From Lebanon to Gaza: Israel’s D

By Max Kantar

From a historical perspective, it’s almost eerie to watch the events in Gaza unfold today as they closely mirror the patterns, motives, and propaganda that led to Israel’s 1982 "Operation Peace for Galilee" invasion of southern Lebanon. A careful student of history and the ongoing crisis will find that all rhetoric and politics aside, Israel’s motivations and aims haven’t fundamentally changed over the past several decades.

By What Standards is "Operation Cast Lead" a Success?

On Saturday night Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert proudly announced that Israel’s war "aims" of Operation Cast Lead had been "fully achieved" following 22 consecutive days of merciless Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip. [1] Right around the time that Olmert was striking heroic poses and claiming victory, at least eight rockets were fired into southern Israel from Gaza. [2]

According to the Israeli foreign ministry, Operation Cast Lead was launched in order to "enhance long-term security for Israel’s southern population" and "protect the citizens of southern Israel" from "daily Hamas rocket and mortar fire." [3]

If Israel’s actual war aims were indeed those that have been unequivocally professed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and every high ranking Israeli official, then Israel’s "war" has been a complete failure. In the first 13 days of Operation Cast Lead alone, Palestinian militants in Gaza were firing an average of 35 rockets into southern Israel every day [4] while at least 30 mortar rounds were fired into Israel in the last 24 hours leading up to Israel’s unilateral and temporary cease-fire declared on January 17th. [5]

The Failed Cease-Fire Agreement

Of course, Israel’s main concern was and is not the safety of its southern population. Israel’s south did enjoy a period of relative calm during the June 19th Egyptian brokered cease-fire period in which Hamas fired exactly zero rockets into Israel from Gaza. [6] Presumably, the fact that Hamas abided by the dictates of the agreement was precisely the reason why Israel had to ensure that the period of calm in Israel did not last.

While Hamas maintained the cease-fire for a period of four and a half months (June 19-November 4) Palestinians in Gaza were met with constant provocations and flagrant violations of the cease-fire agreement from Israel. Throughout the entire cease-fire period the Israeli Navy conducted a campaign of harassment and assault against unarmed civilian fishing boats off the coast of Gaza in what appeared to be an attempt to evoke some sort of violent response from Hamas that could be used as a pretext for an Israeli offensive – planning of which had already been long underway. [7] Several fishermen were injured, boats were destroyed, and international volunteers were also shot at by Israel while accompanying fishing boats off the coast of Gaza. [8]

Israel also violated one of the main tenets of the agreement by refusing to ease, let alone lift, its illegal economic blockade of the Gaza Strip. Gaza’s 1.5 million residents, mostly children and refugees, faced a "humanitarian catastrophe" according to the UN and leading human rights groups while hundreds of sick Palestinians died from lack of medical care and supplies. Hundreds of thousands of Gazans had their electricity, water, and food supplies cut off indefinitely. [9] The blockade has been denounced by UN officials as a war crime under the 33rd article of the 4th Geneva Convention which prohibits the "collective punishment" of a population. [10]

Despite these Israeli provocations and violations of the Egyptian brokered agreement, Hamas did not retaliate by firing rockets or mortar rounds into Israel. On November 4th, four and a half months into the agreement while the world’s attention was focused on America’s historic elections, Israel preemptively raided the Gaza Strip and killed at least six Hamas militants. This time Hamas did finally retaliate with a barrage of crude rocket fire into Israel which resulted in no casualties. [11] Cross border violence between Israel and Hamas continued unceasingly right up until Israel initiated its long planned "Operation Cast Lead" on December 27th.

Déjà vu in 1982, "Operation Peace for Galilee"

Like the 2009 invasion of Gaza, Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon, "Operation Peace for Galilee," was largely preceded by multiple cease-fire periods beginning in 1981 which were observed by the PLO despite flagrant violations and attacks by Israel. For over a month during a cease-fire agreement, (1981, May 28th—June 3rd) Israel attacked southern Lebanon with little response from the PLO for fear of a "crushing Israeli ground operation."

While renewing its attacks after the establishment of an additional US brokered cease-fire, Israel did succeed in provoking a Palestinian response by July 10th as the PLO retaliated with a string of rocket attacks into Israel’s northern Galilee region. A cease-fire was declared two weeks later, but not after 450 Arabs (mostly civilians) and six Israelis were killed. [12]

Apart from two "light" retaliatory shellings in May and June respectively, there were no PLO attacks on Israel’s northern Galilee during the following 11 months leading up to Israel’s June1982 invasion of Lebanon despite several Israeli attacks on Palestinian and Lebanese targets in southern Lebanon during the same period. [13]

Finally, after extensive planning, Israel launched "Operation Peace for Galilee" on June 6th, using the PLO retaliations in the Israel’s northern region as part of the necessary pretext for the initial invasion of Lebanon which killed roughly 20,000 people, mostly civilians. [14]

The Connection: Israel’s Opposition to Moderate Palestinian Nationalism

So what does Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon have to do with Israel’s 2008-09 bombardment and invasion of Gaza? In a word: everything.

