When Matan Vilnai, Israeli deputy Defence, or more accurately War Minister, promised a ‘shoah’ for the Palestinians of Gaza, we can assume that he chose his words with care. The Holocaust is a metaphor for many things in Israel and the treatment of the Palestinians is no exception. Nor is this the first such instance.
In the 1980’s a group of soldiers within the Golani Brigade called themselves the Mengele Squad. When secular Jews have retaliated against Orthodox Jews they haven’t hesitated to daub the walls of synagogues with swastikas and the incidents last year where gangs of neo-Nazis were targetting migrant workers, the elderly and graveyards, is indicative of the truth behind whether Vilnai only meant a ‘disaster’ as is being alleged.
Below are some articles on what is happening and the reactions:
Israeli military air strikes and artillery attacks on the Gaza Strip during the last few days have killed over 100 Palestinians, including dozens of children and other civilian bystanders. Three Israelis â€“ a civilian killed by a rocket fired by a Palestinian armed group on 27 February and two soldiers â€“ were also killed.
Many of the Palestinians killed were militants involved in attacks on Israel, but others were unarmed civilians taking no part in the hostilities, including some 25 children. The precise number of civilians killed is unclear and difficult to establish.
The Israeli chief of staff is reported to have claimed that 90 percent of those killed were militants, but the UN and other sources, including those in Gaza, suggest that as many as half of the dead were civilians. More than 250 other people, including scores of unarmed civilians, have been injured.
Israeli forces also destroyed houses and property across the Gaza Strip, including at least two medical facilities, before withdrawing on 3 March.
Amnesty International said on Sunday that the Israeli military air strikes and artillery attacks on the Gaza Strip were being carried out with reckless disregard for civilian life, and called on Israel to put an immediate end to such disproportionate and reckless attacks.
`Israel has a legal obligation to protect the civilian population of Gaza,â€ said Malcolm Smart, director of Amnesty International`s Middle East and North Africa Programme. ‘These attacks are disproportionate and go beyond lawful measures which Israeli forces may take in response to rocket attacks by Palestinian armed groups.`
This latest cycle of killings and destruction comes at a time when the 1.5 million inhabitants of Gaza are confronting a humanitarian crisis as a result of the increasingly stringent blockade imposed by Israel on Gaza.
Hospitals and medical facilities, already facing severe difficulties in coping with shortages of electricity, fuel, equipment and spare parts due to the Israeli blockade, are struggling to cope with the new influx of casualties caused by Israeli attacks in the last few days.
With Gaza`s borders sealed, many patients in dire need of medical care that is not available in Gaza cannot be transferred to hospitals abroad and risk losing their lives.
In the past two months, Israeli forces have killed more than 230 Palestinians in Gaza, including scores of unarmed civilians, and wounded and maimed many others. During the same period, Palestinian armed groups have continued to fire qassam and other rockets indiscriminately at Israel from the Gaza Strip, mostly towards the town of Sderot but also, last week, the more distant town of Ashkelon.
One Israeli civilian has been killed and several injured by such rockets fired from Gaza into Sderot and other areas by Palestinian armed groups.
Amnesty International has again called on Hamas and the Palestinian Authority to ensure that Palestinian armed groups cease immediately from carrying out indiscriminate attacks against Israel, and for those responsible to be held to account.
`It is high time that the leaders of Hamas and the Palestinian Authority (PA) took effective steps to prevent and punish attacks on civilians in Israel,` said Malcolm Smart, `but their failure to do so does not make it legitimate for the Israeli authorities to launch reckless air and artillery strikes which wreak such death and destruction among Palestinian civilians.
`At the same time, the Palestinian armed groups who launch frequent rocket attacks from Gaza into nearby Israeli towns not only show a callous disregard for the lives of Israeli civilians but also expose the Palestinian population in the Gaza Strip to the danger of Israeli attacks.`
Malcolm Smart said that Amnesty International condemned all attacks on civilians, but that `unlawful attacks by one side cannot justify violations by the other.`
original title: `US plot against Hamas` revealed – based on Vanity Fair`s `The Gaza Bombshell` http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/features/2008/04/gaza200804
Documents that appear to show that the US attempted to overthrow the Hamas-led Palestinian government have surfaced.
