Revolution Online, January 19, 2009
From A World to Win News Service
Gaza: The Political Goals of Both Sides and Possible Outcomes of This War
January 12, 2009. A World to Win News Service. Gaza suffered terrible civilian casualties during "stage one" of Israel's assault, the aerial bombardment of one of the world's most densely populated areas. As Israeli ground troops moved in for "stage two," the number of dead and injured grew enormously, as did the proportion of civilian casualties among the overall dead and wounded. Children under 16 and women accounted for 40 percent as of January 11, according to Gaza medical personnel (Al Jazeera, BBC). Many families dare not move through the streets to take their dead to hospital.
As the Israeli army added tank, mortar and sniper fire to the weapons being used against Gaza, they began to commit atrocities even more horrendous than the initial bombings. Among them were:
- Three shellings of schools run by the UN being used as civilian shelters. Israeli mortars killed more than 40 people outside one school in the Jabalya refugee camp. The Israeli armed forces had been informed of the geographical coordinates of these schools. The head of the United Nations refugee relief agency (UNWRA) in Gaza refuted Israeli claims that the school had been used by Hamas, and called for a war crimes investigation. Israel responded by releasing a video purportedly showing Hamas fighters in the building, but later had to admit that the footage was from 2007, when the UNWRA was not using the school. (Haaretz, January 9)
- The shelling of homes in Zeitun, near Gaza City. Israeli troops surrounded the area, building earthen barriers and keeping out rescue teams for four days. When paramedics eventually entered January 7, in one destroyed home they found four half-dead children clinging to the corpses of their mothers in the rubble.
- In a warehouse, they found the bodies of about 25 members of the Samouni extended family, 10 adults and the rest children. Israeli troops had destroyed five of their homes, and then told them to take shelter in the unfinished building. Some of them were escorted there by Israeli soldiers. When a small group ventured outside the next day to bring in other relatives, they were hit by a tank shell. Then another shell or a missile hit the roof. When the survivors came out, carrying improvised white flags and shouting, "We have kids" in Hebrew, Israeli soldiers shot at them. The soldiers later gave some children first aid, but detained some adults in their firing positions to use as human shields. Not long after the rescue convoy led by the International Committee of the Red Cross arrived, Israeli gunfire forced them to flee without searching for more bodies (as many as 70 of the 100 family members may have been killed). Some injured were reportedly left behind.
- Israeli snipers have been filmed shooting at ambulances and medical personnel on foot trying to reach the wounded and dead lying in the streets. The World Health Organization counted 21 medical workers killed as of January 12. (UK Telegraph, January 8; Independent, January 10; UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs)
- The UN temporarily suspended aid conveys ferrying emergency supplies into Gaza when Israelis fired at several of them, killing three drivers, even though the Israeli army had cleared the trucks to enter at the border. A tank shell killed a forklift driver as he loaded supplies for one of these convoys. The International Committee of the Red Cross also suspended operations when Israeli troops fired on a convoy transferring intensive care patients to Egypt, again after the Israel army had cleared the vehicles to travel. (Independent, January 9)
- Amnesty International accused the Israelis of "frequently" forcing civilians to remain in the ground floor of their homes while using the upper floors for sniper positions or as observation posts for extended periods. It also charged Hamas with firing at the invaders from homes, but refuted Israeli claims that this justifies attacking civilians: "The army is well aware gunmen usually leave the area after having fired and any reprisal attack against these homes will in most cases cause harm to civilians," an Amnesty director said.
- When asked on Al Jazeera (January 11) to confirm or deny reports that his government was using white phosphorous bombs in Gaza, Israeli spokesman Mark Regev implicitly confirmed them by arguing that his government was not using any weapons banned by international law, and that at any rate, NATO forces, too, are equipped with the substance and have plans to use it (as the U.S. did in Falluja, Iraq). While it is true that international conventions do not prohibit the use of these incendiary bombs for illumination or to produce smoke to hide troop movements, their use against humans is illegal, especially civilians, because they set fire to everything they touch until the phosphorous burns itself out. The tell-tale dazzling white plumes over Gaza City visible to the whole world on television verify what hospitals on the ground have reported: that the Israelis are burning human flesh.
These atrocities are not just the inadvertent side effects of Israel's targeting of Hamas, which is itself a crime, since Israel is admittedly trying to kill anyone associated in any way, armed or not, with the elected government of Gaza. They are an integral part of the strategy guiding Israel's war: the collective punishment of all of Gaza's people in order to weaken the influence of Hamas. Israel is trying to bend or break Hamas, but it is doing more than that. It is trying to teach the people of Gaza a lesson: submit or die. In this sense, Israel massacres in Gaza serve the same purpose as the year-and-a-half-long blockade before the massive assault began.
