Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, March 2009, pages 14-18

Four Views

Israel Rains More Death on Gaza

This Brutality Will Never Break Our Will to Be Free

By Khaled Meshal

  • A Palestinian man holds his grandson at a U.N. school after they fled their home during Israel’s offensive in Gaza, Jan. 7, 2009. That same day Israel bombed two U.N. schools where Gazans were seeking refuge (Reuters/Suhaib Salem).

FOR 18 MONTHS my people in Gaza have been under siege, incarcerated inside the world’s biggest prison, sealed off from land, air and sea, caged and starved, denied even medication for our sick. After the slow death policy came the bombardment. In this most densely populated of places, nothing has been spared Israel’s warplanes, from government buildings to homes, mosques, hospitals, schools and markets. More than 540 have been killed and thousands permanently maimed. A third are women and children. Whole families have been massacred, some while they slept.

This river of blood is being shed under lies and false pretexts. For six months we in Hamas observed the cease-fire. Israel broke it repeatedly from the start. Israel was required to open crossings to Gaza, and extend the truce to the West Bank. It proceeded to tighten its deadly siege of Gaza, repeatedly cutting electricity and water supplies. The collective punishment did not halt, but accelerated—as did the assassinations and killings. Thirty Gazans were killed by Israeli fire and hundreds of patients died as a direct effect of the siege during the so-called cease-fire. Israel enjoyed a period of calm. Our people did not.

When this broken truce neared its end, we expressed our readiness for a new comprehensive truce in return for lifting the blockade and opening all Gaza border crossings, including Rafah. Our calls fell on deaf ears. Yet still we would be willing to begin a new truce on these terms following the complete withdrawal of the invading forces from Gaza.

No rockets have ever been fired from the West Bank. But 50 died and hundreds more were injured there last year at Israel’s hands, while its expansionism proceeded relentlessly. We are meant to be content with shrinking scraps of territory, a handful of cantons at Israel’s mercy, enclosed by it from all sides. The truth is Israel seeks a one-sided cease-fire, observed by my people alone, in return for siege, starvation, bombardment, assassinations, incursions and colonial settlement. What Israel wants is a gratuitous cease-fire.

The logic of those who demand that we stop our resistance is absurd. They absolve the aggressor and occupier—armed with the deadliest weapons of death and destruction—of responsibility, while blaming the victim, prisoner and occupied. Our modest, homemade rockets are our cry of protest to the world. Israel and its American and European sponsors want us to be killed in silence. But die in silence we will not.

What is being visited on Gaza today was visited on Yasser Arafat before. When he refused to bow to Israel’s dictates, he was imprisoned in his Ramallah headquarters, surrounded by tanks for two years. When this failed to break his resolve, he was murdered by poisoning.

Gaza enters 2009 just as it did 2008: under Israeli fire. Between January and February of last year 140 Gazans died in air strikes. And just before it embarked on its failed military assault on Lebanon in July 2006, Israel rained thousands of shells on Gaza, killing 240. From Deir Yassin in 1948 to Gaza today, the list of Israel’s crimes is long. The justifications change, but the reality is the same: colonial occupation, oppression, and never-ending injustice. If this is the “free world” whose “values” Israel is defending, as its Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni alleges, then we want nothing to do with it.

Israel’s leaders remain in the grip of confusion, unable to set clear goals for the attacks—from ousting the legitimately elected Hamas government and destroying its infrastructure, to stopping the rockets. As they fail to break Gaza’s resistance the benchmark has been lowered. Now they speak of weakening Hamas and limiting the resistance. But they will achieve neither. Gaza’s people are more united than ever, determined not to be terrorized into submission. Our fighters, armed with the justice of their cause, have already caused many casualties among the occupation army and will fight on to defend their land and people. Nothing can defeat our will to be free.

Once again, Washington and Europe have opted to aid and abet the jailer, occupier and aggressor, and to condemn its victims. We hoped Barack Obama would break with George Bush’s disastrous legacy but his start is not encouraging. While he swiftly moved to denounce the Mumbai attacks, he remains tongue-tied after 10 days of slaughter in Gaza. But my people are not alone. Millions of freedom-loving men and women stand by its struggle for justice and liberation—witness daily protests against Israeli aggression, not only in the Arab and Islamic region, but worldwide.

Israel will no doubt wreak untold destruction, death and suffering in Gaza. But it will meet the same fate in Gaza as it did in Lebanon. We will not be broken by siege and bombardment, and will never surrender to occupation.