One of the documents from March 2007 details a plan to oust Hamas by force and instal the rival Fatah movement in power, by supporting fighters from the group with weapons and money.
In Cairo, Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, said she had not read the report which appeared in Vanity Fair magazine.
However, she justified the arming of Fatah, saying the situation called for it.
`It is very clear that Hamas is being armed. And it is very clear that they are being armed in part by the Iranians,` she said on Tuesday.
`So if the answer is that if Hamas gets armed by the Iranians and nobody helps to improve the security capabilities of the legitimate Palestinian Authority security forces, that`s not a very good situation.`
Rice said that international forces, including the US, would therefore continue to work with the PA to bolster its forces to keep security in its mandated region.
Evidence showing the US sought to remove Hamas in a coup dates back to 2006, after the group had come to power through Palestinian elections.
A memo sent to Fatah officials, apparently by a senior US diplomat in Jerusalem in November 2006, stated: `If Hamas does not agree [to accept a new government] within the prescribed time, you should make clear your intention to declare a state of emergency and form an emergency government explicitly committed to that platform.`
The memo was not labelled with official US stamps or seals.
However, Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, did not follow the plan. Rather he formed a unity government with Hamas in early 2007 after continued fighting between the rival factions in the Gaza Strip.
This failure by the US appears to have led to the second document and the plan to oust Hamas by force.
It appears that the US sought to bolster Mohammed Dahlan, the head of Fatah`s security forces.
Yet, this too failed as inter-faction fighting broke out in the Gaza Strip and Hamas took control.
Evidence suggests that Hamas was forced to act in order to pre-empt the US plot.
Fatah security forces were trained in Jordan and Egypt, from where they are sent to work in the Gaza Strip.
Nour Odeh, Al Jazeera`s correspondent in Ramallah, said that many Palestinians would be upset that Fatah appeared to have played into the hands of an American foreign policy that wanted to make an example out of Hamas, whom the US labels a `terrorist` organisation.
Students at the Max Stern Academic College of Emek Yezreel are up in arms after a lecturer allowed a minute of silence to be observed for the Palestinian casualties in Gaza.
During an education consulting class for master`s degree students on Monday, an Arab student stood up and asked senior lecturer Dr. Osnat Dor for permission to speak.
`What`s going on in Gaza really hurts me. It hurts me that people are ignoring this ongoing event, it hurts me that they`re killing children in Gaza and I want to hold a minute of silence to remember all the dead,` the student said.
Dr. Dor told her that she understood her emotional torment but also underscored the suffering that children in Sderot, Ashkelon and other Gaza vicinity communities have been undergoing recently.
The student called on all the students in the class to join in and hold a minute of silence and ‘Jews and Arabs alike’ stood up in the class for a whole minute. Afterwards, they held a joint discussion on the goings-on in the Strip.
At the end of the class, rumors began spreading about the event and some students were furious.
`Is it conceivable that an Arab academic institution would stand for a minute to remember slain IDF soldiers?` Student Union spokesman Shimon Agam rhetorically asked in response. `Maybe the next phase is to hang pictures of Palestinian `shahids` (martyrs) instead of IDF officers.`
Dr. Dor said in response that `Sderot`s pain is my pain. I wouldn`t allow students in my class to only identify with the remembrance of Palestinian children. I immediately put the student that committed this provocation in her place and made it clear to her that Jewish students wouldn`t identify with her.
`Those who choose to respond with anger and make accusations against me do this out of a lack of familiarity with the details and a misunderstanding of the situation.`
Professor Aliza Shenhar, the president of the college, said that she `believes that the lecturer allowed everyone to express their emotions without forgetting that we are an Israeli college in a democratic society and the need to express opinions on each side is not foreign to her.`
Tuesday afternoon, the Student`s Union is set to go on strike and hold a rally in support of Sderot and Gaza vicinity residents.
In the winter of 1991, Saddam Hussein bombed Tel Aviv. For a month and a half, long-range missiles landed on the city. People panicked and many fled to Jerusalem, while the leaders issued pompous statements about the terrible blow the Iraqi dictator was about to receive.
But nothing happened. We did nothing.
In February-March 1996, buses exploded in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and dozens of people were killed in suicide bombings in the streets and restaurants. People who went to the grocery store did not know if they would return. Those who went to a restaurant or disco were seen as risking their lives.
