Final Words on Israel, Gaza, the West Bank and America

Not being a Muslim or a Jew, I don’t feel any special kinship with the Palestinians or the Israelis. And since I’m not a Christian either, I don’t have any special interest in the so-called “Holy Land”.

Yet I can’t remember being this disturbed by a national or international event since the 2000 Presidential election fiasco and our subsequent fantasy-based invasion of Iraq.

I didn’t mention 9/11. I was in Lower Manhattan that morning and soon thereafter, but that astounding, horrible event didn’t traumatize me as much as the immense fuck-up and scandalous political-judicial decisions that gave us President George W. Bush, and the evil way in which Bush and bastards like Cheney and Rumsfeld used 9/11 to justify their criminal behavior (which, of course, led to much more death and destruction in Iraq than occurred earlier in New York City).

Men (of course it’s almost always us) insist on killing innocent people. 9/11 was another example of that. There were fanatics and ideologues who claimed it was justified, but they were easy to ignore. For some reason, I’m finding it very difficult to ignore what the Israeli government is doing to the Palestinians. It’s so patently wrong, yet so many apparently reasonable people claim it’s completely justified (blind allegiance will have that effect). In addition, writing this blog and trying to be accurate has made me read more about the situation, and the more I read, the angrier I get.

So, regarding accuracy: A few days ago, I cited a United Nations report that said there was an Israeli airstrike on June 11, before the three teenagers were kidnapped, which was followed by someone in Gaza firing rockets at Israel. I’ve since seen another account here that says the rockets were fired before the airstrike. I also cited a Times of Israel article stating that Hamas launched its first barrage of rockets since 2012 on June 30, apparently in retaliation for another Israel airstrike. That implies that the rockets fired earlier in June weren’t fired by Hamas. It’s been pointed out, however, that there are non-Hamas factions in Gaza that sometimes fire rockets (and that Hamas has sometimes stopped them from doing so). The obvious moral here is that it’s often unclear who is doing what in this conflict and who did it first (“truth is the first casualty of war”).

Nevertheless, who first attacked by airstrike or rocket isn’t the main issue. The much bigger story, which many of Israel’s defenders fail to understand or accept, is that Israel provoked this latest round of fighting.

Therefore, as befits an enterprise that Alexa currently ranks as the 13,378,330th most-visited website in the world, I’ll now express my final thoughts on Israel, Gaza and the West Bank, mainly by quoting people who write better and are better informed. Let’s all hope the ceasefire announced last night becomes permanent. (After adding that last sentence just now, I checked and see that last night’s planned 72-hour ceasefire has already been broken.)

Last week, Henry Siegman, a former national director of the American Jewish Congress, published an article called, simply enough, “Israel Provoked This War”.

There seems to be near-universal agreement in the United States with President Barack Obama’s observation that Israel, like every other country, has the right and obligation to defend its citizens from threats directed at them from beyond its borders. But this anodyne statement does not begin to address the political and moral issues raised by Israel’s bombings and land invasion of Gaza: [1] who violated the cease-fire agreement that was in place since November 2012 and [2] whether Israel’s civilian population could have been protected by nonviolent means that would not have placed Gaza’s civilian population at risk.

Siegman quotes a piece by Nathan Thrall, an analyst at the non-profit International Crisis Group, who wrote that:

The current escalation in Gaza is a direct result of the choice by Israel and the West to obstruct the implementation of the April 2014 Palestinian reconciliation agreement [between Hamas and the Palestine Liberation Organization]….Israel immediately sought to undermine the reconciliation agreement by preventing Hamas leaders and Gaza residents from obtaining the two most essential benefits of the deal: the payment of salaries to 43,000 civil servants who worked for the Hamas government and continue to administer Gaza…, and the easing of the suffocating border closures imposed by Israel and Egypt… For many Gazans, and not just Hamas supporters, it’s worth risking more bombardment and now the ground incursion, for a chance to change that unacceptable status quo. A cease-fire that fails to resolve the salary crisis and open Gaza’s border with Egypt will not last.

Siegman also quotes Yitzhak Laor, a writer for Haaretz. Here’s how Laor begins his article:

In the midst of events, with all the TV commotion enveloping the current crisis, one tends to forget the crux of the matter, the continuous chain linking it to previous steps – the foiling of negotiations with the Palestinians, refusal to release prisoners as agreed upon, incitement against their unity government and the expansion of settlements. All of these are part of [Israel’s] right-wing government’s plan to destroy any political entity in the occupied territories, turning the Palestinian people, at best, into a fragmented, marginalized people deprived of their rights.

Siegman concludes that the U.S. needs to exert more pressure on Israel, because the present Israeli government has no interest in a real two-state solution. Halting military aid to Israel would be a great start, of course, rather than resupplying Israel’s military with ammunition, as we shamefully did this week.

More recently, Rashid Khalidi, a professor at Columbia and a former adviser to the Palestinians, writing for The New Yorker called attention to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s statement at a press conference in Tel Aviv. Netanyahu said:

“I think the Israeli people understand now what I always say: that there cannot be a situation, under any agreement, in which we relinquish security control of the territory west of the River Jordan.”

Khalidi concludes that:

What is going on in Palestine today is not really about Hamas. It is not about rockets. It is not about “human shields” or terrorism or tunnels. It is about Israel’s permanent control over Palestinian land and Palestinian lives. That is what Netanyahu is really saying, and that is what he now admits he has “always” talked about. It is about an unswerving, decades-long Israeli policy of denying Palestine self-determination, freedom and sovereignty.

What Israel is doing in Gaza now is collective punishment. It is punishment for Gaza’s refusal to be a docile ghetto. It is punishment for the gall of Palestinians in unifying, and of Hamas and other factions in responding to Israel’s siege and its provocations with resistance, armed or otherwise, after Israel repeatedly reacted to unarmed protest with crushing force….

As Netanyahu’s own words show, … Israel will accept nothing short of the acquiescence of Palestinians to their own subordination. It will accept only a Palestinian “state” that is stripped of all the attributes of a real state: control over security, borders, airspace, maritime limits, contiguity, and, therefore, sovereignty. The twenty-three-year charade of the “peace process” has shown that this is all Israel is offering, with the full approval of Washington. Whenever the Palestinians have resisted that pathetic fate (as any nation would), Israel has punished them for their insolence.

On a more optimistic note, William Saletan sees promise in a plan to demilitarize Gaza in exchange for $50 billion in international aid. That’s 30 times Gaza’s gross domestic product. The demilitarization would be monitored by neutral observers. Whether either side would accept a plan like that is an excellent question.

My own conclusion is that Israel is reasonably satisfied with the status quo, even though it occasionally requires “mowing the grass” in Gaza, as Israeli pundits and officials often put it. The Israelis occasionally provoke a violent response from somebody in Gaza, as they did this time by conducting an extremely aggressive search for those kidnappers, and then use that violent response as justification for open warfare, all the while claiming self-defense.

Israel has occupied Gaza for close to 50 years, and so long as American politicians support the status quo, the situation in Gaza probably won’t change very much. Meanwhile, the Palestinians of the West Bank, who met Israel’s demands to renounce violence and acknowledge Israel’s right to exist, will continue to lose ground to Israeli settlers. For a startling look at how many Israeli settlements have been built in the West Bank on land that once belonged to the Palestinians, you can visit this page operated by Americans for Peace Now.

Peace out, as they say.