On Saturday December 27, the latest US-Israeli attack on helpless Palestinians was launched. The attack had been meticulously planned, for over 6 months according to the Israeli press. The planning had two components: military and propaganda. It was based on the lessons of Israel 's 2006 invasion of Lebanon , which was considered to be poorly planned and badly advertised. We may, therefore, be fairly confident that most of what has been done and said was pre-planned and intended.
That surely includes the timing of the assault: shortly before noon, when children were returning from school and crowds were milling in the streets of densely populated Gaza City . It took only a few minutes to kill over 225 people and wound 700, an auspicious opening to the mass slaughter of defenceless civilians trapped in a tiny cage with nowhere to flee.
In his retrospective "Parsing Gains of Gaza War," New York Times correspondent Ethan Bronner cited this achievement as one of the most significant of the gains. Israel calculated that it would be advantageous to appear to "go crazy," causing vastly disproportionate terror, a doctrine that traces back to the 1950s. "The Palestinians in Gaza got the message on the first day," Bronner wrote, "when Israeli warplanes struck numerous targets simultaneously in the middle of a Saturday morning. Some 200 were killed instantly, shocking Hamas and indeed all of Gaza ." The tactic of "going crazy" appears to have been successful, Bronner concluded: there are "limited indications that the people of Gaza felt such pain from this war that they will seek to rein in Hamas," the elected government. That is another long-standing doctrine of state terror. I don't, incidentally, recall the Times retrospective "Parsing Gains of Chechnya War," though the gains were great.
The meticulous planning also presumably included the termination of the assault, carefully timed to be just before the inauguration, so as to minimize the (remote) threat that Obama might have to say some words critical of these vicious US-supported crimes.
Two weeks after the Sabbath opening of the assault, with much of Gaza already pounded to rubble and the death toll approaching 1000, the UN Agency UNRWA, on which most Gazans depend for survival, announced that the Israeli military refused to allow aid shipments to Gaza , saying that the crossings were closed for the Sabbath. To honor the holy day, Palestinians at the edge of survival must be denied food and medicine, while hundreds can be slaughtered by US jet bombers and helicopters.
The rigorous observance of the Sabbath in this dual fashion attracted little if any notice. That makes sense. In the annals of US-Israeli criminality, such cruelty and cynicism scarcely merit more than a footnote. They are too familiar. To cite one relevant parallel, in June 1982 the US-backed Israeli invasion of Lebanon opened with the bombing of the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila, later to become famous as the site of terrible massacres supervised by the IDF (Israeli "Defense" Forces). The bombing hit the local hospital - the Gaza hospital -- and killed over 200 people, according to the eyewitness account of an American Middle East academic specialist. The massacre was the opening act in an invasion that slaughtered some 15-20,000 people and destroyed much of southern Lebanon and Beirut , proceeding with crucial US military and diplomatic support. That included vetoes of Security Council resolutions seeking to halt the criminal aggression that was undertaken, as scarcely concealed, to defend Israel from the threat of peaceful political settlement, contrary to many convenient fabrications about Israelis suffering under intense rocketing, a fantasy of apologists.
All of this is normal, and quite openly discussed by high Israeli officials. Thirty years ago Chief of Staff Mordechai Gur observed that since 1948, "we have been fighting against a population that lives in villages and cities." As Israel 's most prominent military analyst, Zeev Schiff, summarized his remarks, "the Israeli Army has always struck civilian populations, purposely and consciously...the Army, he said, has never distinguished civilian [from military] targets...[but] purposely attacked civilian targets." The reasons were explained by the distinguished statesman Abba Eban: "there was a rational prospect, ultimately fulfilled, that affected populations would exert pressure for the cessation of hostilities." The effect, as Eban well understood, would be to allow Israel to implement, undisturbed, its programs of illegal expansion and harsh repression. Eban was commenting on a review of Labor government attacks against civilians by Prime Minister Begin, presenting a picture, Eban said, "of an Israel wantonly inflicting every possible measure of death and anguish on civilian populations in a mood reminiscent of regimes which neither Mr.Begin nor I would dare to mention by name." Eban did not contest the facts that Begin reviewed, but criticized him for stating them publicly. Nor did it concern Eban, or his admirers, that his advocacy of massive state terror is also reminiscent of regimes he would not dare to mention by name.
