On March 24, 1999, an emotional Tony Blair appealed to the House of Commons and to the people of Britain:
“We must act to save thousands of innocent men, women and children from humanitarian catastrophe.”
Blair described the emergency:
“Let me give the House an indication of the scale of what is happening: a quarter of a million Kosovars, more than 10 per cent of the population, are now homeless as a result of repression by Serb forces… Since last summer 2000 people have died.” (Blair: ‘We must act – to save thousands of innocent men, women and children,’ The Guardian, March 23, 1999; www.guardian.co.uk/Kosovo/ Story/0,,209876,00.html)
Not even Blair claimed all the killings had been on one side. George Robertson, the UK Defence Secretary at the time of the crisis, testified before the House of Commons that until mid-January 1999, “the Kosovo Liberation Army [KLA] was responsible for more deaths in Kosovo than the Serbian authorities had been”. (Quoted, Noam Chomsky, Hegemony or Survival, Routledge, 2003, p.56)
The Guardian rallied to Blair’s cause:
“The only honorable course for Europe and America is to use military force to try to protect the people of Kosovo… If we do not act at all, or if there is a limited bombing campaign which still fails to change Milosevic’s mind, what is likely to be Kosovo’s future?” (Leader, ‘The sad need for force, Kosovo must be saved,’ The Guardian, March 23, 1999)
The following day, NATO began its 78-day blitz of Serbia.
Ten years later and almost one-half of the 2,000 death toll that so horrified Blair and the Guardian in 1999 has been reached by the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) in its massacre of 890 Palestinians in just over two weeks. Some 3,800 more have been wounded. The current slaughter is far more one-sided than Kosovo. There have so far been 3 Israeli civilian deaths and 10 soldiers killed: 4 of these were victims of their own ‘friendly fire’.
KLA attacks did nothing to temper media outrage at the spectacle of the Serbian state attacking tiny Kosovo. The focus was on Serbian “massacres” and “genocide”. The Observer wrote of the alleged killing of 45 Albanian civilians in Racak by Serb armed forces on January 16, 1999:
“History will judge that the defining moment for the international community took place on 16 January this year… Albanians returning after an attack by Serb security forces discovered the bodies of men they had left behind to look after the houses.” (Peter Beaumont, Justin Brown, John Hooper, Helena Smith and Ed Vulliamy, ‘Hi-tech war and primitive slaughter – Slobodan Milosevic is fighting on two fronts,’ The Observer, March 28, 1999)
Serb forces, the Observer wrote, were “pursuing their own version of a Balkan Final Solution”. (Ibid.)
In 1999, British and American media were full of talk of “genocide” in Kosovo. A Nexis database search showed that between 1998-1999 the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Washington Post, Newsweek and Time used “genocide” 220 times to describe Serb actions in Kosovo. (Email from Edward Herman to Media Lens, August 27, 2002)
We have found no examples of a British journalist describing Israeli actions as “genocidal” over the last month. Daily Mail columnist Melanie Phillips made rare use of the word on January 5:
“Many others also share the view that Israel is in the wrong. So why is a country [Israel] under attack from genocidal fanatics pilloried for defending its citizens against slaughter?” (Phillips, ‘Yes, this war is terrible. But the alternative was worse – for us all,’ Daily Mail, January 5, 2009)
Israel’s massacre is presented as a “war”, as a “Gaza conflict” between two sides engaged in “fighting”. This is the standard fiction, as Tim Llewellyn, the BBC’s former Middle East Correspondent, noted five years ago:
“In the news reporting of the domestic BBC TV bulletins, ‘balance’, the BBC’s crudely applied device for avoiding trouble, means that Israel’s lethal modern army is one force, the Palestinians, with their rifles and home-made bombs, the other ‘force’: two sides equally strong and culpable in a difficult dispute, it is implied, that could easily be sorted out if extremists on both sides would see reason and the leaders do as instructed by Washington…” (Llewellyn, ‘Why the BBC Ducks the Palestinian Story – Part 1’, Media Lens, January 15, 2004)
Norwegian doctor Mads Gilbert, one of two foreign doctors working at Gaza’s biggest hospital, al-Shifa, told CBS News:
