Posts Tagged ‘U.S. politicians’

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.

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Israel’s partner in war crimes

January 12, 2009

American politicians aren’t reflecting the will of the American people, who aren’t nearly as pro-Israel as their political leaders.

WITH ISRAEL’S invasion into Gaza killing and injuring thousands, and turning the area into a humanitarian catastrophe, a tide of criticism and denunciation has risen against it around the world.

Columnist: Lance Selfa

Lance Selfa Lance Selfa is the author of The Democrats: A Critical History, a socialist analysis of the Democratic Party, and editor of The Struggle for Palestine, a collection of essays by leading solidarity activists. He is on the editorial board of the International Socialist Review.

But there are a few places where Israel won’t hear a peep of criticism–on the contrary, it gets words of encouragement and statements of solidarity. Among them are the halls of the U.S. Congress, the Oval Office of the White House, and the offices of the U.S. president-elect.

Compared even to the level of criticism of the government in Israel itself, the one-sidedness of the pro-Israel cheerleading among members of the U.S. political establishment is astounding. Even expressions of concern for the humanitarian crisis facing Gaza are remarkably few among U.S. politicians.

As the respected Middle East expert Juan Cole put it in his Informed Comment blog:

If the U.S. legislators voted on the Gaza operation, they would support Israel except for the same 10 who objected to the war on Lebanon (the 10 are mostly from congressional districts with a lot of Arab-Americans). Israel will suffer no practical sanctions from any government.

President-elect Obama has remained largely silent on Gaza, claiming that because “American has only one president at a time,” he cannot issue statements that might contradict the current lame duck government’s policies.

U.S.-Israel flag pin

But Obama is holding press conferences and giving YouTube addresses that are nothing if not critiques of the current administration’s policies on every other issue. And he was quick to rush out a denunciation of the terror attacks in Mumbai last month.

Behind this seeming reticence to comment on Gaza, we have good evidence that Israel has nothing to fear from an Obama administration.

Last January, Obama issued a letter to UN Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, urging him to oppose any resolution criticizing Israel’s siege of Gaza. “We have to understand why Israel is forced to do this,” the letter argued. “Israel has the right to respond while seeking to minimize any impact on civilians.”

During his campaign tour of the Middle East and Europe this summer, he visited Sderot, Israel, to express his support for Israelis targeted by rockets from Gaza. His comment at the time: “If somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I’m going to do everything in my power to stop that. I would expect Israelis to do the same thing.”

In other words, we should have little doubt about what Obama would say if he were regularly issuing statements on Gaza. Although the press forced him to issue a bland statement of concern for civilian casualties in both Gaza and Israel on January 6, he has preferred to remain mum.

Obama’s silence is similar to the Bush administration’s “disengagement” (to use the favored word of foreign policy wonks) from the Israel-Palestine conflict–an assurance that Israel can do whatever it wants without any interference from Washington.

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WHAT EXPLAINS the bipartisan lockstep march behind the Israel Defense Forces?

It certainly isn’t because American politicians are reflecting the will of the American people, who are not nearly as pro-Israel as their political leaders are. Writing for Salon.com, Glenn Greenwald pointed to evidence from a Rasmussen Reports poll that:

strongly bolsters the severe disconnect I documented the other day between (a) American public opinion on U.S. policy towards Israel and (b) the consensus views expressed by America’s political leadership.

Not only does Rasmussen find that Americans generally “are closely divided over whether the Jewish state should be taking military action against militants in the Gaza Strip” (44-41 percent, with 15 percent undecided), but Democratic voters overwhelmingly oppose the Israeli offensive–by a 24-point margin (31-55 percent). By stark contrast, Republicans, as one would expect (in light of their history of supporting virtually any proposed attack on Arabs and Muslims), overwhelmingly support the Israeli bombing campaign (62-27 percent).

The most popular explanation usually given for the American elite’s pro-Israel bias is that it fears the wrath of the “Israel lobby.”

There is a powerful network of Zionist organizations–led by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC)–that donates money to pro-Israel candidates and lobbies the U.S. government on behalf of Israel. There’s nothing anti-Semitic about pointing this out. These groups are quite open about their activities, and they aren’t shy about touting their own influence.

But are these organizations and their lobbying efforts the reason why the U.S. supports Israel?

From a socialist point of view, the answer is no. Israel annually receives more than $3 billion in U.S. aid. Egypt runs second at around $2 billion. Yet no one would seriously claim that the aid Egypt receives is the result of an “Egyptian lobby.”

It’s no coincidence that Israel and Egypt are the two top recipients of U.S. aid. Both are important U.S. allies in the region where the lion’s share of the world’s oil is located.

Since the end of the Second World War, the U.S. has tied its “national security” to its access to and control of the flow of oil. That’s why the U.S. has given military and economic aid to prop up “friendly” states in the region–not only Israel, but Egypt, Jordan and the Gulf monarchies, too.

The U.S. puts Israel at the top of the list because its government and population form the only uniformly pro-U.S. state in the region. In countries like Egypt, pro-Western governments rule over restive populations that hate the U.S. government’s support for Israel and for their own oppressive regimes. Even the quisling government of U.S.-occupied Iraq isn’t completely reliable.

In the 1990s, the Bush I and Clinton governments pursued various “peace” initiatives with Israel and the Palestinians–most of them aimed at getting Palestinians to accept their own “bantustans” (the term for the fake Black homelands in South Africa under apartheid) as a means to the end of stability for the U.S. and Israel in the region. Those efforts ran their course, and the Bush II regime, operating under the rubric of its “war on terror,” simply let the Israeli government run amok.

These shifts in U.S. policy had nothing to do with the strength of the Israel lobby. They stemmed from changes inside the U.S. government’s foreign policy establishment. The U.S. government decides how much leeway Israel has, and this leeway defines how successful the “Israel lobby” will be.

As long as Israel remains central to U.S. imperialism in the Middle East, Israel will continue to receive U.S. backing and aid. That’s why Israel’s ace in the hole in Washington isn’t AIPAC, but the Pentagon, the CIA and the military-industrial complex. And as long as the national security establishment remains committed to Israel, elected politicians will provide the political cover that justifies the billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars that Israel receives.


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