August 8, 2014
U.N. Human Rights Council vote (July 23, 2014) approving an investigation into human rights violations occurring in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. (Photo: Twitter “UNGeneva”)
By Chris Goetzman.
A very curious — though expected — incident occurred during a recent hastily convened United Nations Human Rights Council (U.N.H.R.C.) session. On July 23rd, the council adopted a resolution to investigate the very serious human rights abuses between Israel and Palestine over the recent crisis in Gaza. Of the 47 member states, only 1 voted against the resolution — the United States; on the other side, the rest of the world with the notable abstention of essentially Europe. The U.S. representative to the council was troubling vague about the vote, suggesting that the resolution was a “biased and political instrument”.
Just what has happened recently in Gaza that led to this great disparity? In spite of extensive efforts by U.S. and Israeli press to obscure the situation, the facts are actually pretty clear. Three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped in the West Bank on June 12th (note that F.A.I.R. has pointed out the trouble with mainstream American media declaring this as a “starting point”.) In reaction, and without any evidence, the Israeli government took the opportunity to blame Hamas for the disappearances. This was then used to justify a massive intrusive sweep (Israel’s “Operation Brother’s Keeper”) of the West Bank by Israeli officials. Hundreds of people were arrested, Palestinian activists were detained, and reportedly 10 Palestinians were even killed! As a result of this collective punishment and obvious pretext for an assault on Hamas, the ominous “rockets” were fired from Gaza into Israel and met by Israeli airstrikes as early as mid-June.
At this point it should be noted that many experts point to the events of April 2014 when discussing the motivation Israel had to find any pretext it could to perform a West Bank-Hamas shakedown. After many years of trying to keep the Palestinian Authority (government of the West Bank) and Hamas as separate entities as part of a divide and conquer strategy, the two had finally agreed to United States and European Union criteria for the formation of a unity government that would represent Palestinians in negotiations with Israel. Netanyahu was furious; for years Israel used this as a pretext for not seriously engaging in negotiations. In this context it becomes overwhelmingly likely that the abduction of the three Israeli teenagers – the supposed violence purported to be the outcome of having a “terrorist” organization in government – was opportunistic intellectual fodder to precipitate the ongoing Gaza crisis in order to strike back at attempts to form a unified Palestinian government.
On June 30th the bodies of the three Israeli teens were found dead (shot shortly after the original abduction) within a short distance from the site of the original disappearance. In response Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu declared veritable war on Palestine: “Hamas is responsible and Hamas will pay.” Thus began an all-out assault and massacre of the Palestinian population.
Violence substantially escalated on July 8th after Israel launched its “Operation Protective Edge”, a definite escalation leading to massive airstrikes against the Palestinian population. The numbers are truly staggering. After a week of Israeli bombings, there were around 200 Palestinian casualties — the vast majority were civilians; at this point in the crisis (July 15th), the state of Israel had still yet to suffer even a single casualty!
Those of us following the crisis were routinely disturbed by Israeli violence in the days leading up to the middle of July. The bombings were of an occupied territory already reeling from years of Israeli embargoes; they were massively disproportionate; and they were indiscriminate. Also, as it can’t be stated enough, it was a cycle of violence that was established during the Israeli purge of the West Bank during the month of June — which, again, was based on the entirely unsubstantiated claim that Hamas was responsible for the murder of the three Israeli teens.
Some of the events during this period truly exposed the reality of the situation. According to Human Rights Watch, a July 11th Israeli attack on the “Fun Times Beach café” where many were gathered to watch a World Cup match (presumably taped – there were no matches on Friday the 11th) killed nine civilians, including two children and wounded three others (one of which was a thirteen year old.) According to the Israeli military, they were “targeting a terrorist”, though no evidence appeared that anybody in the café at the time was linked to military operations or “terrorism”; and clearly, such indiscriminate attacks are as much a “massacre” as they are a “targeting”.
