[Note: This essay was written from a standpoint that seeks to decrease (and ultimately destroy) all discrimination (based on ethnicity, religion, or other factors) through the dissemination of information and reasoned analysis. Zionism is not synonymous with Judaism. Islamism is not the same as Islam. And imperialism is not a word interchangeable with Christianity. Greed is not limited to one religion or one ethnic group, and none has a monopoly on brutality. More importantly, none is immune from feelings of compassion or solidarity. We are all capable of feeling hatred, and we are all capable of feeling love. This piece of work aims to foster the latter.]
Most accounts of the 2014 Israeli assault on Gaza will include at least some facts, but very seldom do they include all of the facts necessary to truly understand the conflict. In connection with my essay, this article aims to summarise the main issues that all people commenting on the ‘Palestinian Question’ should take into account.
Israeli War Crimes and Violations of International Law
- International Humanitarian Law requires that countries ‘defending themselves’ from attacks must follow the principles of “Distinction”, “Precautions in Attack”, and “Proportionality”. Israel, however, has violated each of these principles.
- The first principle requires all parties to “distinguish between the civilian population and combatants”. Up to the 18th of August, however, 3,084 of the 10,193 Palestinians wounded by Israel’s invasion were said to have been children and, of the 2,016 deaths, almost 80% were civilians and 541 were children. The third Common Article of the Geneva Convention, meanwhile, maintains that people “taking no active part in hostilities… are not legitimate targets”. And, if there is any uncertainty about whether ‘targets’ are combatants or not, they “must be treated as civilians”. Israel, however, has ignored this article, and in fact gone in the opposite direction. It sees Gazans – responsible for electing Hamas in 2006 – as legitimate targets and, as a consequence, treats civilians as combatants.
- The second principle, meanwhile, asserts that “all feasible precautions” must be taken “to protect the civilian population and civilian objects… against the effects of attacks”. Nonetheless, Israel has attacked hundreds of government and UNRWA (UN Relief and Works Agency) schools, destroyed ten hospitals and dozens of other health facilities, along with thousands of homes, dozens of mosques, and water and energy infrastructure. Once again, the IDF (Israeli Defence Forces), in spite of its claims, obviously did not take the precautions necessary to protect civilians and their possessions.
- The third principle, which says that “an attack which may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, damage to civilian objects, or a combination thereof… is prohibited”. No significant military victory over Israel’s supposed enemy, Hamas, was achieved, but the assault evidently ignored the international prohibition of actions that could lead to death and destruction of civilian infrastructure. Article 5 of the Additional Protocol I, meanwhile, insists that “any attack by bombardment or any other means that is intended to destroy a single or distinct military target in a highly populated civilian area AND is expected to cause incidental loss of life is unlawful”. Civilians in Gaza, “one of the most crowded, vulnerable places in the world”, were clearly always at great risk from Israel’s advanced, vicious weaponry, yet the IDF were told (as they were in previous wars) to go ahead with their offensive in complete violation of international law. Civilians meanwhile, blocked into Gaza by Israel’s embargo, had nowhere to hide or flee.
- Illegal Israeli settlers were withdrawn from Gaza in 2005, but were simply moved into the West Bank, in full violation of the Geneva Convention, which asserted that “the Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies”. As a result of its continued occupation of the West Bank and full blockade of Gaza, Israel is still considered by the UN to be an occupying force in both territories. The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has therefore insisted that “Israel cannot invoke [its] right [to self-defence] in territory it exercises complete control over”.
- Israel has used “unconventional weapons” in the conflict, such as “explosive barrels” and “illegal weapons such as White Phosphorous and the experimental explosive “DIME””. While the international community allows Israel to get away with using these banned weapons, Gazan citizens simply continue to function as “involuntary lab rats for Israel’s weapons industry”.
Zionist Occupation and the Recent Attack on Gaza
- The main issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is Israel’s “suffocating military occupation” of Palestinian territories. To understand why Israel occupies this land, we need to understand Zionism.
- Zionism is a political ideology based primarily on ethnic identity, which was formed towards the end of the 1800s with the aim of establishing a Jewish national homeland in a part of Ottoman Syria (called “Palestine” when transferred to British colonial rule). Their motive was to ensure Jewish self-determination and freedom from persecution (which Jewish communities had suffered for over two thousand years).
