The Latest Gaza Catastrophe
Source Dave Anderson
Date 12/11/18/22:00
Published by Al-Jazeera-English
The Latest Gaza Catastrophe
Many aspects of the current assault on Gaza pass under the radar
screens of world conscience

by Richard Falk

THE MEDIA DOUBLE standards in the West on the new and tragic Israeli
escalation of violence directed at Gaza were epitomised by an absurdly
partisan New York Times front page headline: "Rockets Target
Jerusalem; Israel girds for Gaza Invasion" (NYT, Nov 16, 2012).
Decoded somewhat, the message is this: Hamas is the aggressor, and
Israel when and if it launches a ground attack on Gaza must expect
itself to be further attacked by rockets. This is a stunningly
Orwellian re-phrasing of reality.

The true situation is, of course, quite the opposite: Namely, that the
defenseless population of Gaza can be assumed now to be acutely
fearful of an all out imminent Israeli assault, while it is also true,
without minimising the reality of a threat, that some rockets fired
from Gaza fell harmlessly (although with admittedly menacing
implications) on the outskirts of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. There is
such a gross disproportion in the capacity of the two sides to inflict
damage and suffering due to Israeli total military dominance as to
make perverse this reversal of concerns to what might befall Israeli
society if the attack on Gaza further intensifies.

The reliance by Hamas and the various Gaza militias on indiscriminate,
even if wildly inaccurate and generally harmless, rockets is a
criminal violation of international humanitarian law, but the low
number of casualties caused and the minor damage caused, needs to be
assessed in the overall context of massive violence inflicted on the
Palestinians. The widespread non-Western perception of the new cycle
of violence involving Gaza is that it looks like a repetition of
Israeli aggression against Gaza in late 2008, early 2009, that
similarly fell between the end of American presidential elections and
scheduled Israeli parliamentary elections.

Pointing fingers

There is the usual discussion over where to locate responsibility for
the initial act in this renewed upsurge violence. Is it some shots
fired from Gaza across the border and aimed at an armoured Israeli
jeep or was it the targeted killing by an Israeli missile of Ahmed
Jabari, leader of the military wing of Hamas, a few days later? Or
some other act by one side or the other? Or is it the continuous
violence against the people of Gaza arising from the blockade that has
been imposed since mid-2007?

The assassination of Jabari came a few days after an informal truce
that had been negotiated through the good offices of Egypt, and quite
ironically agreed to by none other than Jabari acting on behalf of
Hamas. Killing him was clearly intended as a major provocation,
disrupting a carefully negotiated effort to avoid another tit-for-tat
sequence of violence of the sort that has periodically taken place
during the last several years.

An assassination of such a high profile Palestinian political figure
as Jabari is not a spontaneous act. It is based on elaborate
surveillance over a long period, and is obviously planned well in
advance partly with the hope of avoiding collateral damage, and thus
limiting unfavourable publicity. Such an extra-judicial killing,
although also part and parcel of the new American ethos of drone
warfare, remains an unlawful tactic of conflict, denying adversary
political leaders separated from combat any opportunity to defend
themselves against accusations, and implies a rejection of any
disposition to seek a peaceful resolution of a political conflict. It
amounts to the imposition of capital punishment without due process, a
denial of elementary rights to confront an accuser.

Putting aside the niceties of law, the Israeli leadership knew exactly
what it was doing when it broke the truce and assassinated such a
prominent Hamas leader, someone generally thought to be second only to
the Gaza prime minister, Ismail Haniya. There have been rumours, and
veiled threats, for months that the Netanyahu government plans a major
assault of Gaza, and the timing of the ongoing attacks seems to
coincide with the dynamics of Israeli internal politics, especially
the traditional Israeli practice of shoring up the image of toughness
of the existing leadership in Tel Aviv as a way of inducing Israeli
citizens to feel fearful, yet protected, before casting their ballots.