“I’ve seen one military person among the hundreds that we have seen and treated. So anyone who tries to portray this as sort of a clean war against another army are lying. This is an all-out war against the civilian Palestinian population in Gaza and we can prove that with the numbers.” (CBS News, January 5, 2009; http://uk.youtube.com /watch?v=Ev6ojm62qwA)
Even the death toll cited above does little to communicate the true one-sidedness of the wider violence, injustice and cruelty. One hardly knows where to begin. For example, largely unmentioned by the media, prior to the latest invasion, 14 Israelis had been killed by mostly homemade rockets fired from Gaza over the last seven years as against 5,000 Palestinians killed in Israeli attacks. (Seumas Milne, ‘Israel’s onslaught on Gaza is a crime that cannot succeed,’ The Guardian, December 30, 2008; www.guardian.co.uk/ commentisfree/2008/dec/30/israel-and-the-palestinians-middle-east)
Consider the response of Blair and the Guardian to Israel’s mass killing. From Blair there is no longer talk of the need to send bombs and tanks to save a stricken population (Blair led calls for a ground war against Serbia). Instead:
“I think the position is that there are circumstances in which we could get an immediate ceasefire and that’s what people want to see. I think the circumstances focus very much around clear action to cut off the supply of arms and money from the tunnels that go from Egypt into Gaza. I think if there were strong, clear, definitive action on that, that would give us the best context to get an immediate ceasefire and to start to change the situation.” (Andrew Sparrow, ‘Immediate Gaza ceasefire is possible, says Tony Blair,’ The Guardian, January 6, 2009; www.guardian.co.uk/world/ 2009/jan/06/israelandthepalestinians-middleeast)
No Guardian editorials have proposed a massive military assault on Israel as the only “honorable course for Europe and America”. The question has not been asked: “If we do not act at all… what is likely to be Gaza’s future?” Instead, the country’s “leading liberal newspaper” is sensitive to the perspective of the Israeli killing machine:
“The ghost of Israel’s humiliation at the hands of Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006 hangs over this enterprise and Israel will want to exorcise it… Israel will judge the success of its operation on the extent to which it will have depleted Hamas’s command structure, as well as its ability to launch rockets.” (Leader, ‘Gaza ground assault: When victory is a hollow word,’ The Guardian, January 5, 2009)
As we will see, the claim that Israel is working merely to smash “Hamas’s command structure” is a classic liberal herring.
The Guardian’s solution: “There is only one way out of the political trap which Israeli forces are now entering, and that is an immediate ceasefire.” (Ibid.)
To be fair, a second leader did contemplate a slap on the wrist:
“If Israel presses on regardless, it should face an immediate suspension of all arms from the EU, as Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, proposes.” (Leader, ‘Gaza: No shelter,’ The Guardian, January 7, 2009)
As ever, Israeli politicians claim to have been heroically restraining themselves and their capacity for violence (a manifest source of pride) in the face of endless provocation. And yet, as recently as February-March last year 110 Palestinian civilians were killed during ‘Operation Winter Heat’. (See our earlier Media Alerts: ‘Israel’s Illegal Assault On The Gaza “Prison”‘, March 3, 2008, and ‘Israeli Deaths Matter More’, March 11, 2008)
This military violence is piled on the staggering economic violence of Israel’s blockade of Gaza. Prior to the latest offensive, John Ging who runs the Gaza operations of Unrwa, the UN agency that looks after Palestinian refugees, told the BBC last month:
“There’s one million on food aid, including 750,000 refugees. 80% are below the poverty line, meaning they live on less than $2 a day. Almost 100,000 jobs have gone in the last 18 months, since the total Israeli embargo came in. [Because that included most building materials] $93m of Unrwa construction projects, medical centres, houses for refugees, all are stopped. 3,200 out of 3,500 Gaza businesses have gone down in the siege.”
“There’s no ray of sunlight. It’s all going in the wrong direction. It’s all well documented and predictable.”
