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November 19, 2012

Obama Administration’s Complicity in Permitting Israel to Escalate Its Bombing of Gaza

Posted in: US Foreign Policy

Palestinian man carries the dead body of a child from the al-Dallu family out from the rubble (Photo by @KnafehAnd3ajeen)

(update below)

Israeli air strikes have brought the death toll in Gaza to at least 100 people killed. Hundreds have been injured. Israeli forces have launched over 950 air strikes while Palestinian militants have fired over 1,000 projectiles causing minor wounds to multiple Israelis. A rocket killed three Israelis on Thursday, but at least a third of the projectiles have been intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome defense system, which the United States helped fund through hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid.

US President Barack Obama has shown unwavering support for Israel’s military operation against Gaza. On November 18, Obama said at a news conference in Bangkok, “There is no country on earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders. So we are fully supportive of Israel’s right to defend itself from missiles landing on people’s homes.”

He added, “Let’s understand what the precipitating event here was that’s causing the current crisis, and that was an ever-escalating number of missiles that were landing not just in Israeli territory but in areas that are populated.” The president was referring to rockets launched by Hamas.

First, this statement by Obama was essentially similar to what Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on November 16:

…No one doubts the justification of the operation. This is not the launch of a war but a justified defense of our civilians and the world stands with Israel. Those who preach to us about morality should offer an alternative way to stop the rocket fire from Hamas. No country would agree for its children to live in that intolerable situation…

Obama should refer the press to Netanyahu or other Israeli government spokespeople if he is going to repeat Israeli talking points and not utilize any of the influence the US should be able to wield over Israel to actually push for a cease-fire proposal that can end the violence.

Also, as has been pointed out by a few people, Obama ignores the impact of the US’ secret drone war operations in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. Children and entire families in those countries tolerate what they would probably argue are an “ever-escalating number of missiles” landing on their land and killing innocent people. But, let’s not pretend that Obama would ever allow Pakistanis, Somalis or Yemenis to fight back against drone warfare in their countries.

To the suggestion that rockets precipitated this current cycle of violence, that is what Israelis claim, but it ignores a key truth: that Israel targeted and assassinated a Hamas military chief, who was brokering a truce or cease-fire deal with Israel.

Phyllis Bennis, fellow for the Institute for Policy Studies, summarized in a Real News Network segment:

…In this case we saw this huge escalation after a two-day ceasefire negotiated by Egypt had largely held. Israel responded to that ceasefire by carrying out an assassination of the Gazan leader, Ahmed Jabari, who among other things was indeed a leader of the military wing of Hamas, but in recent years had also been the top negotiator with Israel for, among other things, the prisoner exchange in which the Israeli soldier Shalit was released, and in return for the release of over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners. In that context, he’s also been—he had been negotiating through various intermediaries, both within Egypt and within the Israeli peace movement, for a longer-term ceasefire between Hamas and Israel. So he was in the position—as has happened before, when Israeli negotiations were underway with the Palestinians, they have responded to the possibility of serious negotiations by assassinating those who were involved in the negotiations. This happened again years ago when another Hamas leader was assassinated in Gaza while he was reading the text of a final proposed peace agreement. That was back in 1996. So this isn’t anything new….

Furthermore, the New York Times published an op-ed on November 16 by Gershon Baskin, who was an initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel for the release of Gilad Shalit. Baskin found the assassination removed “one of the more practical actors on the Hamas side.” He had been helping to establish an agreement that “it “included the understanding that if Israel were to take out a real ticking bomb — people imminently preparing to launch a rocket — such a strike would not be considered a breach of the cease-fire and would not lead to escalation.”

The agreement was all about moving beyond the “patterns of the past.”

…Other key Hamas leaders and members of the Shura Council, its senior decision-making body, supported a new cease-fire effort because they, like Mr. Jabari, understood the futility of successive rocket attacks against Israel that left no real damage on Israel and dozens of casualties in Gaza. Mr. Jabari was not prepared to give up the strategy of “resistance,” meaning fighting Israel, but he saw the need for a new strategy and was prepared to agree to a long-term cease-fire…

President “Kill List” has not taken any issue with the assassination of Jabari, even though it appears to have been a key catalyst in inspiring Palestinian militants to escalate rocket attacks and violent resistance.

Other world leaders have acceded to Israeli’s version of events as well. European Union Minister of Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton said on the third day of Israel’s operation, “The rocket attacks by Hamas and other factions in Gaza which began this current crisis are totally unacceptable for any government and must stop. Israel has the right to protect its population from these kinds of attacks. I urge Israel to ensure that its response is proportionate.” But, the European Union does not fund the Israeli military like the United States.

From 1998 to 2005, the United States accounted for the vast majority of Israel’s arms transfer agreements, which according to the Congressional Research Service (CRS) added up to $9.1 billion out of $9.5 billion worth of agreements. In 2012, the US sent $3.1 billion in military aid and is expected to continue to send that amount to Israel each year until at least 2018.

*

The complicity of the United States and its role in perpetuating violence is critical. The government’s propensity to side with Israel (in this instance, the Obama administration), contribute millions of dollars in military aid per day and disregard the Israel’s naval blockade, its occupation, its policy of arbitrary detention, the settlements and the tension and suffering created over issues of water distribution, border rights and freedom of movement only makes everything worse and fosters a climate where the world is more likely to see violent resistance from Palestinians.

Following Operation Cast Lead, Amnesty International reported, “After the start of the current conflict and reports of serious violations of international humanitarian law by the IDF in Gaza, the US authorities continued to authorize large consignments of US munitions, including white phosphorus munitions, to Israel.” Not only did Amnesty International call for the United Nations Security Council to impose an arms embargo on Hamas but it called for an arms embargo on ”all parties to the conflict.” This, of course, was completely disregarded by the Obama administration.

