BACK in the early 1980s, when I was a graduate student at the University of California, the student community organised a seminar on the Palestine-Israel conflict. It was before the 1982 invasion of Lebanon (oddly codenamed Operation Peace for Galilee), but Israel had already annexed a strip of southern Lebanon since 1978, and had continued to occupy it in defiance of the UN Resolution 425 that called for Israel to immediately and unconditionally withdraw. Instead of withdrawing, Israel sponsored an anti-Palestinian Christian-led fascist militia, called the South Lebanon Army, by arming, paying, training and supporting them in the occupied zone.
Most of the audience, even the moderators in the seminar, included hard-core Zionist supporters of Israel. Dr Mahmoud Ayoub, of Lebanese descent (now a professor emeritus at Temple University, Philadelphia), was the speaker for the Palestinian-Lebanese cause. An angry Zionist retorted by stating that there could never be peace with the Arabs and Palestinians who had attacked Israel in 1973 on the Yom Kippur day (the Jewish Day of Atonement when they fast). Dr Ayoub reminded him that Israel had repeatedly shelled and bombed Muslims in his native south Lebanon during the month of Ramadan, when Muslims fast from dawn to nightfall.
Well, that killing spree of Palestinians has not ceased an iota ever since. As of last Monday, this Ramadan, at least 175 Palestinians, mostly children and women, have been killed in Gaza as a result of weeklong Israeli airstrikes since the beginning of Israel’s latest military operation ‘Protective Edge’. Credible reports from Gaza suggest that ten times as many — some 2,000 — people have also been injured. One Israeli airstrike killed eight members of the Haj family in their Khan Younis home last week. In another, 18 members of the extended Batsh family died as their home and a nearby mosque were bombed. Even a medical centre that catered to disabled and handicapped people was not spared where two patients and a medical assistant died.
Israeli media reports over 1,000 strikes since the operation began, with 60 on the morning of July 10 alone. We are also told that the Palestinian armed groups have fired more than 800 rockets in this latest campaign. However, not a single Israeli has died as a result of such rocket fires although nine Israelis had sustained minor injuries while fleeing to shelters.
Prime minister Netanyahu’s government is keen on promoting the ludicrous idea that it is only reacting to aggression from Hamas. Following the footsteps of his diabolical boss, the Israeli ambassador to the UN went a step further to audaciously claim that while the IDF (Israel Defence Force) gives 15 minutes of warning to Gaza residents to vacate their homes before bombing its target, the Israeli residents have only 15 seconds to take shelter when the sirens, warning of impending rocket fire from Gaza, are heard. Real-time reporting by Al Jazeera, however, showed that the IDF gave less than a minute of warning when it demolished Palestinian homes in its airstrikes.
But more remarkably, social media like Twitter contradict the mood of Israelis. What we notice instead of a panic-stricken people is a picture of Israeli residents of the border town of Sderot leisurely watching the IDF’s aerial bombardments of the Gaza Strip relaxing on lawn chairs. These Israelis know well that with the Iron Dome Defence system in place, the rockets fired from Gaza pose virtually no threats and are a mere nuisance or irritation and nothing else; these are more like firecrackers that carry little risk!
Just as it has happened many times before with every Israeli invasion, Netanyahu’s real goal is far from defending Israel’s citizens.
Israel’s real goal has been to destroy the Palestinian resistance, and its infrastructure, and make lives of ordinary Palestinians miserable so that they are forced to move out of their ancestral homes. In the late 1970s, in Lebanon, Israel wanted to put in place a compliant, pro-Israeli regime in Beirut. In 1982, when it appeared that Lebanon’s civil war could drag on for years with little chance of achieving those goals ever, Israel decided to move on its own. But it needed approval from the US, which had brokered a ceasefire in 1981. Ariel Sharon visited Washington DC in May 1982, and got the ‘green signal’ from the Reagan administration. Israel waited for a pretext, and that came with an attempted assassination of Israel’s ambassador in London on June 3 by Abu Nidal’s renegade, anti-PLO faction.
It did not matter that the PLO had nothing to do with the London attack and that some of its leaders were among the names on the would-be assassins’ hit list, three days later, on June 6, 1982 the Israeli army invaded Lebanon, crossing the Litani River and moving as far north as Beirut. Beirut was besieged and subjected to unfathomed bombing for two months. Casualties were enormous, totalling more than 17,000 Lebanese and Palestinians, mostly civilians. Hospitals were hit, and the Palestinian refugee camps were levelled in massive bombardment.
As the world condemned Israeli butchery, the US brokered a ceasefire in August, which centred on the PLO leaving Beirut; its guerrillas, its doctors, its civilian infrastructure, its officials — everyone and everything would board ship heading for Tunis, far away from the Occupied Palestine. The US agreed to serve as guarantor of Israel’s promises, as protector of the Palestinian civilians — primarily women, children and old men — left behind. US Marines were deployed as the centrepiece of an international force with a 30-day mandate to guard Beirut during the withdrawal of the PLO fighters.