Khaled Meshal is head of the Hamas political bureau. This op-ed first appeared in The Guardian, Jan. 6, 2009. Copyright Guardian News & Media Ltd 2009.

Israel’s Insane War

By Patrick Seale

Israel’s war in Gaza is an act of political insanity. It is the product of a deeply disturbed society, able neither to curb its military arrogance nor calm its profound paranoia. The consequences are likely to be painful for Israel’s long-term prospects.

By radicalizing the Palestinians, and by arousing great anger in the Arab and Muslim world, this savage war rules out the possibility of Israel’s peaceful integration in the region for the foreseeable future. That may even be its cynical aim, since Israel wants dominance, not peaceful coexistence.

As the F-16s carry out their missions of death, the message to the world is that Israel will continue to live by the sword, as it has done for the past six decades, rather than risk the concessions and compromises which peace would require.

The war has, in fact, confirmed what had long been apparent, namely that Israel has no interest in a negotiated peace. Peace means retraction, it means ceding territory, whereas Israel is still bent on expansion. That is what the continued theft of West Bank land and the mushrooming settlements are all about, together with the demolition of Palestinian homes, the security wall, the settlers-only road network, the stifling of the Palestinian economy by over 600 checkpoints, and countless other cruel vexations.

Peace is, indeed, the main casualty of this war. It is as dead as the corpses in Gaza. The two-state solution has been dealt a deathblow. The tentative Israeli-Syrian talks have been firmly shut down. The Arab Peace Plan, which offered Israel peace and normal relations with all 22 Arab states if it withdrew to its 1967 borders, has been buried in a welter of blood and bomb wreckage.

One of Israel’s war aims must surely have been to pre-empt any attempt by the incoming U.S. administration of Barack Obama to re-launch the moribund peace process. Valuable months will now be lost clearing up the mess. As for the outgoing Bush administration, the blatant lies of Condoleezza Rice, who blamed the war solely on Hamas, must serve as the damning political epitaph of the most ineffectual U.S. secretary of state of modern times.

Israel has never liked Palestinian moderates, for the simple reason that concessions might have to be made to them. To avoid being drawn into negotiations, it has always preferred Palestinian radicals—and when they were not there it has done everything it could to create them. “How can you negotiate with someone who wants to kill you?” is a familiar Israeli refrain.

The war on Gaza has confirmed Israel’s visceral rejection of any expression of Palestinian nationalism. It will kill to prevent it, as 60 years of wars, assassinations and massacres testify. Consciously or not, Israeli leaders seem to fear that any recognition of Palestinian aspirations undermines the legitimacy of their own national enterprise.

It may be that the war was launched precisely because Hamas has recently shown signs of moderation. Its key spokesmen—including Khaled Meshal, head of its political bureau—have expressed their readiness to accept a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. To Israel’s dismay, they have begun to distance themselves from the movement’s 1987 charter, which calls for Israel’s destruction.

The Qassam rockets were a great embarrassment to the Israeli government. It was unable to stop them except by agreeing to a truce. The rockets angered an Israeli population notoriously blind to any suffering but its own. But, in truth, the rockets were no more than highly irritating pin-pricks. The figures speak for themselves. Fewer than 20 Israelis have been killed by Qassam rockets since Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005. In the same period Israel, displaying its usual astonishing indifference to Arab life, has killed some 2,000 Palestinians. Israeli state terror has been incomparably more lethal than anything Hamas could manage. The death toll continues to mount.

Israel never liked the truce with Hamas and chose not to respect its terms. Instead of easing the blockade on Gaza—as it was meant to do—it tightened it, reducing the crowded, suffering the Strip to abject misery. And it unilaterally broke the truce by an armed incursion on Nov. 4, which killed several Hamas men. In retrospect, this action must be seen as a deliberate attempt to provoke Hamas into a violent response, and thus provide Israel with a casus belli.

Stopping the rockets fired by Hamas into the Negev was indeed only one of several reasons Israel went to war, and by no means the most important one. If anything, the rockets have provided Israel with a pretext for launching a war with far wider aims.

The principal aim of Israel’s all-out war on Hamas is to reaffirm the military supremacy over all its neighbors which the Jewish state has enjoyed since its creation in 1948. The war is therefore meant as a warning to Hezbollah in Lebanon, as well as to Syria and Iran—and indeed to anyone who might dare challenge Israel’s predominance—that they, too, could face the sort of devastating punishment Gaza is now enduring.

Deterrence—one-sided, Israel-only deterrence—lies at the heart of Israel’s security doctrine. It wants total freedom to hit, and never to be hit back. It relies on brute force to protect itself, and rejects any form of mutual deterrence. It is totally opposed to a regional balance of power which might force it to moderate its actions.