An event that garnered particular attention was the killing by Israeli troops of four defenseless children on a beach in Gaza on July 16th. Apparently the boys were guilty of playing soccer on the beach while Palestinian. The event was entirely witnessed by NBC reporter Ayman Mohyeldin. Quickly, Mohyeldin reported on the story in what was some of the best journalism during the entire Gaza massacre. He recounted on Twitter: “4 Palestinian kids killed in a single Israeli airstrike. Minutes before they were killed by our hotel, I was kicking a ball with them”. Such an event clearly displays the indiscriminate nature and the horror of the Israeli massacre of Gaza. For Mohyeldin’s amazing reporting he was pulled from Gaza by NBC executives (though later he was reinstated after some similarly amazing journalism), an event that sheds a very sad light on the state of American media (tough already quite well-documented.)
Israel had been assembling a ground force of some 40,000 troops since the beginning of OPE and there was much fear that a ground invasion would occur; to the horror of the world, such an invasion began on July 17th as Israel announced it had moved to the second phase of OPE. Norman Finkelstein notes the interesting coincidence of such an announcement with the downing of the Malaysian passenger plane in Ukraine.
Quickly casualties began to mount at a staggering rate, even on the Israeli side. On July 22nd, the day before the U.N.H.R.C. vote on a human rights investigation in the occupied Palestinian territories, more than 650 Palestinians (the vast majority civilian) and 36 Israelis (2 civilian) had been killed.
Quite simply, let us never forget the results of the July 23rd U.N.H.R.C. vote – U.N.H.R.C. Resolution S-21/1 — but we should recognize that it is but a piece of the support that the United States gives to its 51st state. Glenn Greenwald – famous for the Snowden revelations – has recently reported on the massive surveillance assistance the United States provides for the state of Israel. Additionally the United States provides annual funding of $3 billion in military aid to Israel, about 75% of which must be purchases made from American military companies. According to Amnesty International:
The USA is by far the largest exporter of military equipment to Israel. According to data made public by the US government, its arms transfers to Israel from January to May 2014 included nearly $27 million for “rocket launchers”, $9.3 million worth in “parts of guided missiles” and nearly $762,000 for “bombs, grenades and munitions of war”. Since 2012, the USA has exported $276 million worth of basic weapons and munitions to Israel, a figure that excludes exports of military transport equipment and high technologies.
Further, responding to a July 20th request from the state of Israel, the United States has been supplying pertinent military armament to Israel mid-atrocity!
The diplomatic support alone at the United Nations allows Israel to commit wholesale state terrorism. When we consider Israeli atrocities, we should recognize the way that WE, the United States, support and make possible the killings. This suggests what action should be taken as we move ahead.
The day after the U.N.H.R.C. vote (July 24th) a particularly unbelievable event occurred at a school in Beit Hanoun that had been converted into a United Nations refugee shelter. Though the Israeli government knew full-well the location of the school, it was bombed anyway killing 16 and wounding over 200. The act was astonishing; the world was stunned. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon quickly condemned the attack calling it “outrageous”. Who else could get away with such a flagrant violation of international law?
Defenders of Israel — the Israeli Defense Force (I.D.F.) and those that echo its claims — quickly took to propaganda to misdirect from the misdeed. The I.D.F. admitted no wrong doing, suggesting that the attack may have been the result of errant Hamas rocket fire. NBC correspondent Richard Engel tweeted the obvious: “IDF suggests Hamas rocket/rockets hit school. it would mean five inaccurate rockets all hit a small location in rapid succession. likely?” Further, the IDF suggested that they had previously warned the U.N. to evacuate the school and even suggested that Hamas prevented the evacuation. Chris Gunness of the United Nations suggested the exact opposite, saying that it was asked of Israel to allow for an evacuation period, but that nothing was granted.
Indeed, while still leaving the door open for the Hamas explanation, the I.D.F. further suggested that Hamas was firing from nearby the school so that any possible shelling of the compound would have been in “self-defense”. In time, when it seemed the evidence of Israeli shells were clear, the I.D.F. merely said that there was an errant shell that hit “an empty field” and even at one point suggested that the bodies may have been killed elsewhere and then moved! Contrary to this Dr. Seuss world, many witnesses testified to a collective story (I guess somehow they magically deliberated and developed a collective false narrative.) The witnesses curiously mention nothing about neighboring Hamas fighters that would be so close so as to warrant multiple direct hits on the compound as refuges collected outside, waiting to be bused away from what they probably never guessed was imminent danger. Is this the story we would expect to come from an operation in which a terrorist outfit stays put in a schoolyard of a United Nations refugee camp intent on drawing Israeli tank fire? How can Israel possibly attempt to justify bombing a U.N. refugee camp thereby guaranteeing death and destruction when Hamas’ weapons have proven so ineffective?