“The Quartet [of the US, UN, Russia and the EU] said a new approach was needed for Gaza. In fact there are even stricter sanctions.” (BBC online, ‘Bowen diary: The days before war,’ January 10, 2009; http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi /world/middle_east/7822048.stm)
During the ceasefire, Israel placed severe restrictions on the number of trucks allowed to bring food, fuel, cooking-gas canisters, spare parts for water and sanitation plants, and medical supplies to Gaza. Israeli historian, Avi Shlaim, professor of international relations at the University of Oxford, wrote in the Guardian:
“It is difficult to see how starving and freezing the civilians of Gaza could protect the people on the Israeli side of the border. But even if it did, it would still be immoral, a form of collective punishment that is strictly forbidden by international humanitarian law.” (Shlaim, ‘How Israel brought Gaza to the brink of humanitarian catastrophe,’ The Guardian, January 7, 2009; http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/ 2009/jan/07/gaza-israel-palestine)
“The Biblical injunction of an eye for an eye is savage enough. But Israel’s insane offensive against Gaza seems to follow the logic of an eye for an eyelash.”
It is the sheer cruelty of Israeli oppression that captures the world’s imagination. Or, more accurately, defies it.
The corporate media has been happy to echo the claim that Israel is “targeting Hamas” rather than the Palestinian people. In reality, the Palestinian people elected Hamas as its democratic government in 2006. And it is the Palestinian people who are paying the price now. The state of the art, US-supplied missiles, bombs and artillery shells are not being aimed at the regular army targets for which they were designed: tanks, command posts, trenches and bunkers. They are being fired into residential areas in one of the world’s most densely-populated strips of land.
The white phosphorus (WP) shells being used are incendiary airburst weapons designed to incinerate a wide target area. The weapon has been used by US forces in their infamous “shake ‘n’ bake” attacks on Iraqi insurgents in cities such as Fallujah. On the BBC’s World News, correspondent Ben Brown said WP shells were being used merely to illuminate targets in Gaza. (Brown, BBC World News, January 9)
Israel consistently claims that 80 per cent of those killed were Hamas “militants”. Al Haq, a Palestinian legal rights group, reports that in fact 80 per cent of Palestinian fatalities have been civilians. According to figures cited by the World Health Organisation, at least 40 per cent have been children. (Jonathan Cook, ‘Civilian death toll spurs legal action,’ The National, January 9, 2009; http://www.thenational.ae/article/ 20090109/FOREIGN/417838381/1002)
Medicins Sans Frontiers (MSF) characterised the death toll as reaching “alarming proportions” and indicative of “extreme violence indiscriminately affecting civilians.” (http://reliefweb.int/rw/rwb.nsf/db900sid/ TUJA-7N55DU?OpenDocument&rc=3&cc=pse)
Claims of careful targeting are hardly credible given that Israeli artillery shells hit three United Nations-run schools being used as refugee centres, killing more than 50 people. The UN had informed the Israeli military that the schools were refugee centres – GPS coordinates were provided. Israeli forces knew what they were attacking and they knew the centres were packed with the same families they had previously told to leave their homes to avoid attack.
Israel explained that Hamas fighters had been firing from within one of the schools. When the claim became indefensible, it was quietly withdrawn in “private” briefings to Westerners – a retraction barely reported anywhere. (http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=s0BRJS6WnMs)
The latest claim (Ben Brown, BBC World News, January 11) is that the UN-run school was hit by a stray mortar round. But just prior to the launch of the ground offensive, Israel shelled Palestine Square, Gaza City’s main shopping area, killing five Palestinians. They destroyed the American International School. They also destroyed a mosque in Beit Hanoun during evening prayers killing a dozen people. At least thirty civilians were killed in Zeitoun when a house was shelled the day after Israeli forces ordered 100 Palestinians to shelter there (Mel Frykberg, ‘Israel Fighting Also The UN,’ January 10, 2009; http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=45364). Were these all accidents?
Haaretz reported that, in approving the ground invasion, the Israeli government had taken into account the likely high number of Palestinian civilian casualties. On January 9, the paper reported that Lt. Colonel Amir, commander of a combat engineers unit, had told Israeli TV:
“We are very violent. We are not shying away from any method of preventing casualties among our troops.” (Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff, ‘Israel’s three alternatives for the future of the Gaza war,’ Haaretz, January 9, 2009; http://www.haaretz.com/hasen /spages/1053590.html)
Israeli media have reported that their commanders are unsurprised by the heavy civilian toll – the priority was indeed the protection of IDF soldiers:
“For us, being cautious means being aggressive,” one told Israel’s Haaretz newspaper. “From the minute we entered, we’ve acted like we’re at war. That creates enormous damage on the ground. I just hope those who have fled the area of Gaza City in which we are operating will describe the shock. Maybe someone there will sober up before it continues.” (Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff, ‘Using aggressive tactics in Gaza to save soldiers’ lives,’ Haaretz, January 7, 2009; http://www.haaretz.com/ hasen/spages/1053401.html)
These are comments which define the methods and aims indicated by the term ‘terrorism’.
