Uncontroversial yet Taboo: Gaza in Context

By Roger Sheety

The recent killing of 25 Palestinians in Gaza and the wounding of at least 80 more within four days—March 9-12—requires some context as the majority of western mainstream media outlets are either unwilling or unable to provide any.

More often than not these mainstream media reports in some form or another refer to the Palestinian dead as “militants.” The term militant is defined simply as “vigorously active and aggressive, especially in support of a cause” and “engaged in warfare; fighting.”  Synonyms listed include “belligerent, combative, and contentious.  See:  fanatic.”  Already then, Palestinians, even as they are killed in large numbers by the most sophisticated weapons money can buy, are marked as the aggressors.  Further, as implied within the definition, they are fanatics, irrational and bent on destruction—the victim in this case being poor, nuclear-armed and US-protected Israel.

Virtually none of the major western media outlets ever ask questions such as:  who exactly are these “militants”?  Why are there so many of them in such a small place as Gaza?  Why, if they are such an existential threat to poor Israel, are they always being killed in such substantial numbers?  And why do the dead always include scores of women, children, the elderly and the sick?  These, apparently, are taboo questions in the free western media and therefore beyond the realm of permitted discussion.

Here, however, is some background to help answer these supposedly unspeakable questions.

Al-Nakba, 1948

One reason why Gaza, an area that is today no larger than about 360 square kilometers (140 square miles), is so densely crowed is that many of its 1.6 million residents were originally ethnically cleansed from hundreds of destroyed ancient Palestinian towns and villages in 1948.  This deliberate ethnic cleansing, depopulation and destruction was carried out by Zionist militias, colonists recently arrived from Europe and Russia and led by David Ben-Gurion, a revered hero among Israelis, western elites and their media apologists.  The port city of Jaffa, a once vibrant Palestinian city before 1948, was also ethnically cleansed of almost all of its original Palestinian residents, many of whom also ended up in refugee camps in Gaza.  Any Palestinians who tried to go back to their destroyed homes, their usurped farms and fields or tried to locate lost relatives left behind in what was now suddenly “Israel” were shot on sight by those same Zionist militias. 

As noted and documented by the superb scholar and historian Ilan Pappe, “When it was over, more than half of Palestine’s native population, close to 800,000 people, had been uprooted, 531 villages had been destroyed, and eleven urban neighbourhoods emptied of their inhabitants” (The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, xiii).  In subsequent decades the number of razed villages would rise to over 600 as the Israeli state continued its systematic policy of depopulating Palestinian towns and villages.  Now, though, they would demolish only a few at a time so to escape any international scrutiny and rebuke.

Khan Yunis and Rafah Massacres, 1956

Not satisfied with the theft of eighty percent of historical Palestine in 1948, the Zionist leadership, collaborating with France and Britain, decided to attack Egypt and take the Sinai.  The path to Egypt, however, went through the now much smaller Gaza Strip, recently cut-off from Palestine, now Israel.  Commanded by Moshe Dayan, a by-now veteran and decorated war criminal, the Israeli army marched into Gaza, occupied it and proceeded to commit two separate massacres in November of 1956, murdering 275 Palestinians in the town of Khan Yunis and another 111 in the neighbouring town of Rafah.

In a moment of clarity, Dayan would later comment on the Palestinian refugees he had helped ethnically cleanse and dispossess in 1948:  “What cause have we to complain about their fierce hatred to us?” he would ask rhetorically.  “For eight years now they [Palestinians] have sat in the refugee camps of Gaza, and have watched how, before their very eyes, we have turned their lands and villages, where they and their forefathers previously dwelled, into our home… We are a generation of settlers, and without the steel helmet and gun barrel, we shall not be able to plant a tree or build a house” (Avi Shlaim, The Iron Wall, 101).  Under orders from the United States, Ben-Gurion would withdraw his army from the Sinai and Gaza but Israel was not yet done with conquest.

Permanent Occupation, 1967

Having failed to steal the Sinai from Egypt in 1956, Israel attempted yet again to take land which did not belong to it.  This time, however, the Sinai on its own was not enough, for Israel also had its eye on the West Bank, Gaza and Syria’s Golan Heights which it occupied with typical brute force in June 1967 crushing any resistance and killing at least 22000 Egyptians, Palestinians, Jordanians and Syrians.  Israeli casualties on the other hand would remain below 1000.

The myth, still perpetuated to this day, was that this was a defensive war on Israel’s part.  No serious historian or scholar, however, ever believed this was true, particularly after close examination.  Indeed, as is usually the case, even Israeli officials would later admit in either private or public statements that the 1967 war was just another land grab in the guise of “self-defense” and “security.”  As Mordechai Bentov, Minister of Housing, would later confess:  “The entire story of the danger of extermination was invented in every detail, and exaggerated a posteriori to justify the annexation of new Arab territory” (Al-Hamishmar, April 14, 1971).  

