Throughout the current Israel’s assault on Gaza, President Obama, the Congress, and the media have been sounding off the mantra of “Israel’s right to defend itself” against rockets from Gaza—a self-evident right, if Israel were indeed the innocent victim of a military aggression, and not its perpetrator. The right to self-defense actually belongs to the Palestinians, who, as the indigenous population of Palestine, have been subjected to ethnic cleansing since 1947-8. This project will continue unless the US stops vetoing UN Security Council resolutions, which condemn Israel’s illegal actions and take punitive measures against them—so far, 42 such vetoes.
As of July 29, Israel’s bombing campaign and the more recent addition of a ground offensive have killed 1100 and seriously wounded 6000 Palestinians—80% of them unarmed civilians, including over 200 children. The Netanyahu government and the Obama Administration blame the high civilian casualty on Hamas, claiming they use civilians as “human shields” and place their military installations among civilians. They know very well, though, that Gaza, having the world’s highest population density, doesn’t have enough space to place its rocket-launching facilities away from civilians. Moreover, as Israeli journalist Amira Hass writes, Israel itself has its military headquarters in civilian areas—potentially putting its population at risk of being hurt during rocket attacks.
There is ample evidence that Israel’s strategy is not just targeting militant Islamists and their military installations, but using their war machine to instill terror in the hearts and minds of children and adults, trapped in these killing fields. Norwegian physician Dr. Mads Gilbert, who’s been treating the injured in Gaza, describes the extreme damage that Israel’s US-made dense inert metal explosives (DIME) inflict on their victims: “…people are torn apart. I mean, they’re split at their midlevel. They lose their arms and legs, and they’re killed. They’re charcoaled by the burns, if they are hit by these DIME explosives.”
Furthermore, the Israeli army, which boasts of the precision of its targeting, has killed many civilians who could not have been mistaken as militants: nine young men were torn into pieces, and fifteen more wounded, as they were watching a World Cup game in a beachfront café on July 9. On July 16, four small children who were playing on the beach were killed by two rounds of shelling. Civilians who had taken refuge in a UN school were denied time to leave before the school was bombed, killing dozens. This is nothing but terrorism, and America is its financier and sponsor.
Besides the loss of life and severe injuries, Israel’s destruction of the infrastructure left over from its 2008-9 and 2012 attacks will further harm the health and the ability of Gazans to make a living. People have irrevocably lost the use of 60% of their agricultural land. The vast majority of their chicken coops, water tanks and sewage treatment facilities, and their only flour mill, have been targeted and destroyed. Gone too is most of their electricity-generating capacity.
The harsh maritime, aerial and ground blockade that Israel has maintained over Gaza since 2007 has made it next to impossible for the people to acquire the needed material to fix damages to the infrastructure and their sources of livelihood. In addition, the blockade has deprived Gazans of the nutrition they need to sustain themselves. Gisha, an Israeli human rights organization, has documented that in 2008 Israeli health experts had calculated that in order to prevent malnutrition, 170 truck-loads of food should be allowed into Gaza. Less than half this number of trucks were entering Gaza with foodstuffs before the siege. The Israeli officials have even lowered this minimal number, to 67, doubled the number of trucks filled with nutritionally poor foodstuffs, and have drastically reduced the amount of milk, fruits and vegetables allowed into Gaza. A Red Cross report leaked in 2008 has concluded that “chronic malnutrition is on a steadily rising trend and micro-nutrient deficiencies are of great concern.” Before the start of the current military campaign, 80% of Gazans were already dependent on humanitarian aid to survive.
Given this dire situation, it isn’t hard to understand the level of desperation and hatred toward Israel. The new round of mostly ineffectual rocket attacks on Israel started as a warning to Israelis and world powers that the suffering of Gazans cannot be ignored any more, especially since in late April John Kerry had admitted to the failure of the US to even initiate a “peace negotiation,” and had blamed the Israeli settlement-building for it.
The Israeli regime has shown repeatedly that it willingly accepts the cost of the occupation and the siege, specifically rocket attacks, in order to get sympathy from the West, and to complete its colonization project of almost the entirety of Palestine. As befits him, Netanyahu took advantage of the renewed rocket attacks, and exploited the horrific murder of three young Israeli settlers, in order to score several political points. Chief among them being, once again, to sabotage the creation of a unity government between Fatah and Hamas, declared in April 2014, and blessed by the Quartet (representatives of the UN, US, EU, and Russia).
Hamas has been blamed for rejecting the ceasefire “plan” drafted by Egypt’s military rulers without input from Hamas. Hamas correctly maintained that a brief ceasefire and return to the status quo would be meaningless. They pointed to the ceasefire deal of November 2012, which was to lead to the easing of the siege of Gaza, but which Israel flouted with the usual impunity. This time, Hamas says, they will only accept a ceasefire based on the recognition of the short-term demands of the Palestinians. Among those are the permanent lifting of the Israeli blockade; placing international forces at Gaza’s borders with Israel and Egypt; and non-interference of Israel in the formation and workings of the Palestinian unity government. Without due pressure, Israeli policy makers will not accept these conditions, despite the fact that they are within the framework of international law and past consensus. The key to the success of this first step toward a just peace between Palestinians and Israel is the US, which is still unwilling to act as an honest broker.
This situation leaves Americans with only one ethical option: to heed the call of Palestinian civil society for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction (BDS) against Israel until it decides to join the international community and live in peace with its Palestinian cousins. In the meantime, we have no right to tell Palestinians living under siege and occupation how they can and can’t resist.
Niloofar Shambayati is a lecturer in Humanities at Parkland College, specializing in modern Middle Eastern history and politics.
This article is a variation of a Commentary that appeared in the News-Gazette on Sunday, July 27.