- Labor Zionism dominated Zionist politics until the 1970s, but nationalism became a lot stronger in the 1940s – both in response to British opposition to the division of Palestine into two states and in response to fascist persecution and the Holocaust in Europe. The Labor school of Zionism initially formed progressive, egalitarian, and quasi-socialist structures, but always excluded non-Jews from this process. This exclusive mentality could be considered as the beginning of Israel’s apartheid system in Palestine.
- When the UN pushed through a partition plan for Palestine in 1947 (with the opposition of existing Middle-Eastern states), Israel prepared itself militarily for its independence in 1948. When it was attacked by its neighbours, it fought back severely, committing war crimes and causing around 700,000 Palestinian Arabs to flee to Gaza and the West Bank as refugees.
- Israel became a key Western ally in the Cold War, playing a key role in fighting back against Arab nationalism. Egypt’s Nasser, for example, had proved to be a threat to Western domination in the region when he nationalised the Suez Canal in 1956. The failure of colonial Western powers to deal with Arab nationalists successfully led Israel to become more and more of a Western proxy force in the region.
- With opposition to Israel growing, it launched a surprise attack on Egypt in 1967. Killing up to twenty thousand Arab from Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Iraq (and losing less than one thousand Israelis itself), Israel showed itself a force to be reckoned with (thanks to Western weapons and significant financial support). In the war, it seized the West Bank from Jordan and Gaza from Egypt. After this point, Israel would gradually allow more and more Israeli settlers to illegally settle in the occupied territories.
- Since 1977, Nationalist Zionism has dominated Israeli politics. With the rise to prominence of this school, the violent, pro-settlement, religious Neo-Zionists gradually gained more and more power. The latter group, with clearly fascist tendencies, actually believes that peaceful coexistence between Arabs and Jews is impossible, and that Arab presence in Israel and Palestine poses a threat to a Jewish-majority state. Their promotion or allowance of illegal settlements has simply heightened tensions in the region.
- Under the Nationalists, Palestinians suffered extrajudicial killings, mass detentions, house demolitions, forced migrations, relocations, and deportations, as well as daily intimidation, humiliation, and manipulation. Rapidly increasing Jewish settlement, meanwhile, also meant that less land was available for agriculture, industry and, essentially, Palestinians. As a result of these horrific conditions, Palestinians launched a campaign of civil disobedience and non-violent resistance against Israel in the First Intifada (1987). Israel responded by deploying the military and killing 1200 Palestinians. Fierce Israeli repression led certain Palestinian groups (like Hamas) to resort increasingly to violent resistance.
- The Oslo Accords of 1993 and 1995 seemed to be a step forward but, essentially, nothing changed. As a result, Palestinians grew to trust less and less the process of peaceful resistance. The continuing Israeli occupation and abuses resulted in the Second Intifada (2000-2005). This time, 5500 Palestinians were killed, along with 1100 Israelis. At the end of this period of violence, Israel decided to withdraw its settlers from Gaza, a move seen partially to be a response to the bloodshed of the Second Intifada.
- Hamas won elections in Gaza in 2006, as their strong resistance was seen to have achieved more than the peaceful tactics of Fatah. However, Israel soon began a full blockade of Gaza, isolating the territory and leading to immense hardship. The blockade strangled Gaza’s economic life and punished its civilians, creating a sense of “hopelessness and distrust in Israel”, and nurturing a “climate… hospitable to extremism”.
- After the return of Benjamin Netanyahu’s nationalist Likud party to power in 2009, the chances of a peaceful agreement with Palestinians were reduced almost to zero. His government was complicit in the growth of settlements in the West Bank, protecting them “with walls or soldiers that further constrain Palestinians”. As a result, he refused to accept the creation of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders, and the Obama-initiated negotiations therefore had no partner for peace in Israel.
- After Netanyahu’s re-election in 2013, the tension looked set to continue, and negotiations with Palestinians soon failed. In 2014, Fatah and Hamas decided to form a unity government to strengthen the Palestinian search for statehood.