In recent years, however, Israel’s deterrent capability has been somewhat dented by challenges from Hezbollah, Hamas and Iran. Hezbollah held Israel to a draw in the 2006 Lebanon war, while Hamas’ rockets compelled a reluctant Israel to agree to a truce. Even more seriously from Israel’s point of view, the United States resisted Israeli pressure to make war on Iran, whose nuclear program Israel has insisted on portraying as an “existential” threat. The truth is that if the Islamic Republic were ever to reach a nuclear threshold, Israel’s freedom to strike its neighbors would very probably be curtailed.

Throughout the truce with Hamas, which started some six months ago on June 19, Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak devoted himself to planning for the war, which he and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni have now unleashed. Long and careful preparations for the assault were made in the months of relative quiet. The last thing Israel could accept was that Hamas might acquire any deterrent capability of its own, however minimal.

This is what Barak meant when he said that Israel’s intention was “totally to change the rules of the game.” Resistance to Israel of any sort is not to be allowed. Hamas has to be destroyed and rooted out of Gaza altogether. It remains to be seen what the longer-term consequences of this folly might be.

Israel goes to the polls on Feb. 10, a few short weeks from now. The outcome of the war could determine whether Barak, the murderous architect of the Gaza war, can claw back support for his Labor Party from Tzipi Livni’s Kadima and from Binyamin Netanyahu’s hard-right Likud.

It is tempting to see the war as little more than a cynical electoral ploy by Barak and Livni, aimed at enhancing their respective prospects and keeping Netanyahu at bay. In fact, all Israel’s political leaders gave their approval to the war, whatever their party affiliation. All are drunk with military power. All cheered the mounting Palestinian casualties. None seems able to come to terms with what a real peace might entail. Perhaps none of them can truly believe that Israel’s crimes can ever be forgiven or forgotten, and that they have no option, therefore, but to go on killing.

Patrick Seale is a leading British writer on the Middle East, and the author of The Struggle for Syria; also, Asad of Syria: The Struggle for the Middle East; and Abu Nidal: A Gun for Hire. Copyright © 2009 Patrick Seale. Distributed by Agence Global.

Palestinians Will Never Forget

By Susan Abulhawa

How can anyone watching Gaza burn escape the bitter realization that history repeats itself? Many have compared Israel’s treatment of Palestinians to apartheid South Africa. But not in their cruelest hour did the apartheid regime wreak such wanton murder and destruction. Let us stop mincing words. What is happening to Palestinians now whispers of Warsaw and Lodz .

Schools, universities, mosques, police stations, homes, water treatment plants, factories, and anything that supports civil society, including the only mental health clinic in Gaza, have been blown to rubble from planes that rain death from clear skies without any resistance, because Palestinians have no opposing air force. Nor do they have an army or navy. No mechanized armor or heavy weaponry. Thanks to Israel, they haven’t even had continuous electricity or fuel for the past two years. Or food and medicine. Israel’s siege and blockade of Gaza has prevented the movement of people and goods in and out of Gaza, including the import of the most basic goods necessary for survival.

A recent study by the Red Cross showed that 46 percent of Gazan children suffer from anemia. Malnutrition affects 75 percent of Gaza’s population, half of whom are under the age of 17. There has been widespread deafness among children due to Israel’s intentional and frequent sonic booms from low overflights. An alarming number have stunted growth and serious mental disorders due to lack of food. The only way they have been able to survive thus far has been due to the tunnels that smuggle food and goods from Egypt.

Half of Gazan children under 12 have lost their “will to live.” Can anyone fathom the kind of oppression that leads small children en masse to lose their will to live?

This is what Israel has done to Gaza over the past two years. They ghettoized Gaza and turned it into an open air prison—a concentration camp of civilians with no way to earn a living, no way to defend themselves and no place to run from the slaughter bombarding them from air, land, and sea. From the white phosphorous disemboweling young and old alike.

But Gazans dared to try to resist with pathetic homemade rockets that, until Israel’s barbaric attack, generally landed in open desert. The rockets were mostly symbolic of resistance, very much like the fighters in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. But who would have called on a cease-fire there, in 1943, for “both parties” to “cease the violence”? Who would have blamed the Ghetto fighters for their ultimate fate? Who would say they had no right to resist? No right to fight back?