On January 6, Israeli internal security minister Meir Shitreet responded to the massive civilian casualties on BBC’s Newsnight:
“The French say, ‘La guerre comme la guerre’.” (January 6, 2009; http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/ b00gnjlm/Newsnight_06_01_2009/)
War is indeed war, but the civilian population of Gaza is not at war – the Geneva Conventions protecting civilian life apply.
Last year, Shitreet suggested that residential Gaza neighbourhoods from which Hassam rockets were fired should be obliterated: “any other country would have already gone in and level [sic] the area, which is exactly what I think the IDF should do – decide on a neighborhood in Gaza and level it.” (Attila Somfalvi, ‘Sheetrit: We should level Gaza neighbourhoods,’ Ynet, February 10, 2008; http://www.ynet.co.il/english/articles/0,7340,L-3504922,00.html)
He added: “We should let them know ‘you have to leave, this area will be taken down tomorrow’ and just take it down – that will show them we mean business.”
Using violence to show a civilian population “we mean business” is, again, terrorism. Needless to say, Shitreet was advocating major war crimes.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has declared that Gazan civilians should not be allowed “to live normal lives”; and internal security minister Avi Dichter has previously demanded that Israel take action “irrespective of the cost to the Palestinians”. (Jonathan Cook, ‘Disappearing Palestine,’ Zed Books, London, 2008, p.132)
Preparing The Propaganda For War
Well in advance of the invasion, Israel developed plans to counter the inevitable images of bloodied children and tiny, dismembered bodies. Avi Pazner, Israel’s former ambassador to Italy and France, drafted in to support the propaganda component of the offensive, commented:
“Whenever Israel is bombing, it is hard to explain our position to the world. But at least this time everything was ready and in place.” (Anshel Pfeffer, ‘Israel claims success in the PR war,’ Jewish Chronicle, December 31, 2008; http://www.thejc.com/articles/ israel-claims-success-pr-war)
Eight months ago, the perfectly named National Information Directorate was formed within the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office. This is now coordinating media operations across the various government departments. The Directorate began preparing for a Gaza offensive some six months ago. Yarden Vatikay, director of the National Information Directorate, told reporters:
“One of our lessons from the Lebanon War  was that there were too many uniforms in the coverage, and that doesn’t come over very positively.”
As a result, there are now: “Fewer military officers; more women; tightly controlled messages; and ministers kept on a short leash.” (Ibid.)
A press centre was set up in the Israeli town of Sderot, near the border with Gaza, so that foreign reporters would spend as much time as possible in the main civilian area affected by Hamas rockets.
Israeli ministers have also been ordered not to give unauthorised interviews to avoid a repeat of last year’s PR disaster when Deputy Defence Minister Matan Vilnai threatened the Palestinians with a “holocaust”.
“The more Qassam [rocket] fire intensifies and the rockets reach a longer range, they will bring upon themselves a bigger shoah because we will use all our might to defend ourselves.” (‘Israeli minister warns of Palestinian “holocaust”,’ The Guardian, February 29, 2008; http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/ 2008/feb/29/israelandthepalestinians1)
‘Shoah’ is the Hebrew word normally used to refer to the Jewish Holocaust at the hands of the Nazis.
A key deception promoted by the National Information Directorate involves the claim that the latest cycle of violence began when Hamas broke a four-month ceasefire agreed last June. In fact, Israel broke the ceasefire when it launched a raid into Gaza on November 4, killing six people. On November 5, the Guardian reported:
“A four-month ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza was in jeopardy today after Israeli troops killed six Hamas gunmen in a raid into the territory.