Eban's justification for state terror is regarded as persuasive by respected authorities. As the current US-Israel assault raged, Times columnist Thomas Friedman explained that Israel 's tactics both in the current attack and in its invasion of Lebanon in 2006 are based on the sound principle of "trying to `educate' Hamas, by inflicting a heavy death toll on Hamas militants and heavy pain on the Gaza population." That makes sense on pragmatic grounds, as it did in Lebanon , where "the only long-term source of deterrence was to exact enough pain on the civilians -- the families and employers of the militants -- to restrain Hezbollah in the future." And by similar logic, bin Laden's effort to "educate" Americans on 9/11 was highly praiseworthy, as were the Nazi attacks on Lidice and Oradour, Putin's destruction of Grozny , and other notable attempts at "education."
Israel has taken pains to make clear its dedication to these guiding principles. NYT correspondent Stephen Erlanger reports that Israeli human rights groups are "troubled by Israel's strikes on buildings they believe should be classified as civilian, like the parliament, police stations and the presidential palace" - and, we may add, villages, homes, densely populated refugee camps, water and sewage systems, hospitals, schools and universities, mosques, UN relief facilities, ambulances, and indeed anything that might relieve the pain of the unworthy victims. A senior Israeli intelligence officer explained that the IDF attacked "both aspects of Hamas -- its resistance or military wing and its dawa, or social wing," the latter a euphemism for the civilian society. "He argued that Hamas was all of a piece," Erlanger continues, "and in a war, its instruments of political and social control were as legitimate a target as its rocket caches." Erlanger and his editors add no comment about the open advocacy, and practice, of massive terrorism targeting civilians, though correspondents and columnists signal their tolerance or even explicit advocacy of war crimes, as noted. But keeping to the norm, Erlanger does not fail to stress that Hamas rocketing is "an obvious violation of the principle of discrimination and fits the classic definition of terrorism."
More than 25,000 displaced Palestinians are currently taking shelter in U.N. facilities across the Gaza Strip
Like others familiar with the region, Middle East specialist Fawwaz Gerges observes that "What Israeli officials and their American allies do not appreciate is that Hamas is not merely an armed militia but a social movement with a large popular base that is deeply entrenched in society." Hence when they carry out their plans to destroy Hamas's "social wing," they are aiming to destroy Palestinian society. Gerges may be too kind. It is highly unlikely that Israeli and American officials - or the media and other commentators - do not appreciate these facts. Rather, they implicitly adopt the traditional perspective of those who monopolize means of violence: our mailed fist can crush any opposition, and if our furious assault has a heavy civilian toll, that's all to the good: perhaps the remnants will be properly educated.
IDF officers clearly understand that they are crushing the civilian society. Ethan Bronner quotes an Israeli Colonel who says that he and his men are not much "impressed with the Hamas fighters." "They are villagers with guns," said a gunner on an armored personnel carrier. They resemble the victims of the murderous IDF "iron fist" operations in occupied southern Lebanon in 1985, directed by Shimon Peres, one of the great terrorist commanders of the era of Reagan's "War on Terror." During these operations, Israeli commanders and strategic analysts explained that the victims were "terrorist villagers," difficult to eradicate because "these terrorists operate with the support of most of the local population." An Israeli commander complained that "the terrorist...has many eyes here, because he lives here," while the military correspondent of the Jerusalem Post described the problems Israeli forces faced in combating the "terrorist mercenary," "fanatics, all of whom are sufficiently dedicated to their causes to go on running the risk of being killed while operating against the IDF," which must "maintain order and security" in occupied southern Lebanon despite "the price the inhabitants will have to pay." The problem has been familiar to Americans in South Vietnam , Russians in Afghanistan , Germans in occupied Europe , and other aggressors that find themselves implementing the Gur-Eban-Friedman doctrine.
