Thursday, January 22, 2009

Gaza's Holocaust, Israel's & US's Shame

This introduction by Tom Engelhardt of Tomdispatch to Tony Karon's article on where do we go from here entitled "Change Gaza Can Believe In" sums up the image of Gaza's holocaust - as close as Israel could come, given the time constraints set by President Obama's impending inauguration to power, to wiping the Palestinians (or those trapped in this slice of Palestinian territory) off the face of the earth. Shockingly, Israel is not satisfied. It wanted to wipe them out more literally, more completely. Any attempt to call it "self-defense", or "battling terrorism" or "preventing rocket attacks" is not simply absurd, illogical or baseless - the attempt to excuse this massacre by such paltry, prissy, spoiled-child reasons is itself another crime. And the U.S., by condoning and supporting such slaughter, is not only complicit, but a partner in crime. When the powerful destroy the weak, the devastatingly weak, and the truly defenseless, only because the weak "bother" them or cause them "discomfort" ... when mass murder is committed for political reasons ... or to appease a population who are so out of touch that they genuinely believe Palestinians are somehow "out to get them" ... it is a real-life horror story.

Yes, we now know the ever grimmer statistics: more than 1,400 dead Gazans (and rising as bodies are dug out of the rubble); 5,500 wounded; hundreds of children killed; 4,000 to 5,000 homes destroyed and 20,000 damaged -- 14% of all buildings in Gaza; 50,000 or more homeless; 400,000 without water; 50 U.N. facilities, 21 medical facilities, 1,500 factories and workshops, and 20 mosques reportedly damaged or destroyed; the smashed schools and university structures; the obliterated government buildings; the estimated almost two billion dollars in damage; all taking place on a blockaded strip of land 25 miles long and 4 to 7.5 miles wide that is home to a staggering 1.4 million people.

On the other side in Israel, there are a number of damaged buildings and 13 dead, including three civilians and three soldiers killed in a friendly-fire incident. But amid this welter of horrific numbers, here was the one that caught my eye -- and a quote went with it: Lieutenant General Gabi Ashkenazi, chief of staff of the Israeli Army, told Parliament on January 12th, "We have achieved a lot in hitting Hamas and its infrastructure, its rule and its armed wing, but there is still work ahead."

Work? The "work" already done evidently included a figure he cited: more than 2,300 air strikes launched by the Israelis with the offensive against Hamas still having days to go. Think about that: in a heavily populated, heavily urbanized, 25-mile-long strip of land, 2,300 air strikes, including an initial surprise attack "in which 88 aircraft simultaneously struck 100 preplanned targets within a record span of 220 seconds." Many of these strikes were delivered by Israel's 226 U.S.-supplied F-16s or its U.S.-made Apache helicopters.

In addition, the Israelis evidently repeatedly used a new U.S. smart bomb, capable of penetrating three feet of steel-reinforced concrete, the bunker-busting 250-pound class GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb. (The first group of up to 1,000 of these that the U.S. Congress authorized Israel to buy only arrived in early December.) In use as well, the one-ton Mk84 Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) and a 500-pound version of the same. These are major weapons systems. Evidently dropped as well were "Dime (dense inert metal explosive) bombs designed to produce an intense explosion in a small space. The bombs," reported Raymond Whitaker of the British Independent, "are packed with tungsten powder, which has the effect of shrapnel but often dissolves in human tissue, making it difficult to discover the cause of injuries."

Keep in mind that Hamas and other armed Palestinian groups are essentially incapable of threatening Israeli planes and that the Israelis were using their airborne arsenal in heavily populated areas. Though the air war was only one part of a massively destructive assault on Gaza, as a form of warfare, barbaric as it is, it invariably gets a free pass. Yet, if you conduct an air war in cities, it matters little how "smart" your weaponry may be; it will, in effect, be a war against civilians.

Whatever the damage done to Hamas, what happened in Gaza was, simply put, a civilian slaughter.

Tony Karon sees an opportunity for Obama in this destruction to help make peace between Israelis and Palestinians. First, he says:
The Gaza debacle has made one thing perfectly clear: any peace process that seeks to marginalize, not integrate, Hamas is doomed to fail — and with catastrophic consequences.