With the PLO fighters gone, and the multi-national peacekeeping force also having left Beirut by September 11, the IDF gave green signal to its surrogate Christian Phalangist forces to enter Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps. It again needed a pretext, which came on September 14 with the assassination of Lebanese president Bashir Gemayel — a Maronite Christian. It did not matter that the assassin was a Christian Lebanese belonging to a rival faction that was hostile to the Phalange and had no ties to the PLO.
On September 15, the IDF surrounded the camps and stationed troops at the exits of the area to prevent camp residents from leaving, and fired illuminating flares at night to facilitate the slaughter of some 3,500 unarmed Palestinians over the next couple of days. Many of the bodies found had been severely mutilated. Many boys had been castrated, some were scalped, and some had the Christian cross carved into their bodies. Janet Lee Stevens, an American journalist, who had entered the camps wrote to her husband, Dr Franklin Lamb, ‘I saw dead women in their houses with their skirts up to their waists and their legs spread apart; dozens of young men shot after being lined up against an alley wall; children with their throats slit, a pregnant woman with her stomach chopped open, her eyes still wide open, her blackened face silently screaming in horror; countless babies and toddlers who had been stabbed or ripped apart and who had been thrown into garbage piles.’
So, what’s Netanyahu’s pretext for the latest massacre of Palestinians of Gaza? It is hard to believe that the death of three kidnapped Jewish youths was the reason for his Nazi-like campaign in Gaza. After all, in revenge a Palestinian boy has been burned to death by settler Jews. Weeks before the crisis, Israel had conducted incursions in almost every Palestinian city in the West Bank, arrested over 380 Palestinians, bombed the Gaza strip, and killed two Palestinians, Mahmoud Dudin, a 13-year-old boy from Dura, and Mustafa Aslan, a 22-year old from Kalandia refugee camp, and injured hundreds. Among those arrested were over 50 prisoners who were released in the exchange deal of 2011, including Nael Barghouthi, who had spent 34 years in Israeli jails. A dozen parliamentarians were also arrested, bringing the number of imprisoned members of parliament to 22. By June 25 already hundreds of Palestinians detained had been observing hunger strike against administrative detention, one of the worst forms of arbitrary detention, for more than 60 days. (It was one of the longest collective hunger strikes ever observed outside the Guantanamo Bay prison.) As noted by Palestinian activist, Dr Hanan Ashrawi, Israel decided to deal with this hunger strike through punitive measures, including solitary confinement, transfer of prisoners, and deprivation of visitation rights and seizing personal belongings. The international reaction to this hunger strike has been inadequate, which contributed to further repression of the prisoners.
In recent days, Israeli forces raided a compound in Hebron and made several arrests while searching for two Hamas members suspected of killing those three Israeli teenagers. On Monday, a 21-year-old Palestinian, Munir Badarin, was shot in the leg south of the West Bank city of Hebron during confrontations with Israeli soldiers, and left without medical attention until he bled to death.
Netanyahu’s is a vicious, racist government that does not value Palestinian lives and properties. It is collectively punishing everyone — from an infant to a nursing mother to a handicapped Palestinian — for the rockets fired from Gaza. Such actions qualify as war crimes. So far only seven militants have died as a result of Israel’s latest campaign, i.e. a whopping 95 per cent of the Palestinian victims have been unarmed civilians who have no protection against bombs and missiles dropped on them.
As aptly noted by the veteran British Jewish lawmaker Sir Gerald Kaufman, Israeli offensive in Gaza is comparable to the Nazis who forced his family to flee from Poland. Kaufman, who was brought up as an orthodox Jew and Zionist, said: ‘My grandmother was ill in bed when the Nazis came to her hometown a German soldier shot her dead in her bed. My grandmother did not die to provide cover for Israeli soldiers murdering Palestinian grandmothers in Gaza.’
Sir Kaufman is right in comparing Netanyahu’s criminal activities in Gaza with those of the Nazis. Khaled Abed Rabbo, a Palestinian father, has claimed that he saw two of his young daughters (Amal, 2, and Suad, 7) shot dead and another (Samer, 4) critically injured by an Israeli soldier who emerged from a stationary tank and opened fire as the family obeyed an order from the Israeli forces to leave their home. He said, ‘Two soldiers were on the tank eating chips, then one man came out of the tank with a rifle and started shooting the kids.’ By the way, this incident is not an exception. As Al-Jazeera has shown the IDF did not allow even two minutes to safely evacuating elderly Palestinians from their targeted homes for demolition. Many elderly Palestinians have been buried with the ruins of their homes in Gaza.
An estimated 17,000 Palestinians remained holed up at UN facilities Monday after fleeing their homes the day before as Israel advised civilians to evacuate the town of Beit Lahiya and its surroundings ahead of an attack. The number of Palestinians killed in the nearly week-old campaign has already topped the death toll of Israel’s operation in Gaza in November 2012, an eight-day offensive that ended with a cease-fire that more or less held up until the recent eruption. What’s next?