- In May, two Palestinian teenagers were shot dead by the IDF in Beitunia. The following month, three Israeli youths were murdered in the West Bank. Israel, with no legal cause, arrested members of Hamas. After the burial of the Israeli youngsters, far-right extremists in Israel burnt a 16-year-old Palestinian boy alive in East Jerusalem. Demonstrations followed, and Israel repressed protesters.
- On July 7th, Israeli attacks on Gaza killed five Hamas members, and the group responded by firing their first rockets in 19 months into Israel. The following day, Israel launched Operation Protective Edge.
Jewish Opposition to Apartheid
- It is incredibly important to emphasise that Zionism is not the same thing as Judaism. Many Jews oppose the Zionist state and the actions of the nationalist governments that have gained more and more power since 1977.
- Haredi Jews, who belong to a traditional orthodox community, oppose Zionism for many reasons. They believe the current state of Israel is contrary to Judaism.
- The Neturei Karta movement even goes as far as to say that “Israel is a racist regime that promotes anti-Semitism”, emphasising the similarity between Zionists and Nazis.
- There have also been Israeli citizens who have refused to serve in the IDF, and pacifists who have marched against war and been violently repressed.
- Most importantly, however, is the opposition of a number of Holocaust survivors. 225 Jewish survivors (and descendants of survivors) of the Nazi holocaust “unequivocally [condemned] the massacre of Palestinians in Gaza and the ongoing occupation and colonization of historic Palestine”. They also criticised the US for funding and arming Israel, whilst slating other Western states for “using their diplomatic muscle to protect Israel from condemnation”. Speaking of the “extreme, racist dehumanization of Palestinians in Israeli society”, they also affirmed that “nothing can justify bombing UN shelters, homes, hospitals and universities… [or] depriving people of electricity and water”. Finally, in a call for “the full economic, cultural and academic boycott of Israel”, along with “an immediate end to the… blockade of Gaza”, they insisted that ““never again” must mean NEVER AGAIN FOR ANYONE”.
Hamas – Resistance Fighters or Terrorists?
- There is no evidence of Hamas using ‘human shields’, and Israel’s habitual claims that it does are attempts to shift blame for civilian deaths away from itself.
- Hamas is prepared to use violent means to resist Israel’s occupation and aggression (even if that includes civilians). However, if we follow the logic that this makes it a terrorist group, Israel would be, by far, the biggest terrorist group in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
- Hamas is not the reason for the conflict. It is simply a result of Israel’s crimes. For decades, Israel “tolerated… Gaza’s Islamists… and, in some cases, encouraged them as a counterweight to the secular nationalists” of the PLO or Fatah. Hamas was one of these fundamentalist Muslim groups, which had links with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and was formed at the beginning of the First Intifada in 1987. Israel, like the USA, had “looked to Islamists as a useful ally against communism” and Arab nationalism during the Cold War. After the Iranian Revolution of 1979, “Political Islam” began to “displace Arab nationalism as a vehicle for anti-imperialist sentiment”.
- Hezbollah gained prominence in Lebanon and, a decade later, Hamas did the same in Gaza. Having previously funded movements like these as a counterweight to secular communist groups, Israel and its Western allies were now beginning to see the consequences.
- Hamas, however, is not the same as ISIS. Its Hezbollah allies are in fact fighting a battle to the death against ISIS forces in Syria.
- Having witnessed the carnage of the First Intifada and the way in which it led to little significant change, Hamas committed itself to resisting Israeli occupation by any means necessary. In the Second Intifada, between 2000 and 2005, 5500 Palestinians were killed, along with 1100 Israelis. Israel’s failure to live up to the Oslo Accords had come back to haunt it. Hamas’s military branch was responsible for almost half of the Israeli ‘targets’ hit during this period.
- The Second Intifada led Israel to evacuate its settlers from Gaza, and this was seen as a victory for Hamas, which subsequently won elections in 2006. It no longer spoke about destroying Israel, though it was still prepared to resist Israeli aggression through violence.
- Hamas was forced to take control of Gaza because of Israeli attempts to undermine its government. As a result, Israel placed a full blockade on the territory in 2007.
- It has sought to reach agreements ever since, whilst responding to Israeli aggression with rocket fire (which did almost no damage to Israel as a result of the country’s Iron Dome).