But I didn't hear Israel calling the result of their slaughter "catastrophic consequences". That description would be on the lips of Palestinians, both in and out of Gaza. Why should Israelis care? For them, the only "consequence" could be bad PR, and they, like other neocon-driven groups, consider bad PR practically a rite of passage. It goes with the territory.

However, the article asks extremely cogent questions and faces Obama, who espoused the unconscionable "standard" US "line" on I/P issues:

Lest President Barack Obama's opportunistic silence when Israel began the Gaza offensive that killed more than 1,400 Palestinians (more than 400 of them children) be misinterpreted, his aides pointed reporters to comments made six months earlier in the Israeli town of Sderot. "If somebody was sending rockets into my house, where my two daughters sleep at night, I'm going to do everything in my power to stop that," Obama had said in reference to the missiles Hamas was firing from Gaza. "I would expect Israelis to do the same thing."

Residents of Gaza might have wondered what Obama would have done had he been unfortunate enough to be a resident of, say, Jabaliya refugee camp. What if, like the vast majority of Gazans, his grandfather had been driven from his home in what is now Israel, and barred by virtue of his ethnicity from ever returning? What if, like the majority of the residents of this refugee ghetto-by-the-sea, he had voted for Hamas, which had vowed to fight for his rights and was not corrupt like the Fatah strongmen with whom the Israelis and Americans liked to deal?

And what if, as a result of that vote, he had found himself under an economic siege, whose explicit purpose was to inflict deprivation in order to force him to reverse his democratic choice? What might a Gazan Obama have made of the statement, soon after that election, by Dov Weissglass, a top aide to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, that Israel's blockade would put him and his family "on [a] diet"?

"The Palestinians will get a lot thinner," Weissglass had chortled, "but [they] won't die."

The Israeli leadership are people who consider others' suffering a joke. They did not see the universality of the Holocaust experience, and how this should have made the Jews deeply compassionate, among the most passionate supporters of universal human rights. And for many, it certainly did just that. But obviously, that is not true of the Israeli leadership. In fact, Israeli politics in general casts a pall on the notion of anyone having "learned" anything from the Holocaust except the desire to imitate their own tormenters, taking victims of their own to torment and "eliminate" for their own "security" and other "higher purposes".

Obviously, Israelis had no pangs of conscious about this:
Even before Israel's recent offensive, the Red Cross had reported that almost half the children under two in Gaza were anemic due to their parents' inability to feed them properly.

And what was the supposed purpose of starving the civilian population of Gaza? The same purpose of the Nazis: national security. Oh, and keeping the national population "pure", of a "chosen" race. Same game, switched players. Palestinians are now playing Jews to the Israelis' National Socialists. And making this extremely obvious comparison is called, petulantly, "anti-semitic".

The call of "anti-semitic" is used, along with "national security", to cover up and excuse every kind of horror, every sickening atrocity. It just didn't go, thank God, to the extremes of the Nazis, but the same idea is in place. Why don't the Israelis see it? What is wrong with this picture? Ah, but that's another post. I believe it has to do with a right-wing human tendency that comes out when there's a perceived threat to a treasured goal. Ethics become skewed in light of the goal, and the end justifies the means.

Ah, but there are Israelis of conscience. And maybe now is their time to rise up, to shine the light of their hearts on a land scorched by violence and war-hawk insanity. Such as this article by Amira Hass in Haaretz referring to her parents who survived the Holocaust(quoted by Karon):

"My parents despised all their everyday activities -- stirring sugar into coffee, washing the dishes, standing at a crosswalk -- when in their mind's eye they saw, based on their personal experience, the terror in the eyes of children, the desperation of mothers who could not protect their young ones, the moment when a huge explosion dropped a house on top of its inhabitants and a smart bomb struck down entire families...

"Because of my parents' history they knew what it meant to close people behind barbed-wire fences in a small area.... How lucky it is that they are not alive to see how these incarcerated people are bombarded with all the glorious military technology of Israel and the United States... My parents' personal history led them to despise the relaxed way the news anchors reported on a curfew. How lucky they are not here and cannot hear the crowd roaring in the coliseum."

The rest of Karon's article is brilliant in every respect, and well-worth reading. There is a process towards peace to be had, but not via the idiotic present course. You don't pave the road to peace with the bodies of your "negotiating partners".