Zionist hawks like foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman want a permanent solution to the crisis by annihilating the resistance, or more correctly, the entire Palestinian people. ‘Postponing the problem won’t solve it. It will just explode later,’ Lieberman said. Other moderate Zionists see Gaza war as Israel ‘grass mowing’ exercise, necessary to periodically trim the Palestinians to size.
Sadly, as the world watches horrified by Israeli savagery and inhumanity and the UNSC passes a non-binding resolution that calls for de-escalation, everything Palestinian has become a fitting target for Israel’s Nazi-like campaign to the sheer joy and amusement of Israelis. President Mahmoud Abbas is asking the United Nations to put the state of Palestine under ‘international protection’ due to the worsening violence in Gaza. He has also asked Switzerland, the depository of the fourth Geneva Convention on the protection of civilians in wartime, to ask signatories to place sanctions on Israel which, as the occupying power, is responsible for the safety of civilians. In a letter to UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon, Abbas asked that he convene an urgent meeting of the Security Council to respond to his request for international protection under UN auspices of Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
The UN high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, on Friday expressed alarm at the Israeli military operations resulting in the killing of Palestinian civilians in Gaza, as well as the indiscriminate firing of rockets from Gaza into Israel. She appealed to all sides to abide by their obligations under international human rights law and international humanitarian law.
‘Israel, Hamas, and Palestinian armed groups in Gaza have been down this road before, and it has led only to death, destruction, distrust and a painful prolongation of the conflict,’ Pillay said. ‘This time around, once again, civilians are bearing the brunt of the conflict. I urge all sides to steadfastly respect their obligations under international human rights law and international humanitarian law to protect civilians.’
‘For its part, the Government of Israel must take all possible measures to ensure full respect for the principles of distinction, proportionality and precautions in attack, during the conduct of hostilities, as required by international humanitarian law. In all circumstances, they must avoid targeting civilians,’ she said. ‘However, we have received deeply disturbing reports that many of the civilian casualties, including of children, occurred as a result of strikes on homes. Such reports raise serious doubt about whether the Israeli strikes have been in accordance with international humanitarian law and international human rights law.’
The targeting of civilian homes is a violation of international humanitarian law unless the homes are being used for military purposes. In case of doubt, buildings ordinarily used for civilian purposes, such as homes, are presumed not to be legitimate military targets. Even where a home is identified as being used for military purposes, any attack must be proportionate, offer a definite military advantage in the prevailing circumstances at the time, and precautions must be taken.
‘Every alleged breach of international law must be promptly, independently, thoroughly and effectively investigated, with a view to ensuring justice and reparations for the victims,’ Pillay said.
But who or what organisation will ensure that justice is carried out and victims compensated for their losses and sufferings? With the American government and the powerful Jewish lobby and the ‘Amen’ Corner in the Capitol Hill always standing behind the pariah state, Israeli leaders have proven time and again that they have no desire to reform their murderous instincts and practices.
Sir Kaufman said, ‘The present Israeli government ruthlessly and cynically exploits the continuing guilt from gentiles over the slaughter of Jews in the Holocaust as justification for their murder of Palestinians.’ The truth is, Netanyahu has been following the footsteps of his predecessors! He knows the power of the Jewish lobby more than Obama himself.
It was, therefore, no accident that on June 23 Boston’s transit authority, the MBTA, decided to remove advertisements highlighting Israeli human rights abuses against Palestinians from Boston’s subway transit system under pressure from pro-Israel groups and in an apparent violation of its own policies. The ad read, ‘Since September, 2000 Israel’s Military has killed one Palestinian child every four days, using U.S. tax dollars. End U.S. support for Israeli apartheid.’
Boston-based non-profit Ads Against Apartheid, which sponsored the ad campaign, believes the MBTA’s action is a violation of its right to freedom of speech. An official working closely with the MBTA told the AAA by telephone that the ads were likely removed because they were found to be ‘demeaning to the state of Israel’. Richard Colbath-Hess, Jewish co-founder of the AAA, emphasised that the ads criticise the behaviour of the Israeli government, not any national group or individual.
Interestingly, this same transit authority ran Islamophobic anti-Muslim ads by Pam Geller’s group ‘American Freedom Defense Initiative’. AAA president and co-founder Chadi Salamoun noted, ‘There is certainly a double standard here. Our ads present facts cited by respectable institutions.’
‘The MBTA has allowed anti-Palestinian groups to display opinionated messages that border on hate-speech,’ he said in reference to a pro-Israel ad that the American Freedom Defense Initiative sponsored in early 2014, which sought to draw a contrast between what it called ‘the civilized man’ and ‘those engaged in savage acts’, clearly implying that Palestinians comprise the latter.
‘Aren’t they demeaning to Palestinians? The MBTA can’t use its position to give voice to the Israeli position while silencing ads that highlight human rights abuses that the Israeli government commits daily,’ Colbath-Hess said.
It is good to see that conscientious Jews like Colbeth-Hess, who are opposed to apartheid Israel, are challenging the monopoly of Zionists inside the USA. Who knows one day with many such activists, the US will refuse to be exploited by its neo-Nazi blood-suckers!