American Crime Case #30: Israel’s U.S.-Armed and -Backed Massacre in Gaza (2008-2009)

Bob Avakian has written that one of three things that has “to happen in order for there to be real and lasting change for the better: People have to fully confront the actual history of this country and its role in the world up to today, and the terrible consequences of this.” (See “3 Things that have to happen in order for there to be real and lasting change for the better.”)

In that light, and in that spirit, “American Crime” is a regular feature of revcom.us. Each installment focuses on one of the 100 worst crimes committed by the U.S. rulers—out of countless bloody crimes they have carried out against people around the world, from the founding of the U.S. to the present day.

See all the articles in this series.

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Palestinian family escaping the bombing in Southern Gaza Strip, 2008. Photo: AP

THE CRIME

From December 27, 2008 to January 19, 2009, Israel, backed by the U.S., brutally and viciously attacked the Palestinian people in Gaza—a Palestinian territory on a small strip of land 25 miles long and five miles wide on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea, bordered by Egypt on the south and Israel on the east and north. Overwhelmingly, the Palestinian people in Gaza were driven from their homes in what is now Israel. The violent expulsion of the Palestinians from their homeland was most ferocious during the Nakba (Arabic for catastrophe) in 1948.1 Israel has kept more than 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza with no way out. (See the Revolution/revcom.us special issue, Bastion of Enlightenment…or Enforcer for Imperialism: The Case of Israel.)

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For background on the nature and role of Israel see the special Revolution/ revcom.us issue: The Case of Israel: Bastion of Enlightenment or Enforcer for Imperialism?

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The number of Palestinians killed during the 24-day assault, which Israel called “Operation Cast Lead,” has been estimated to be between 1,166 and 1,417,2 including 844 civilians, 281 of them children.3 More than 3,000 were injured during the invasion.4

The attack that initiated the slaughter was launched on a Saturday, shortly before noon, when most people would be in the streets. The Israelis used U.S.-supplied F-16 warplanes and Apache helicopters to attack all of Gaza’s main towns, including Gaza City, Khan Younis, and Rafah, striking more than 210 targets in the first 24 hours.5 On that day, at least 225 to 230 Palestinians were killed and more than 700 injured. It was the deadliest one-day death toll in 60 years of conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians. The Palestinian people call that day “The Massacre of Black Saturday.”6,7

During the first seven days, Israel pounded Gaza with bombs, artillery, and mortar shells, as Israelis sat on the hills of Sderot watching the mass carnage in Gaza below.8

Then on January 3, Israel launched a land invasion, sending thousands of troops into Gaza with tanks, armored personnel carriers, and artillery divisions.

Norwegian doctor Mads Gilbert said this was “all-out war against the civilian population of Gaza,” and he said he hardly saw a military casualty among the hundreds of Palestinian bodies.9 The International Committee of the Red Cross discovered small children next to their mothers’ corpses and called the situation a “full blown humanitarian crisis.”10

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Israeli bombs strike Gaza Strip, 2008. Photo: AP

Forty-two Palestinians were killed and another 55 wounded in a single attack on a United Nations school that was sheltering Palestinians who had been forced to flee their homes. Doctors said all of the victims were civilians, including many children. The Guardian reported that this “appears to be the biggest single loss of life of the campaign when Israeli bombs hit al-Fakhora school, in Jabaliya refugee camp, while it was packed with hundreds of people who had fled the fighting.” According to the Guardian, “Most of those killed were in the school playground and in the street, and the dead and injured lay in pools of blood. Pictures on Palestinian TV showed walls heavily marked by shrapnel and bloodstains, and shoes and shredded clothes scattered on the ground. Windows were blown out.”11

On January 19, when Israel knew a ceasefire was only hours away, they continued their assault, killing 54, including 43 unarmed civilians, 17 of them children in the last hours of the invasion.12

A Human Rights Watch (HRW) report said that the Israeli military “repeatedly exploded white phosphorus munitions in the air over populated areas, killing and injuring civilians, and damaging civilian structures, including a school, a market, a humanitarian aid warehouse and a hospital.” This violated international laws of war. The HRW report pointed out, “The dangers posed by white phosphorus13 to civilians were well-known to Israeli commanders, who have used the munition for many years. According to a medical report prepared during the hostilities by the ministry of health, ‘[w]hite phosphorus can cause serious injury and death when it comes into contact with the skin, is inhaled or is swallowed.’ The report states that burns on less than 10 percent of the body can be fatal because of damage to the liver, kidneys and heart.” The white phosphorus shells were made in America.