What Goals These Atrocities Serve
All wars and armed actions are meant to achieve political goals. Israel's central and long-term aim is unchanged from what it pursued before this war: "The Palestinians must be made to understand in the deepest recesses of their consciousness that they are a defeated people." (Moshe Yaalon, then chief of staff of the Israeli armed forces, in 2002, quoted by professor Rashid Khalidin, International Herald Tribune, January 9, 2009)
At the same time, it's impossible to understand Israel's ferocity without taking the broader context into account. Many commentators have said that Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak at first resisted pressure from others in his government to invade Gaza, although when he decided to do so, he went all out. ("Ending the war in Gaza," International Crisis Group, January 5, 2009) The New York Times wrote, "Barak never took Hamas as serious as many others did, considering it a relatively small strategic challenge whose rockets and arms build-up could be tolerated for a while to allow bigger problems to be handled... 'His eyes are focused on Iran,' noted Gilead Sher, who was Barak's chief of staff when he was prime minister a decade ago. 'Hamas and Hezbollah largely worry him in relation to Iran.'" (NYT, January 9, 2009)
By attacking the much weaker and geographically isolated Hamas, Israel wants to get revenge and prove its might after the humiliating setbacks it suffered at the hands of the Islamic movement Hezbollah in its 2006 invasion of Lebanon. "For Israel, it was important to persuade not only Hamas but others in the region that the Islamist movement could not extract concessions through violence—that it was not Israel's equal." (International Crisis Group)
Israel did not live up to the terms of its ceasefire with Hamas by opening Gaza's borders for food and other supplies because it did not want the Islamic organization to show Palestinians that it could rule despite Israeli opposition. When in retaliation, Hamas let a few rockets be fired, and after Hamas responded to an Israeli attack by firing more in December in what the Crisis Group calls an armed attempt at obtaining a stronger negotiating position, Israel felt it had to prove that it alone had a monopoly on the use of violence. This is the point no matter what it decides to do next—whether Tel Aviv accepts a ceasefire that might weaken Hamas but lets it survive, for fear that no one else could restrain Palestinians like this Islamic group, a solution that the ICG favours, or whether, as the ICG warns, "the dynamics of warfare...push the undertaking much further."
Hamas has its own political goals in this war. It never even dreamed of defeating Israel militarily at this point. It may need only to survive to gain a political victory, bolstering its standing as the leadership of any possible Palestinian resistance. In the ICG's analysis, Israel faces the contradiction that the more they attack Hamas, the more they improve its political standing. This could lead Israel to stop short at some point, or it could lead it to fight for a more drastic solution.
Either way, from the start Israel's decision to assault Gaza was intended to draw civilian casualties. A former senior Israeli defence ministry advisor told the Crisis Group, "Israel decided to play the role of mad dog for the sake of future deterrence." The fact that these massacres are a part of a cold-blooded strategy makes them all the more criminal.
What the U.S. and Israel Share
As the U.S. government arrogantly admits, it has acted to prevent a ceasefire until Israel's aims are accomplished. If and when this particular assault halts, the U.S and Israel will continue to pursue those aims in new forms. Israel's war aims are shared by the U.S., which also shares the infamy for the deaths inflicted with American weapons and munitions. These aims include the protection of the Jewish state, the U.S.'s only thoroughly reliable outpost in a region whose population seethes with indignation. They also include confronting Islamic fundamentalism and the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is a central necessity in the U.S. crusade to more thoroughly impose its will on the region and achieve the incontestable world hegemony on the political and economic fronts that has so far eluded the world's only superpower.
The U.S.'s unabashed support for Israel means that it also shares the risks inherent in this war: that it "will inflame the region, and Iran will take advantage of this," as a Hamas leader told the ICG. Hamas is just as logical in its thinking as Israel, both in its acceptance of the existence of Israel under present world conditions and in its hopes for what Israel fears, a radical change in that world situation.
The Crisis Group, an international advisory organization whose aim is to maintain the present world order, which inherently means the imperialist economic and political system that underlies it, cynically fears that civilian deaths may bring "political damage (regional polarization and radicalization, further discrediting of any 'moderates' or 'peace process'… What is required is a Lebanon-type diplomatic outcome."
Certainly any diplomatic outcome will be as squarely aimed at the Palestinian people as this war has been. Israel can't solve its "Palestinian problem" without wave after wave of oppression and cruelty. Therefore, no matter what the terms are, more "radicalization" seems possible. What form that radicalisation may take—what political goals and ideology guide it—is a critical question for the future of the Palestinian people and the region. That also applies to the mounting radical anger we have seen in protests on every continent.
A World to Win News Service is put out by A World to Win magazine (aworldtowin.org), a political and theoretical review inspired by the formation of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, the embryonic center of the world’s Marxist-Leninist-Maoist parties and organizations.
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