Shimon Peres, who was then prime minister, realized that the suicide attacks would destroy him politically but could do nothing to prevent them. Sure enough, Benjamin Netanyahu won the elections.
In 2001-2003, terror struck in the heart of Israel again. The suicide bombings emptied the shopping centers, tourism halted, businesspeople went bankrupt and received no compensation. The economy plunged into a deep recession amid rising unemployment. Even then we did not enter an all-out war in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.
So it is wrong to argue that the state has abandoned Sderot and the western Negev. If this is abandonment, then Tel Aviv and Jerusalem were abandoned as well. The truth is more prosaic: Power has limitations. The Israel Defense Forces cannot solve everything.
Netanyahu may say there is a simple solution – `to move from attrition to the offensive` – but the reality is more complicated. The IDF acted on the outskirts of Gaza`s densely populated territory and two soldiers were killed. Had the army pushed deeper, the number of fatalities would have risen sharply.
International pressure would have risen as well. The United Nations has already condemned us, Omar Suleiman, the Egyptian arbitrator, canceled his visit to Israel, and scenes from the beginning of the second intifada in October 2000 returned to the West Bank. The Qassam and Grad rockets continued falling even when the IDF was inside Gaza, and yesterday Hamas hastened to declare victory.
Another irritating lie in the Israeli discourse insists that it is appropriate to make Gazans` lives a living hell, so that they will put pressure on their leaders and end the firing of rockets. This thesis was behind the first Lebanon war, but that fallacy didn`t work either, even when hundreds of thousands of Lebanese were forced to flee to the north.
That was also the thesis behind the Second Lebanon War. But despite the Lebanese population`s extreme suffering, it didn`t work then either. It is certainly not working in Gaza. There things are horrifically bad. Poverty is awful, the number of fatalities is huge, the hospitals are collapsing from too many wounded, unemployment has reached the extraordinary level of 60 percent, and most of the population subsists on food provided by United Nations organizations.
People in such a difficult situation have nothing left but their self-respect. In these days `all of Gaza has become Hamas,` a former Fatah security officer who is far from being a Hamas supporter, told Haaretz. Al Jazeera is broadcasting to every home the horror pictures of the deaths of dozens of children and women.
In this situation, hatred triumphs and the only hope is the desire to take revenge. The rocket launchers are thus the heroes who gain the people`s sympathy, and support for Hamas is not getting any smaller – it`s growing.
So there is no escape but to talk to Hamas. We cannot choose our enemies. We embraced Yasser Arafat after saying for dozens of years (in the words of Yitzhak Rabin) that `we`ll meet the PLO only on the battlefield.`
Indeed, signing an agreement with Hamas is risky. An agreement could weaken Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whom Israel sees as a fitting partner. But it also harbors hope. We could make a cease-fire arrangement consisting of stopping the rocket fire in exchange for stopping the assassinations. We could agree on a prisoner exchange and bring Gilad Shalit home.
We could even alleviate the economic siege in an agreement that would prevent transferring weapons and explosives via the Rafah crossing. All this is attainable, and is many times preferable to continuing the bloodbath, which would only raise the walls of hatred and revenge higher.
Once we didn`t want to talk to the PLO and Arafat. Then we humiliated Abbas and didn`t want to give him any achievement during the disengagement. Now we don`t want to talk to Hamas. So the struggle will continue – until a catastrophe occurs, on their side or ours. Only then will the leaders be forced to sit down and talk around the negotiating table.
Palestinians in the West Bank city of Qalqiliya clash with Israeli soldiers near the wall during a demonstration against Israel’s incursion into the Gaza Strip, 3 March 2008. (Khaleel Reash/MaanImages)
Once again Israel defies an impotent international community which offers nothing but timid calls for ceasefire on “both sides.” And once again Palestinian suffering and death tolls continue to break records in the territories occupied by Israel since 1967.