After the July 24th school incident, things continued to be completely out of hand in Gaza for the rest of July. Secretary of State John Kerry, after accidentally (?) implicitly denouncing indiscriminate Israeli airstrikes on a hot Fox News mic, flew to Israel and began touting a ceasefire in which Israel would be able to continue to operate militarily; an unsurprising “ceasefire” when brokered by a party with a major stake in the proceedings.
The deaths continued to spiral out of control. By July 29th, 1106 Palestinians had been killed (the vast majority civilians) and 53 Israelis (3 civilian). Many more were injured. Alarmingly, hundreds of thousands had been evicted from their homes.
Apparently reducing the size of Gaza is the “Protective Edge”.
One of the most alarming things to happen in Gaza is the “40% no-mans land” that Israel appears to be constructing. The country known for aggressive settlements and land aggrandizement appears to be temporarily setting aside the Caterpillar bulldozers in favor of the United States F-16. At various points during the crisis Israel has asked citizens to evacuate their homes, sometimes asking even a hundred thousand to leave their homes under the (likely) penalty of indiscriminate bombings. The thorough nature of the destruction of these areas has even appeared in a video on Youtube. This is a clear attempt to shrink the Gaza strip, moving the “Protective Edge” between Israel and Gaza by destroying entire swatches of Palestinian territory.
On July 30th, the horror struck yet again. In another flagrant violation of international law and basic human decency, Israel struck yet another United Nations school-turned-shelter in Jabaliya killing 19. The United Nations had communicated to Israel the exact location of the refugee shelter 17 times, including once just hours before the bombing. This time the United Nations took little time to condemn an Israeli attack. “I condemn this attack in the strongest possible terms. It is outrageous. It is unjustifiable, and it demands accountability and justice..” said Ban-Ki Moon while on a diplomatic visit in Costa Rica. “Nothing is more shameful than attacking sleeping children.”
In spite of the July 30th attack, the United States would go on to resupply Israel with important military supplies.
Israel would go on to attack yet another school in Rafah on August 3rd killing 9 others.
Now, a month since the onset of “Operation Protective Edge”, a three day ceasefire has allowed Palestinians to survey the damage. Over 1,800 Palestinians have been killed – 85% civilian. 64 Israeli soldiers, 2 Israeli civilians, and one foreign national have also been killed. 9,567 are reported injured by the Ministry of Health. Thirty percent of the population in Gaza has been displaced. Gaza sits in complete devastation. Its sole power plant destroyed; tens of thousands of buildings and homes destroyed; several medical facilities were bombed; and 95% of the municipal water in Gaza is not fit for human consumption. All of this against a population already on an Israeli-imposed “diet”. All of this in an area that had an estimated 47% unemployment rate before the massacre. Gaza is now chest-deep in a fresh humanitarian disaster.
A few days ago (August 3rd) Israel decided to remove ground troops from Gaza. In a recent interview on RT, Israel-Palestine expert Norman Finkelstein discussed the advanced calculus that lead to the decision; namely, after Israel’s August 3rd bombing of the Rafah United Nations facility, the massacre was simply becoming too untenable even for the United States — the only international opinion that truly matters for Israel. In spite of President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry’s constant verbal approval of the Israeli action in Gaza, a new message was signaled by State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki: “The United States is appalled by today’s disgraceful shelling outside an UNRWA school in Rafah sheltering some 3,000 displaced persons, in which ten more Palestinian civilians were tragically killed,”. Psaki would go on to clearly pin the blame: “The coordinates of the school, like all UN facilities in Gaza, have been repeatedly communicated to the Israel Defense Forces,”. Previous statements by U.S. officials, such as the statement given after the July 30th Jabaliya shelling, merely denounced the atrocity, but decline to assign blame specifically to Isarel. It seemed clear that Israel was incapable of avoiding targets of high priority in the international community, thus the United States gave the signal; further support of the atrocity would be less replete. This underscores the responsibility for the events in Gaza that lays at the doorstep of the United States.