“Hamas responded by firing a wave of rockets into southern Israel, although no one was injured. The violence represented the most serious break in a ceasefire agreed in mid-June, yet both sides suggested they wanted to return to atmosphere of calm.” (Rory McCarthy, ‘Gaza truce broken as Israeli raid kills six Hamas gunmen,’ The Guardian, November 5, 2008; http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008 /nov/05/israelandthepalestinians)
The Guardian added:
“Until now it had appeared both Israel and Hamas, which seized full control of Gaza last summer, had an interest in maintaining the ceasefire. For Israel it has meant an end to the daily barrage of rockets landing in southern towns, particularly Sderot.”
On December 27, at the start of the latest attacks, Reuters reported that US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had “blamed Hamas for breaking a cease-fire with Israel, which launched air strikes on Gaza killing more than 200 people.” Rice commented:
“The United States strongly condemns the repeated rocket and mortar attacks against Israel and holds Hamas responsible for breaking the cease-fire and for the renewal of violence in Gaza.” (Tabassum Zakaria, ‘Rice: Hamas broke cease-fire,’ News24, December 27, 2008; http://www.news24.com/News24/World/News/0,,2-10-1462_2446278,00.html)
Alan Dershowitz wrote in the Telegraph on January 10:
“Hamas deliberately broke the ceasefire by firing rockets into southern Israel from densely populated cities, using the areas around schools and mosques as launching points.” (Dershowitz, ‘Don’t play into the hands of Hamas,’ Daily Telegraph, January 10, 2009)
The BBC’s version of events from January 9 was more subtly deceptive:
“The ceasefire, brokered by the Egyptians, was often broken in practice… Events began to come to a climax after the Israelis raided southern Gaza on 4 November 2008 to destroy smuggling tunnels.” (BBC online, January 9, 2009;
No mention was made of the six human lives also destroyed in the attack. The same BBC article, “Q&A: Gaza conflict,” asked:
“What casualties have the Hamas rockets caused?
“Since 2001, when the rockets were first fired, more than 8,600 have hit southern Israel, nearly 6,000 of them since Israel withdrew from Gaza in August 2005. The rockets have killed 28 people and injured hundreds more. In the Israeli town of Sderot near Gaza, 90% of residents have had a missile exploding in their street or an adjacent one.” (Ibid.)
The article noted that “Palestinian medical sources say that about 700 people have been killed in Gaza during Israel’s current campaign there.” Again, curiously, despite mentioning that Hamas rockets have killed 28 Israelis since 2001, the BBC made no mention of the fact that 5,000 Palestinians had been killed by Israeli strikes over the same period prior to the current Israeli offensive – a figure fast approaching 6,000.
Plan Dalet – A Hidden History Of Ethnic Cleansing
Defending the BBC’s long record of biased reporting, the BBC’s Middle East editor, Jeremy Bowen, responded: “we have reported the facts about Israel’s occupation many times, and we will do so again.” (Bowen, email forwarded to Media Lens, January 2, 2009)
But the “facts” of the occupation are nowhere in sight.
Unknown to most of the British public, huge numbers of Palestinians were forced from their land when the Israeli state was formed in 1948. The Israeli historian Ilan Pappé notes that more than half of Palestine’s native population, close to 800,000 people, were uprooted and 531 villages were destroyed. (Pappé, ‘The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine,’ Oneworld Publications, Oxford, 2006)
The intention of ‘Plan Dalet’, carried out by the military forces of what later became Israel, was to ethnically cleanse a large part of Palestine of hostile “Arab elements”. Numerous massacres occurred at Deir Yassin, Ayn Al-Zaytun, Tantura and elsewhere. Avi Shlaim, another Israeli historian, writes:
“The novelty and audacity of the plan lay in the orders to capture Arab villages and cities, something [Jewish forces] had never attempted before… Palestinian society disintegrated under the impact of the Jewish military offensive that got underway in April, and the exodus of the Palestinians was set in motion… by ordering the capture of Arab cities and the destruction of villages, it both permitted and justified the forcible expulsion of Arab civilians.” (Shlaim, ‘The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World,’ W. W. Norton & Company, New York, 2000, p.31)
Speaking in 1955, prominent Israeli military leader and politician, Moshe Dayan, asked:
“What cause have we to complain about their fierce hatred for us? For eight years now they sit in their refugee camps in Gaza, and before their eyes we turn into our homestead the land and villages in which they and their forefathers have lived.” (Quoted, ibid., p.101)
The Palestinians were forced to live as refugees in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and on the West Bank (of the Jordan River) and the Gaza Strip. A series of conflicts and, at times, outright war followed between Israel and its Arab neighbours. During the 1967 (Six Day) War, Israel occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem (previously under Jordanian control), the Gaza Strip and the Sinai peninsula (Egypt) and the Golan Heights (Syria). This occupation brought many Palestinian refugees under Israeli military control.
