For Palestinians, the last 70 years have consisted of nothing more than the endless piling up of tragedies. This month has seen another few thousand such tragedies tossed upon the awful heap—one for each Gazan killed, maimed, orphaned and displaced in the course of Operation Protective Edge [sic].
The corporate media is slavish in its support for the Israeli narrative. It would like us to believe that intransigent Arabs are solely responsible both for starting (this phase of) the conflict, and for its bloody continuation. It would like us to believe that Palestinians have no cause to feel aggrieved, and that Hamas is, as the sinister Mark Regev claimed, wholly to blame for the thousands of casualties inflicted by Regev’s own colonial army.
What the corporate media will not make clear to us is that this entire Israeli assault was ultimately launched on the basis of a groundless accusation. Netanyahu’s government blamed Hamas for the deaths of three Israeli teenagers. It did so in the knowledge that Hamas was not in fact responsible. Netanyahu’s government knew that the teenagers had been killed almost immediately after they were kidnapped. It nevertheless conducted a lengthy search. Domestic indignation was stoked thereby, and many Palestinians were killed, detained or had their homes demolished by Israeli soldiers.
Such collective punishment, together with the continuing blockade, explains the firing by Hamas (for the first time since late 2012) of makeshift projectiles in the direction of Israel. The tired and tiresome question which has been employed by the Israeli government to forestall all criticism of its assault (and which is consequently repeated by the mynahs in the corporate media) is as follows: what country on Earth would tolerate missiles raining down upon its citizens? But of course, the only relevant question is this: what people on Earth would tolerate a decades-long occupation and all the attendant humiliation?
Fully seventy per cent of Gazans are considered to be refugees—that is, individuals or descendants of individuals who, in 1948, were expelled from or forced to depart what is now Israel. And so, thanks to Israel, the population density of Gaza is uncomfortably high. Such a reality affects not only the standard of living in times of relative calm, but also the numbers of people killed and wounded in massacres like this one. At any rate, all Gazans live under the illegal Israeli blockade, and have done for many years. This means that a majority, impoverished as they are, depend on the UN for food, and also that there are chronic shortages of water, electricity and medical supplies. It means that imports and exports are practically nil, and that Israel has full control of the sea around Gaza, as well as Gazan airspace and borders. It means, then, that even when they are not being murdered with impunity, Gazans (and, for that matter, the Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem) are no more than prisoners in their own land. Meanwhile, those who dare to empathise with them—like the Liberal Democrat MP David Ward—are roundly demonised.
Thus it can be said that, while the political establishment is by no means opposed to violence per se, it does believe that Palestinians ought to accept their wretched fate, lay down and die. But why should they? The convolutions of satyagraha surely have no place in the bowels of a brutal siege, and this is truer still when tanks, ships and planes are in the business of relentlessly bombarding schools, mosques, homes, hospitals, power plants, sewerage systems, wells and water pipelines. Gazans are entitled to defend themselves against their colonial oppressors, even if such self-defence, by virtue of its feebleness, is symbolic only. Let us not forget that Hamas, incubated as it was in occupied Gaza, arose as a direct result of Israel’s policies.
And, contrary to what we are encouraged to believe, it is not the case that Hamas would like the blood of Palestinians to flow for ever. On 16 July, Israel was offered a truce which required the fulfilment, by the Israeli government, of ten reasonable demands, the demands of morality and international law. Unsurprisingly, the presentation of such an offer was not widely reported in the media, which chose instead to focus on the ceasefire proposal cooked up by some combination of the United States (Israel’s trusty financier); Egypt (which nowadays is hostile to the Palestinians); Tony Blair (in his sickeningly ironic capacity as Middle East peace envoy); and Israel itself. Hamas was not once consulted, and rightly declined to assent to a proposal which was designed to maintain the abject status quo.
On 17 July, after ten days of bombarding Gaza from the air, Israel launched what the corporate media called a ‘ground offensive’, or ‘ground operation’. In other, less obfuscatory words, Gaza was invaded. The press had scarcely made mention of so-called ‘terror tunnels’ during the initial bombardment, but all of a sudden it was accepted everywhere that such passages existed, and that their existence warranted an intensification of the assault.
Now, two weeks later, the devastation of Gaza is almost complete. More than 1,200 Palestinians are dead, and bombs and shells—flechette or otherwise—continue to hammer innocent men, women and children. The Israelis stridently contend that rockets are fired from civilian areas, and that Hamas uses human shields. The former charge must necessarily be true: thanks to Israel, nearly two million Gazans live cheek by jowl on a tiny strip of land from which they have no escape. From where else but ‘civilian areas’ can they mount what they consider to be their desperate attempt at resistance? Rocket launchers will hardly be positioned in plain sight on what little open ground there is, ready to be picked off one by one. In any case, Gazan missiles are utterly pathetic, and so the notion that this Israeli assault is defensive in nature—that rocket fire justifies air strikes, let alone a full-scale invasion—is laughable at best.
As for the second charge, there is simply no evidence to suggest that Hamas forces ordinary Gazans to remain in the line of fire. It is said that in the moments before they commit a potential war crime, the magnanimous men of the IDF notify nearby residents of their intention to do so. Some residents are moved to leave by the warnings; others are not. But all Gazans are united in having nowhere else to go. The shrill accusation that Hamas coerces civilians into remaining—whether to protect its munitions or not—is surely an attempt by the Israeli government to absolve itself of culpability for the death and destruction it not-so-surgically inflicts upon Gaza.
As Israel’s ‘terrorist war machine’ (to invert Regev’s description of Hamas) rampages onward, one must consider the real reason for its doing so. In April, Hamas and Fatah signed a reconciliation deal which saw them agree to the formation of a unity government. The Israelis were alarmed. If left intact, a connection of this kind between Gaza and the West Bank could deliver much-needed cohesion and impetus to the Palestinian struggle for meaningful statehood. For precisely this reason, Israel would like to snap such a link. But Fatah has practically no support from among the Palestinian people; it poses no threat to Israeli empery and is in fact Israel’s lackey in the West Bank. The same cannot be said of Hamas. And so, armed with an awkward pretext (and much besides), Israel piled into the Gaza Strip. Of course, the underlying objective is the same as it has always been: for one reason or another, Israel needs to maintain its occupation of the Palestinian territories.
But an end to the occupation, and the restoration of land stolen, and the sweeping away of all inequities: these together form the sine qua non of a just and lasting peace in the region. Such peace will never be achieved for as long as Israel and the United States continue on their present course. The governments of those two nations cannot be ignorant of this fact, even if the corporate media endeavours to keep the rest of us so.