Israeli aircraft continue raids on Gaza; Arab anger rises

In a third straight day of deadly air strikes against the emblems and institutions of Hamas on Monday, Israeli warplanes pounded targets in Gaza including the Interior Ministry while the Israeli army declared areas around the beleaguered enclave a “closed military zone.” [continued…]

Hospitals face catastrophe as Israeli firestorm is unleashed

Gaza City was a ghost town of funeral tents and nervous bread queues yesterday as shocked residents ventured out of their homes under Israel’s massive firestorm only to carry out the bare necessities of life: buying food and burying their dead.

Hospital officials said that the death toll had risen to almost 300, with more than 1,000 injured. With 150 patients in critical condition and the city’s hospitals already on the verge of collapse even before the Israeli blitz, doctors expected the numbers of dead to swell even further.

“There is no way we can handle such a catastrophe. People are dying for want of basic amenities,” Hassan Abu Tawila, of al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City, said. “A normal country would have difficulty coping with such a catastrophe. Imagine the situation for a place that has been under Israeli siege for 18 months already.” [continued…]

The strategic price of Israel’s Gaza assault

Israel has acted in response to pressure to protect its citizenry from rocket attacks, but there’s a strong likelihood that such attacks will continue and possibly intensify as a result. That will draw Israeli ground troops into Gaza, where they, too, will suffer casualties at the hands of Palestinian gunmen. The Palestinian civilian death toll will be far higher, which will, in turn, isolate Israel on the diplomatic front — even those Arab regimes that would have been discreetly pleased to see Hamas dealt a harsh blow (because they fear the Islamist movement is becoming a model for those challenging their own governments) will be forced to distance themselves.

The air strikes will also give President Mahmoud Abbas no choice but to break off peace talks with Israel, although neither the Israelis nor most Palestinians treated those as any kind of serious peace process. Still, the Israeli offensive is likely to boost Palestinian political support for Hamas, and to further weaken Abbas. And, in the weeks preceding the strikes, Israeli security officials were warning that there’s no end game, because a limited campaign would be unlikely to eliminate Hamas in Gaza, and if Israel launched a full-blown ground invasion it would find itself forced to reoccupy the territory on a long-term basis.

So Hamas knows that Israel’s military intervention is unlikely to be a ground war to the finish, and it will hope that, like Hizballah in Lebanon in 2006, by simply surviving an Israeli onslaught it will emerge politically victorious. Israel will hope to sufficiently bloody the movement to put it on the defensive and make its leaders prioritize their own physical survival over pressing Israel to ease the siege. And hundreds more people could die in the weeks ahead as the two sides look to win the battle of wills. [continued…]

Israel has learned from its failure in Lebanon

Although many risks and uncertainties lie ahead, in particular the specter of getting bogged down in a ground war, the offensive has brought Israel to a psychological turning point, restoring a measure of the country’s confidence in its capacity to confront armed adversaries.

“Hamas is dazed and confused and has no explanation to offer its people,” Amos Gilad, a senior Israeli Defense Ministry official, told Israel Radio on Sunday. “But we must refrain from bragging and marking dramatic objectives.”

Rather than remove Hamas from power, he and other Israeli officials say, the goal is to weaken the movement and demonstrate the price it would pay for continuing to launch rockets. Sooner or later, Israel hopes to restore and strengthen an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire that worked for nearly five months before it started to break down in November.

“The army doesn’t even have the pretense of neutralizing Hamas’ ability to launch rockets. We have tried that before and failed,” said Alon Ben-David, military correspondent for Israel’s Channel 10 television.

“This operation,” he explained, “is directed at Hamas’ motivation to fire rockets at Israel rather than its actual ability to do so.”

For reasons that became evident during the Lebanon conflict, it is far from certain whether even that limited goal can be achieved. [continued…]

Key Arab states hope for weakened Hamas

The war in the Gaza Strip spilled over into Egypt Sunday when dozens of Gaza residents crossed the border only to encounter Egyptian gunfire aimed at driving them back. The ongoing closure of the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt has become a symbol of Cairo’s policy, which critics charge is one of collaborating with Israel to impose economic sanctions on the Strip. Judging by Arab leaders’ statements to the media,
or the slogans shouted by demonstrators in several Arab capitals, one might have thought that Egypt, not Israel, was the one waging war on Gaza.

Hamas’ demand that Egypt open Rafah to all Gazans, and not just to the wounded seeking treatment abroad, has been rejected in part because Egypt
remains committed to an Israeli-Palestinian agreement from 2005 that governs the Gaza border crossings, even though it was never a signatory to the pact. But beyond this formal reason, Egypt wants to prevent thousands of Palestinians from once again crossing the border into its territory. This past January, when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians broke through the border fence, the Egyptian government suffered harsh criticism at home for allowing Egypt’s sovereignty to be violated.