Just as Nazis gave Jews only the right to die silently, Israel starves and besieges Palestinians, giving them only that same right. Just as the Warsaw Ghetto was blown to rubble, Gaza is left to burn in an inferno, its hospitals bursting with the puss of death and unspeakable wounds. The entire population of Gaza is terrorized and traumatized. No one is spared the insecurity and fear. Imagine, please, that you are a Gazan.

What have Palestinians done to deserve such a fate? To be endlessly hunted like animals? To have their homes demolished, their ancient history and heritage cast into forgotten space? To languish in refugee camps and slums, while Jews from all corners of the earth flock to fill their confiscated homes and farms? To be tortured, imprisoned, and denied in every conceivable way?

What have we done that leaders will not speak against this massive and cold aggression against our people? With what logic do you call Palestinians terrorists when their streets flow with the blood of their own children? When they have been stripped naked of possessions, dignity and hope?

Why? Because they elected Hamas? Hamas has held power for less than two years. Yet, Palestinians have suffered this kind of slaughter for 61 years. Whether now in Gaza, in 2002 in Jenin, in 1947 and 1948 in Deir Yasin, Balad el-Sha, Yehida, Tantura, and the list goes on. Or 1982 in Sabra and Shatila.

Palestinians are killed as if insects not because of Hamas or Yasser Arafat before them. Not because of Qassam rockets or hand-thrown rocks. Palestinians burn and bleed because they are the non-Jewish natives of that land. There is no other reason. Just like Jews were killed for being Jewish. Palestinians are killed for being the Muslims and Christians who hold historic, legal and even genetic title to that land.

But unlike Jews of Europe, Palestinians are killed slowly over decades. Unlike Israel, Nazi Germany did not establish such an effective global propaganda machine that would demonize its victims and blame them for their own ghastly fate. But most importantly, like the fighters of the Warsaw Ghetto, Palestinians do not march like mice to their death. In six decades of enduring unspeakable oppression, their will has not been broken. Now is no exception.

Israel, and the United States with its unconditional support, will only succeed in radicalizing a whole new generation of its victims. Of revving up world hatred and resentment against this unholy duo.

Palestinians will not forget this, as they have not forgotten the past 60 years. But what will you remember a week or a year or a decade from now, when a Gazan, who stood before the long rows of corpses and vowed vengeance, creates your 9/11? When one of those few million children without a will to live straps on a belt that rips through your daily routine? Will you remember what we did to them?

Susan Abulhawa is founder of Playgrounds for Palestine and author of The Scar of David, <www.scarofdavid.com>, available from the AET Book Club. This article was first published in the Bucks County Courier on Jan. 2009.

To Live and Die in Gaza

By Laila Al-Arian

  • A Palestinian boy carries his belongings following a Dec. 30, 2008 Israeli air strike on Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip (Reuters/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa).

On Sunday morning, I found out through a note my friend wrote on Facebook, that the Israeli Air Force was attacking my grandfather’s neighborhood in Gaza. Safa, who lives near my grandfather in the densely-populated “Asqoola” in Gaza City, recounted the harrowing hours she spent terrorized by what she called “the constant, ominous, maddening, droning sound” of Apache helicopters flying above. “Outside my home, which is close to the two largest universities in Gaza, a missile fell on a large group of young men, university students,” Safa wrote over the weekend. “They’d been warned not to stand in groups—it makes them an easy target—but they were waiting for buses to take them home. Seven were killed.”

My family had been trying to speak with my grandfather since Saturday, after Israel began its onslaught on Gaza. But we haven’t managed to reach him, perhaps not surprising since so many phone lines are down. “Hold one moment,” is all we hear. A computerized directive from the phone company, one that sounds increasingly strident the more it’s repeated. “Hold one moment.” My mother hangs up in frustration, unable to ease her anxiety or clear her mind from worst-case scenario thoughts.

My grandfather moved to Gaza five years ago after living all over the Middle East for almost 50 years. As far as he was concerned, it was always a matter of time before he’d find his way back to his birthplace. He was born in Gaza City in 1933. Both of his parents died of cancer by his fifth birthday, so he was raised by four older sisters. The Gaza he knew during his childhood was transformed by the establishment of Israel in 1948. Following their forced expulsion from villages and cities across the country, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians streamed into the tiny coastal strip. Most of the refugees relied on assistance from the newly created United Nations Relief and Works Agency to survive, and jobs were hard to come by. My grandfather was thus forced to move to other Arab countries so he could provide for his young family. By 1958, he had married my grandmother, a refugee from Jaffa whose father, a policeman, had been killed by Zionist paramilitaries 10 years earlier. My grandfather took her and their one-year-old son to Saudi Arabia, where he taught Arabic to schoolchildren.

