After nearly a month of trying, Netanyahu and his hawkish government have got their war, and once again the Palestinians of Gaza have borne the brunt of it. Last night Israel carried out 160 air strikes on the Gaza Strip, bringing Palestinian casualties to 25 dead and 70 wounded, including four women and three children. So far the IDF has attacked 440 targets in Gaza as part of ‘Operation Protective Edge’, and there is a lot worse to come, as Israel continues to mass troops for a ground invasion.
Operation Protective Edge is so similar to its predecessors that anyone who might have fallen into a coma in 2009 or 2013 and woke up now might be forgiven for thinking that time has truly frozen still. For the people of Gaza, it is a recurring nightmare, a ritual of high-tech violence that seems almost predestined to occur every two or three years. Once again, Gazans have begun receiving the phonecalls and messages fom the IDF telling them to leave their homes because they are about to be bombed.
Once again, Israeli military spokesmen talk of bombing ‘terror sites’, and ‘ sites of terror activity’ and targeting Hamas’s ‘command-and-control centres’. Once again the ghastly Minister of Propaganda Mark Regev stalks the tv studios with his dead eyes and puppet-like mouth, to talk about putting an end to Hamas rocket attacks and ‘dismantling Hamas’s military machine’ and no other country could tolerate aggression, etc, etc
Once again, as in Operation Hot Winter, Operation Cast Lead, and Operation Pillar of Defense, Israel has presented its latest gratuitous assault as a response to Palestinian terrorism, and once again the powers-that-be have accepted this justification, and put the blame for this confrotnation exclusively on Hamas.
‘No country can accept rocket fire aimed at civilians and we support Israel’s right to defend itself against these vicious attacks,’ says White House spokesman Josh Earnest, like a zombie reading from an autocue.
Entirely absent from such condemnation is any recognition whatsoever that this was a confrontation which Israel wanted, and did everything it could to provoke. As Justin Shwegel points out in Asia Times Online, the Israeli authorites knew from the outset that the three teenage hitchhikers had been killed, not kidnapped, and arrested the people it thought responsible within days of their disappearance.
Yet from June 12 until last week, the Israeli government suppressed these facts and maintained the fiction that it was looking for the teenagers. During that time the IDF carried out a massive military operation in the West Bank, raiding villages and towns, demolishing and vandalising private homes and offices, killing 5 Palestinians, and arresting 700 people, 150 of whom were placed in administrative detention without charge.
As Human Rights Watch observed, these operations specifically targeted Hamas, which Netanyahu blamed for the kidnappings, even though Hamas denied any involvement in them. Just to make it absolutely clear: none of this was intended to help ‘find’ the teenagers, since the Israeli authorities already knew they were dead. It was intended to target, humiliate and provoke Hamas, in order to destroy the prospect of a national unity government, which the Israeli government has condemned ever since the reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah.
So what we are looking at is an act of manipulation and cynicism on an epic scale, yet no major Western political figure has had a thing to say about it. And now that the rockets are flying back and forth, the last five weeks have been forgotten and we are back to the familiar narrative of Israel’s right to defend itself.
As on previous occasions, Hamas has once again proven itself to the be kind of enemy that Israel might have wanted to invent, if it didn’t already exist, and done everything that Netanyahu could have wanted it to. Just to be clear: Hamas should not be firing rockets, not only because firing rockets at civilians is a war crime whoever does it and for whatever reason, but because this form of ‘resistance’ accomplishes nothing at all for the Palestinians, either politically or militarily.
The rockets fired by Hamas and other Palestinian organizations may disrupt ordinary life in some southern Israeli cities or even further; they may force civilians to take to shelters and even blow up the occasional car or kill someone, but these are mere pin-pricks compared with the vast high-tech arsenal that Israel has at its disposal.
Even if Israeli spokesmen and Western governments wilfully ignore this imbalance, the Gazans cannot avoid it or escape it. It is grossly irresponsible of Hamas and the other resistance groups in Gaza to engage in ‘military’ action that repeatedly exposes a defenseless Palestinian population to the inevitable brutal and overwhelming retaliation that always follows.
It is also politically senseless. Palestinian resistance has never been more effective than it was during the first Intifada, when virtually the entire population was engaged in a struggle against the occupation which was waged – mostly – through militant, non-military means across a whole swathe of different arenas.
The IDF struggled to cope with this, because it always feels more comfortable in strictly military confrontations that it has been trained to fight and knows it can win. Rocket-versus-rocket resistance may provide a symbolic expression of Palestinian indominatibility, but it marginalizes Palestinian civil society and limits resistance to a feeble and ineffective militarism, leaving Gazans unable to do anything but shelter from Israeli bombings and tend to their dead and wounded.
At the same time, it enables Israel to represent itself internationally as a victim, at a time when even the Israeli government recognizes that support for the Zionist project is at an all-time low.
That said, everything that Israel has done these last few weeks was intended to goad, humiliate and provoke Hamas – the better to continue its division and domination of the Palestinians and the ongoing denial of their rights, in which the states that are now supporting the latest blitz of Gaza have so disgracefully colluded.
So whatever mistakes Hamas may have made, Gaza’s groundhog day cannot be reduced once again to the old lie about how best to guarantee Israel’s security, or even as an act of revenge for the murdered teenagers, and must be seen for what it is: as ‘political violence’ in the broadest sense, whose ultimate target is not Hamas, but the dreams of the Palestinian people and the prospect of peace with real justice.