Sara Roy, senior research scholar at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University, wrote in June 2009, months after Operation Cast Lead:

…Gaza is an example of a society that has been deliberately reduced to a state of abject destitution, its once productive population transformed into one of aid-dependent paupers. This context is undeniably one of mass suffering, created largely by Israel but with the active complicity of the international community, especially the U.S. and European Union, and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. 

Gaza’s subjection began long before Israel’s recent war against it.. The Israeli occupation—now largely forgotten or denied by the international community—has devastated Gaza’s economy and people, especially since 2006. Although economic restrictions actually increased before Hamas’ electoral victory in January 2006, the deepened sanction regime and siege subsequently imposed by Israel and the international community, and later intensified in June 2007 when Hamas seized control of Gaza, has all but destroyed the local economy. If there has been a pronounced theme among the many Palestinians, Israelis, and internationals who I have interviewed in the last three years, it was the fear of damage to Gaza’s society and economy so profound that billions of dollars and generations of people would be required to address it—a fear that has now been realized.

….In Gaza today, there is no private sector to speak of and no industry. 80 percent of Gaza’s agricultural crops were destroyed and Israel continues to snipe at farmers attempting to plant and tend fields near the well-fenced and patrolled border. Most productive activity has been extinguished.

One powerful expression of Gaza’s economic demise—and the Gazans’ indomitable will to provide for themselves and their families—is its burgeoning tunnel economy that emerged long ago in response to the siege. Thousands of Palestinians are now employed digging tunnels into Egypt—around 1,000 tunnels are reported to exist although not all are operational. According to local economists, 90 percent of economic activity in Gaza—once considered a lower middle-income economy (along with the West Bank)—is presently devoted to smuggling.

Today, 96 percent of Gaza’s population of 1.4 million is dependent on humanitarian aid for basic needs. According to the World Food Programme, the Gaza Strip requires a minimum of 400 trucks of food every day just to meet the basic nutritional needs of the population. Yet, despite a 22 March decision by the Israeli cabinet to lift all restrictions on foodstuffs entering Gaza, only 653 trucks of food and other supplies were allowed entry during the week of May 10, at best meeting 23 percent of required need.

Israel now allows only 30 to 40 commercial items to enter Gaza compared to 4,000 approved products prior to June 2006… [emphasis added]

All of the above should be considered a “precipitating” factor in the current cycle. To the extent that this continues, extreme violence from factions of Palestinians is guaranteed to occur.

The US and Israel incited a coup after Hamas won elections in 2006. As David Rose reported in a Vanity Fair story by David Rose published in April 2008, when election-fixing failed, President George W. Bush approved a covert initiative “implemented by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Deputy National Security Adviser Elliott Abrams to provoke a Palestinian civil war.” The plan called for Muhammad Dahlan, a Fatah strongman who had served as Abbas’ national security adviser, to lead forces armed “with new weapons supplied at America’s behest to give Fatah the muscle it needed to remove the democratically elected Hamas-led government from power.” Dahlan led a savage squad that kidnapped and tortured members of Hamas’ Executive Force. Dahlan’s forces touched off a “bloody civil war.” When they were unable to achieve victory and the covert operation failed, Hamas was left “stronger than ever.”

This recent history cannot be repeated enough. Without acknowledging how the US has made it possible for Hamas to cement its power in the Palestinian territories, long-term peace is next to impossible.

*

Noam Chomsky recently visited Gaza. He wrote after his trip, “Even a single night in jail is enough to give a taste of what it means to be under the total control of some external force. And it hardly takes more than a day in Gaza to appreciate what it must be like to try to survive in the world’s largest open-air prison, where some 1.5 million people on a roughly 140-square-mile strip of land are subject to random terror and arbitrary punishment, with no purpose other than to humiliate and degrade.”

This is the society, which Israel finds it must defend itself against. This is the society of Palestinians, which Israeli leaders fear and have conditioned Israeli citizens to fear. This is the society of suffering people the United States shows unremitting indifference toward, especially as it sends billions of dollars for military equipment used in acts of aggression.

The current policies will only induce more violence. Policies of apartheid imposed upon a society are not sustainable. There will be violent resistance. There will be more rocket attacks. If Israel does not offer concessions, such as ending the blockade or recognizing Hamas (which one former Israeli Defense Forces general has recommended), it is hard to see how Hamas ends rocket attacks for any long period of time. It is also hard to fathom how Israel would not be expanding the bombardment of Gaza to mount a ground invasion before the year is over.

Update 

How complicit is the Obama administration? Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak:

This effort could not have been concluded without the generous and consistent support of the American administration, led by President Obama.

Raji Sourani appeared on “Democracy Now!” this morning and reacted to this comment:

…Obama administration provided full legal, political immunity for those who are criminals, when Cast Lead operation had happened few years ago. And they used a veto in the Security Council not to pass Goldstone Report and being tried through the ICC.

Now, that makes us—when I do hear this statement of Mr. Obama and Mr. Barak, that Mr. Obama is a real partner of Israel and the crimes they are doing against civilians. If there are a lack of facts—and I am sure there are not—we can provide them with very first-class, legal-documented files showing, I mean, all these war crimes and crimes against humanity…

He later added in reaction to Obama’s incorrect claim that rocket attacks started this latest violence:

…U.S. and Mr. Obama try to provide Israel with full excuse, with full legal, political immunity to do whatever they want to do against Gazans. This is—this is unjust. This is unfair. This makes U.S. on the same foot, I mean, equal to Israel and real partner of what they are doing, of war crimes or crimes against humanity, against Gazan civilians…

Here’s Sourani on “Democracy Now!”:


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