Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The 2014 Assault on Gaza: Israel’s Intentionality; with Remarks on Left Zionism

Operation Protective Edge begins July 8, 2014
 “Locals describe intense bombardmentBBC radio report, July 29, 2014

 On August 7th    near the end of the first three- day cease fire and the exit of Israeli ground forces, Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman, producer and guiding spirit, cited some of the grim statistics. In addition to about 1900 deaths, and many more injured, Democracy Now reported that some 500,000 Palestinians have been displaced with 187,000 still living in U.N. emergency shelters. An estimated 10,000 homes completely destroyed, and 30,000 homes partially destroyed. At least at least 11 UNWRA officials  in Gaza were killed and electricity, sewage and water facilities were destroyed.

 How much of this carnage did Israel intend? The question seems almost silly.  Professor Noam Chomsky, on Democracy Now’s August 8, 2014 program addressed the question with his usual incisive clarity.

It’s a hideous atrocity, sadistic, vicious, murderous, totally without any credible pretext. It’s another one of the periodic Israeli exercises in what they delicately call "mowing the lawn." That means shooting fish in the pond, to make sure that the animals stay quiet in the cage that you’ve constructed for them.  (See below for another definition of “mowing the lawn.”)

About a week earlier on Democracy Now‘s July 30, 2014 broadcast ("They Thought They’d Be Safe. They Were Wrong": 20 Gazans Killed in Israeli Bombing of U.N. Shelter) , a correspondent described Israeli bombing protocols.  Viewers were informed that the assaults on Gaza

are always heavier at night. They continue throughout the day, but the heaviest assaults come at dark. And we wake up to see many people dead and to hear their stories and to see people burying their dead. And these people at this U.N. school in Jabaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza were killed while they slept. Many of these people had come from border areas. They had heeded Israel’s warnings. Some came after leaflets were dropped on their areas, others came after their homes were destroyed by Israel, and they thought that they would be safe in a United Nations-run school. They were wrong.

None of this is new or even strange to many readers familiar with the issue. But perhaps because I was inured to (or cynical about) most major media coverage, I was more than surprised to see in the New York Times some of the details of Israel’s battering of Gazan industry.    ( “Conflict Leaves Industry in Ashes and Gaza Reeling From Economic Toll”) The Times gave the story a generous half page on A10 for August 7th and included a photo of a bombed out Gazan factory. The story went into some of the details of the destruction of 175 of Gaza’s most successful industrial plants.

The Times quoted Ali Hayek, head of Gaza’s federation of industries “whose group represents 3,900 businesses employing 35,000 people.” Mr. Hayek believes that the “occupation intentionally destroyed these vital factories that constitute the backbone of society.” (The Times article included a statement from the IDF “categorically” denying that factories were targeted;  only “facilities  and locations that have been involved in manufacturing or launching rockets” were attacked.)

 The Times article ended with a quote from Ahmad Tawasi, 30, a technician at Al Awda Co.’s  180,000 –square foot factory which had employed  600 workers. Mr. Tawasi said that if his home was destroyed he could “earn enough money to rebuild.  But without the factory, he said, ‘I don’t know what will happen.’”

The WWII Comparison

One of my colleagues likes to compare Israel’s barbarism to the Nazis. I tend to  avoid such equations  since they often provide interlocutors  with a knee-jerk, simple, means of  running away from  the issue.   Also, comparing Nazis to Israelis tends to blur the unique elements that distinguish each historical era, For example, Hitler had the military and political wherewithal to direct the death of about 6 million Jews, Gypsies, etc., and to oversee another two score or so millions of deaths of others, including about 5.6 million Germans.

Although the combined casualty lists in Operation Cast Lead (2008-2009, about 1400 killed);  the eight-day aerial assault o f November 2012, 100 Palestinian deaths); and the July - August 2014  assault on Gaza do not bear comparison with Hitler’s numbers,  I take my friend’s  larger point. The critical factor is the intentionality. What the Israelis are doing to the Palestinians in Gaza amounts to the most brutal and merciless savagery that current political circumstances allow. The death and devastation especially in the current assault has gone well beyond that which might have been predicted outside of elite Tel Aviv councils before July 8, 2014. 

There’s another and deeper personal connection. As a member of a family that narrowly managed to escape Hitler's exterminations, I grew up wondering how ordinary Germans were able to rationalize and live with the horror that their government was perpetrating.  Part of the answer must lie in the power of denial facilitated by media and government propaganda. An ambiguous, even uncertain example that somehow stuck out for me was the brief comment, as reported in the New York Jewish Week (April 8, 2014),   of a woman pained at news reports of civilian Palestinian casualties. At a  “communal dialogue” at a Jewish Community Center in Manhattan,  entitled “Israel Talks,” a woman affiliated with a  Jewish Reform Temple  who described herself as “deeply attached “ to Israel, asked, in regard to the ongoing Gaza operation, “Why do they strike at hospitals? Their mistakes are so painful.”  