Jerusalem, a religious centre for Muslims, Jews and Christians, became a major centre of conflict. The Israelis also built illegal settlements in the newly occupied areas of Gaza and the West Bank and exploited natural resources, in particular taking control of vital water resources.
Shlaim writes that these settlements were part of a systematic policy intended to exert strategic and military control which in this case involved, “surrounding the huge Greater Jerusalem area with two concentric circles of settlements with access roads and military positions.” (Ibid., p.582)
The public is able to learn almost nothing of this from media reporting, as the Glasgow University Media Group has documented many times. In their book, Bad News From Israel, Greg Philo and Mike Berry wrote of one study of media performance:
“The lack of historical knowledge made it very difficult for people to understand key elements of the conflict. For example, some [viewers] had written that ‘land’ was an issue but there was a great deal of confusion over what this meant. Another participant described how his understanding included no sense of the Palestinian case that land had been taken from them.” (Philo and Berry, ‘Bad News From Israel,’ Pluto Books, London, 2004, p.216)
A Media Lens reader, Chris Newman, conducted a survey of 19 BBC online articles on the Gaza crisis on January 5, 2009. As examples of his analysis, he found:
1. Mentions of refugees of 1948 or 1967, who make up the bulk of the Gaza population and are entitled to right of return under international law – 1 mention in a side article.
2. Mentions of the Occupation of Gaza (as stipulated by the UN it is still occupied) – 2 mentions in a side article.
As Newman concluded: “very little context to the foundations of Palestinian resistance is given. The UN has reported that it is the Occupation that is the cause of the Palestinian resistance, and as such these are extremely important points.”
It is standard media practice for such context to be entirely absent or buried out of sight.
Deeper Motives – Israel’s Not-So-Hidden Agenda
Journalists fully accept Israel’s claims that its actions were taken to stop Hamas firing rockets into Israel from Gaza. The media has also speculated that the goal is to restore Israel’s military ‘credibility’. A Financial Times editorial observed:
“The overall aim of the politico-military establishment… appears to be re-establish the credibility of Israel’s deterrent power, lost in the 34-days’ war against Hizbollah in Lebanon in 2006, which offered a very public exhibition of the limits to Israel’s otherwise overwhelming military might. Now, Mr Barak says, Israel is going to ‘change the rules of the game’.” (Editorial, ‘A dangerous gamble in Gaza,’ Financial Times, January 4, 2009; http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/e56ac646-da93- 11dd-8c28-000077b07658.html)
But insightful, independent commentators have been willing to look at the deeper issues. Nazareth-based journalist Jonathan Cook comments:
“The politicians and generals have been preparing for this attack for many months, possibly years – a fact alone that suggests they have bigger objectives than commonly assumed. Israel seized this particular moment – with western politicians dozing through the holidays and a change over of administrations in Washington – because it ensured the longest period to implement its plan without diplomatic interference.” (Cook, ‘Objectives bigger than commonly assumed,’ The National, January 7, 2009; http://www.thenational.ae/article/ 20090107/FOREIGN/679011682/1140)
Cook argues that Israel’s bigger objectives can be achieved whether Hamas falls or remains, so long as it is crushed politically. But what +are+ these objectives? And why does the corporate media have nothing to say about them?