Perhaps it is easy to dismiss this suffering by blaming the victims and resorting to ready cliches. Indeed, Israeli propagandists go out of their way to repeat the sound bite: we withdrew from Gaza in 2005 and since then the Palestinians have been firing rockets on our southern towns. This sound bite might fly in the western media; after all it resonates with a simplistic world view that ignites stereotypes which have been in the making for centuries, producing demonic and degrading representations of Muslims and Arabs. It becomes easy to describe the Palestinians in this context as the carriers of incomprehensible and irrational rage. This kind of representation has intensified since September 2001 with the “rediscovery” of Israel, and its supreme court, as a western lighthouse amid the darkness of the Middle East.
When examined closely, however, reality rules out crude explanations of “violence without reason” and “terrorism without context.” It becomes apparent that one cannot seriously discuss a legitimate resistance to a prolonged and horrendous military occupation within the context of the “war on terrorism.” Moreover, even if one finds a place to critique some practices of the oppressed one should keep in mind the root of the problem: it is the occupation, not the resistance. No rhetorical device can conceal the reality of colonialism by transforming it either to a mere “conflict” between equally culpable sides or to portray the occupier as the retaliating victim.
In his most recent report of January 2008, the UN rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the occupied territories has recounted Israel’s actions in Gaza, calling them “war crimes” and demonstrating how these have been relentlessly producing a humanitarian crisis. Indeed, more than 80 percent of Gaza’s Palestinians are living below the poverty line and depend on the food aid supplied by the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA. In recent years Israel has destroyed power plants and other civilian facilities, reduced the fuel and electricity supply, and closed the borders. Palestinians’ basic human needs, such as movement, food and medical treatment, became totally dependent on the whims of Israeli security technocrats and political demagogues. It was unsurprising then to witness on 23 January the overflow of tens of thousands of Palestinians to Egypt following the destruction of a part of the Gaza-Egypt border.
By the so-called disengagement plan Israel has aimed to escape its responsibility for Gaza’s fate while effectively remaining the occupier. It has also sought to impede Palestinian self-determination by separating the West Bank from Gaza and intensifying the colonization of the West Bank and East Jerusalem along with the vehement denial of the right of the Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland. One cannot expect the Palestinians to sit quietly while Israel is creating facts on the ground to transform and fragment the ever-shrinking Palestinian homeland making their aspirations as remote as they have ever been. One cannot expect the Palestinians to submit to their reduction from humans to mere beings concerned only with survival.
Israel should not be allowed to escape its responsibility. The tens of thousands of Palestinians who have been killed, wounded, imprisoned, or handicapped only in recent years, and the thousands of houses that have been demolished can testify to the cruelty of one of the longest military occupations in recent modern history.
Unfortunately, parts of the international community have tolerated Israel’s atrocities and continue to turn a blind eye on Israel’s long list of war crimes and crimes against humanity. It is hard to escape the irony and hypocrisy when we compare the international strong condemnation of the capture of Israeli soldiers by resistance groups and the timid calls for Israel “to restrain” herself in massacring the Palestinians or in destroying Lebanon. These Israeli soldiers have names and families that broadcasters around the world learn to spell, while the Palestinians remain nameless and faceless numbers. This hypocrisy conveys a dichotomy between the powerful who by definition cannot commit terrorism no matter how reprehensible the actions are, and the underprivileged who by definition cannot commit but terrorism no matter how marginal and pitiful the actions are.
It is about time that Israel be held accountable. There is a need for an international protection for the Palestinians. Under the current conditions of gross power asymmetry it is unlikely that Israel will comply with the demands of international law and just peace without a pressure from the international community. The sooner this pressure comes and the sooner the international community assumes its responsibility, the less suffering we will witness in the region.
The Palestinians, however, cannot wait till the international community self-awakes into action. They will have to continue to resist in order to assert and restore their humanity. And for that purpose they will have to overcome their own internal differences and unite. Indeed, the long walk toward Palestinian freedom is overwhelming and becoming even more demanding of Palestinian blood. Yet, history informs us that the Palestinians will eventually have their freedom like the South Africans, Algerians, Egyptians, Indians and others.
Not only will the Palestinians overthrow the colonial yoke, but they will also have grounds for questioning the international community on its indifference to their cry for freedom and justice, and its apathy to the too heavy price that has been paid for these noble aspirations. Indeed, the question of Palestine is the current litmus test for the human condition under modernity. Palestinians bear not only the burden of liberating themselves but also of unmasking humanity’s false pretensions; ie exposing the realities of power that always trump universalist and humanist postures. In this sense, Palestinians are the voice of the wretched of the earth.