I wondered if she, unlike many of her co-religionists, understood on some level that there was Israeli intentionality behind attacks on hospitals, UN shelters, schools, etc. Of course, in the end, at least in public, she felt that she had to come down on the side of “mistakes.” Was it because he was a member of the Reformed congregation rather than Orthodox that she was unable to filter out news of some of the effects of the Israeli assault? I felt certain that while she could not accept  Noam Chomsky’s characterizations , yet perhaps it was possible that there was more of the Palestinian truth that  she might be able to absorb.

Interview with a victim –what means terror?

At the end of July, Democracy Now interviewed  Amer Shurrab  a Palestinian  from Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip, currently doing his graduate studies in the U.S.. Shurrab is one of the survivors of a family ravaged by Israeli firepower and oppression. Five years ago, in Israel’s Operation Cast Lead operation, Amer’s two brothers were killed. They were shot while driving home  in the Fukhari region, in the middle period of a  “cease fire,” a few hundred yards after getting clearance from an Israeli tank crew.  In the end, Amer’s brothers died from their wounds when the Israelis refused to allow an ambulance to the scene for 20 hours.

Amer’s personal horror was compounded in July 2014 when he learned that four of his cousins had been killed in Gaza. On the question of intentionality, Shurrab was clear:  "Israel is deliberately targeting civilians from day one of this attack. …They have been bombing houses, wiping entire families to try to scare people into submission."

Shurrab’s last phrase raises the questions of whether it is Israel’s intention to “scare the people into submission? I doubt it. Palestinians have had more than six decades since 1948 to be familiar with the terror of Israel’s “purity of arms,” lately including drones, F-16s, shrapnel and phosphorous bombs, explicit graffiti and human waste left by departing Israeli soldiers.

Far from requiring Palestinian submission, it seems that, on the contrary, Israel deliberately provokes rocket attacks and as much Palestinian resistance as they can manufacture in order to create pretexts for their assaults, for mowing the  lawn.  And by “mowing the lawn,” we mean periodic pogroms on a scale of Cast Lead and Protective Edge. These large operations are intended emphasize the message that Palestinians  are not wanted in the land and that they will be made to suffer more and more until that time when one way or another they can be removed entirely.

 A review of the timeline of the 2014 assault by Mouin Rabbani, a senior fellow at the  Institute for Palestine Studies in Beirut, writing for the London Review of Books, (“Israel Mows the Lawn”)  helps set the context. Rabbani writes that, stymied by Palestinian diplomacy, Israeli Prime Minister,  Benjamin Netanyahu, seemed “a drowning man” when he was thrown a “lifebelt” with the  disappearance of three settler youth on June 12, 2014.  Rabbani  sees a connection between  Netanyahu’s escalation and the   June 2, 2014 inauguration of a new Palestinian Authority government following the April reconciliation agreement between  Hamas and Fatah. Despite the lack of evidence that Hamas had anything to do with the teens’ disappearance, Netanyahu

held Hamas directly responsible and launched a hostage rescue operation’ throughout the West Bank. It was really an organized military rampage. It included the killing of at least six Palestinians, none of whom was accused of involvement in the disappearances; mass arrests, including the arrest of Hamas parliamentarians and the re-arrest of detainees released in 2011; the demolition of a number of houses and the looting of others; and a variety of other depredations  … On the night of 6 July, an Israeli air raid resulted in the death of seven Hamas militants. Hamas responded with sustained missile attacks deep into Israel, escalating further as Israel launched its full-scale onslaught.

Rabbani’s  timeline adds piquant substance to the conspiracy theory that the teens were murdered, not by Palestinians, but in a false-flag operation  by the Mossad in order to create a suitable  pretext for the coming operation against  Gaza. (See Cintayati, “10 Reasons .. Hitchhikers June July 2014 was an Israeli False Flag”)

The U.S. Role

BBC radio interviewed a Palestinian with U.S. citizenship who voted for Barack Obama twice. The unnamed Palestinian said:  “It was a mistake [to support Obama.]   He  helping Israel.” 
                                                           4 August 2014

One of the points, touched on from time to time on Democracy Now’s  coverage is that the U.S. has done little or nothing to stop the slaughter.  On the contrary, President Obama seemed effectively to be smoothing the way and condoning the butchery, even past the point of previous Israeli operations.  On Democracy Now’s August 6 broadcast, professor and author Norman Finkelstein, a well known critic of Israeli policy, emphasized that the U.S. was uncritically signaling its full support for the Israeli assault when it repeatedly insisted that “Israel has the right to defend itself.”