And, like it or not, Hamas is definitely Israel's "negotiating partner". Fatah has been thoroughly discredited. The only people "against" Hamas are Israelis, the US government, and those who follow along like sheep in their path. Hamas won an election.

For the new Obama administration reinforcing and, as they say in Washington, incentivizing the pragmatic track in Hamas is the key to reviving the region's prospects for peace.

Hamas has demonstrated beyond doubt that it speaks for at least half of the Palestinian electorate. Many observers believe that, were new elections to be held tomorrow, the Islamists would probably not only win Gaza again, but take the West Bank as well. Demanding what Hamas would deem a symbolic surrender before any diplomatic conversation even begins is not an approach that will yield positive results. Renouncing violence was never a precondition for talks between South Africa and Nelson Mandela's ANC, or Britain and the Irish Republican Army. Indeed, Israel's talks with the PLO began long before it had publicly renounced violence.

And people are not hearing the truth about Hamas over stateside.

Hamas made clear that it was committed to good governance and consensus, and recognized Abbas as president, which also meant explicitly recognizing his right to continue negotiating with the Israelis.

Hamas agreed to abide by any accord approved by the Palestinians in a democratic referendum. By 2007, key leaders of the organization had even begun talking of accepting a Palestinian state based on a return to 1967 borders in a swap for a generational truce with Israel.

Hamas's move onto the electoral track had, in fact, presented a great opportunity for any American administration inclined towards grown-up diplomacy, rather than the infantile fantasy of reengineering the region's politics in favor of chosen "moderates."

The US and Israel are pushing the absurd notion that Egypt's dictator, Mubarak, somehow represents moderacy. Mubarak is a tyrant, pure and simple. He is a dictator, hated like hell in his own country. Everyone there prays for his death - hopefully under "enhanced interrogation" circumstances. Hamas is more "moderate" in reality than Mubarak. And yet Mubarak is put in a role of "peacemaker" on the basis of sharing a mutual agenda with Israel - getting rid of Hamas, which is the cousin of the Muslim Brotherhood in, Egypt which is Mubarak's grim reaper-to-be...or shall we say, in waiting?

The world is getting sick of the slaughter, as per this WaPo op-ed. Whole villages have been totally wiped out. It is absolutely, undoubtedly, and ILLEGALLY, genocide. Israel's leaders should be prosecuted for genocide, most certainly. Just as certainly as they never will. Where there's no there a way?

Is President Obama ready to meet this disaster head on? Does he have the courage to defend the defenseless, breaking with long-standing tradition? Does he have the guts to say "No" to AIPAC and the powerful Israel-first commitment? Can he call a slaughter a slaughter? Or will he resort to claiming, like Bushco, that Israel was merely defending itself when it committed these atrocities?

It is in America's interest, and Israel's, and the Palestinians' that Obama intervene quickly in the Middle East, but that he do so on a dramatically different basis than that of his two immediate predecessors.

Peace is made between the combatants of any conflict; "peace" with only chosen "moderates" is an exercise in redundancy and pointlessness. The challenge in the region is to promote moderation and pragmatism among the political forces that speak for all sides, especially the representative radicals.

And speaking of radicals and extremists, there's palpable denial, bordering on amnesia, when it comes to Israel's rejectionists. Ariel Sharon explicitly rejected the Oslo peace process, declaring it null and void shortly after assuming power. Instead, he negotiated only with Washington over unilateral Israeli moves.

Ever since, Israeli politics has been moving steadily rightward, with the winner in next month's elections expected to be the hawkish Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu. If so, he will govern in a coalition with far-right rejectionists and advocates of "ethnic cleansing." Netanyahu even rejected Ariel Sharon's 2005 Gaza pullout plan, and he has made it abundantly clear that he has no interest in sustaining the illusion of talks over a "final status" agreement, even with Washington's chosen "moderates."

Anything like what has been done before - in every case, giving Israel the veto power over everything, a free hand to do as it pleases, and absolutely NOTHING in terms of negotiating cloud to the Palestinians - we will be back to the unacceptable. Not square one, but mutually assured self-destruction. I don't think even Israel likes that option. They cannot survive on slaughter and inertia. There has to be something higher.

And all eyes are on Obama...

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