A Gaza War Full of Traps and Trickery |||
New analyses of a human tragedy of horrendous proportions by correspondents M. Shahid Alam & Kathy Kelly |||
Editor’s note: To recap: It’s six weeks now since the “nation’s paper of record,” The New York Times, borrowing a page from Fox News’s “fair and balanced” Shawn & Hannity comedy hour, described the little holocaust unfolding in Gaza:
“JERUSALEM — The grinding urban battle unfolding in the densely populated Gaza Strip is a war of new tactics, quick adaptation and lethal tricks.
“Hamas, with training from Iran and Hezbollah, has used the last two years to turn Gaza into a deadly maze of tunnels, booby traps and sophisticated roadside bombs. Weapons are hidden in mosques, schoolyards and civilian houses, and the leadership’s war room is a bunker beneath Gaza’s largest hospital, Israeli intelligence officials say.
“Unwilling to take Israel’s bait and come into the open, Hamas militants are fighting in civilian clothes; even the police have been ordered to take off their uniforms. The militants emerge from tunnels to shoot automatic weapons or antitank missiles, then disappear back inside, hoping to lure the Israeli soldiers with their fire.”
That was on January 10, 2009, when many Americans were focusing on the inauguration of our first African-American president, smugly patting each other on the back for having come so far.
Meantime, our wars and proxy wars grind on. …
It’s doubtful that many paused to parse the rhetoric of that strange New York Times article with its blatant attempt to equate the forces of a major nuclear power and hyper-tech military (Israel) with the tunnel-rats defending their homeland in Gaza. Why, those lousy, burrowing Gazans, have the nerve to hide underneath hospitals, behind women’s skirst and children’s schoolbooks! The men won’t be good guppies and take the “bait and come into the open.” (Of course, the Isreali military, that suspect journalist neglected to note, refused to emerge from its tanks, warships, US-supplied air-force jets, and “come into the open” where both sides could fight fairly with swords, spears and sling-shots.) One also notes that in the second sentence, the Times’ piece sets up Iran and Hezbollah as the real culprits behind this farcical “war” of “quick adaptation and lethal tricks.” And, then one has to wonder where this journalist manque was getting his “information”—since the “theater” of war was closed to the media during the onslaught.
Within eight days of that mendacious NY Times piece, the 08-09 Gaza war, according to Wikipedia (so it must be true!) “came to an end.” 1300 Gazans were killed outright, 5000 more had bodies ripped to shreds or burned to bone marrow with heinous weapons of mass destruction like white phosphorous and … And of the remaining 1 and ½ million citizens of Gaza—shall we simply say they have been traumatized and silenced? No doubt many have been. And no doubt some are burrowing deeper.
And the world moves on. Yesterday’s news. Six weeks ago. But what about now? What’s the latest score? Did you hear about Michael Phelps? Who’s winning American Idol? Will I lose my job, my home? What’s for dinner? What’s this odd pain in my chest? Why is life so complicated? What’s on TV?
Fortunately, real journalists, humanists and thinkers walk among us. Two of the best I know, M. Shahid Alam and Kathy Kelly share their thoughts on the tragedy of neo-colonialism in the Middle East in two brilliant, very different articles below. In the first, M. Shahid Alam provides the historic background–the hubris, racism and “ancient scores” to settle that have made the Middle East synonymous with war and genocide for over 60 years. In the second, Ms. Kelly bears witness amidst the ruins.—Gary Corseri, Associate Editor.)
Israel in 1948
By M. SHAHID ALAM
“The Achilles’ heel of the Arab coalition is Lebanon. Muslim supremacy in this country is artificial and can easily be overthrown. A Christian State ought to be set up there, with its southern frontier on the river Litani. We should sign a treaty of alliance with this State. Then, when we have broken the strength of the Arab Legion and bombed Amman, we could wipe out Transjordan; after that Syria would fall. And if Egypt dared to make war on us, we would bomb Port Said, Alexandria and Cairo. We should thus end the war, and would have settled the account with Egypt, Assyria and Chaldea on behalf of our ancestors.”–David Ben-Gurion, 1948
In their first test of strength with the ‘natives’ in 1948, the Zionists had gained control of nearly four-fifths of Palestine, expelled most of the Palestinians from these territories, and repulsed the combined forces of five Arab proto-states.