- Hamas, born in an environment of apartheid and occupation, can only truly be seen as a resistance group. Its preparedness to target Israeli civilians may lead it to be referred to as a terrorist group, but the fact is that all groups who have ever fought against occupation and colonialism have always been called terrorists by the occupiers and colonial powers. The key question is, if we want to see who the real terrorist is, who has killed more civilians: Israel or Hamas?
- In Jerusalem, there is a climate of hatred and violence fostered by the Israeli political establishment. “Hate, violence and incitement”, according to Jerusalem resident Jalal Abukhater, “are on a sharp rise in this city, and Israeli politicians are to blame”. There is no true “freedom of religious practice”, and Palestinian residents are “treated as second class” citizens. . “Tax-paying Arab residents”, he says, regularly suffer from “institutional racism and segregation”. They are also attacked or insulted in the streets by nationalist groups of Israelis that have distinctly fascist characteristics.
- Since the creation of Israel in 1948, sources have claimed that European Zionists have received preferential treatment over non-European Zionists, showing that racism was also a part of the Israeli establishment from early on.
- Haredi Jews, meanwhile, as opponents of Zionism, are also targeted in Israel, and even Christian communities are “spat at” by “flag-waving youths”.
Reasons for Israeli Behaviour
- Right-wing Zionism has gradually taken control of Israeli politics, supporting settlement and war while opposing attempt to coexist peacefully with Palestinians. Many members of right-wing parties in Israel have incited hatred against Palestinians.
- The West allows Israel to get away with its war crimes and violations of international law. It also continues to give diplomatic, financial, and military support to Israel.
- Israel is part of the West’s geopolitical strategy in the Middle East. It helps to counter anti-Western groups and defends the interests of Western economic elites in the region.
- Israel wants to stop natural gas revenues in Gaza getting into the hands of groups (like Hamas) which are not subservient to Israeli interests.
- Israeli society has dehumanised Palestinians, seeing all of them as enemies of Israel. A significant proportion of Israeli society has lost all empathy with Palestinians, helping it to justify their extermination.
- The Israeli lobby outside of Israel has its own agenda. Though this agenda is similar to that of Israel’s political establishment, it does not necessarily fit in with the interests of Israeli civilians. The lobby has immense power and exercises significant influence over politicians in the West (and especially in the USA).
- Israel needs to keep Hamas and Fatah divided. The unity agreement between them contradicts Israel’s logic of ‘not being able to deal with a divided Palestine’. The ‘divide and conquer’ strategy is key to Israel’s continued occupation of Palestinian land and oppression of the Palestinian people. A united Palestine presents a significant obstacle to the Zionist project.
- Israel wants to make life in Palestine unsustainable. Right-wing Zionists hope that, by making the occupied territories unliveable, Palestinians will move into neighbouring Arab countries, leaving the land open for further Israeli colonisation.
- The mainstream media, meanwhile, has played a woeful role in explaining the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – overemphasising Israeli losses and underemphasising Palestinian losses (or trying to justify them using an absurd ‘self-defence’ logic).
The Argument for Boycotts, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS)
- Israeli historian Ilan Pappé was effectively fired from his job after calling on the world to boycott Israel. He claims there is no other way to change the mentality of the Israeli political establishment. Through a BDS campaign, he says, “the oppressive occupation” can finally be brought to an end.
- Zionism, as a nationalist, ethnocentric political ideology, can never truly embrace democracy, as that would mean creating a multi-faith state in which all ethnicities and religious communities could peacefully coexist. Therefore, those who adhere to this political philosophy – including the right-wing nationalists currently in government – will not willingly agree to a peace in which other social groups (whether Muslims, Christians, and anti-Zionist Jews) are granted the same rights as Zionists. That is partly why the Zionist establishment has preferred to ignore international law and the terms of previous agreements, choosing instead to follow a policy of war and apartheid. They will only respond to international pressure – just as the South African government did at the end of apartheid.
- Finally, Western governments have proven themselves incapable of stopping Israel, or even opposing it. They are, therefore, just as complicit in Israel’s exercises of ethnic cleansing as Israeli politicians are. As a result, citizens around the world are the best hope for putting pressure on Israel.
For full details and references, please see https://ososabiouk.wordpress.com/2014/08/23/gaza-a-capitalist-genocide-essay/