It was estimated that the Israeli assault destroyed up to 60 percent of the agriculture industry in Gaza, and that “13,000 families who depend directly on herding, farming … have suffered significant damage.”14 Ahmad Sourani, director of the Agricultural Development Association of Gaza, said,” What we have seen in large areas of farmland is the destruction of all means of life.” Peter Beaumont of the Observer reported that most of Gaza’s agriculture infrastructure was destroyed. The Ministry of Agriculture was targeted, the agriculture faculty at al-Azhar University in Beit Hanoun was largely destroyed, and the offices of the Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees in Zaitoun, which provides cheap food for the poor, was ransacked and vandalized by soldiers who left abusive graffiti.”15

The Israelis attacked and destroyed science and educational institutions. They destroyed al-Da’wa College for Humanities in Rafah and the Gaza College for Security Sciences. Six university buildings in Gaza were totally destroyed and another 16 damaged. Two buildings that housed the science and engineering laboratories of the Islamic University in Gaza were demolished. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency in Gaza City that contained tons of emergency food and medicine was destroyed. Two floors of the al-Quds hospital were destroyed and the hospital set on fire. The fishing industry in Gaza was targeted where “Gaza’s 40,000 fishermen have been deprived of their livelihood.”16

The death and destruction in Gaza was overwhelming:

  • 14,000 homes, 600 to 700 factories, 24 mosques, and 31 security compounds were destroyed
  • 48 percent of the 122 health facilities were damaged or destroyed
  • 15 of Gaza’s 27 hospitals and 41 primary health care centers were damaged.

In total, more than 20,000 buildings were damaged or destroyed. Nothing was left untouched by the Israelis—schools, shelters, businesses, roads, and bridges.17,18

The Aftermath

Following the war, there was an increase of children born with birth defects. The number of blood cancer cases doubled, and Norwegian medics found traces of depleted uranium, a radioactive and genotoxic material used in some types of munitions, in some Gaza residents who were wounded. Soil samples showed that there were areas that contained up to 75 tons of depleted uranium.19

One year after the war ended, 20,000 Palestinians in Gaza remained displaced.20

In September 2009, a UN special mission, headed by South African Justice Richard Goldstone, produced a report that accused Israel of “serious violations of international humanitarian law,” war crimes and crimes against humanity, and recommended bringing those responsible to justice.21

After the war, Israel, with the collaboration of Egypt and support of the Obama administration, imposed a draconian blockade that kept essential medical, construction, and food supplies from reaching Gaza. Israel even attacked civilian relief boats in international waters—murdering five people on one of them, the Mavi Marmara—in 2010, an act the Obama administration refused to condemn.22

THE CRIMINALS

President George W. Bush and his administration (2001-2009): On May 15, 2008, President George W. Bush, in a speech to the Israeli Knesset on the 60th anniversary of the founding of Israel, said, “The alliance between our governments is unbreakable.” In referring to Israel’s struggle with the Palestinians, he said, “…we applaud the courageous choices Israeli’s leaders have made. We also believe that nations have a right to defend themselves and that no nation should ever be forced to negotiate with killers pledged to its destruction.”23 Less than a month later and six months prior to the attack on Gaza, Israel began planning the war.

The main weapons (F-16 fighter jets, Apache helicopters, tactical missiles, and a wide array of munitions) used in the Gaza Massacre were supplied to Israel by the Bush administration.24

The Bush administration blocked a UN vote for an immediate ceasefire the day the invasion started. Further, the U.S. voted against a UN treaty in December 2008 to regulate arms trade, and a resolution on “the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination.”25

The Democratic Party-controlled 2008 Congress: Since the mid-1960s, Israel has served as a base, and an enforcer, for U.S. imperialism in the Middle East and beyond. By 2008, when the position of the U.S. atop a world of exploitation and oppression was being challenged and under stress from many directions, the “special relationship” between the U.S. and Israel was seen as all the more critical by the U.S. rulers—both Republicans and Democrats.

The Democratic Party-controlled U.S. Senate and House passed near unanimous resolutions giving full support to Israel and upholding its “inalienable right to defend against attacks from Gaza.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, “We support the state of Israel, very strongly as a national policy, because it is in our national interest to do so.”26 Jerrold Nadler, a leading Democratic House member, said, “Israel has commendably made strenuous efforts to minimize harm to civilians, while Hamas has needlessly imperiled innocent Palestinians in Gaza.”27 A year later, top Democratic senator Chuck Schumer said, “[Y]ou have to force them [the Palestinians] to say Israel is here to stay” and “...to strangle them economically until they see that’s not the way to go, makes sense.”28

