Gaza: Israel Withdraws

Even in the afterglow of Inauguration Day, we’re keeping up on the news from Gaza, my darlings. It wouldn’t do to get distracted by shiny things. Considering how the ongoing crisis between Israel and the Palestinians destabilizes the Middle East, it’s worth keeping a close eye on.

The news is mixed. On the good side, Israel has withdrawn its forces:

The Israel Defense Forces on Wednesday said it had withdrawn all of its soldiers from Gaza, three and a half weeks after launching Operation Cast Lead against Hamas in the coastal territory.

“As of this morning, the last of the Israel Defence Forces soldiers have left the Gaza Strip and the forces have deployed outside of Gaza and are prepared for any occurrences,” an army spokesman said.

On the bad side, there’s been mortar fire and some shootings:

Israel reported mortar shelling from Gaza on Tuesday. The Palestinians have said Israeli troops shot to death two farmers since the truce took hold.

[snip]

The Israel Air Force on Tuesday attacked areas in the Gaza Strip from which Palestinians fired mortar shells. The Israel Defense Forces said that about eight mortar shells were shot from near a central Gaza refugee camp, apparently by Hamas. Two of the shells landed in the Strip and the rest fell in open territory in the western Negev near the border.

At this stage, the IDF is holding its fire after its attack at around 6 P.M. Tuesday.

The Palestinians also fired light weapons into Israel on Tuesday, from both north and south of the Kissufim crossing. An explosive charge was also apparently set off.

Not good.

The reporting’s too sketchy to determine what exactly is happening – after the lies Israel told during the invasion, I’m disinclined to believe their claims that it’s all Hamas’s fault. But I’m also not going to be shocked in the least if some pissed-off Palestinians have ignored the cease-fire in the interest of extracting a pound or two of flesh.

After all, there’s plenty to be pissed about:

As outside observers enter Gaza, we’re learning more about what has happened during the Israeli attack. What they are seeing is devastating – and is leading to accusations of Israeli war crimes.

[snip]

Amnesty International reported Monday on the findings of a four-person fact-finding team who have just been allowed to Gaza. The team included a weapons expert who said:

“Yesterday, we saw streets and alleyways littered with evidence of the use of white phosphorus, including still burning wedges and the remnants of the shells and canisters fired by the Israeli army…White phosphorus is a weapon intended to provide a smokescreen for troop movements on the battlefield. It is highly incendiary, air burst and its spread effect is such that it that should never be used on civilian areas”.

And their conclusion is that the Israeli use in Gaza “is a war crime:”

“Such extensive use of this weapon in Gaza’s densely populated residential neighbourhoods is inherently indiscriminate. Its repeated use in this manner, despite evidence of its indiscriminate effects and its toll on civilians, is a war crime,” said Donatella Rovera, Amnesty’s researcher on Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

They’ve left behind plenty of outrage, and there’s that small matter of having destroyed the very security forces that might have enforced a cease-fire.

It’s not over. Not by any means.

Gaza: What Israel Gained

For now, the fighting has stopped. Bombs aren’t falling, rockets aren’t firing. It may seem to a naive observer that Israel met its objectives.

But look deeper, and you see that all they’ve done is make a horrible situation worse.

The threat of imminent violence is still there:

The 22-day war ended without surrender. Neither Israel nor Hamas, the Islamist movement that controls Gaza, made any concessions, except to stop fighting temporarily.

“The essence of this is you have two completely separate cease-fires, with no underpinnings in them of agreement or understanding, and no resolution of the original causes of the conflict,” said Alistair Crooke, a former British intelligence officer and former European Union adviser on Palestinian issues. “On one level, it’s back to square one, and all of the elements of the situation are back to where they were before the war.”

Although Hamas sustained the heavier losses, by a lopsided margin, Israeli officials acknowledged that the movement could quickly rebuild its political and military wings and that it still posed a potent long-term threat to Israel.

The chance of enduring peace is further away than ever, especially since right-wing hawks are poised to poison Israeli politics still further:

And prospects for the negotiations with the Palestinian Authority and Syria that have been central to Kadima’s platform look shakier than ever.

Many believe the Israeli operation has further weakened the legitimacy of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, the negotiating partner on the Palestinian side.