And here is General Mordechai Hod, Commanding General of the Israeli Air Force on the planning of this annexation:  “Sixteen years planning had gone into those initial eighty minutes.  We lived with the plan, we slept on the plan, we ate the plan. Constantly we perfected it” (Alfred M. Lilienthal, The Zionist Connection, 558-559). Israel’s war of aggression allowed the Zionist state the chance to expel a further 300,000 Palestinians from their homes—a detail usually glossed over or forgotten by mainstream comment. Israel would also expel 130,000 Syrian civilians from the Golan, a territory it continues to occupy.

Moshe Dayan would soon after succinctly outline Israeli policy for Palestinians, particularly those in Gaza and the West Bank:  “We have no solution… You [Palestinians] shall continue to live like dogs, and whoever wishes may leave, and we will see where this process leads” (Yossi Beilin, Speaking of the Palestinians, in Mehiro shel Ihud (Revivim, 1985), p. 42).  This policy, supported and funded by the United States Government and its client states with grants of several billion dollars annually, continues to this day.

In order to expand its stolen territory, Israel would in the late seventies and early eighties attack Lebanon and occupy it for two decades, killing tens of thousands of Lebanese and Palestinian civilians and leaving the country in ruins before finally being driven out in the year 2000.

Siege and Massacres, 2006-2012

By 2006 Gazans and Palestinians in general had endured nearly six decades of dispossession and occupation. Palestinian civil society had long tired of the Fatah political leadership which by then was viewed by many West Bank and Gaza Palestinians at least as corrupted and so, as most people around the world often do when faced with a similar situation, they voted for the opposition party. 

As punishment for daring to vote as they wished, Israel walled in the Gaza Strip and sealed it off from the rest of the world, an act of war approved and aided by the governments of the United States, Britain, Europe, Canada and Australia. Between 2006 and 2008 Israel would bomb the now besieged Gaza Strip killing civilians on a regular basis and with permission from its sponsors.  In 2007 and 2008 alone, before its major attack of December 2008, the Israel forces killed over 700 Palestinians including women, children and the elderly.  The siege also effectively destroyed the remnants of Gaza’s already tattered economy, creating a deep societal crisis that lasts to this day. Food and clean water shortages, lack of electricity due to constant Israeli bombings and rampant unemployment are now among the regular struggles of Gazan society.

Not content with its punishment of Gaza, the Zionist state decided to break its own truce with Hamas, the governing party, launching a vicious attack on December 27, 2008. This attack, dubbed Operation Cast Lead, killed 1417 Palestinians and injured or maimed over 5300 more in a three-week period finally ending on January 18, 2009. Israeli casualties reached a total of thirteen, a handful of them killed accidentally by Israeli forces. The massacre shocked and disgusted many around the world including Israeli poet and novelist Yitzhak Laor. Laor correctly summed up the Zionist state’s long-term plan, a plan that most Palestinians had understood since at least 1948: 

“Israel is engaged in a long war of annihilation against Palestinian society. The objective is to destroy the Palestinian nation and drive it back into pre-modern groupings based on the tribe, the clan and the enclave. This is the last phase of the Zionist colonial mission, culminating in inaccessible townships, camps, villages, districts, all of them to be walled or fenced off, and patrolled by a powerful army which, in the absence of a proper military objective, is really an over-equipped police force, with F16s, Apaches, tanks, artillery, commando units and hi-tech surveillance at its disposal” (London Review of Books, January 2009).

With all the above in mind, one may now properly re-ask the questions: who are the real militants and aggressors? Who are the true fanatics? Who are the colonizers and who are the colonized, the occupiers and the occupied? 

Ben-Gurion, being the quintessential colonial settler that he always was, of course already knew the answers long ago.  Thus, as early as 1938 he would state: “Let us not ignore the truth among ourselves… A people which fights against the usurpation of its land will not tire so easily…politically we are the aggressors and they defend themselves…. The country is theirs, because they inhabit it, whereas we want to come here and settle down, and in their view we want to take away from them their country"  (Address at the Mapai Political Committee, June 7, 1938 as quoted in Zionism and the Palestinians (1979) by Simha Flapan, 141 – 142). 

These, then, are just a few of the uncontroversial—yet somehow taboo—contextual and historical facts not allowed within mainstream media discourse.  For year after year and decade after decade since 1948, Palestinians in Gaza and indeed throughout historical Palestine have been punished simply because they are, as author and journalist Ali Abunimah has ironically stated, the “wrong type of people.” They are, as Noam Chomsky has also ironically termed them, “unpeople,” and can therefore be ethnically cleansed, dispossessed, imprisoned, demonized, ignored and even massacred with impunity. 

Israeli fabrications and propaganda (hasbara) on the other hand are permitted and even encouraged. Indeed, many a western journalist has made a career of spouting and recycling such fabrications. See, for example, the writings of the celebrated Thomas Friedman or the usual daily nonsense peddled as hard news at CNN and Fox. At the same time, the expectations of the Israeli state, its western allies and its media advocates is that Palestinians, unlike all other peoples, are not allowed to defend themselves or even march in protest and therefore have no other option except to shut up and die silently as the world watches on. This is essentially the western/Zionist definition of “peace.”

Palestinians, who do not believe they are exceptional, and who have existed as a people on this earth for far longer than either their oppressors or their sponsors, naturally have other ideas.

– Roger Sheety contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.

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