It has been widely recognized in Israel by serious historians and commentators that Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982 to destroy a political threat—not a military threat—posed by the PLO. The PLO was gaining international legitimacy as the "sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people" and had even abandoned its revolutionary charter and called for a two-state settlement based on the pre-June 1967 borders—precisely the international consensus on the question of Israel-Palestine—something totally unacceptable to Israel who remained committed to annexing its Jewish-only settlements in the occupied territories. As the Israeli General, Ariel Sharon remarked, "quiet on the West Bank" requires "the destruction of the PLO in Lebanon." [15]

Furthermore, as noted by leading Israeli scholar, Yehoshua Porath, Israel’s decision to invade Lebanon largely "flowed from the very fact that the cease-fire had been observed [by the PLO]…a veritable catastrophe in the eyes of the Israeli government" because such an acts of restraint and adherence to a truce were potentially destroying the favored Israeli propaganda image of the PLO being a "wild gang of murderers." [16]

Similarly, Israel has maintained a strict policy of isolation and no negotiations with the democratically elected Hamas government despite the fact that Hamas has made itself clear on numerous occasions, often reported in the Israeli press, that it would be willing to accept a two-state settlement based on the pre-June 1967 borders in exchange for a long term truce with Israel. [17]

The fact that Hamas observed the cease-fire agreement until November 5th in spite of Israel’s relentless economic blockade, several assassinations of Hamas officials in the West Bank, and numerous provocations from the Israeli Navy against Gaza’s fishermen threatened to reinforce and further establish Hamas’ diplomatic legitimacy as well as its ability to govern in Palestine.

In both cases Israel sought to destroy the bases of popular support for the PLO and Hamas respectively, by directing most of its attacks to highly populated civilian centers in order to terrorize unarmed civilians in hopes that the respective populations would turn against their leaders. In "Operation Cast Lead" the IAF first targeted civilian police stations, killing 165 officers in an attempt to destroy Hamas’ ability to effectively govern the Gaza Strip. Such targeting largely undermines Hamas’ ability to enforce a cease-fire agreement in the future, thereby allowing Israel to recreate the image of a fanatic terrorist gang of thugs who are not interested in diplomacy or peace. [18]

From 1982 to the present, the goals and motivations of Israeli policy remain fundamentally the same. In order to consolidate its illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem while necessarily maintaining its rejectionist position in isolation with the US, Israel can not tolerate any independent Palestinian representative organization that it can’t control. It cannot accept Palestinian leadership that is willing to settle with Israel along the lines of the overwhelming international consensus that has existed for over three decades. Such a settlement would end Israeli hopes of retaining its settlements and control over natural resources and borders in the occupied territories. [19]

Israel’s stance has nothing to do with "terrorism," Islamic fundamentalism, or radicalism. Both the secular PLO of the early 80’s and the Islamic Hamas movement of today respectively proved their willingness to halt resistance to the occupation, legitimate or otherwise, in negotiated periods of cease-fire. Both organizations expressed in clear terms their willingness to accept, by definition, moderate positions regarding the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside the state of Israel inside its internationally accepted borders.

Israel’s insistence on confrontation and expansion at the expense of regional integration, national security, and peace remains steadfast to this day. It seems fair to say that until Israel is again spoken to with the "language of force," no Palestinian state will be established and both Israelis and Palestinians will surely remain strangers to peace. [20]

– Max Kantar is a freelance writer. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: maxkantar@gmail.com.

Notes

[1] Keinon, Herb "Olmert calls a halt to assault on Hamas," The Jerusalem Post, January 18, 2009.

2] "Gazan rockets still hitting Israel," Press TV, January 18, 2009.

[3] "Behind the headlines: Israel expands Operation Cast Lead," Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, January 4, 2009. (www.mfa.gov.il)

[4] Weiss, Efrat, "Some 450 rockets fired during Gaza op," Ynet, January 9, 2009. Note: the number of an average of "35 rockets per day" cited in the text comes from dividing 450 rockets by 13 days of Operation Cast Lead.

