The calculations behind Israel’s slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza
By Uri Avnery
Gush Shalom, January 2, 2009
Uri Avnery explains how Israel engineered the
collapse of the truce in the Gaza Strip in order “to terrorize the
civilian population by unremitting attacks from the air, sowing death
and destruction”, utterly destroying the entire life-supporting
infrastructure in the Strip, creating anarchy and consequently prompting
the population to rise up against Hamas.
Just after midnight, Al-Jazeera’s Arabic channel was
reporting on events in Gaza. Suddenly the camera was pointing upwards
towards the dark sky. The screen was pitch black. Nothing could be seen,
but there was a sound to be heard: the noise of airplanes, a
frightening, a terrifying droning.
It was impossible not to think
about the tens of thousands of Gazan children who were hearing that
sound at that moment, cringing with fright, paralyzed by fear, waiting
for the bombs to fall.
“Israel must defend itself against the
rockets that are terrorizing our southern towns,” the Israeli spokesmen
explained. “Palestinians must respond to the killing of their fighters
inside the Gaza Strip,” the Hamas spokesmen declared.
As a matter
of fact, the cease-fire did not collapse, because there was no real
cease-fire to start with. The main requirement for any cease-fire in the
Gaza Strip must be the opening of the border crossings. There can be no
life in Gaza without a steady flow of supplies. But the crossings were
not opened, except for a few hours now and again. The blockade on land,
on sea and in the air against a million and a half human beings is an
act of war, as much as any dropping of bombs or launching of rockets. It
paralyzes life in the Gaza Strip: eliminating most sources of
employment, pushing hundreds of thousands to the brink of starvation,
stopping most hospitals from functioning, disrupting the supply of
electricity and water.
Those who decided to close the crossings –
under whatever pretext – knew that there is no real cease-fire under
That is the main thing. Then there came the
small provocations which were designed to get Hamas to react. After
several months, in which hardly any Qassam rockets were launched, an
army unit was sent into the Strip “in order to destroy a tunnel that
came close to the border fence”. From a purely military point of view,
it would have made more sense to lay an ambush on our side of the fence.
But the aim was to find a pretext for the termination of the cease-fire,
in a way that made it plausible to put the blame on the Palestinians.
And indeed, after several such small actions, in which Hamas fighters
were killed, Hamas retaliated with a massive launch of rockets, and – lo
and behold – the cease-fire was at an end. Everybody blamed Hamas.
What was the aim? Tzipi Livni announced it openly: to liquidate
Hamas rule in Gaza. The Qassams served only as a pretext.
Liquidate Hamas rule? That sounds like a chapter out of “The March of
Folly”. After all, it is no secret that it was the Israeli government
which set up Hamas to start with. When I once asked a former Shin-Bet
chief, Yaakov Peri, about it, he answered enigmatically: “We did not
create it, but we did not hinder its creation.”
For years, the
occupation authorities favoured the Islamic movement in the occupied
territories. All other political activities were rigorously suppressed,
but their activities in the mosques were permitted. The calculation was
simple and naive: at the time, the Palestine Liberation Organization was
considered the main enemy, Yasser Arafat was the current Satan. The
Islamic movement was preaching against the PLO and Arafat, and was
therefore viewed as an ally.
With the outbreak of the first
intifada in 1987, the Islamic movement officially renamed itself Hamas
(Arabic initials of “Islamic Resistance Movement”) and joined the fight.
Even then, the Shin-Bet took no action against them for almost a year,
while Fatah members were executed or imprisoned in large numbers. Only
after a year, were Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and his colleagues also arrested.
Since then the wheel has turned. Hamas has now become the
current Satan, and the PLO is considered by many in Israel almost as a
branch of the Zionist organization. The logical conclusion for an
Israeli government seeking peace would have been to make wide-ranging
concessions to the Fatah leadership: ending of the occupation, signing
of a peace treaty, foundation of the State of Palestine, withdrawal to
the 1967 borders, a reasonable solution of the refugee problem, release
of all Palestinian prisoners. That would have arrested the rise of Hamas
But logic has little influence on politics. Nothing of
this sort happened. On the contrary, after the murder of Arafat, Ariel
Sharon declared that Mahmoud Abbas, who took his place, was a “plucked
chicken”. Abbas was not allowed the slightest political achievement. The
negotiations, under American auspices, became a joke. The most authentic
Fatah leader, Marwan Barghouti, was sent to prison for life. Instead of
a massive prisoner release, there were petty and insulting “gestures”.
Abbas was systematically humiliated, Fatah looked like an empty
shell and Hamas won a resounding victory in the Palestinian election –
the most democratic election ever held in the Arab world. Israel
boycotted the elected government. In the ensuing internal struggle,
Hamas assumed direct control over the Gaza Strip.
And now, after
all this, the government of Israel decided to “liquidate Hamas rule in
Gaza” – with blood, fire and columns of smoke.
