By Gilbert Schramm
The brutal, ongoing violence in Gaza has brought on the usual handwringing and nonsense. Yet strangely, in some ways, there seems to be a bit of a breakthrough. It is long overdue.
In some quarters, the admissions now made by pundits, policy wonks and reporters would have been unthinkable a few years ago. One is that Netanyahu was never serious about allowing a Palestinian state: barrels of ink were used to insist he did. Some of us have known better for 20 years. We were ignored. Another was the extreme shift to the right in Israel. They are basically now a Zionist supremacist state. Obviously, too, the justifications for extreme violence by Israel have been clearly refuted: if there are this many rockets in Gaza, previous brutal attempts by Israel to destroy them have been a miserable failure. Lots of us knew that too…
When President Carter’s book Peace, Not Apartheid came out in 2006, he was ridiculed and vilified for suggesting Israel was an Apartheid state (a term that has serious implications in international law). That fact is now widely acknowledged. So too is the fact that Netanyahu’s policy not only flagrantly abuses human rights and breaks international law, but a is colossal failure that is more harmful to Israel in the long run than any force the Palestinians might bring to bear.
Other lies and myths are breaking down as well. In the past, many Americans threw up their hands in confusion when this issue came up, believing it too ancient, complex, or insoluble to understand. It is not.
One simple way to look at the current crisis is this: Zionist settlement in Palestine began in about 1895 and continues to this day. In all that time, it is hard to find an example of Palestinians taking land back from the Zionist settlers. That is why today, as Zionist settlers continue to steal Palestinian land, about five generations of Palestinians live in exile or as prisoners and refugees in their own country. Put bluntly, Palestinian violence has always been about defending their land, while Israeli violence has always been about taking it.
In 1895, the ignition point for the violence was Zionist settlers taking Palestinian land and homes. The current episode is no different. What we see today stems directly from Zionist settlers trying to evict Palestinians from their ancestral homes in East Jerusalem. It began in early May as Jewish settlers tried to evict Palestinians from homes in East Jerusalem during Ramadan. Protests began, and at Friday prayers at the sacred Al Aqsa Mosque, Israeli police inflamed the situation by firing on protesting Palestinians. Over 200 Palestinians were wounded. Saturday brought more protests, and around 120 Palestinians were wounded. Some 17 Israeli soldiers were hurt.
Let me make some important distinctions here.
The violence and casualties on each side are not really comparable. This latest episode is like earlier ones. Almost all Israeli casualties came after they provoked violence and killed Palestinians. So far, in about 12 days of violence, there are approximately 12 Israeli deaths vs. some 220 Palestinian deaths. This Israeli number, however, includes a woman who fell downstairs on the way to a bomb shelter, two “Arab-Israelis” (Palestinians living in Israel), and so on. By contrast, dead Palestinians include some 60 children and many women killed when the buildings they were in were totally collapsed by Israeli bombardment.
The issue of the wounded is even more problematic. Israelis have free national healthcare, go to the doctor for relatively minor wounds (cuts from broken glass) and often are listed as casualties when they are simply suffering from stress, hypertension, etc. In Gaza, on the other hand, healthcare systems are under extreme stress and are quickly overwhelmed. Today they are also going through the Covid-19 pandemic (Israel has done little to provide vaccines for the Palestinians whose lives they control). All this suggests that Palestinians have to be very seriously wounded indeed before they even try to go to a hospital. In other words, Palestinian suffering is probably greatly under-reported.
War Crimes: Indiscriminate Attacks
It is generally accepted that applications of “indiscriminate violence” are a war crime. There is a lot of wiggle room in this concept that Israel flagrantly exploits. For example, a homemade rocket, without a guidance system, fired in the general direction of Israel is technically indiscriminate. It is unlike to hit anything, but it could. Fire enough of these rockets and some will hit something. These rockets have actually hit very little and have only killed a handful of people over the years. They carry a very small explosive charge—nothing like the high-power munitions used by Israel. On the other hand, if an Israeli bomber flies over Gaza and shovels out 100,000 lbs. of bombs at random, that too is indiscriminate. Of course, it is dead certain the latter kind of attack will kill a lot of people.
Israel also boasts that it tries to minimize civilian casualties by using “precision” weapons. The truth is, if you fire a hundred precision weapons at a single city block, you are simply doing an expensive version of old-style WWII saturation bombing. In that context, the word “precision” means precisely nothing. As to civilian casualties, Israel’s record is truly appalling. In the Syrian Civil War, the Assad regime and its opponents killed an average of 33% civilians. Both sides were berated for their barbarity. In the 2014 Israeli attack on Gaza about 78% of deaths inflicted by Israel were civilian—yet American cheerleaders like Charles Krauthammer applauded Israel for its restraint. Go figure.
