombings a “massacre.”

With Washington condoning Israel’s assault, the violence may only get worse.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said, “The operation will be deeper and expanded as much as necessary. . . . It won’t be short, and it won’t be easy.”

A Hamas spokesperson vowed revenge and said Hamas “will continue the resistance until the last drop of blood.”

This cycle of violence will get bloodier and bloodier unless and until Washington finally prevails on Israel to make a just settlement with the Palestinians.

Bush did not have the inclination to do so. Neither, it appears, does Obama.

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