The official name
of the war is “Cast Lead”, two words from a children’s song about a
It would be more accurate to call it “The Election
In the past, too, military action has been taken during
election campaigns. Menachem Begin bombed the Iraqi nuclear reactor
during the 1981 campaign. When Shimon Peres claimed that this was an
election gimmick, Begin cried out at his next rally: “Jews, do you
believe that I would send our brave boys to their death or, worse, to be
taken prisoner by human animals, in order to win an election?” Begin
Peres is no Begin. When, during the 1996 election campaign,
he ordered the invasion of Lebanon (operation “Grapes of Wrath”),
everybody was convinced that he had done it for electoral gain. The war
was a failure and Peres lost the elections and Binyamin Netanyahu came
Barak and Tzipi Livni are now resorting to the same old
trick. According to the polls, Barak’s predicted election result rose
within 48 hours by five Knesset seats. About 80 dead Palestinians for
each seat. But it is difficult to walk on a pile of dead bodies. The
success may evaporate in a minute if the war comes to be considered by
the Israeli public as a failure. For example, if the rockets continue to
hit Beersheba, or if the ground attack leads to heavy Israeli
The timing was chosen meticulously from another angle
too. The attack started two days after Christmas, when American and
European leaders are on holiday until after New Year. The calculation:
even if somebody wanted to try and stop the war, no one would give up
his holiday. That ensured several days free from outside pressures.
Another reason for the timing: these are George Bush’s last days in
the White House. This blood-soaked moron could be expected to support
the war enthusiastically, as indeed he did. Barack Obama has not yet
entered office and had a ready made pretext for keeping silent: “there
is only one president”. The silence does not bode well for the term of
The main line was: not to repeat the mistakes of
Lebanon War II. This was endlessly repeated on all the news programmes
and talk shows.
This does not change the fact: the Gaza war is an
almost exact replica of the second Lebanon war.
concept is the same: to terrorize the civilian population by unremitting
attacks from the air, sowing death and destruction. This poses no danger
to the pilots, since the Palestinians have no anti-aircraft weapons at
all. The calculation: if the entire life-supporting infrastructure in
the Strip is utterly destroyed and total anarchy ensues, the population
will rise up and overthrow the Hamas regime. Mahmoud Abbas will then
ride back into Gaza on the back of Israeli tanks.
this calculation did not work out. The bombed population, including the
Christians, rallied behind Hizbullah, and Hassan Nasrallah became the
hero of the Arab world. Something similar will probably happen this
time, too. Generals are experts on using weapons and moving troops, not
on mass psychology.
Some time ago
I wrote that the Gaza blockade was a scientific experiment designed
to find out how much one can starve a population and turn its life into
hell before they break. This experiment was conducted with the generous
help of Europe and the US. Up till now, it did not succeed. Hamas became
stronger and the range of the Qassams became longer. The present war is
a continuation of the experiment by other means.
It may be that
the army will “have no alternative” but to re-conquer the Gaza Strip
because there is no other way to stop the Qassams – except coming to an
agreement with Hamas, which is contrary to government policy. When the
ground invasion starts, everything will depend on the motivation and
capabilities of the Hamas fighters vis-à-vis the Israeli soldiers.
Nobody can know what will happen.
Day after day, night after
night, Al-Jazeera’s Arabic channel broadcasts the atrocious pictures:
heaps of mutilated bodies, tearful relatives looking for their dear ones
among the dozens of corpses spread out on the ground, a woman pulling
her young daughter from under the rubble, doctors without medicines
trying to save the lives of the wounded. (The English-language
Al-Jazeera, unlike its Arabic-language sister-station, has undergone an
amazing about face, broadcasting only a sanitized picture and freely
distributing Israeli government propaganda. It would be interesting to
know what happened there.)
Millions are seeing these terrible
images, picture after picture, day after day. These images are imprinted
on their minds forever: horrible Israel, abominable Israel, inhuman
Israel. A whole generation of haters. That is a terrible price, which we
will be compelled to pay long after the other results of the war itself
have been forgotten in Israel.
But there is another thing that is
being imprinted on the minds of these millions: the picture of the
miserable, corrupt, passive Arab regimes.
As seen by Arabs, one
fact stands out above all others: the wall of shame.
million and a half Arabs in Gaza, who are suffering so terribly, the
only opening to the world that is not dominated by Israel is the border
with Egypt. Only from there can food arrive to sustain life and
medicaments to save the injured. This border remains closed at the
height of the horror. The Egyptian army has blocked the only way for
food and medicines to enter, while surgeons operate on the wounded
Throughout the Arab world, from end to end,
there echoed the words of Hassan Nasrullah: the leaders of Egypt are
accomplices to the crime, they are collaborating with the “Zionist
enemy” in trying to break the Palestinian people. It can be assumed that
he did not mean only Mubarak, but also all the other leaders, from the
king of Saudi Arabia to the Palestinian president. Seeing the
demonstrations throughout the Arab world and listening to the slogans,
one gets the impression that their leaders seem to many Arabs pathetic
at best, and miserable collaborators at worst.
This will have
historic consequences. A whole generation of Arab leaders, a generation
imbued with the ideology of secular Arab nationalism, the successors of
Gamal Abdul Nasser, Hafez Al-Assad and Yasser Arafat, may be swept from
the stage. In the Arab space, the only viable alternative is the
ideology of Islamic fundamentalism.
This war is a writing on the
wall: Israel is missing the historic chance of making peace with secular
Arab nationalism. Tomorrow, It may be faced with a uniformly
fundamentalist Arab world, Hamas multiplied by a thousand.
taxi driver in Tel-Aviv the other day was thinking aloud: why not call
up the sons of the ministers and members of the Knesset, form them into
a combat unit and send them off to head the coming ground attack on
Uri Avnery is an Israeli
journalist, writer and peace activist.
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