Avi Shlaim observes:
“The declared aim of the war is to weaken Hamas and to intensify the pressure until its leaders agree to a new ceasefire on Israel’s terms. The undeclared aim is to ensure that the Palestinians in Gaza are seen by the world simply as a humanitarian problem and thus to derail their struggle for independence and statehood.” (Shlaim, ‘How Israel brought Gaza to the brink of humanitarian catastrophe,’ The Guardian, January 7, 2009; http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/ 2009/jan/07/gaza-israel-palestine)
Historically, the United States – Israel’s armourer and diplomatic sponsor – has played a supporting role, belying its carefully-crafted image as a “neutral broker”. Thus, the US was the only country to abstain from last week’s United Nations Security Council resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire. A BBC report noted blandly that “the US abstention weakened the impact of the vote because Washington’s support would have placed more pressure on Israel to halt its offensive”. (‘Bombs hit Gaza as UN calls for truce,’ January 9, 2009; http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/ middle_east/7819371.stm)
A glimpse of the real US role, buried in almost all mainstream coverage, was provided by Israel’s Haaretz newspaper. The US ambassador to the UN, Zalmay Khalilzad, had “received explicit instructions from his superiors at the State Department to torpedo any initiative proposed by the Arab bloc which is designed to grant the Security Council the status of an official arbiter that will have direct involvement with disentangling the Gaza crisis.” (Shlomo Shamir, Haaretz correspondent, and Reuters, ‘U.S. to foil any Arab bid to push Security Council resolution for Gaza cease-fire,’ Haaretz, January 5, 2009; http://www.haaretz.com/ hasen/spages/1052887.html)
Hamas has repeatedly declared its readiness to negotiate a long-term ceasefire with the Jewish state within its pre-1967 borders. But Israel has rejected the offer, just as it rejected the Arab League peace plan of 2002; and just as it has always rejected the international consensus for a peaceful solution in the Middle East. Why? Because the threat of such ‘peace offensives’ would involve unacceptable concessions and compromises. The well-known Israeli writer Amos Elon has written of the “panic and unease among our political leadership” caused by Arab peace proposals. (Cited, Noam Chomsky, ‘Fateful Triangle,’ Pluto Press, London, 1999, p.75)
The Palestinians are seen as an obstacle by Israel’s leaders; an irritant to be subjugated. Noam Chomsky writes:
“Traditionally over the years, Israel has sought to crush any resistance to its programs of takeover of the parts of Palestine it regards as valuable, while eliminating any hope for the indigenous population to have a decent existence enjoying national rights.” (‘Chomsky on the US, Israel, and Gaza,’ January 8, 2009; http://www.thecommentfactory.com /noam-chomsky-on-the-us-israel-and-gaza-1298)
And so, as Chomsky notes:
“The key feature of the occupation has always been humiliation: they [the Palestinians] must not be allowed to raise their heads. The basic principle, often openly expressed, is that the ‘Araboushim’ – a term that belongs with ‘nigger’ or ‘kike’ – must understand who rules this land and who walks in it with head lowered and eyes averted.” (Chomsky, ‘Fateful Triangle,’ op. cit., p.489)
The full title of Jonathan Cook’s latest book indicates the reality underpinning current Israeli policy: ‘Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s experiments in human despair.’ Behind “a mask of false legitimacy”, Israel “has carried out the destruction of Palestinian identity and living space and the theft of resources.” (Cook, ‘Disappearing Palestine,’ p.70)
Veteran Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery concurs, arguing that the Gaza blockade is “a scientific experiment designed to find out how much one can starve a population and turn its life into hell before they break.” Avnery adds: “The present war is a continuation of the experiment by other means.” (Uri Avnery, ‘Molten Lead in Gaza,’ Counterpunch, January 2-4, 2009; http://www.counterpunch.org/ avnery01022009.html)
Reporting from inside Israel, Cook has carefully documented the longstanding oppression of the 4 million Palestinians in the occupied territories of Gaza and the West Bank, as well as the 1.2 million second-class Palestinian citizens within Israel itself. Because of their relatively high birth rate, Palestinians are seen by many Israelis as a “demographic time-bomb”; a threat to the Jewish nature of the Israeli state.
In 2002, General Eitan Ben Elyahu, a former head of Israel’s air force, declared on Israeli television that “eventually we will have to thin out the number of Palestinians living in the territories.” (Cook, op. cit., pp.134-135)
This vision of ethnic cleansing would have been familiar to David Ben-Gurion, one of the main architects of Israel and its first prime minister. The vision is a campaign of bombing, starving and maiming to terrorise the Palestinian population into flight; a terrible echo of 1948. The ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948, was massive and brutal, but incomplete: 80 per cent not 100 per cent of the Palestinians were expelled.