Nevertheless, it seems unlikely that Cairo will long be able to withstand the enormous pressure being generated by the Arab media and public. [continued…]

Forty years, five lessons … will Israel never learn them

Israel’s use of its clear military superiority against Palestinians, Lebanese and other Arabs has consistently led to five parallel, linked and predictable consequences:

1. Israeli power temporarily shatters Palestinian and Arab military and civilian infrastructure, only for the bludgeoned Arabs to regroup and return a few years later – with much greater technical proficiency and political will to fight Israel. This happened when the Palestinians, who were driven out of Jordan in 1970, eventually re-established more lethal bases in Lebanon: and when Israel destroyed Fatah’s police facilities in the West Bank and Gaza a few years ago, they soon found themselves fighting Hamas’s capabilities instead.

2. Israel’s combination of military ferocity, insincerity in peace negotiations and continued colonisation sees “moderate” groups and peacemaking partners such as Fatah slowly self-destruct, to be challenged or even replaced by tougher foes. Fatah has given way to Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and to militant spin-offs from within Fatah, such Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades. Hizbollah emerged in Lebanon after Israel invaded and occupied south Lebanon in 1982.

3. Israel’s insistence on militarily dominating the entire Middle East generates new enemies in lands where it once had strategic allies, such as Lebanon and Iran. Israel once worked closely with some predominantly Christian groups in Lebanon, and had deep security links with the Shah of Iran. Today – the figurative 40 years later – Israel sees its most serious, even existential, threats emanating from Hizbollah in Lebanon and the radical ruling regime in Iran. [continued…]

Trying to ‘teach Hamas a lesson’ is fundamentally wrong

Israel is striking at the Palestinians to “teach them a lesson.” That is a basic assumption that has accompanied the Zionist enterprise since its inception: We are the representatives of progress and enlightenment, sophisticated rationality and morality, while the Arabs are a primitive, violent rabble, ignorant children who must be educated and taught wisdom – via, of course, the carrot-and-stick method, just as the drover does with his donkey.

The bombing of Gaza is also supposed to “liquidate the Hamas regime,” in line with another assumption that has accompanied the Zionist movement since its inception: that it is possible to impose a “moderate” leadership on the Palestinians, one that will abandon their national aspirations.

As a corollary, Israel has also always believed that causing suffering to Palestinian civilians would make them rebel against their national leaders. This assumption has proven wrong over and over. [continued…]

We have no words left

“I will play music and celebrate what the Israeli air force is doing.” Those chilling words were spoken on al-Jazeera on Saturday by Ofer Shmerling, an Israeli civil defence official in the Sderot area adjacent to the Gaza Strip. For days Israeli planes have bombed Gaza. Almost 300 Palestinians have been killed and a thousand injured, the majority civilians, including women and children. Israel claims most of the dead were Hamas “terrorists”. In fact, the targets were police stations in dense residential areas, and the dead included many police officers and other civilians. Under international law, police officers are civilians, and targeting them is no less a war crime than aiming at other civilians.

Palestinians are at a loss to describe this new catastrophe. Is it our 9/11, or is it a taste of the “bigger shoah” Matan Vilnai, the deputy defence minister, threatened in February, after the last round of mass killings?

Israel says it is acting in “retaliation” for rockets fired with increasing intensity ever since a six-month truce expired on 19 December. But the bombs dropped on Gaza are only a variation in Israel’s method of killing Palestinians. In recent months they died mostly silent deaths, the elderly and sick especially, deprived of food, cancer treatments and other medicines by an Israeli blockade that targeted 1.5 million people – mostly refugees and children – caged into the Gaza Strip. The orders of Ehud Barak, the Israeli defence minister, to hold back medicine were just as lethal and illegal as those to send in the warplanes. [continued…]

Hamas has been targeted since it was elected

Again the Israelis bomb the starving and imprisoned population of Gaza. The world watches the plight of 1.5 million Gazans live, on television. The western media justifies it. Even some Arab outlets equate the Palestinian resistance with the might of the Israeli military machine. None of this is a surprise. The Israelis just concluded a round-the-world public relations campaign to gather support for their assault, gaining the collaboration of Arab states like Egypt. The international community is guilty for this latest massacre. Will it remain immune from the wrath of a desperate people?

An American journal once asked me to contribute an essay to a discussion on whether terrorism or attacks against civilians could ever be justified. My answer was that an American journal should not be asking this question: this is a question for the weak – for the Native American in the past, for the Jews in Nazi Germany, for the Palestinian today – to ask. Terrorism is an empty word that means everything and nothing. It describes what the Other does, not what We do.

The powerful – whether Israel, America, Russia or China – will always describe their victims’ struggles as terrorism. The destruction of Chechnya, the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, the slow slaughter of the remaining Palestinians, the American occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, these will never be called terrorism. [continued…]

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