Under siege

Beneath the horrific violence, which exposes the utter vulnerability,
of all those living as captives in Gaza, which is one of the most
crowded and impoverished communities on the planet, is a frightful
structure of human abuse that the international community continues to
turn its back upon, while preaching elsewhere adherence to the norm of
"responsibility to protect" whenever it suits NATO. More than half of
the 1.6 million Gazans are refugees living in a total area of just
over twice the size of the city of Washington, DC. The population has
endured a punitive blockade since mid-2007 that makes daily life
intolerable, and Gaza has been harshly occupied ever since 1967.

Israel has tried to fool the world by setting forth its narrative of a
good faith withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, which was exploited by
Palestinian militants at the time as an opportunity to launch deadly
rocket attacks. The counter-narrative, accepted by most independent
observers, is that the Israeli removal of troops and settlements was
little more than a mere redeployment to the borders of Gaza, with
absolute control over what goes in and what leaves, maintaining an
open season of a license to kill at will, with no accountability and
no adverse consequences, backed without question by the US government.

From an international law point of view, Israel's purported
"disengagement" from Gaza didn't end its responsibility as an
Occupying Power under the Geneva Conventions, and thus its master plan
of subjecting the entire population of Gaza to severe forms of
collective punishment amounts to a continuing crime against humanity,
as well as a flagrant violation of Article 33 of Geneva IV. It is not
surprising that so many who have observed the plight of Gaza at close
range have described it as "the largest open air prison in the world".

The Netanyahu government pursues a policy that is best understood from
the perspective of settler colonialism. What distinguishes settler
colonialism from other forms of colonialism is the resolve of the
colonialists not only to exploit and dominate, but to make the land
their own and superimpose their own culture on that of indigenous
population. In this respect, Israel is well served by the Hamas/Fatah
split, and seeks to induce the oppressed Palestinian to give up their
identity along with their resistance struggle even to the extent of
asking Palestinians in Israel to take an oath of loyalty to Israel as
"a Jewish state".

Actually, unlike the West Bank and East Jerusalem, Israel has no
long-term territorial ambitions in Gaza. Israel's short-term solution
to its so-called "demographic problem" (that is, worries about the
increase in the population of Palestinians relative to Jews) could be
greatly eased if Egypt would absorb Gaza, or if Gaza would become a
permanently separate entity, provided it could be reliably
demilitarised. What makes Gaza presently useful to the Israelis is
their capacity to manage the level of violence, both as a distraction
from other concerns (eg backing down in relation to Iran; accelerated
expansion of the settlements) and as a way of convincing their own
people that dangerous enemies remain and must be dealt with by the
iron fist of Israeli militarism.

No peace

In the background, but not very far removed from the understanding of
observers, are two closely related developments. The first is the
degree to which the continuing expansion of Israeli settlements has
made it unrealistic to suppose that a viable Palestinian state will
ever emerge from direct negotiations. The second, underscored by the
recent merger of Netanyahu and Lieberman forces, is the extent to
which the Israeli governing process has indirectly itself irreversibly
embraced the vision of Greater Israel encompassing all of Jerusalem
and most of the West Bank.

The fact that world leaders in the West keep repeating the mantra of
peace through direct negotiations is either an expression of the
grossest incompetence or totally bad faith. At minimum, Washington and
the others calling for the resumption of direct negotiations owe it to
all of us to explain how it will be possible to establish a
Palestinian state within 1967 borders when it means the displacement
of most of the 600,000 armed settlers now defended by the Israeli
army, and spread throughout occupied Palestine. Such an explanation
would also have to show why Israel is being allowed to quietly
legalise the 100 or so "outposts", settlements spread around the West
Bank that had been previously unlawful even under Israeli law. Such
moves toward legalisation deserve the urgent attention of all those
who continue to proclaim their faith in a two-state solution, but
instead are ignored.

This brings us back to Gaza and Hamas. The top Hamas leaders have made
it abundantly clear over and over again that they are open to
permanent peace with Israel if there is a total withdrawal to the 1967
borders (22 percent of historic Palestine) and the arrangement is
supported by a referendum of all Palestinians living under occupation.