Cook warns that the political rise of Avigdor Lieberman, an immigrant from Moldova who leads a far-right party, is a sign of things to come. Lieberman, says Cook, “is the likely face of Israel’s political future. He has been publicly promoting, and garnering support for, the expulsion of Israel’s Palestinian minority, a policy that has been secretly formulated by more mainstream leaders for some time.” (Ibid., pp.139-140)
Israeli historian Benny Morris, previously a liberal voice, “is one of a growing number of Israelis espousing this hardline policy of expulsion, or ‘transfer’ as it is more commonly, and coyly, referred to.” (Ibid., p.141)
Cook argues that Israel’s real intention is to replicate the apartheid model of South Africa; to transform Palestinian cities into Bantustans in a sea of Israeli-dominated territory, leaving Israeli settlers in possession of the arable land and vital water resources. He warns:
“The apartheid model is unlikely to be the end of the story, however… Another solution – transfer – will be needed. The Israeli public is already being softened up, with government ministers openly subscribing to it. Palestinians will have to be encouraged, or made, to leave their homes and land.” (Ibid., pp.149-150)
Ilan Pappé notes that leading Zionist figures have long held such views. One of them, Yossef Weitz, wrote in 1940: “it is our right to transfer the Arabs” and “The Arabs should go!” (Pappé, ‘The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine,’ OneWorld, Oxford, 2006, p.23)
In 1948, David Ben-Gurion argued:
“We must use terror, assassination, intimidation, land confiscation, and the cutting of all social services to rid the Galilee of its Arab population.” (Edward S. Herman and Grace Kwinjeh, ‘Ethnic Cleansing: Constructive, Benign, and Nefarious (Kafka Era Studies, No. 1),’ ZNet, August 9, 2006; http://www.zmag.org/znet/viewArticle/3419)
Fifty years later, in 1998, Ariel Sharon made the same point:
“It is the duty of Israeli leaders to explain to public opinion, clearly and courageously, a certain number of facts that are forgotten with time. The first of these is that there is no Zionism, colonization or Jewish state without the eviction of the Arabs and the expropriation of their lands.” (Ibid.)
On May 24, 2006, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told a joint session of congress that “I believed and to this day still believe, in our people’s eternal and historic right to this entire land.” (Ibid.)
Disturbingly, up to 60 per cent of Israeli Jews support schemes to encourage or force Arabs to leave both the occupied territories and Israel. (Cook, op. cit., p.141)
Edward Herman and Grace Kwinjeh point out that Israel’s brutal invasion of Lebanon in 2006 was portrayed as an act of self-defense against a threat from Hezbollah. In fact, as Kaveh L Afrasiabi wrote, this was a war “to annex a major chunk of Lebanese territory without necessarily saying so, under the pretext of security buffer and deterrence against future attacks on Israel”. (Quoted, Herman and Kwinjeh, op. cit.)
This drive to “redeem the land”, in Zionist parlance, requires the forcible takeover of land in the possession of others. As such, Herman and Kwinjeh note, it “constitutes a model case of a quest for a ‘Greater’ entity – here a Greater Israel – a drive which in the case of Milosevic’s and the Serbs’ alleged drive for a ‘Greater Serbia’ was presented as a prime element of illegal activity in the ICTY [International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia] indictment of Milosevic.” (Ibid.)
As Chomsky says so well, the violent reactions of Hamas “can be condemned as criminal and politically foolish, but those who offer no alternative have no moral grounds to issue such judgments, particularly those in the US who choose to be directly implicated in these ongoing crimes – by their words, their actions, or their silence.” (http://www.thecommentfactory.com /noam-chomsky-on-the-us-israel-and-gaza-1298)
The ongoing assault on Gaza, then, is about far more than restoring military pride, preventing rocket attacks and crushing Hamas. It is about Israel’s strategic plan to deliver the Palestinian people to an abysmal fate in pursuit of the Zionist dream.
As is the case for all major US-UK allies, honest analysis of state policy of this level of ugliness is all but unthinkable for a mainstream corporate media that is anything but free and independent.
The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. If you do write to journalists, we strongly urge you to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.
Write to Jeremy Bowen
Email: [email protected]
Write to Helen Boaden, director of BBC News
Email: [email protected]
Jon Snow, Channel 4 news presenter
Email: [email protected]
David Mannion, ITV news editor in chief
Email: [email protected]
Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian
Email: [email protected]
Roger Alton, editor of the Independent
Email: [email protected]