[5] See note 2

[6] Note: The period of relative calm refers to June 19—November 4, 2008. Other non-related militant groups based in Gaza did fire a small number of rockets into Israel during the cease-fire period before November 4th in retaliation for Israeli attacks on militants in the West Bank. Hamas reportedly arrested several militants thought to be responsible for the attacks. To see the Israeli foreign ministry’s chart documenting the unprecedented and drastic decrease in rocket fire visit their website which is cited in Note 3 above. Also, while Hamas could only be accused of marginally violating the cease-fire agreement by not fully stopping a few rockets from other militant groups, Israel bares no small responsibility in creating these conditions by undermining Hamas’ ability to govern since its electoral victory in 2006. For a further discussion on this, see my "The Politics and Propaganda of the US-Israeli War on Gaza" at CounterCurrents.org.

[7] Ravid, Barak, "Disinformation, Secrecy, and Lies: How the Gaza offensive came about," Ha’aretz, December 31, 2008.

[8] See the International Solidarity Movement website, www.palsolidarity.org and search for "fishermen Gaza September" and "fishermen Gaza October" for reports on Israeli Navy violations of the cease-fire. For more discussion, see note 7 in my "The Politics and Propaganda of the US-Israeli War on Gaza" for which a link is provided in note 6 above.

[9] Sheets, Adam, "The Facts about Israel’s war on Gaza."

[10] "Convention (IV) Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War," International Humanitarian Law—Treaties and Documents, Geneva, August 12, 1949.

[11] Williams, Rachel "Hamas fires rockets after Israel kills six in Gaza," The Guardian, November 5, 2008.

[12] Chomsky, Noam, Pirates and Emperors, South End Press, 2002 (pgs. 54-56). Also see chapter 5 of Chomsky’s The Fateful Triangle (1999 edition) and Schiff and Ya’ari’s Israel’s Lebanon War (1984)

[13] Chomsky, Noam The Fateful Triangle, p.197 South End Press, 1999.

[14] Also largely used as a superficial pretext for Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982 was the assassination of the Israeli Ambassador in London by Abu Nidal who was the leader of an anti-PLO terrorist group, and who himself was condemned to death by the PLO. Neither Abu Nidal nor his organization had even an office or base in southern Lebanon, further illustrating the lunacy of such a pretext. For additional sources and commentary see the book and page cited above in note 13.

[15] See note 13, p. 199.

[16] Yehoshua, Porath, Ha’aretz, June 25, 1982 or for accessability, see note 13 above, pgs. 200-201

[17] Hass, Amira "Haniyeh: We will accept Palestinian state within ’67 borders" Ha’aretz, November 10, 2008.

For another example see:

Ravid, Barak, "In 2006 letter to Bush, Haniyeh offered to compromise with Israel," Ha’aretz, November 14, 2008.

[18] See my article/fact sheet "The Massacre in Gaza: Check the Facts," published at The Palestine Chronicle.

[19] The international consensus refers to the establishment of a Palestinian state within the pre-June 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital with a "just solution" to the refugee problem. This consensus dates back to the mid 1970s with the international community voting unanimously for such a settlement with the US unilaterally rejecting (and vetoing) it in the UN Security Council (1976). Since 1989 the US and Israel have been virtually alone (aside from a few pacific island dependencies) in the UN General Assembly in opposing such a settlement in Palestine with the entire world supporting the establishment of a Palestinian state along the accepted borders while recognizing Israel’s right to statehood and self-determination in the pre-June 1967 borders. Furthermore, in 2002 the Arab League offered Israel full peace, regional integration, recognition and "an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict" in exchange for Israeli withdrawal from the territories occupied in 1967 and the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem with a just solution to the refugee problem. Israel has repeatedly rejected the offer.

[20] The ‘language of force’ is a reference to a term that was often used by Israelis when referring to the surrounding Arab states. It was often said [by Israeli officials] that the Arabs only understood the ‘language of force’ basically meaning that the Arab states would have to be subjugated violently and militarily by Israel in order to ensure Israeli hegemony, to make sure the Arabs were properly put in their place. It became clear that if nothing else, the ‘language of force’ is universal, in the October 1973 war when Egypt succeeded in delivering a serious blow to Israel in an unexpected display of military might and coordination, ultimately forcing Israel to accept Sadat’s 1971 peace proposal at Camp David in 1978. For an impeccable analysis of the documentary record of these years as well as excellent and in depth commentary on Arab-Israel discourse on, among other things, the ‘language of force,’ please see Norman Finkelstein’s Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict, Verso, 2003, pgs. 150-171.

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