Israel, with the backing of Washington, takes the position that Hamas
as "a terrorist organisation" that must be permanently excluded from
the procedures of diplomacy, except of course when it serves Israel's
purposes to negotiate with Hamas. It did this in 2011 when it
negotiated the prisoner exchange in which several hundred Palestinians
were released from Israeli prisons in exchange for the release of the
Israel soldier captive, Gilad Shalit, or when it seems convenient to
take advantage of Egyptian mediation to establish temporary

As the celebrated Israeli peace activist and former Knesset member,
Uri Avnery, reminds us a cease-fire in Arab culture, hudna in Arabic,
is considered to be sanctified by Allah, has tended to be in use and
faithfully observed ever since the time of the Crusades. Avnery also
reports that up to the time he was assassinated, Jabari was in contact
with Gershon Baskin of Israel, seeking to explore prospects for a
long-term ceasefire that was reported to Israeli leaders, who
unsurprisingly showed no interest.

Waiting for justice

There is a further feature of this renewal of conflict involving
attacks on Gaza. Israel sometimes insists that since it is no longer,
according to its claims, an occupying power, it is in a state of war
with a Hamas governed Gaza. But if this were to be taken as the proper
legal description of the relationship between the two sides, then Gaza
would have the rights of a combatant, including the option to use
proportionate force against Israeli military targets. As earlier
argued, such a legal description of the relationship between Israel
and Gaza is unacceptable. Gaza remains occupied and essentially
helpless, and Israel as occupier has no legal or ethical right to
engage in war against the people and government of Gaza, which
incidentally was elected in internationally monitored free elections
in early 2006.

On the contrary, its overriding obligation as Occupier is to protect
the civilian population of Gaza. Even if casualty figures in the
present violence are so far low as compared with Operation Cast Lead,
the intensity of air and sea strikes against the helpless people of
Gaza strikes terror in the hearts and minds of every person living in
the Strip, a form of indiscriminate violence against the spirit and
mental health of an entire people that cannot be measured in blood and
flesh, but by reference to the traumatising fear that has been

We hear many claims in the West as to a supposed decline in
international warfare since the collapse of the Soviet Union twenty
years ago. Such claims are to some extent a welcome development, but
the people of the Middle East have yet to benefit from this trend,
least of all the people of Occupied Palestine, and of these, the
people of Gaza are suffering the most acutely. This spectacle of
one-sided war in which Israel decides how much violence to unleash,
and Gaza waits to be struck, firing off militarily meaningless salvos
of rockets as a gesture of resistance, represents a shameful breakdown
of civilisation values. These rockets do spread fear and cause trauma
among Israeli civilians even when no targets are struck, and represent
an unacceptable tactic. Yet such unacceptability must be weighed
against the unacceptable tactics of an Israel that holds all the cards
in the conflict.

It is truly alarming that now even the holiest of cities, Jerusalem,
is threatened with attacks, but the continuation of oppressive
conditions for the people of Gaza, inevitably leads to increasing
levels of frustration, in effect, cries of help that world has ignored
at its peril for decades. These are survival screams! To realise this
is not to exaggerate! To gain perspective, it is only necessary to
read a recent UN Report that concludes that the deterioration of
services and conditions will make Gaza uninhabitable by 2020.

Completely aside from the merits of the grievances on the two sides,
one side is militarily omnipotent and the other side crouches
helplessly in fear. Such a grotesque reality passes under the radar
screens of world conscience because of the geopolitical shield behind
which Israel is given a free pass to do whatever it wishes. Such a
circumstance is morally unendurable, and should be politically
unacceptable. It needs to be actively opposed globally by every
person, government, and institution of good will.

2012 Al-Jazeera

Richard Falk is the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Palestinian
human rights. An international law and international relations scholar
who taught at Princeton University for forty years, since 2002 Falk
has lived in Santa Barbara, California, and taught at the local campus
of the University of California in Global and International Studies
and since 2005 chaired the Board of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.

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