Nimer Sultany is a Palestinian citizen of Israel and currently a doctoral candidate at Harvard Law School. He has worked as a human rights lawyer in the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and as the head of the political monitoring project at Mada al-Carmel (the Arab center for applied social research). This commentary was originally published by The Guardian’s Comment is Free and is republished with the author’s permission.
Palestinians carry the body of Salsabeel Abu Jalhoumm, a 21-month-old girl who was killed early on Sunday when an Israeli air strike hit near her home in the northern Gaza Strip, 2 March 2008. (Wissam Nassar/MaanImages)
Following Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai’s Friday warning that the Gaza Strip faces “a holocaust” if homemade rocket fire continues, Vilnai’s aides rushed to downplay the remarks, claiming the minister did not mean a holocaust exactly.
However, the following day, the Israeli army, through ground forces and helicopters in the sky, killed 61 Palestinians in Gaza, at least ten of them children. Since Wednesday, 26 March, Israeli occupation forces have killed at least 77 Palestinians in Gaza and injured approximately 130, including children who won’t live to see their first birthday.
Vilnai’s racist declarations against the Palestinian people are certainly not the first from a high-ranking official in the allegedly democratic state of Israel.
Last Thursday, 28 February, Israeli cabinet minister Meir Sheetrit said that the solution to the rocket fire would be for Israel to “hit everything that moves with weapons and ammunition.” Earlier in the month, during a cabinet session Sheetrit stated that “exactly what I think the [Israeli army] should do [is] decide on a neighborhood in Gaza and level it.”
Genocidal statements calling for the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians are not reserved for those in Gaza, however. The extreme rightist Yisrael Beitenu party leader and former Deputy Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who was born in Moldova and immigrated to Israel at the age of 20, advocates for the “transfer” or ethnic cleansing of indigenous Palestinian citizens in Israel and has declared that Palestinian members of the Israeli Knesset who meet with Palestinian leaders from the West Bank and Gaza should be executed as traitors.
Before Lieberman was Rehavam Ze’evi, the assassinated Israeli tourism minister and founder of the fascist Moledet party which makes the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians part of its party platform. Regarding the 180,000 Palestinian laborers from the West Bank and Gaza working for substandard wages in Israel before the state imposed a total closure, Ze’evi described them in a 2001 radio interview as “a cancer” and advocated that “[Israel] should get rid of the ones who are not Israeli citizens the same way you get rid of lice.”
Dehumanizing the Palestinians has been necessary for Israel to justify its actions ever since, and even before, the state was declared on destroyed historic Palestine in 1948 and then in 1967 when Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza. Taken together, they indicate the historic effort to destroy Palestinian national aspirations and this is what Israel is trying to do in Gaza, which Nobel prize winner and late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin once wished would be swallowed by the sea.
Gaza is no stranger to devastation. In 1956, for example, former Israeli prime minister and war criminal Ariel Sharon moved troops under his command into the town of Khan Younis where a massacre was committed. Since the outbreak of the second intifada in 2000, Israel has been particularly cruel to Gaza, committing crime after crime without sanction from the so-called international communiy. The firing of homemade rockets — no match to Israel’s US-supplied and funded military arsenal — came only after decades of violent Israeli oppression against Palestinians trying to shake off the military occupation.
Fourteen Israelis have been killed by the crude rockets since Palestinian resistance began firing them in 2001, while approximately 300 Palestinians were killed just in the few months since the renewed peace process was declared in Annapolis in November of last year. Nearly 5,000 Palestinian men, women and children have been killed since 2000, all “terrorists” in the eyes of Israeli intelligence chief Yuval Diskin.
Though he may have passed on, the words of deceased Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat ring ever true thirty years since he uttered them: “Those who call us terrorists wish to prevent world public opinion from discovering the truth about us and from seeing the justice on our faces. They seek to hide the terrorism and tyranny of their acts, and our own posture of self-defense.”
Rami Almeghari is currently contributor to several media outlets including Palestine Chronicle, IMEMC, The Electronic Intifada and Free Speech Radio News. Rami is also a former senior English translator at and editor in chief of the international press center of the Gaza-based Palestinian Information Service. He can be contacted at rami_almeghari at hotmail.com.