“I don’t think we have a peace agenda now – Syria doesn’t want to talk any more, the Palestinians are in a very delicate situation,” says David Nachmias, Professor of Government at the Interdisciplinary Center, an academic institute north of Tel Aviv.

[snip]

And Prof Doron points out that an electorate that was already right-leaning has moved further right, as evident in gains for the Yisrael Beiteinu party of far-right Avigdor Lieberman.

They’ve earned a reputation for senseless brutality:

“We walked at the head of a group of women and we waved white flags. We managed to pass three houses on the street and then I saw an Israeli soldier 40 meters away aiming his weapon at us,” said Yasmin A-Najar. “I thought he wanted us to come closer. Ruwahiya and I continued to walk and suddenly the soldier shot at us.”

Yasmin was wounded in her right leg and Ruwahiya fell on the street with her head bleeding. The rest of the women panicked and scattered, hiding while the shooting continued.

Yasmin said she tried to return and help Ruwahiya but the soldiers fired at her. They also shot at the ambulance driver who arrived and he was forced to turn back, she said. When Ruwahiya was finally evacuated at 8 P.M., she was already dead.

And Hamas is not broken:

The top Hamas leader in Gaza, Ismail Haniya, said Israel had “failed to achieve its goals”.

In a speech broadcast on Hamas TV, he said: “God has granted us a great victory, not for one faction, or party, or area, but for our entire people.”

Hamas said it would hold fire for a week to give Israel time to withdraw its forces from the Gaza Strip.

A spokesman for Hamas’ military wing, Abu Ubaida, said its rocket capabilities had not been affected by the conflict.

“We hereby stress that our rockets are being developed and are piling up, and that the enemy will receive more rockets and God willing, our rockets will hit more targets,” he said in a news conference broadcast live on Hamas’ al-Aqsa TV.

I fail to see how this insanity served Israel’s long-term interests. All they’ve done is created sympathy for the Palestinians and broken fertile ground for extremism and terrorism.

Gaza: Returning to Devastation

Hamas has turned the tables on Israel by declaring its own cease-fire and reiterating its demands:

Hamas announced an immediate cease-fire by its militants and allied groups in Gaza on Sunday, giving Israel a week to pull out its troops from the coastal territory.

Israel, which mounted an offensive against Hamas three weeks ago to halt years of rocket attacks, agreed to silence its guns and ground its aircraft early Sunday.

“We the Palestinian resistance factions declare a cease-fire from our side in Gaza and we confirm our stance that the enemy’s troops must withdraw from Gaza within a week,” said Damascus-based Hamas official Moussa Abu Marzouk.

Ayman Taha, a Hamas official in Cairo for talks with Egypt on a truce deal, demanded that Israel open all of Gaza’sw border crossings to allow in food and other goods to meet the “basic needs for our people.”

This is a brilliant move on their part. It shows they’re willing to play the diplomacy game, and takes back the initiative. Hamas is bruised, battered and bloody, but refuses to back down. I think this is a signal to the rest of the world that, despite attempts to declare them nothing more than a terrorist group, they’re a duly-elected government that intends to govern. And they’re going to have to be treated as such.

I’m not sure about the borders, but it looks like Israeli troops may soon be leaving Palestinian soil:

Olmert told European leaders visiting Jerusalem on Sunday evening that in the wake of the cease-fire, Israel planned to withdraw all of its troops as soon as possible. He said that such a move would come when the situation between Israel and Gaza was “stable.”

That stability may be a wee bit hard to achieve:

Meanwhile, although Hamas’s leadership said they’d stop firing missiles, the missiles have kept firing. Why? Well, at a guess “Hamas’s leadership” is a lot less powerful than it used to be since the Israelis assassinated most of it. And the security forces who used to make sure that missiles didn’t get fired if Hamas’s Leadership didn’t want them to be fired, well they were the first and main target of Israel’s strikes. It’s almost as if Israel wanted to make sure that Hamas’s leadership couldn’t control their military wing.

That’s a recipe for catastrophe, and Israel won’t have anyone to blame but themselves. Hamas showed itself capable of controlling other militant groups’ activities during the six-month cease-fire. With their security forces destroyed, angry Palestinians with access to rockets won’t have much standing in their way. Just the excuse Israel will need for yet another invasion.