No Partner for Peace and Other Old Canards
On MSNBC’s show “Morning Joe,” Joe tried to revive the oldest canard in the book. He said the real problem was there was no one on the Palestinian side to talk to because both Fatah and Hamas were “corrupt.” Wake up Joe! We just got rid of the most corrupt president in US history. Netanyahu was ousted once before for corruption and is under indictment again. What utter nonsense. Almost every government in the world is corrupt to some degree. It doesn’t stop them from doing business. So, who has finally stepped in to negotiate? Egypt! Wait, are we supposed to believe Egypt has solved its problem with corruption? The real problem is that Israel has never wanted to negotiate and has rarely done so in good faith. Years ago, Sheikh Yassin, the leader of Hamas, offered a 50-year truce with Israel if they would simply do three things: 1. Stop killing Palestinians, 2. End the occupation by withdrawing to pre-67 borders, and 3. Stop building settlements. That is hardly a “terrorist” agenda or a sly attempt to destroy Israel. Yassin was assassinated by Israel shortly thereafter. Maybe that is why there are so few people for the US to talk to… Another ploy has been to argue that the US can’t really do much. That is priceless since we have invaded countries across the region and replaced governments quite boldly. The 4 billion dollars of annual US aid to Israel gives us tremendous leverage over Israel that we never had with Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran or Syria. We just don’t want to use it.
To my mind, there is a very simple reason this is happening now. Zionist settlers are always creating provocations. Netanyahu just decided to escalate this one to shore up his failing political career. He has played this “Trump card” many times before. The idea that the US is powerless in this situation is simply pathetic.
Tragedy on “Both Sides”
Tragedy is tragedy whether it happens to one person or a hundred. That doesn’t make them the same. There is a handful of tragedies on the Israeli side, and a shipload on the Palestinian side. Consider the score so far. As of reporting on 5/19/21, there are 10 people dead in Israel, (including a soldier and two people who died from injuries “sustained while running for cover”). 106 people suffered shrapnel and blast wounds. All this happened after the initial Israeli provocation. Some 150 buildings in Israel have been damaged (most of them superficially). In Gaza entire apartment blocks have been leveled.
In Gaza there are at least 212 Palestinian dead, including 61 children and 36 women, and more than 1,400 people wounded. In other words, women and children alone account for almost 50% of Palestinian casualties. Notice this doesn’t include deaths and casualties on the West Bank. The notion that all of the remaining male casualties were actually militants is absurd. That means Israel has once again probably killed 70% civilians (about the same as in previous operations in Gaza and about twice the number that the Assad regime killed in the Syrian Civil War).
From time to time, a naïve or uniformed commentator pops up and says that people might support the Palestinian side if only they pursued their quest for justice through non-violence. The truth is that there have been long periods (including those breaks in the violence) where Palestinians did just that. Just over a year ago or so, they ended a year-long, non-violent protest on the border of Gaza. To be more precise, the Palestinian protestors were almost always non-violent while the Israeli army shot at them with sniper rifles. The world once again did almost nothing. Many hundreds of Palestinians ended up in hospitals. A handful of Israeli soldiers were hurt.
A few days ago, Netanyahu insisted that the current operations would go on “as long as necessary.” It was never really necessary; it was just a political ploy. The Israeli argument is that these attacks will “degrade” or even destroy the capabilities of Hamas. They never really do though… Hamas always seem to have even more and better rockets to fire the next time around.
And now, even as I write, a cease-fire has been announced. It only took a couple of calls from Biden to get it done. It is not, of course, a real solution. That might require an act of congress. How likely is that? The upside is that at least a few of the myths about the conflict may have been dented. At least some American observers have noted that in the long run, Netanyahu’s policy is just as bad for Israel as it is for Palestine. The downside is that the world will probably now simply turn away. Wounded Palestinians will probably die in hospital (there is still a pandemic there!); the numbers will be updated but few will pay attention. So it will go, until someone is smart enough to realize that the only real solution is to return Palestinian land and let them have their own state. (Gee, I thought that was understood and agreed on decades ago…)
Note: The numbers given here are the best I could do. They were generated in the fog of war and will doubtless change as the full extent of the carnage is revealed. Fairly early on Israel destroyed the entire building housing AP and Al-Jazeera, crippling what little press was on the scene. Israel claimed that it hid a secret Hamas Headquarters. It seems unlikely to me that Hamas would try to hide in a nest of news correspondents. As far as I know, the Israeli claim has not been verified.