War is Politics: The Israeli Invasion of Gaza

By William James Martin

War is politics by other means. – Carl von Clausewitz

US President George Bush stated:

“In response to these attacks on their people, the leaders of Israel have launched military operations on Hamas positions in Gaza. As part of their strategy Hamas terrorists often hide within civilian populations, which puts innocent Palestinians at risk.

Similar words were intoned by Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, who added that what is needed is a durable ceasefire that would prevent the rearming of Hamas and the end to rocket attacks on Israel, in effect, the complete surrender by Hamas with no concessions by Israel.

Thus, in the president’s words, Israel bears no responsibility for the current violence and is only responding pursuant to the principle of self defense. This is a familiar line from the president, one propounded by the Israeli government attendant to all of Israel’s wars of aggression, and, since Israel invasion and destruction of West Bank cities in 2002, dependably echoed by the President Bush. Of course, the president also takes no responsibility for the current violence.

The president obviously has not pondered the sequence of events which led to the breakdown of the truce. Nor does the president see anything wrong with the regime of starvation and deprivation that he and the government of Israel have imposed on the people of Gaza; nor does he see any connection between the siege and the breakdown of the truce.

The Israeli assault on Gaza has little to do with defending itself against the rocket fire emanating from the Gaza Strip; what there was, was negligible. Israel’s motivations are political, not strategic, though advertised as strategic self defense, as usual.

Hamas is perceived by Israel to be a threat because it is popular, having won an election, similar to Hezbollah on Israel’s northern frontier, because they do not recognize Israel’s right to exists, and because they do not recognize the "peace process", meaning the decayed and rotting Oslo Accords, and the stillborn Annapolis talks, based on the ineffective Roadmap, which, except nominally, Israel never recognized. That is, Hamas does not accept the distorted legal structure that has allowed Israel to maintain the Palestinian people in bondage, to occupy more Palestinian land, and increasingly, to make an independent self sufficient Palestinian entity impossible.

Israel’s military strategy is to destroy Hamas, directly, by killing as many of its fighters as possible, and indirectly, by destroying the infrastructure of its social services, meaning clinics, food distribution centers, Hamas run schools and day care centers, and also, government offices, public schools, universities and collages, and the police force which provides the stable structure for the people of Gaza. Mosques, churches, schools, offices of the media, and of journalists, and virtually any building that is part of the social structure has been or is being destroyed. In addition, UN schools, and NGO food storage facilities have been bombed or shelled, in the latter case causing millions of dollars of lost food.

Aside from firing on ambulances, and the killing of medical personnel, and blocking paramedics from rescuing injured and dying people, Israel is using white phosphorus bombs and artillery shells which burns, and is extremely damaging to human flesh as it is difficult if not impossible  to extinguish before it burns itself out, as well a new explosive devise, named DINE, for dense inert metal explosive also highly damaging to human soft tissue which sprays micro-shrapnel in a lethal though fairly restricted circle of death and dismemberment. Aside from amputations, doctors can do little about removing the micro-shrapnel embedded in organs and tissue, and those surviving are likely to develop cancer in time.

Former President Carter, writing January 8, (I am writing now on day 19th.of the invasion) in the Washington Post, under the title ”An Unnecessary War”, observed that “seventeen mosque, the American International School, many private homes and much of the basic infrastructure of the small but heavily populated area have been destroyed. This includes the systems that provide water, electricity and sanitation.”

In that same article, Carter also said of his mid December visit to Syria,

“I made an effort for the impending six-month deadline to be extended. It was clear that the preeminent issue was opening the crossing into Gaza. Representatives from the Carter Center visited Jerusalem, met with Israeli officials and asked if this was possible in exchange for a cessation of rocket fire. The Israeli government informally proposed that 15 percent of normal supplies might be possible if Hamas first stopped all rocket fire for 48 hours. This was unacceptable to Hamas, and hostilities erupted.”

Israel’s strategy of killing large numbers of civilians and inducing mass suffering, is that same as its strategy in Lebanon in the 2006 Lebanon War, which was to make the civilian population pay a heavy price for it s support of Hezbollah, with Hamas in the role of Hezbollah, in the present  case.

The breakdown of the six month truce did not occur because of Hamas rocket fire. The Hamas rocket fire occurred subsequent to November 4 when Israel raided Palestinian homes and killed six Palestinians whom Israel described as "militants". On November 5, Israel sealed the borders of Gaza allowing only a trickle of trucks filled with food for distribution by UNRWA or the World Food Program both providing food for 750,000 people. It was only at that point that Hamas fired a significant number of rockets into Israel while Israel killed 15 more Palestinians.

The assassinations and border shut down set the stage for the breakdown of the truce and the initiation of Israel’s war which was in the planning stage by defense Minister, Ehud Barak, for six months coinciding with the six month long truce.

Judging from numerous statements from Hamas, Hamas understood the truce as consisting of Israel’s opening of the border of Gaza and its restraint in assassinating Palestinians in the West Bank, neither of which Israel honored. In Hamas’s view, the truce was only a one-sided one for the six months of its duration, with Hamas largely in compliance, and Israel continuing its assassinations and arrest in the West Bank and its crippling siege of Gaza.

During the truce, or relative lull, which lasted from June 19 until Nov 4, 2008, only 17 rockets and 13 mortar shells were fired into Israel, and those, fired not by Hamas but by rival militant groups. In the six month period prior to the ceasefire, 2278 rockets and mortar shells had been fired into Israel, a significant difference.

