Anyone who's even marginally aware of world events no doubt knows that for the past three days, Israel has been attacking the Gaza strip. So far, at least 325 people have been killed and 1,400 have been injured. According to Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, the purpose of the attack is to prevent Hamas from firing rockets into Southern Israel from Gaza. Israel's leaders claim that the targets of their attack are Hamas security forces. To provide some context, Hamas is an Islamist political party which won the 2005 parliamentary elections in the Palestinian territories and currently controls the Gaza strip. Characteristically, Israel received strong support for its actions from officials from both political parties in Washington. President Bush endorsed Israel's military action and referred to the Hamas leadership as "terrorists" and "nothing but thugs". Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi echoed Bush's support and said "When Israel is attacked, the United States must continue to stand strongly with its friend and democratic ally". And David Axelrod, spokesman for President Elect Barack Obama, said Obama sympathized with Israel and understood their "urge to respond" to rocket fire from Hamas.
If anyone is interested in getting some background information and a broader explanation of this conflict, please check out today's Democracy Now, which features interviews with several witnesses to the attack on Gaza.
I apologize for my frankness, but anyone with a basic sense of decency and half a brain would no doubt regard Israel's three-day attack of the Gaza strip as an act of unconscionable barbarism. There simply is no justification whatsoever for the carnage that Israel has wrought in Gaza, a region of the world that on the best of days is mired in state-manufactured misery. This weekend's attack is widely considered to be Israel's most brutal act of violence against the Palestinians in decades and perhaps since the beginning of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967. The rockets fired from Gaza that Israel's leadership are supposedly so concerned about are makeshift, amateur weapons that do little damage. 16 Israelis have been killed by rockets fired from Gaza over the past several years, a significant number, but still just 5% of the casualties suffered by the Palestinians over the past three days. Also, we cannot look at the launching of these rockets in a vacuum without considering the context of the situation. According to Dr. Moussa El-Haddad, a retired physician and resident of Gaza City, Israel and Hamas had been in a military ceasefire for months in late 2008. For one and a half months of the ceasefire, Israel has blockaded Gaza, preventing food, fuel, medicine, and other essential supplies from reaching the 300-square mile strip, home to nearly 1.5 million people. Despite this blockade, which is without a doubt a form of collective punishment and a severe war crime, Hamas kept to the ceasefire. It was only in response to renewed Israeli military actions in the strip, which resulted in the deaths of 23 people, that Hamas began firing rockets into Southern Israel. In other words, the rocket fire was an act of resistance by a beleaguered and desperate people who were suffering unbearable cruelty at the hands of Israel.
Furthermore, the events which have taken place subsequent to the initiation of the Israeli bombing campaign demonstrate that the government of Israel is more concerned with killing Palestinians than with the security of its own population. As Noam Chomsky often points out, Israel's colonial, expansionist operations in the Palestinian territories, which they have carried out since 1967, are not designed to enhance the security of the Israeli civilian population. Rather, they are a threat to their security, as they provoke resistance from the indigenous Palestinian population. This fact is obvious to the Israeli armed forces and its state planners. Thus, the logical and almost certainly predicted reaction to Israel's bombing of the strip has been an intensification of Hamas rocket fire into Israel, which has penetrated deeper than ever into the heart of the country and led to several Israeli injuries.
Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni claims that Hamas is to blame for the violence because they initiated the fighting by firing rockets into Southern Israel. The actual time line of events, which I laid out above, illustrate that her claim is patently ridiculous. Furthermore, she has claimed that Hamas is to blame for the civilian casualties because they located their military targets in close proximity to Israeli population centers. George Orwell would doubtlessly point out that anyone who believes such nonsense is engaging in a spectacular form of "doublethink". When civilians died during the September 11th terrorist attacks on the Pentagon in the United States, did anyone claim that the fault for the civilian deaths lay with the U.S. government for placing a military base so close to a major urban area? Of course not! Moreover, as Doctor Mustafa Barghouti pointed out on Democracy Now today, Gaza is one of the most densely populated areas in the entire world, a situation for which Israel is entirely responsible (80% of its residents are refugees). Any attack on a military compound is thus inevitably going to cause civilian deaths. Finally, Israel's claim that they are attacking solely military targets is quite dubious. Among the supposedly "military targets" attacked by Israel are mosques, a female dormitory at the Islamic University in Gaza, and a house in the Jabaliya refugee camp. In attacking the house in Jabaliya, the Israeli air force killed 5 sisters and severely injured their mother.
Another vital point which cannot be stressed enough is that Israel's terrorist attack on the people of Gaza over the weekend is but one in a series of attacks that this population has suffered since 1967 and particularly since 2005, when Palestinians went to the polls and democratically elected the wrong political party. As Ali Abunimah, founder of Electronic Intifada points out,
orders over the past few months to withhold insulin, chemotherapy drugs, dialysis supplies, all forms of medicine from the people of Gaza, were just as lethal and just as murderous as the orders to send in the bombers and warplanes to attack mosques, to attack universities.By pounding Gaza with rockets, choking off its population from basic supplies, and imposing a ruthless Apartheid system in the West Bank that surpasses in cruelty anything accomplished by the racist white regime in South Africa, Israel is, in the words of Noam Chomsky, attempting to kill a nation. Those of us who stand by and do nothing are enabling an atrocity with few precedents in modern history. It's no surprise, therefore, that many Palestinians have referred to the Gaza bombing as an act of genocide and an attempted holocaust against their people.
As an American, what is most disappointing about this whole situation is the role of the United States. As in all of Israel's atrocities, the United States is never the innocent bystander or neutral broker it claims to be. Rather, our government, using our tax dollars, is nearly always a major supporter of Israeli aggression. If the United States did not support Israel's actions, both diplomatically and financially, it is doubtful that it would be able to behave in such a way. George Bush's statements are of course repulsive but highly expected from a radical rightist with close ties to the oil and defense industries. However, the statements by David Axelrod and in particular, our supposedly liberal speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, are unbelievably disappointing. The continued support for Israeli crimes from both political parties is a reflection of the immense strategic significance of Israel as a client state for the American Empire (in Noam Chomsky's words, our "cop on the beat" in the Middle East)and its status as a major source of profits for our vast and deadly military industrial complex, among other industries. It's not a coincidence that Israel is bombing Gaza with American-designed F-16s and our political leadership is bending over backwards to support them. There are powerful, established interests which benefit from American-sponsored, Israeli violence. Nonetheless, as people of conscience and as citizens of the United States, it is our responsibility to confront these interests and demand an end to American support for the Israeli occupation of Palestine. It will be incredibly difficult, but not impossible and not without precedent. Powerful strategic and economic interests in the United States supported the Apartheid regime in South Africa but widespread citizen activism nonetheless succeeded in compelling Congress to pass the Anti-Apartheid act in 1986, over the objection of President Reagan. Sanctions from the United States and other powerful nations were integral to the defeat of the Apartheid system. I agree with Ali Abunimah that Israel's massacre in Gaza calls for the emergence of a second anti-Apartheid movement in the U.S., this time against Israel. Citizen activism is the only way the Israeli occupation will be eliminated and citizens in the United States, the most powerful state in the world and the chief supporter of Israeli aggression, must play a central role in this struggle.