Yet, the Zionists were not about to rest on their laurels: their interests did not lie in making peace with the Arabs. The events of 1948 had demonstrated what they could achieve; with minor losses of their own, they had obliterated Palestinian society and handily beaten back the Arabs.
This was a historic moment, a messianic moment, that would be seen by many as the fulfillment of ancient prophecies. This was no time to seek peace by making amends to a weak, defeated enemy.
Their stunning military victory would only encourage the Zionists to aim for their maximalist goals, which now appeared attainable. The Zionists would augment their numbers, expand their territory, and strive to become the dominant power in the Middle East.
* * *
In 1948, the Jewish colonization of Palestine had only just begun. At this point, Israel contained some 650,000 Jews, who made up only four percent of the world’s Jewish population.
If Israel aspired to house half the world’s Jewry, its population would have to expand more than ten-fold. Israel’s share of world Jewry would have to rise dramatically because this was an imperative of Zionist ideology, which promised that Israel would be a safe haven for the world’s Jews. It would be embarrassing for the Zionists if this Jewish ‘safe haven’ housed only a small fraction of the world’s Jews.
In addition, Israel would be driven towards demographic expansion by two other objectives: the Zionist goal of territorial expansionism and the need to maintain a crushing military advantage over its neighbors.
With only “seven hundred thousand Jews,” Ben-Gurion insisted, Israel “cannot be the climax of a vigil kept unbroken through the generations and down the patient centuries.” Even if Israel did not face any external threats to its security, “so empty a state would be little justified, for it would not change the destiny of Jewry, or fulfill our historic covenant.”
As a result, soon after 1948 – indeed even before 1948 – the Zionists were working to bring millions of Jews into Israel. In the calculation of Zionists, a demographic expansion of this magnitude was not only desirable: it was also necessary and attainable.
Zionist ambitions would carry Israel beyond the territories it had conquered in 1948. “Zionist mainstream thought,” writes Benny Morris “had always regarded a Jewish state from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River as its ultimate goal.”
* * *
At various times, Zionists had made more expansive territorial claims that included – besides Palestine – Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and the Sinai.
In October 1936, even while accepting the recommendations of the Peel Commission to partition Palestine, Ben-Gurion had explained, “We do not suggest that we announce now our final aim which is far reaching – even more so than the Revisionists who oppose Partition.”
In another speech in 1938, Ben-Gurion revealed that his vision of a Jewish state included Cis-Jordan [the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean], southern Lebanon, southern Syria, today’s Jordan, and the Sinai. Ten years later, he spoke, grandiosely, of settling “the account with Egypt, Assyria and Chaldea on behalf of our ancestors.“
Again, in October 1956, at a secret meeting in Sèvres (France), attended by Israel, France and Britain, Ben-Gurion proposed a ‘fantastic’ plan – his own words – to change once again the map of the Middle East. Under this plan, Israel would occupy the Gaza Strip and Sinai, the West Bank (while Iraq would annex the East Bank of the Jordan), and southern Lebanon up to the Litani River (so that Lebanon could become a more compact Christian state). Little Israel’s ambitions knew no bounds.
* * *
The Israelis could not be generous – if they were so inclined – because they knew that the Palestinians and neighboring Arabs would seek to reverse their gains.
In 1948, at one fell swoop, the Zionists appear to have obliterated Palestinian society; but this was partly illusory. Unlike the white colonists in the United States, the Israelis had displaced the indigenous population, not exterminated them.