Gerges believes that US-Israeli state terror will fail: Hamas, he writes, "cannot be wiped out without massacring half a million Palestinians. If Israel succeeds in killing Hamas's senior leaders, a new generation, more radical than the present, will swiftly replace them. Hamas is a fact of life. It is not going away, and it will not raise the white flag regardless of how many casualties it suffers."
Perhaps, but there is often a tendency to underestimate the efficacy of violence. It is particularly odd that such a belief should be held in the United States . Why are we here?
Hamas is regularly described as "Iranian-backed Hamas, which is dedicated to the destruction of Israel ." One will be hard put to find something like "democratically elected Hamas, which has long been calling for a two-state settlement in accord with the international consensus" -- blocked for over 30 years by the US and Israel , which flatly and explicitly reject the right of Palestinians to self-determination. All true, but not a useful contribution to the Party Line, hence dispensable.
Such details as those mentioned earlier, though minor, nevertheless teach us something about ourselves and our clients. So do others. To mention another one, as the latest US-Israeli assault on Gaza began, a small boat, the Dignity, was on its way from Cyprus to Gaza . The doctors and human rights activists aboard intended to violate Israel 's criminal blockade and to bring medical supplies to the trapped population. The ship was intercepted in international waters by Israeli naval vessels, which rammed it severely, almost sinking it, though it managed to limp to Lebanon . Israel issued the routine lies, refuted by the journalists and passengers aboard, including CNN correspondent Karl Penhaul and former US representative and Green Party presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney. That is a serious crime -- much worse, for example, than hijacking boats off the coast of Somalia . It passed with little notice. The tacit acceptance of such crimes reflects the understanding that Gaza is occupied territory, and that Israel is entitled to maintain its siege, even authorized by the guardians of international order to carry out crimes on the high seas to implement its programs of punishing the civilian population for disobedience to its commands - under pretexts to which we return, almost universally accepted but clearly untenable.
The lack of attention again makes sense. For decades, Israel had been hijacking boats in international waters between Cyprus and Lebanon , killing or kidnapping passengers, sometimes bringing them to prisons in Israel , including secret prison/torture chambers, to hold as hostages for many years. Since the practices are routine, why treat the new crime with more than a yawn? Cyprus and Lebanon reacted quite differently, but who are they in the scheme of things?
Who cares, for example, if the editors of Lebanon 's Daily Star, generally pro-Western, write that "Some 1.5 million people in Gaza are being subjected to the murderous ministrations of one of the world's most technologically advanced but morally regressive military machines. It is often suggested that the Palestinians have become to the Arab world what the Jews were to pre-World War II Europe, and there is some truth to this interpretation. How sickeningly appropriate, then, that just as Europeans and North Americans looked the other way when the Nazis were perpetrating the Holocaust, the Arabs are finding a way to do nothing as the Israelis slaughter Palestinian children." Perhaps the most shameful of the Arab regimes is the brutal Egyptian dictatorship, the beneficiary of most US military aid, apart from Israel .
According to the Lebanese press, Israel still "routinely abducts Lebanese civilians from the Lebanese side of the Blue Line [the international border], most recently in December 2008." And of course "Israeli planes violate Lebanese airspace on a daily basis in violation of UN Resolution 1701" (Lebanese scholar Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, Daily Star, Jan. 13). That too has been happening for a long time. In condemning Israel 's invasion of Lebanon in 2006, the prominent Israeli strategic analyst Zeev Maoz wrote in the Israeli press that " Israel has violated Lebanese airspace by carrying out aerial reconnaissance missions virtually every day since its withdrawal from Southern Lebanon six years ago.