Throughout the entirety of the crisis in Gaza, the United States and Israel have followed a consistent propaganda framework that is utterly reprehensible. Consistently it is claimed that Israel doesn’t target civilians – a claim clearly refuted by the incident of the four Palestinian children on the beach attacked by Israeli gunboats among many other incidents. Like all good propaganda, much is meant to devilishly reverse the roles of victim and oppressor; the main propaganda tools to justify the violence fall under this category: Hamas is using children as human shields; the whole operation is in “self-defense”; and after all, Hamas started it. Each point is meant to be an even more flagrant respite to the victims of Israel as expertly stated by renowned activist writer Chris Hedges in a recent article, Why Israel Lies. We’ll target each of these propaganda pieces one-by-one.
Israel doesn’t target civilians. The idea that Israel cares about Palestinian civilians is completely outrageous. Actions always speak louder than words, and the scale of the actions in this case is simply out of this world; the United Nations is currently reporting almost 1,900 dead in Gaza, a full 85% civilian! Some of the eyewitness accounts of the massacre have been truly disturbing. When actually approached about individual incidents such as the blatant killing of the four children on the beach in Gaza, CNN allows I.D.F. spokesperson Peter Lerner to simply suggest that the incident will be “investigated” and publically reminds us that “Israel does not target civilians.” Do we really expect them to admit that they killed the civilians? Clearly, the only thing we can do is examine the forensic evidence of what actually took place in the real world – not the rhetoric of wholesale terrorist state actors. Numerous NGOs already submitted many official statements in the lead up to the adoption of U.N. Resolution S-21/1 suggesting flagrant disregard for the possibility of civilian casualty by the I.D.F. (notably included is the severe amount of civilians killed when entire houses were bombed by airstrikes.) And as Noura Erakat of the The Nation expertly pointed out, Israel has a sordid history in this regard, and we were not born yesterday.
Hamas is using children as human shields. Throughout the proceedings this claim was routinely made to justify the shelling of the U.N. school in Beit Hanoun and virtually every other Israeli atrocity. According to a spectacular compilation by The Guardian that would be comical if the situation wasn’t so dire, Hamas is said to be lurking everywhere; and any attack on civilians is said to be in response to Hamas’ diabolically strategic operations in civilian areas. This by the way, is not a claim that is “dog-whistled”; it’s usually pointedly alleged such as during Bob Schieffer’s memorable “heart-to-heart” address on July 27th’s CBS Face the Nation:
In the Middle East, the Palestinian people find themselves in the grip of a terrorist group that has embarked on a strategy to get its own children killed in order to build sympathy for its cause, a strategy that might actually be working, at least in some quarters. Last week, I found a quote of many years ago by Golda Meir, one of Israel’s early leaders, which might have been said yesterday. “We can forgive the Arabs for killing our children,” she said, “but we can never forgive them for forcing us to kill their children.”
First, there is absolutely no evidence of such behavior whatsoever. Such claims merely find their origins from the I.D.F. and their devout followers. Journalists such as the BBC’s Jeremy Bowen find no evidence of such claims upon actual ground-level reporting. Commenting on July 25th, Amnesty International also addressed the question of “human shielding”: “Amnesty International is aware of these claims, and continues to monitor and investigate reports, but does not have evidence at this point that Palestinian civilians have been intentionally used by Hamas or Palestinian armed groups during the current hostilities to “shield” specific locations or military personnel or equipment from Israeli attacks.”