Concentrated in territories that shared borders with Israel – in Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon – the Palestinians living in squalid refugee camps were not about to forget their dispossession. Over time, as they suffered the deep sting of their losses, as they gained the support of kindred Arabs and Muslims, as they organized, and as their numbers grew, they would resume their struggle against the Jewish colonists.
Indeed, Israel would bring their resistance home in June 1967 by conquering the remaining Palestinian territories.
In addition, over the long haul, even with renewed Jewish immigration into Israel, the Palestinian still inside Israel would pose a demographic challenge to the exclusively Jewish character of the Israeli state.
* * *
Israel would face resistance from neighboring Arab states too.
The Arabs could not recognize the existence of a colonial-settler state in Palestine: not because the settlers were Jewish, but because they were invaders who had arrived on the backs of imperialist powers and taken their country from them.
If the Arab proto-states capitulated – as they did all too quickly after the defeat of June 1967 – the peoples of the region would continue to oppose Israel. The Zionists understood this; they were well aware of the traumatic wounds they had inflicted on the Islamic and Arab psyche.
If Israel was to survive, the Zionists could not allow this collective trauma to find political expression. The Israelis would do everything in their power to destroy the Arab nationalist movement before it gained strength; and they had little time to loose.
Quickly, they would have to acquire massive military superiority over the Arab states, and demonstrate it decisively – as they did, in 1956 and 1967 – to force the dominant political classes in the Arab world to accept Israel on Israeli terms.
In order to acquire this military power, and no less the ability to demonstrate it repeatedly – in violation of international laws – Israel would have to forge a ‘special relationship’ with the United States.
* * *
Israel’s conflict with the Arabs is not a dispute over borders.
Stripped of the legal chicanery supporting its creation, the Zionist project is a declaration of war by a powerful segment of Western Jews, with support from Western powers, against the Arabs. This is no ordinary war either. As a pure settler-colonialism, the Zionists had smashed Palestinian society and dramatically altered the demographic character of an important part of the Islamic heartlands.
The impact of Israel would not be local because it was an affront and a challenge to the larger Islamicate world.
In consequence, as the Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims – in growing circles – would slowly mobilize to resist this colonial insertion, the Zionists would also galvanize Jews and Christian Zionists in the Western world, but especially in the United States.
The Zionists would work tirelessly to convert a settler-colonial project into a civilizational conflict between the United States, leading the ‘Judeo-Christian’ West, and the Islamicate. Indeed, this was their strategy for sustaining for perpetuating their assault on the Palestinians and their hegemony over the Middle East.
M. Shahid Alam is professor of economics at Northeastern University. He is author of Challening the New Orientalism (2007). Send comments to email@example.com.
Worse Than an Earthquake
by Kathy Kelly
RAFAH – Traffic on Sea Street, a major thoroughfare alongside Gaza’s coastline, includes horses, donkeys pulling carts, cyclists, pedestrians, trucks and cars, mostly older models. Overhead, in stark contrast to the street below, Israel’s ultra modern unmanned surveillance planes criss-cross the skies. F16s and helicopters can also be heard. Remnants of their deliveries, the casings of missiles, bombs and shells used during the past three weeks of Israeli attacks, are scattered on the ground.
Workers have cleared most of the roads. Now, they are removing massive piles of wreckage and debris, much as people do following an earthquake.
“Yet, all the world helps after an earthquake,” said a doctor at the Shifaa hospital in Gaza. “We feel very frustrated,” he continued. “The West, Europe and the U.S., watched this killing go on for 22 days, as though they were watching a movie, watching the killing of women and children without doing anything to stop it. I was expecting to die at any moment. I held my babies and expected to die. There was no safe place in Gaza.”
He and his colleagues are visibly exhausted, following weeks of work in the Intensive Care and Emergency Room departments at a hospital that received many more patients than they could help. “Patients died on the floor of the operating room because we had only six operating rooms,” said Dr. Saeed Abuhassan, M.D, an ICU doctor who grew up in Chicago. “And really we don’t know enough about the kinds of weapons that have been used against Gaza.”
In 15 years of practice, Dr. Abuhassan says he never saw burns like those he saw here. The burns, blackish in color, reached deep into the muscles and bones. Even after treatment was begun, the blackish color returned.
Two of the patients were sent to Egypt because they were in such critical condition. They died in Egypt. But when autopsies were done, reports showed that the cause of death was poisoning from elements of white phosphorous that had entered their systems, causing cardiac arrests.
In Gaza City, The Burn Unit’s harried director, a plastic surgeon and an expert in treating burns, told us that after encountering cases they’d never seen before, doctors at the center performed a biopsy on a patient they believed may have suffered chemical burns and sent the sample to a lab in Egypt. The results showed elements of white phosphorous in the tissue.
The doctor was interrupted by a phone call from a farmer who wanted to know whether it was safe to eat the oranges he was collecting from groves that had been uprooted and bombed during the Israeli invasion. The caller said the oranges had an offensive odor and that when the workers picked them up their hands became itchy.
Audrey Stewart had just spent the morning with Gazan farmers in Tufaa, a village near the border between Gaza and Israel. Israeli soldiers had first evacuated people, then dynamited the houses, then used bulldozers to clear the land, uprooting the orange tree groves. Many people, including children, were picking through the rubble, salvaging belongings and trying to collect oranges. At one point, people began shouting at Audrey, warning her that she was standing next to an unexploded rocket.
The doctor put his head in his hands, after listening to Audrey’s report. “I told them to wash everything very carefully. But these are new situations. Really, I don’t know how to respond,” he said.
Yet he spoke passionately about what he knew regarding families that had been burned or crushed to death when their homes were bombed. “Were their babies a danger to anyone?” he asked us.
“They are lying to us about democracy and Western values,” he continued, his voice shaking. “If we were sheep and goats, they would be more willing to help us.”
Dr. Saeed Abuhassan was bidding farewell to the doctors he’d worked with in Gaza. He was returning to his work in the United Arab Emirates. But before leaving, he paused to give us a word of advice. “You know, the most important thing you can tell people in your country is that U.S. people paid for many of the weapons used to kill people in Gaza,” said Dr. Saeed Abuhassan. “And this, also, is why it’s worse than an earthquake.”
Kathy Kelly (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence (www.vcnv.org) She and Audrey Stewart have been in Gaza for the past six days.
Editor’s Note: After reading Ms. Kelly’s account above, I asked how world citizens might help. She sent me the following e-mail:
Responding to reports from Kathy Kelly and Audrey Stewart (who have now returned to the U.S. from Gaza), many of you asked the question:
“What is to be done?” and, especially, “How might I contribute funds to assist with humanitarian relief efforts in Gaza?”
We at Voices would like to suggest that you consider making a contribution to one of the following organizations. Each is an organization with which Voices has worked–either collectively as an organization or as individuals. Each has its own means of addressing the humanitarian crisis, so we’d suggest that you look at each organization’s website and decide which approach you most support.
We include both the organization’s home page on the internet as well as a link to the contributions page for each organization (to help in locating the contributions page)
Middle East Children’s Alliance
Home page: http://www.mecaforpeace.org
Contributions page: https://secure.groundspring.org/dn/index.php?aid=1171
Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions
Home page: http://www.icahd.org
Contributions page: http://icahd.org/eng/18000homesdonate.asp
Home page: http://www.freegaza.org
Contributions page: http://www.freegaza.org/en/donate
Palestine Children’s Relief Fund
Home page: http://www.pcrf.net/first.html
Contributions page: http://www.pcrf.net/can/can2.html
We’d also like to highlight the work of Direct Aid Iraq amongst Iraqis:
Home page: http://www.directaidiraq.org
Contributions page: https://secure.groundspring.org/dn/index.php?aid=20422