For the third time in five years, the world’s fourth largest military power has launched a full-scale armed onslaught on one of its most deprived and overcrowded territories. Since Israel’s bombardment of the Gaza Strip began, just over a week ago, more than 200 Palestinians have been killed. Nearly 80% of the dead are civilians, over 20% of them children.
Around 1,400 have been wounded and 1,255 Palestinian homes destroyed. So far, Palestinian fire has killed one Israeli on the other side of the barrier that makes blockaded Gaza the world’s largest open-air prison.
But instead of demanding a halt to Israel’s campaign of collective punishment against what is still illegally occupied territory, the western powers have blamed the victims for fighting back. If it weren’t for Hamas’s rockets fired out of Gaza’s giant holding pen, they insist, all of this bloodletting would end.
“No country on earth would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders,” Barack Obama declared, echoed by a mostly pliant media. Perhaps it’s scarcely surprising that states which have themselves invaded and occupied a string of Arab and Muslim countries in the past decade should take the side of another occupier they fund and arm to the hilt.
But the idea that Israel is responding to a hail of rockets out of a clear blue sky takes “narrative framing” beyond the realm of fantasy. In fact, after the deal that ended Israel’s last assault on Gaza in 2012, rocketing from Gaza fell to its lowest level for 12 years.
The latest violence is supposed to have been triggered by the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teenagers in the occupied West Bank in June, for which Hamas denied responsibility. But its origin clearly lies in the collapse of US-sponsored negotiations for a final settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the spring.
That was followed by the formation of a “national reconciliation” government by the Fatah and Hamas movements, whose division has been a mainstay of Israeli and US policy. Israeli incursions and killings were then stepped up, including attacks on Palestinian civilians by armed West Bank settlers. In May, two Palestinian teenagers were shot dead by the Israeli army with barely a flicker of interest outside the country.
It’s now clear the Israeli government knew from the start that its own kidnapped teenagers had been killed within hours. But the news was suppressed while a #BringBackOurBoys campaign was drummed up and a sweeping crackdown launched against Hamas throughout the West Bank.
Over 500 activists were arrested and more than half a dozen killed – along with a Palestinian teenager burned to death by settlers. Binyamin Netanyahu’s aim was evidently to signal that whatever deal Hamas had signed with Mahmoud Abbas would never be accepted by Israel.
Gaza had nothing to do with the kidnapping, but Israeli attacks were also launched on the strip and Hamas activists killed. It was those killings and the West Bank campaign that led to Hamas resuming its rocket attacks – and in turn to Israel’s devastating bombardment.
Hamas is now blamed for refusing to accept a ceasefire plan cooked up by Netanyahu and his ally, the Egyptian President Sisi, who overthrew Hamas’s sister organisation the Muslim Brotherhood last year and has since tightened the eight-year siege of Gaza.
But having already suffered so much, many Gazans believe no further truce should be agreed without the lifting of the illegal blockade which has reduced the strip to hunger and beggary and effectively imprisoned its population.
As the independent Palestinian MP Mustafa Barghouti puts it, the Egyptian proposal was a “game” Israel will now use to escalate the war. Some sense of what can now be expected was given by the Israeli reserve major general Oren Shachor, who explained: “If we kill their families, that will frighten them.”
The idea that Israel is defending itself against unprovoked attacks from outside its borders is an absurdity. Despite Israel’s withdrawal of settlements and bases in 2005, Gaza remains occupied both in reality and international law, its border, coastal waters, resources, airspace and power supply controlled by Israel.
So the Palestinians of Gaza are an occupied people, like those in the West Bank, who have the right to resist, by force if they choose – though not deliberately to target civilians. But Israel does not have a right of self-defence over territories it illegally occupies – it has an obligation to withdraw. That occupation, underpinned by the US and its allies, is now entering its 48th year. Most of the 1.8 million Palestinians enduring continuous bombardment in Gaza are themselves refugees or their descendants, who were driven out or fled from cities such as Jaffa 66 years ago when Israel was established.
It can’t seriously be argued that Israel’s refusal to withdraw from the rump of the territory on which the United Nations voted to establish a Palestinian state in 1947 is because of rocket fire. It was after all during the period of quiescence over the past year that the Israeli government rejected the US plan for even a figleaf of a two-state solution – and stepped up illegal colonisation. As Netanyahu made clear this week, there cannot be “any agreement in which we relinquish security control” of the West Bank.
So we’re left with a one-state solution, operated on ethnically segregated apartheid-style lines, in which a large section of the population has no say in who rules over them, indefinitely. But it’s folly to imagine that this shameful injustice will continue without an escalating cost for those who enforce it.
Palestinian resistance is often criticised as futile given the grotesque power imbalance between the two sides. But Hamas, which attracts support more for its defiance than its Islamism, has been strengthened by the events of the past week, as it has shown it can hit back across Israel – while Abbas, dependent on an imploded “peace process”, has been weakened still further.
The conflict’s eruptions are certainly coming thicker and faster. Despite heroic Israeli efforts to fix the narrative, global opinion has never been more sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. But the brutal reality is that there will be no end to Israel’s occupation until Palestinians and their supporters are able to raise its price to the occupier, in one way or another – and change the balance of power on the ground.
Wed, 16 July 2014