Vijay Prashad: Impunity for Israel’s bombardment of Gaza

Last modified: Wednesday, July 30, 2014
NORTHAMPTON — Over the course of 18 days, the Israeli assault on Gaza cost over 1,000 Palestinian lives, with many thousands wounded. Gaza’s infrastructure has been pummeled — its water and sewer systems, its hospitals and its schools have been rendered inoperative. Jens Laerke of the United Nation’s humanitarian agency says, “Our aid workers on the ground report that people in Gaza are gripped by fear, the streets are empty and the shops are closed.”

Hours before the 12-hour “humanitarian pause,” Israeli bombardment took the lives of 20 medics.

Meanwhile, 100,000 Palestinians, most already refugees, took refuge in United Nations buildings — many of them schools run by the UN agency tasked with the provision of relief for Palestinians (UNRWA). An Israeli attack on the Ashraf al-Qidra school killed 15 of those refugees, wounding 200 others.

Israeli missiles killed three UN teachers. UNRWA’s commission general Pierre Krähenbühl stood at the school and offered a strong indictment of the Israeli policy: “As has happened so many times in this pitiless conflict, civilians are paying the highest price of the current military escalation. I condemn this callous shelling and the extensive loss of life in the strongest possible terms and call for an immediate investigation to ensure that circumstances and responsibilities are comprehensively and irrefutably established.”

Krähenbühl’s call was heard in Geneva at the UN Human Rights Council. Its members overwhelmingly voted for an investigation into crimes against humanity and war crimes by Israeli armed forces against those whom they continue to occupy (Israeli forces withdrew from Gaza in 2005, but remain in occupation of the territory, since then under severe embargo).

The United States, which has blocked a strong resolution in New York’s UN Security Council, voted against the resolution. It was the only country to do so. It has voted to give Israel impunity for its actions.

Hamas, Hamas, Hamas.

Israel and the United States defend the assault on the grounds that the people of Gaza have brought this war on themselves. They voted for Hamas in 2006 — giving Hamas a majority in the Palestinian parliament (an election invalidated by pressure from the West.) Each of Israel’s wars since 2006 — Operation Hot Winter, Operation Cast Lead, Operation Pillar of Defense, Operation Protective Edge — has been justified by Israel based on the existence of Hamas. Israel’s foreign minister has said that it is Israel’s policy to “eradicate Hamas.” The political and military policy executed by Israel over the past nine years has been to hold the population of Gaza responsible for Hamas. Such a policy of collective responsibility is illegal by international law.

The most recent reason for the war was the abduction and murder of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank. Israel’s prime minister blamed this immediately on Hamas — “Hamas is responsible,” Benjamin Netanyahu said, “and Hamas will pay.” It was clear to reporters then that Netanyahu was wrong (I reported in Frontline at the time that it was likely a rogue group in Hebron – linked to the Qawasmeh clan – had been responsible for the killing). Two weeks after the terrible war in Gaza, Israel Police’s spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld told BBC’s Jon Donnison that a “lone cell” that is not linked to Hamas leadership abducted and killed the teenagers.

The casus belli for the war is now invalid. Hamas did not kill the teenager. The people of Gaza did not kill the teenagers. But they paid the ultimate price for Israeli revenge.

The assault on Gaza is less a war and more collective punishment. The Israeli policy is called “mow the lawn,” to harass the Palestinians with violence till their political leadership is degraded and their will to remain on the land is weakened.

Israel wants the Palestinians to flee the land and surrender it to Eretz Israel, Greater Israel. Demographic fears that the Jewish State will no longer have ethnic and religious integrity worry the population. This is a view shared by important American public figures — with Eric Yoffie (former head of the Union for Reform Judaism) saying that there are “too many Arabs” in Israel, and Obama’s former advisor Aaron David Miller writing in the New York Times in 2012 that there are “too many Palestinians in Israel.”

The Palestinian threat is therefore less a military or security threat and more a demographic one. A survey conducted by a Tel Aviv University political psychologist found that 63 percent of Israelis agreed with the statement, “Arabs are a security and demographic threat to the state.” Their expulsion is the end game of the endless violence visited upon Palestine by the Israeli military. Operation Protective Edge will eventually end. But the social basis for such a war will remain.

“We don’t know when the operation will end,” said Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “It might take a long time.” Certainly, if the goal is to eradicate Palestinians from their lands — to kill them or to throw them into Egypt and Jordan — it will take a long time. The costs will be high. Nothing good will come of them. Neither for Israel nor, of course, for the Palestinians.

Vijay Prashad, who lives is Northampton, is professor of international studies at Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut.