Gaza horror: How many Palestinians have to die before world says stop?
Anyone sympathetic to the Palestinian cause who is interviewed about Gaza can expect to be asked in the first follow-up question whether they condemn the rocket attacks on Israel to the same degree as they condemn the aerial, artillery etc. attacks on the Palestinians.
To refer in response to the restraint of Hamas in the months leading up to the Israeli assault may draw an audible gasp of disbelief. Wasn’t it Hamas breaking the ceasefire which triggered the Israeli attack in the first place — however unbalanced the pattern of casualties since?
During the ceasefire — June 18 to November 4 last year — no Israelis were killed by Hamas rockets. I take the following statistics from a report, Escalation in the Gaza Strip, issued by the Israeli organisation, the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Centre (ITIC), regularly cited by the Israeli government as a reliable source of research and information. The report includes a bar-chart setting out the numbers of rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza month by month from January to mid-November 2008. (My attention was drawn to the report by David Morrison, political officer of the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign.)
The figures are: January, 377; February, 485; March 299; April, 518; May, 355; June 1 to June 18 (the start-date of the ceasefire), 237; June 19 to June 30, 8; July, 12; August, 11; September, 4; October, 2; November, 62, all in the period following the breakdown of the ceasefire. For the duration of the ceasefire, Israel stopped military incursions into the territory. (Meanwhile, the Israelis killed 17 Palestinians on the West Bank, from which no rockets had been fired.)
The ITIC said on its website: ‘Since the lull arrangement went into effect on June 19, 2008, the Palestinian terrorist organisations have violated it scores of times, primarily by firing rockets and mortar shells. Occasionally rogue terrorist organisations have been responsible for the violations, among them networks belonging to Fatah, the PIJ [Palestinian Islamic Jihad] and the Army of Islam. Hamas, for its part, did not take part in rocket and mortar shell fire and sometimes prevented other organisations from attacking, although it did not confront them directly and massively or end their continued violation.’ The ceasefire ended when Israeli troops stormed into Gaza on November 4 and killed six members of Hamas. Israeli spokespersons claimed that the Hamas men had been digging a tunnel intended to be used to kidnap an Israeli soldier. Perhaps this was so. There’s no way of knowing. According to the Israelis, all the Hamas men were killed.
But there was something else happening on November 4 which a competent strategist would have realised would divert world attention from the Israeli-Gaza border and which might suggest a different rationale for the timing-— the presidential election in the US. Blast Gaza to bits while the going was good.
The breaking of the ceasefire drew a predictable response from the Hamas Government: they recommenced the rocketing of southern Israel. (Hamas is the democratically-elected Palestinian Government, having won a free and fair election in January 2006. In February last year, the US magazine Vanity Fair published secret documents revealing that George Bush, Dick Cheney and Condoleezza Rice had been among senior US officials involved in a plan to funnel money and arms to a faction of the defeated Fatah party, with a view to overthrowing Hamas. It was in response to this threat that, in June 2007, Hamas took over Gaza. Cheney’s most senior adviser on the Middle East, David Wurmser, who resigned the following month, said that, “what happened wasn’t so much a coup by Hamas but an attempted coup by Fatah that was pre-empted before it could happen”.)
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The full-scale, shock-and-awe assault on Gaza launched on December 27 might be seen as fulfilment of the threat by Israeli deputy Defence Minister Matan Vilnai to visit a Holocaust on Gaza's people. Vilnai issued the warning in February 2008 after the town of Ashkelon had been hit by rockets, killing a student. Israeli jets killed 30 Palestinians in retaliation. Vilnai then told the Palestinians, in effect, that this was as nothing compared with what would come if Hamas continued to launch rockets: Palestine would experience a ‘shoah’. The word means ‘major disaster’, but is used in Israeli to refer specifically to the Holocaust, the systematic extermination of a people. A senior Israeli official threatening another people in these terms says much about the moral basis of Israel’s case. A virulent, deep-seated racism is at work here. During the second intifada, from 2000 to 2005, four Palestinians were killed for every Israeli. In 2006 the ratio rocketed to 30 to one. In 2007 it reached 40 to one. Now it is running at around 100 to one.
The steeply declining relative value of Palestinian lives indicates an institutionalised racism reminiscent of apartheid. Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu are among the many who have made the comparison.
Insisting that the killing on each side be equally condemned is like saying of the rape of a girl, “what he did was wrong, but aren’t you going to condemn equally the scratches that that provocative little madam left on the man’s face”.