U.S. government and U.S. military: In their 2008-2009 assault on Gaza, the Israeli Defense Forces made use of M-92 and M-84 “dumb bombs,” Paveway II and JDAM guided “smart bombs,” AH-64 Apache attack helicopters equipped with AGM-114 Hellfire guided missiles, M141 “bunker defeat” munitions, and special weapons like M825A1 155mm white phosphorous munitions—all supplied as American foreign aid. Israel is also allowed to spend 25 percent of military funding from the U.S. on weapons made by its own weapons industry.29

From 1949-2018, the U.S. has provided Israel with $135 billion in aid, with $95 billion being military aid. The George W. Bush administration supported Israel with $21 billion during its eight years, $19 billion of that going for military aid.30

Candidate and then President Barack Obama: When Barack Obama was running for president, he repeatedly made his support for Israel crystal clear. On July 23, 2008, standing in front of a local police station in Sderot, Israel, just a few miles from Gaza, Obama said, “If someone was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I’m going to do everything in my power to stop that, and I would expect Israelis to do the same thing.”31

In October 2009, the Obama administration blocked the Goldstone Report from reaching the International Criminal Court in order to stop any legal proceedings against Israel for the war crimes it committed against the people of Gaza that are documented in the report.32 And, as noted earlier, Obama backed the vicious blockade Israel and Egypt imposed on Gaza after the war.

The Israeli government: Ehud Barak, the Israeli defense minister and former prime minister, said the military operation in Gaza would expand and deepen as necessary. He said, “There is a time for calm and a time for fighting, and this is the time for fighting.... Right now, we have to hit Hamas hard.... I don’t see any other way for Hamas to change its behavior. Hamas is not just a terrorist organization. It actually rules Gaza.”33 Barak said that this was going to be a “war to the bitter end.”34

THE ALIBI

Israel claimed that they launched the all-out assault on Gaza because rockets had been fired from Gaza into Israel. Those rockets were in response to Israel’s earlier attack on Gaza that killed seven Palestinians. That attack by Israel broke a six-month ceasefire. Israel excused that attack by saying they found a tunnel between Gaza and Israel.35,36

The officially stated Israeli goal of Operation Cast Lead was “to diminish the security threat to residents of southern Israel by steeply reducing rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, weakening Hamas, and restoring Israel’s deterrence.”37

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THE REAL MOTIVE

The Goldstone Report stated, “the (Israeli) operations were in furtherance of an overall policy aimed at punishing the Gaza population for its resilience and for its apparent support for Hamas, and possibly with the intent of forcing a change in such support ... that what occurred in just over three weeks at the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009 was a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorize a civilian population, radically diminish its local economic capacity both to work and to provide for itself, and to force upon it an ever increasing sense of dependency and vulnerability.”38

“Wars” between Israel and Gaza are actually one-sided slaughters. Israel and its apologists defend the massacres by invoking rocket attacks from Gaza on Israel. This is an obscene pretext that denies the extreme one-sidedness of the death and devastation, and masks the real and fundamental factors involved, starting with the violent dispossession of the Palestinian people from their land.

The Palestinian people in the West Bank, in Gaza, within the borders of Israel, and in diaspora around the world have never stopped resisting being driven from their homeland, being dehumanized, and being subjected to genocide. And from its inception, Israel has dealt with that resistance through death, torture, and terror. That ongoing genocidal violence frames the specific situation in Gaza today.

In 2007, the Islamic fundamentalist organization Hamas gained political control in Gaza. Hamas and the trend it is part of are reactionary, based on a draconian interpretation of Islam. Nevertheless, the rise of Hamas posed a serious threat to Israel, including creating openings for the Islamic Republic of Iran—which the U.S. and Israel see as the top threat to their interests in the Middle East—to expand its influence in the region.

For the rulers of the U.S. in 2008 (and this is, if anything, even more true now), there was no ally like Israel in a region of the world critical to maintaining its position atop a planet of exploitation and oppression. The U.S. does pursue alliances with other countries in this region—Saudi Arabia and Egypt, for example. But the situation in those countries is much more unstable, and public opinion is much more inclined to identify with the Palestinian people. In contrast, that is not the case (at this point, at least) in Israel. Israel fills a role for the interests of the U.S. empire that no other ally in the region can. And this is, essentially, why the U.S. backed the massacre of the people of Gaza in 2008, and the ongoing crimes Israel commits against the Palestinian people.