Leaving his beloved Gaza was painful for my grandfather, but he was left with no other choice. Because he was never allowed to become a citizen of any of the four Arab countries in which he worked and lived, my grandfather never felt at home. In his mind, they were transitory stops, temporary resting places on the way to Return. He would save as much as he could from his meager salary so he’d have enough money to take his family to Gaza for summer visits. After years of living modestly, he was able to buy a quarter of an acre of land on Gaza’s coast near the Mediterranean Sea.

My grandfather was sitting in a cafe with a group of friends in the coastal city of Jeddah in Saudi Arabia when he heard that Israel had captured Gaza in the June 1967 war. His face went pale and he fainted from the shock. The Israeli army’s occupation meant Gaza was lost. But in practical terms the news had another catastrophic effect: the Israeli military authorities decreed that any Palestinian who was not in Gaza before the war was not recognized as a resident of the strip.

My grandfather became a U.S. citizen in 1999. By the time he passed his citizenship exam, his knowledge of American history and governance rivaled my own. Three of his children had moved here years earlier, and started their own families. Though my mother begged him to live here with her, my grandfather’s dream of returning to Gaza never left him—and it was his American citizenship that helped him do just that.

When he finally moved back to Gaza, my grandfather changed. He stopped a lifelong habit of chain smoking and embraced the outdoors, faithfully tending the garden in his courtyard. He drank mint tea in his nephews’ vineyard and ate from the fig trees he could only dream about years before. But he was also dismayed by the changes he observed. His hometown had become so overcrowded that trees were cut down to make room for more buildings. With more than 10,000 people per square mile, it has the highest population density in the world. (Considering Gaza’s overcrowded environment, it is hard to fathom how anyone can argue that Israeli’s aerial bombardment is focused exclusively on “Hamas targets.”)

My grandfather, throughout his life, never belonged to any political factions, but like many Gazans he hoped that Hamas’ election would bring back a semblance of law and order. Palestinian Authority officials had been dogged by allegations of corruption since they began administering Gaza and the West Bank under the 1993 Oslo accords. To many Gazans, the PA and its minions were no better than gangsters.

With Israel’s draconian blockade of Gaza, imposed as punishment for the election of Hamas and backed by the U.S. and Europe, my grandfather’s life was transformed yet again. Medication to treat his diabetes was in short supply and because of a shortage of gas and electricity, his family was forced to use primitive kerosene burners for cooking. Bakeries now had to resort to baking bread with animal feed, and sewage treatment plants were crippled as fuel ran out, forcing the water authority to dump millions of liters of waste into the Mediterranean Sea. Electricity was scarce, with homes receiving an average of only six hours a day. Unemployment shot up to 67 percent. Because of the border closures, my grandfather’s nephews, who used to work in construction in Israel, now had no source of income. Israel’s blockade caused a slow starvation of the entire population, as malnutrition rates spiked upwards of 75 percent among the Strip’s 1.5 million residents. As in most siege situations, children suffered the most from hunger and disease.

As missiles rain over Gaza, I can only imagine what my grandfather is thinking. Much of the territory’s civilian infrastructure, including police stations, universities, mosques and homes, has been decimated. In the Jabalya refugee camp, five sisters, the eldest aged 17 and the youngest only 4, were killed on Monday as they slept in their beds when an Israeli air strike hit a mosque by their home. Their parents told reporters they assumed they were safe, since houses of worship typically are not military targets. The cemetery where the girls were buried was filled to capacity, so they were placed in three graves. A United Nations spokesperson said the killing is a “tragic illustration that this bombardment is exacting a terrible price on innocent civilians.” The bereaved father expressed the sentiments of so many in Gaza in an interview with The Washington Post. “I don’t have anything to do with any Palestinian faction. I have nothing to do with Hamas or anyone. I am just an ordinary person.” A few days after the attack, I found out that the girls were relatives of our family friends in Florida.

I asked my mother why my grandfather did not leave Gaza while its gates were still open. Why he didn’t leave before the siege, before life became unbearable, and before this latest bombardment. “Because that’s where he feels he belongs,” she said. “He was always homesick before. Gaza is where his parents were buried. It’s where he wants to die.”

Laila Al-Arian is a free-lance journalist and co-author, with Chris Hedges, of Collateral Damage: America’s War Against Iraqi Civilians (available from the AET Book Club). This article first appeared in The Nation, Jan. 2, 2009. Copyright © 2009 The Nation. Distributed by Agence Global.

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