Further, where does one expect a popular resistance army to fight exactly? Gaza is an extremely cramped and very dense environment which adds to the horror of the some thousands of airstrikes over the small strip of land. The population density of the Gaza Strip is about 13,000 per square mile; compare this to less than 12,000 per square mile for the American city of Chicago! Civilians will be in civilian areas. It’s said that Israel warns citizens to evacuate, but Hamas councils them to stay; Amnesty also points out the trouble with this Israeli complaint. In my opinion, it’s troubling that an invading army with a history of forcing natives from their land could expect citizens to willingly give up their increasingly rare housing. Does bombing whole houses during a ground invasion and the resultant civilian deaths constitute human shielding?
One can also start to see the blatantly political nature of such charges, as noted in a blog by As’ad AbuKhalil: “..was the use of civilian sites by Syrian rebels EVER used in US media as a way to justify bombings of those sites by the Syrian regime?”
Perhaps we should conclude the overwhelming likelihood that, as in the cases where the details are well known, Israel is more than ready to massacre innocent civilians – no Hamas militants necessary — without so much as an afterthought. Well, except when taking an occasion to embarrassingly attempt to justify said atrocities.
Perhaps the I.D.F. should equip its soldiers with video cameras to document the incidents if they happen so often (again, over 1800 civilians died, so it must have happened A LOT.) One thing is sure; if even a single incident of “human shielding” did occur with documentation, we would know about it.
The whole operation is in “self-defense”. It’s thoroughly amazing that anyone would think such disproportionate force could possibly constitute a self-defense operation. As previously mentioned, hundreds of Palestinians had died before Israel so much as received a military casualty. Indeed, Israeli casualties didn’t really happen at all until the ground invasion which is something to think about on multiple levels.
Further, it’s untenable that an occupying army could consider resistance to such occupation an exercise in “self-defense”. Under international law it is clear that Israel is the occupying power of Gaza. Israel is thus additionally responsible for the well-being of the civilians in the territory that it occupies. Not to bring this painful fact up is to engage in propaganda. To acknowledge it, but insist that the Palestinians (in particular Hama) be “practical” or “realistic” in dealing with Israel is to blame the victim; it is to agree that Israel IS IN FACT a terrorist state with no regard to international law and always ready at the drop of a hat to engage in massive atrocities.
Finally, “self-defense” implies that something was done unto you first, which brings us back to our last propaganda point so often raised by the American media.
Hamas started it. The abduction of the three Israeli teens was again widely considered by Western and Israeli media outlets to have initiated the “cycle of violence”. Though the whole thing was entirely allegation as previously mentioned, it’s been pointed out that – beyond merely looking at Israel’s track record — there’s also reason to doubt official Israeli claims. There’s even the strong suspicion that Israel knew well at the beginning of the sweeps in the West Bank that the teens were dead and even the narrowness by which the search for the suspects should be kept. What we can observe for sure is the certain unjustness of the pretext combined with the clear political nature of a massive Hamas shake down. The combined event – teen abduction and “Operation Brother’s Keeper — is widely agreed to have sparked the rocket attacks on Israel, though the only sure thing about the events seems to be the thorough mistreatment of Palestinians in the West Bank. Israel saw the opportunity to destabilize the peace process and Israel took it.
All of this constant propaganda and more is what lead an unimaginable amount of the Israeli population to support the savage atrocities. During the course of the massacre the Jewish members of the Israeli population were polled no less than three times by the Israel Democracy Institute. An average of 95% of Israeli Jews (96% on 07/14, 92% on 07/16-17, and 97% on 07/23) thought that “Operation Protective Edge” was “justified”. Only 3-4% thought that the firepower used by the I.D.F. in Gaza was “excessive”. Such a propaganda state is currently the most dangerous threat facing mankind. It’s imperative that such systems of population control be thoroughly dismantled if we are to have even a chance at living in a just and humane world.
As I again sift through the constantly unsubstantiated – though widely repeated – claims of the Israel Defense Force, I am reminded of a famous incident involving former C.I.A. director Porter Goss. On May 5th, 2006, Goss resigned his directorship for what amount to unknown reasons. The next day, he spoke at Tiffin University for a graduation ceremony. There he gave the now famous advice to the graduating class: “Admit nothing, deny everything, and make counter-accusations.” This, more than anything else, appears to be the operating principle of the Israeli Defense Force.