The July 31, 2014 edition of Democracy Now provided a lesson in how the U.S. can get caught in the middle as it attempts to balance its role as neutral observer with its unconditional support for Israel. On July 31 the U.S. condemned Israeli shelling of a UN school (see above) killing at least 20, but “refused to blame or condemn Israel for carrying it out.” That same day the Pentagon “confirmed its approval of an Israeli request to restock Israel’s supplies of ammunition.” Weapons  to be restocked included “mortar rounds for tanks and ammunition for grenade launchers.”  The very next day, Democracy Now reported that the U.S. got much more specific in its condemnation. The shelling of the school, Washington said, was “totally unacceptable and totally indefensible.”

At first I wondered why the U.S. would make public its restocking of Israeli weaponry since officials were well aware of international condemnation of both the U.S. and Israel. Later I theorized  that  the White House  decided it needed to reassure both the public and Congress that despite it’s denunciation of the Israeli shelling it continues its solid support of Israel.

It’s a world tragedy that President Obama has turned out to be as hostile to the Palestinians – not to mention other Arabs and Muslims, and others -- as were his predecessors. In his five years in office, I don’t recall him once acting in a way that would help Palestinians in a matter of any significance.  

The Limits of Left Zionism

One of the highlights of Democracy Now’s coverage was its interview with the charismatic Yonatan  Shapira, a former Israeli captain and Air Force pilot. Shapira was one of the organizers in 2003 of 27 Air Force pilots who refused to participate in Israeli military operations against Palestinians.

One point he made in the interview could serve as a reply to those who justify what the Israelis are doing as self-defense. He uses the analogy of the rapist and victim. Apologizing for his strong language, he imagines the Israeli onslaught as “gang rape.”

I would imagine it as gang rape. And forgive me for using this hard language, but when you have a group of people raping someone, and this person that is being raped [is] starting to scratch, the first thing you want to do in order to stop the scratches is to stop the rape. And what Israel … is trying to do is to continue the rape and deal with the scratches.

And I say, stop the rape, stop the occupation, stop the apartheid, stop this inhumane ghettoization of Palestinians, and then—then—we can start talking, and we can reach peace agreements and all these beautiful words that now don’t mean anything for us.

Yonatan is probably as good as it gets as a representative of the Israeli left. Yet I couldn’t help wondering what he meant by “stopping the apartheid.”  If he’s a Zionist, as I suspect, he would intend Jewish primacy over non-Jews. I guess also that like many left Zionists, he favors the Two -State Solution not as something real for he must understand that that no present or foreseeable Israeli government will permit an independent Palestinian state in the Middle East. This has been the case ever since November 1947, when the UN General Assembly passed the Partition Resolution opening the way for the Jewish state.

The so-called Two-State Solution is merely a talking point, a way of putting off serious consideration of a modus vivendi for both peoples.  I’s also a deliberately fanciful means of thinking about the “the demographic  problem” – the higher Palestinian birth rate  -- as well as the issue  of according human and national  rights to Palestinians.  As long as the Two-State Solution remains “on the table” Yonatan  can picture in his mind a future resolution that will deal with the practical problem that Palestinians face as all the land for their “state” is gobbled up dunam by dunam (about a quarter acre), not to mention the daily oppression and humiliation they undergo.

It’s a separate question to ask whether leftists like Yonatan worry that despite their opposition to certain Israeli policies, their moral and political support for Zionism – a Jewish state in the former Palestine – indirectly aids those policies including ongoing, never-ending pogroms – mowing the lawn?  Jonathan Freedland of The Guardian  takes up the question of “The Liberal Zionists,” in an article in the New York Review of Books  . He points to the phenomenon on the Israeli left of “shooting and crying” (yorim u’vochim) defined as condemning “the horror of killing Arabs … while the killing … continues.” The critique is that by doing both –crying and shooting -- the left has its cake – expressing condemnation for Israeli policy – and they eat it too – they enjoy the benefits of continued Jewish supremacy.  

The Wish and the Dream

I later wondered if I could be wrong about whether or not Yonatan is a Zionist. Is it possible that he’s anti-Zionist?  Wishful thinking soon inspired some daydreaming. I  imagined Yonatan seeking me out to say that  like me, he has dropped his Zionism; that he has come to believe  that Palestinians  and Israelis ought to be  equal before  the law. He has decided that Jewish preeminence in Israel/Palestine was no longer acceptable.

In my daydream Yonatan was super serious and as charismatic as ever, intent on the struggle to find a way for the twelve million souls between the Jordan and the Mediterranean to share the land in a spirit of equal justice, respect for human rights and democracy for all. In that case, he explained, it could make the need for U.S. resupply, or drones, or F-16s, or hostile graffiti, supererogatory.

The End