Looking at the matter in a larger context, it is worth recalling that 80% of the residents are those, or their descendents, who were driven from their homes and property in the 1948 violence, which Israel likes to call its “War of Independence”, but which most historians who have researched the conflagration call Israel’s wave of “ethnic cleansing” of an essentially defenseless people, and which the Palestinians call the “Nakba”, or “catastrophe”. This violence consisted of massacres in about 30 Palestinian villages with at least two to three thousand Palestinians killed, the shelling of neighborhoods, removing of people at gunpoint, and psychological campaigns  consisting of threatening messages broadcast on loudspeakers.

By restricting virtually all exports from Gaza and simultaneously restricting imports to subsistence levels, Israel intentionally retarded Gaza’s economic development making the small strip of land completely dependent on Israel and keeping the Gaza in a state of poverty. Eighty percent of Gazans live on less than $2 per day. Anemia induced from lack of food has affected 46% of the population of Gaza according to UN Repporteur, Richard Falk. Babies have frequently been born with anemia due to insufficient nutrition of their mothers. In the years 2005- 2007, Israel has killed 1290 residents of Gaza including 222 children while 11 Israelis were killed by rocket fire.

A 2002 statement by Israeli army chief Moshe Yaalon may help us understand the present conflict, “The Palestinians must be made to understand in the deepest recesses of their consciousness that they are a defeated people.” In effect, to break the will of the Palestinian people, and, effectively, to destroy them as a people with an attachment to the land of their births and with a shared identity.

Since winning the election in the occupied territories of both the Gaza Strip and the west Bank 18 months ago, Hamas has revealed itself to have some flexibility and has exhibited some moderation which neither Israel nor the US has publically recognized, but which most probably has not escaped the scrutiny of Israeli government analysts.` They have agreed in principle to an indefinite truce with Israel lasting even as long as 20 years and have also stated, for example during Jimmy Carter’s trip to the Middle East in April 2008, that they would abide with any arrangement negotiated between Israel and Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah provided it passed a referendum of the Palestinian people. That is, Hamas would accept the wishes of the Palestinian people in the event they chose a two-state solution and to recognize Israel.

This is perhaps at least as threatening as a Hamas with the absolute unwavering and uncompromising resolution to destroy the state of Israel. Hamas is a disciplined organization which in its secular component expresses the will and attitudes of the Palestinian people. And though willing to compromise as a practical strategy, it is unlikely to forsake its core belief in the right of return of the Palestinians exiled in 1948 and again in 1967 and in the fundamental illegitimacy of the state of Israel.

The “progress” that Israel made in taking the issue of the right of return of the Palestinians exiled in the 1948 expulsions off of the diplomatic table and the replacement of the PLO charter of 1968 which called for the dismantling of Israel and its replacement with an egalitarian democratic state with one amended to recognize the legitimacy of Israel would be reversed if Hamas were allowed to gain legitimacy both within the Palestinian territories and in the wider diplomatic world.

But Hamas does represent the will of the Palestinian people, at least in its secular dimensions, and thus the war against Hamas is a war against the Palestinian people. The present slaughter of the section of humanity living in the Gaza Strip signals that Israel has made a decision that Israel will give the Palestinian nothing and that any serious resistance will be brutally suppressed. If Israel, because of demographic concerns, ever toyed with the idea of giving up the West Bank settlements  and contracting while ceding to the Palestinians some degree of relative power and influence, as Prime Minister Olmert publically contemplated not too long ago, it has been thoroughly rejected and the demographic problem will continue to be handled as it always has been – by expansion and the concomitant restriction of the Palestinian’s ability to live and exists in Palestine.

I see only one solution to this perennial conflict, and that is a return to the PLO Charter of 1968 which envisions a single egalitarian democratic state in all of Palestine with laws that do not discriminate on the basis of race, religion or ethnicity.

Israel is a product of the late 19th and early 20th century, a time when racial prejudice was accepted and when such leaders as Winston Churchill, who strongly promoted Zionism, could remark, that “Arabs eat camel dung” without embarrassment.

The effort to induce Israel to contract to the ’67 borders has been tried, for 41 years, in fact, and has failed.

Israel is a “State for Jews”, according to its First Basic Law. (Israel does not have a constitution, but rather has what are known as “The Basic Laws of Israel”.) That means that the Palestinian minority living in the state may be tolerated as long as it remains a powerless minority and accepts the status of having inferior rights. Israel is a state that ethnically cleansed three quarters of a million indigenous Arabs in 1948 and which has for the last 41 years, maintained an entire ethnic population, the Palestinians, in the outdoor prison, otherwise called the “occupied territories”, deprived of basic human rights.

Israel is a state whose founders clearly recognized that in order to create a state of European Jews in the heart of the Arab world, they must first get rid of the Arabs. This has been clearly documented by historical researches over the last twenty years or so. The destruction of the Palestinians has always been the heart of the Zionist project.

For these reasons, and because of the constant killing and massacres of Palestinians, the latest instant of mass slaughter is occurring as I write this, the state of Israel has no moral right to exists. Israel needs to be replaced with a democratic egalitarian state which recognizes equal rights for all its citizens.

I believe that most Americans would accept this formula if it were clearly presented to them.

– William James Martin teaches in the Department of Mathematics at the University of New Orleans. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: wmartin@math.uno.edu.

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