Posts Tagged ‘rockets’

Israel Wanted a Humanitarian Crisis

January 21, 2009

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

by Ben White | The Guardian, UK, January 20, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jimmy Carter: An Unnecessary War

January 10, 2009

I know from personal involvement that the devastating invasion of Gaza by Israel could easily have been avoided.

After visiting Sderot last April and seeing the serious psychological damage caused by the rockets that had fallen in that area, my wife, Rosalynn, and I declared their launching from Gaza to be inexcusable and an act of terrorism. Although casualties were rare (three deaths in seven years), the town was traumatized by the unpredictable explosions. About 3,000 residents had moved to other communities, and the streets, playgrounds and shopping centers were almost empty. Mayor Eli Moyal assembled a group of citizens in his office to meet us and complained that the government of Israel was not stopping the rockets, either through diplomacy or military action.

Knowing that we would soon be seeing Hamas leaders from Gaza and also in Damascus, we promised to assess prospects for a cease-fire. From Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, who was negotiating between the Israelis and Hamas, we learned that there was a fundamental difference between the two sides. Hamas wanted a comprehensive cease-fire in both the West Bank and Gaza, and the Israelis refused to discuss anything other than Gaza.

We knew that the 1.5 million inhabitants of Gaza were being starved, as the U.N. special rapporteur on the right to food had found that acute malnutrition in Gaza was on the same scale as in the poorest nations in the southern Sahara, with more than half of all Palestinian families eating only one meal a day.

Palestinian leaders from Gaza were noncommittal on all issues, claiming that rockets were the only way to respond to their imprisonment and to dramatize their humanitarian plight. The top Hamas leaders in Damascus, however, agreed to consider a cease-fire in Gaza only, provided Israel would not attack Gaza and would permit normal humanitarian supplies to be delivered to Palestinian citizens.

After extended discussions with those from Gaza, these Hamas leaders also agreed to accept any peace agreement that might be negotiated between the Israelis and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who also heads the PLO, provided it was approved by a majority vote of Palestinians in a referendum or by an elected unity government.

Since we were only observers, and not negotiators, we relayed this information to the Egyptians, and they pursued the cease-fire proposal. After about a month, the Egyptians and Hamas informed us that all military action by both sides and all rocket firing would stop on June 19, for a period of six months, and that humanitarian supplies would be restored to the normal level that had existed before Israel’s withdrawal in 2005 (about 700 trucks daily).

We were unable to confirm this in Jerusalem because of Israel’s unwillingness to admit to any negotiations with Hamas, but rocket firing was soon stopped and there was an increase in supplies of food, water, medicine and fuel. Yet the increase was to an average of about 20 percent of normal levels. And this fragile truce was partially broken on Nov. 4, when Israel launched an attack in Gaza to destroy a defensive tunnel being dug by Hamas inside the wall that encloses Gaza.

On another visit to Syria in mid-December, I made an effort for the impending six-month deadline to be extended. It was clear that the preeminent issue was opening the crossings into Gaza. Representatives from the Carter Center visited Jerusalem, met with Israeli officials and asked if this was possible in exchange for a cessation of rocket fire. The Israeli government informally proposed that 15 percent of normal supplies might be possible if Hamas first stopped all rocket fire for 48 hours. This was unacceptable to Hamas, and hostilities erupted.

After 12 days of “combat,” the Israeli Defense Forces reported that more than 1,000 targets were shelled or bombed. During that time, Israel rejected international efforts to obtain a cease-fire, with full support from Washington. Seventeen mosques, the American International School, many private homes and much of the basic infrastructure of the small but heavily populated area have been destroyed. This includes the systems that provide water, electricity and sanitation. Heavy civilian casualties are being reported by courageous medical volunteers from many nations, as the fortunate ones operate on the wounded by light from diesel-powered generators.

The hope is that when further hostilities are no longer productive, Israel, Hamas and the United States will accept another cease-fire, at which time the rockets will again stop and an adequate level of humanitarian supplies will be permitted to the surviving Palestinians, with the publicized agreement monitored by the international community. The next possible step: a permanent and comprehensive peace.

The writer was president from 1977 to 1981. He founded the Carter Center, a nongovernmental organization advancing peace and health worldwide, in 1982.