Why We Need An Actual Revolution And How We Can Really Make Revolution

A speech by Bob Avakian
In two parts:


1. Israeli historian Ilan Pappé carefully documented this in his book The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, citing first-hand sources written by Zionists who established Israel and carried out the ethnic cleansing on which it is based.  [back]

2. “Gaza War (2008-2009),” Wikipedia.  [back]

3. Gaza In Crisis, Noam Chomsky and Ilan Pappé, edited by Frank Barat, Haymarket Books, 2010, p. 94.  [back]

4. Chomsky and Pappé, p. 95.  [back]

5. “Israel Unleashes a Massacre in Gaza,” revcom.us, December 29, 2008.  [back]

6. “Gaza War (2008-2009),” Wikipedia.  [back]

7. To read more about that first day, see “Israel Unleashes a Massacre in Gaza,” at revcom.us.  [back]

8. “Israelis Watch the Fighting in Gaza From a Hilly Vantage Point,” Charles Levinson, Wall Street Journal, January 8, 2009.  [back]

9. Chomsky and Pappé, p. 93.  [back]

10. “Gaza Children Found With Mothers’ Corpses,” Alan Cowell, New York Times, January 9, 2009.  [back]

11. “Gaza’s day of carnage-40 dead as Israelis bomb two UN schools,” Chris McGreal and Hazem Balousha, Guardian, January 9, 2009.  [back]

12. Chomsky and Pappé, p. 94.  [back]

13. White phosphorus ignites and burns on contact with oxygen, and continues burning at up to 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit (816 degrees Celsius) until nothing is left or the oxygen supply is cut. When white phosphorus comes into contact with skin it creates intense and persistent burns. (See “Israel,” Human Rights Watch News, March 25, 2009.)  [back]

14. “Gaza desperately short of food after Israel destroys farmland,” the Guardian, January 31, 2009.  [back]

15. “Gaza desperately short of food after Israel destroys farmland”  [back]

16. Chomsky and Pappé, pp. 105, 108.  [back]

17. “What was the 2008 Gaza war?” ProCon.org.  [back]

18. “Effects of the Gaza War,” Wikipedia.  [back]

19. “Gaza War (2008-2009),” Wikipedia.  [back]

20. “What was the 2008 Gaza War?” ProCon.org.  [back]

21. “Human Rights in Palestine and Other Occupied Arab Territories,” September 25, 2009, UN General Assembly, aka Goldstone Report. (The report also cites some violations by the Palestinians. If true, they are miniscule compared to the egregious violations committed by the Israelis.)  [back]

22. “From A World to Win News Service: U.S. to Israel after the Gaza ship massacre: keep up the killing,” revcom.us, October 10, 2010.  [back]

23. Address of US President George Bush to the Knesset, May 15, 2008  [back]

24. “U.S. Arms Transfer and Security Assistance to Israel,” William D. Hartung and Frida Berrigan, Institute for Policy Studies, May 1, 2002. (Several sources, including Wikipedia and the Guardian, report that the F-16 fighter jets made by General Dynamics and the AH-64 Apache helicopters made by Boeing, were the main weapons used during this war. The above report chronicles all the weapons—fighter planes, helicopters, missiles, rifles, grenade launchers, 50-caliber machine guns, and ammunition—supplied to Israel by the U.S.)  [back]

25. Chomsky and Pappé, pp. 92, 94.  [back]

26. “US Senate supports Israel’s Gaza incursion,” Reuters, January 8, 2009.  [back]

27. “The Democrats on Israel,” Adriana Kojeve, January 22, 2009, Counterpunch.  [back]

28. “Schumer Says It ‘Makes Sense’ To ‘Strangle [Gaza] Economically’ Until It Votes The Way Israel Wants,” Zaid Jilani, ThinkProgress.com, June 11, 2010.  [back]

29. “Washington’s Military Aid to Israel,” Chase Madar, Huffington Post, February 10, 2104.  [back]

30. “U.S. Foreign Aid to Israel: Total Aid,” Jewish Virtual Library.  [back]

31. Times of Israel blog.  [back]

32. “U.S. to block Goldstone Gaza referral to ICC,” Laura Rozen, Politico, September 23, 2009.  [back]

33. “Israelis Say Strikes Against Hamas Will Continue,” Taghreed El-Khodary and Ethan Bronnerdec, New York Times, December 27, 2008.  [back]

34. “War Over Gaza,” New York Times editorial, December 29, 2008.  [back]

35. “US to block Goldstone Gaza referral to ICC.”  [back]

36. “US to block Goldstone Gaza referral to ICC.”  [back]

37. “Israel and Hamas: Conflict in Gaza (2008-2009),” US Congressional Research Service Report, February 19, 2009.  [back]

38. “Human Rights in Palestine and Other Occupied Arab Territories,” September 25, 2009, UN General Assembly, aka Goldstone Report, pp. 406, 408.  [back]

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