Israelis Get Truth About Gaza Attack

December 30, 2008

by Ira Chernus

If you get your news from the American mass media, you know that there’s a nice simple explanation for the massive Israeli attack on Gaza. That explanation comes straight from the Israeli government, via the White House: Hamas, the group that controls Gaza, is responsible for all the violence. “These people are nothing but thugs,” a White House spokesman said. “Israel is going to defend its people against terrorists like Hamas.” End of story. As usual, Israel is depicted as the innocent victim of an evil it did nothing to provoke.But if you read Israel’s most respected newspaper, Ha’aretz, you find out that things are rather more complicated. (All the quotes below come from Jewish journalists writing in recent editions of Ha’aretz.)

You know the reality of Gaza today: “The tremendous population density in the Gaza Strip does not allow a ‘surgical operation’ over an extended period that would minimize damage to civilian populations.” “There are many corpses and wounded, every moment another casualty is added to the list of the dead, and there is no more room in the morgue. . A mother whose three school-age children were killed, and are piled one on top of top of the other in the morgue, screams and then cries, screams again and then is silent.”

And you know that some Israelis are outraged: “Israel’s violent responses, even if there is justification for them, exceed all proportion and cross every red line of humaneness, morality, international law and wisdom.”

The justification Israel offers is the increased firing of rockets from Gaza. But Israelis can read that Hamas is responding to Israeli provocation. “Six months ago Israel asked and received a cease-fire from Hamas. It unilaterally violated it.” “On November 4, an Israeli operation sparked a new round of dangerous, if controlled, violence,” “when it unnecessarily bombed a tunnel.”

About the same time, Israel cut off transport of food, medical supplies, and electricity to Gaza. “Food insecurity in Gaza currently runs at 56 percent and is deteriorating rapidly, 42 percent of the Strip’s population is unemployed and 76 percent is receiving humanitarian assistance (all UN figures).” “A million and a half human beings . live in the conditions of a giant jail.” “Why should Gazan citizens tolerate such a long and severe siege for so long?”

General Shmuel Zakai, former commander of Israel’s troops in Gaza, says: “We could have eased the siege over the Gaza Strip, in such a way that the Palestinians, Hamas, would understand that holding their fire served their interests. But when you create a tahadiyeh [cease-fire], and the economic pressure on the Strip continues, it’s obvious that Hamas will try to reach an improved tahadiyeh, and that their way to achieve this, is resumed Qassam [rocket] fire. . You cannot just land blows, leave the Palestinians in Gaza in the economic distress they’re in, and expect that Hamas will just sit around and do nothing.”

Nevertheless, just a few days before the attack, “Palestinian sources said they do not believe Hamas plans to launch a massive rocket strike on Israel unless the IDF begins offensive operations in the Strip.” Israel claims it wants peace, yet it “did not exhaust the diplomatic processes before embarking on another dreadful campaign of killing and ruin.” And “no military operation has ever advanced dialogue with the Palestinians.”

In fact military force is self-defeating, because “no Palestinian will consent to having his people and his homeland destroyed in this way.” “Hamas will not be weakened due to the Gaza war; to the contrary.” If predictions of a strengthened Hamas prove wrong, the other possibility is obvious: “A siege designed to depose Hamas rule . risks triggering a social collapse that would have devastating consequences for all concerned. . An Israeli military escalation would likely accelerate the splintering of Hamas’ leadership and the emergence of more radical alternatives.”

One way or another, more rockets are sure to fall on Israel. Of course that might be one goal of the attack. Israeli leaders may be trying to avoid dialogue. More intense fighting would let them claim they have no one to negotiate with, especially if Gaza breaks down in chaos. Israeli leaders may also have an eye on Palestinian elections coming up soon. They want to persuade the Palestinians to support the more conciliatory Fatah party by destroying Hamas, or at least showing what happens to its supporters.

But “working toward long-term goals that would completely change the landscape in the region, like toppling Hamas from power in Gaza, is liable to turn out to be a wild fantasy.” “Israel must understand that Hamas rule in Gaza is a fact, and it is with that government that we must reach a situation of calm. . We can’t impose regimes on the Palestinians.” The idea “that a military operation would suffice in toppling an entrenched regime and thus replace it with another one friendlier to us is no more than lunacy.”

Why would Israeli leaders pursue such a dangerous fantasy? When Ha’aretz journalists want to explain it, they (like all other Israeli journalists) focus most on politics — not Palestinian, but Israeli. Israel, too, will hold elections in just a few weeks. “Israelis are being treated to a predictable dose of political posturing and chest-thumping.”

The polls show the hawkish Likud party ahead, partly because “Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu pledged to topple the Hamas leadership in the Gaza Strip if elected prime minister. . Under his leadership, Israel would move from a policy of absorbing blows to a policy of being on the offensive.”

Perhaps that’s why the current (soon to retire) prime minister, Ehud Olmert, launched this week’s offensive, cheered on by his party’s candidate to replace him, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. She’s now talking tough, too. “‘The state of Israel, and a government under me, will make it a strategic objective to topple the Hamas regime in Gaza,’ Livni told members of her centrist Kadima party.” “We cannot allow Gaza to remain under Hamas control.” “Vice Premier Haim Ramon also said . that Hamas must be removed from power.”

“Ramon, Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz and others harshly criticized Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s handling of the situation” — because Barak, a former prime minister, is also running to regain that post, trying to resurrect his once-powerful Labor party. “The beginning of the raid in Gaza bears the wily and deceptive fingerprint of Barak. . It may deliver him and his party from the humiliating defeat the polls are predicting.” “If Hamas is beaten and Israel receives some peace under favorable terms, Labor and Barak may gain force.”

Politicians of every party want to prove that they are “not a bunch of wimps.” So they’ve staked their future on the same goal: one way or another, topple the democratically-elected government of Gaza.

But Israel is also a democracy. The politicians are catering to public opinion: “This war was preceded by a frighteningly uniform public dialogue in which only one voice was heard — that which called for striking, destroying, starving and killing.” “The hysterical reaction by the public as a whole and politicians in particular stems mainly from the fact that the country is in an election period. And when elections are in the offing people speak from the gut rather than the brain. . They’re suddenly strutting their macho stuff.”

“Politicians and the public at large have been enthralled by a new prospect: that of a wide-scale military operation in the Gaza Strip. Such a prospect answers all their heart’s secret wishes. . The public’s imaginations are let loose as they chant a battle-cry.” “Speeches have a tendency to identify goals that are by nature unreachable: phrases like ‘destroying the Hamas government’ (which is actually likely to be strengthened).”

With so many Israelis pointing out how self-defeating this attack on Gaza is, why would a majority of Israeli voters still push their leaders to more military action?

One theory looks to an inflated self-image: “Israel is striking at the Palestinians to ‘teach them a lesson.’ That is a basic assumption that has accompanied the Zionist enterprise since its inception: We are the representatives of progress and enlightenment, sophisticated rationality and morality, while the Arabs are a primitive, violent rabble, ignorant children who must be educated and taught wisdom — via, of course, the carrot-and-stick method, just as the drover does with his donkey.”

But there’s an opposite theory: The failed war in Lebanon two years ago deflated Israelis’ self-image, and now they are out to inflate it again. “The pictures of blood and fire are designed to show Israelis, Arabs and the entire world that the neighborhood bully’s strength has yet to wane. When the bully is on a rampage, nobody can stop him.” “Israel goaded its enemies to provoke it because [the enemies] ceased believing that Israel would agree to pay the price of using force.”

Eventually, though, “after the politicians flex their muscles, the analysts blow smoke and the citizens of Israel have their ‘honor restored,’ a new exit from Gaza must be sought.” “Most dangerous of all is the cliche that there is no one to talk to. That has never been true. There are even ways to talk with Hamas.”

“Hamas would have — and still would — accept a bargain . [to] halt the fire in exchange for easing of the many ways in which Israeli policies have kept a choke hold on the economy of the Strip.” “Hamas leader, Mahmoud Zahar, has said that his Palestinian militant group is willing to renew the recently ended truce in Gaza with Israel.”

“Hamas has clear conditions for its extension: The opening of the border crossings for goods and cessation of IDF attacks in Gaza, as outlined in the original agreement. Later, Hamas wants the cease-fire to be extended to the West Bank. Israel, for its part, is justifiably demanding a real calm in Gaza; that no Qassam or mortar shell be fired by either Hamas, Islamic Jihad or any other group. Essentially, Israel is telling Hamas it is willing to recognize its control of Gaza on the condition that it assumes responsibility for the security of the territory, like Hezbollah controls southern Lebanon. It is likely that this will be the outcome of a wide-scale operation in the Gaza Strip.”

“In a short time, after the parade of corpses and wounded ends, we will arrive at a fresh cease-fire, as occurred after Lebanon, exactly like the one that could have been forged without this superfluous war.” “Why, then, not forgo the war and agree to these conditions now?”

Ira Chernus, a Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder, is the author of American Nonviolence: The History of an Idea. Having written extensively on Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and George W. Bush, he is now writing a book tentatively titled “Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Origins of the National Insecurity State.” He can be contacted at

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