Of course, invading under indictments may prove a little tricky:

Israel is preparing for a wave of lawsuits by pro-Palestinian organizations overseas against Israelis involved in the Gaza fighting, claiming they were responsible for war crimes due to the harsh results stemming from the IDF’s actions against Palestinian civilians and their property.

Senior Israeli ministers have expressed serious fears during the past few days about the possibility that Israel will be pressed to agree to an international investigation of the losses among non-combatants during Operation Cast Lead; or alternately, that Israelis will be faced with personal suits, such as happened to Israeli officers who were accused of war crimes in Britain for their actions during the second intifada.

It wouldn’t sadden me a bit to see Olmert and a few other of Israel’s hawks stuffed in the Hague with our own war criminals. Should we all splurge to buy them a vacation in Amsterdam?

Israel’s doing its best, now that the true extent of the destruction will be revealed, to craft its alibi:

With this in mind, Israel is reportedly “readying a new offensive — the battle for public opinion.” AFP reports Israel has begun compiling information to try to prove that many of the 4,000 residential buildings, 51 government buildings, and 20 mosques it hit during the offensive were legitimate targets used by Hamas militants. At least six Israeli ministers will be “fanning out to different countries to press home Israel’s view of the conduct of the war.” Welfare Minister Isaac Herzog said Israel is aiming to prevent an ‘over-dramatization‘ of the facts.”

I’m not quite sure how you can over-dramatize facts that are dramatic enough in and of themselves.

First, an illustration:


That was the death toll before the war even ended. That’s a hell of a lot of dead women and children to have to explain.

Then there’s the evidence of new weapons used:

Some Palestinian casualties in the Gaza Strip were wounded by a new type of weapon that even doctors with previous experience in war zones do not recognize, according to Dr. Erik Fosse, a Norwegian cardiologist who worked at Gaza’s Shifa Hospital for 11 days, during Operation Cast Lead.

However, he added in a telephone conversation from Oslo, most casualties were people hit by shrapnel from conventional explosives.

Fosse, a department head at a university hospital in Oslo, worked in Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation and several times in Lebanon, also in 2006. That was when he first heard about the new kind of weapon, but did not see any such wounds with his own eyes.

The unknown weapon appears to mainly affect the body’s lower part, he said. It severs the legs, leaving burns around the stump, small punctures in the skin and internal bleeding.

[snip]

Fosse and a Norwegian colleague, Mads Gilbert, arrived in Gaza on December 31 and remained until January 10. They were financed by the Norwegian government.

On his return, Fosse submitted a report to his government in which he accused the IDF of deliberately targeting civilians. Fosse said he believes Israel deliberately chose to attack while We
sterners working for international organizations were back home for the Christmas vacation.

“The Palestinian witnesses, as medical workers, are very accurate in their reports, but if we hadn’t been there to confirm their testimony, it would all have been presented as Hamas propaganda,” he said.

Remember that, when Israel starts presenting its case and dismisses horror after horror as “Hamas propaganda.”

Palestinians are left to assess the rubble and try to put their shattered lives back together. This is what they’re coming back to:

All day, thousands of Gazans have been rushing back to their neighbourhoods to see what is left after Israel’s campaign of bombing and shelling.

Gaping holes and fire-blackened cars litter the streets in the areas hit hardest by the fighting.

I have spoken to some people who say they have not even been able to find their way round their bomb-damaged neighbourhoods, never mind find the remains of their homes.

Many simply turned round and returned to the UN-run schools they fled to amid the fighting.

But for some Gazans even attempting to return home is virtually unimaginable.

Amira al-Girim, 15, lies in a hospital bed with her leg in traction.

She was found alone, bleeding in a house, about four days after she saw her father killed by an Israeli tank shell in front of her.

Her brother and sister died – she thinks in an air strike – as they ran to get help.

Her remaining family thought she too had died, and had already buried the scraps of flesh they thought were her remains in a box.

Let those images sear themselves into your mind. Don’t forget. This is what happens when a country responds with disproportionate force to a threat. America did it on a far greater scale than Israel, and for less reason. The war in Iraq and the war in Gaza are inextricably entwined.

We must not forget:

As we wait to see what happens next, it’s important to remember what we’ve just seen. So often we are encouraged to sink into a comfortable amnesia designed to wipe away the news of civilian deaths and the war crimes – whether our own in Iraq and Afghanistan – or now those of our allies and best arms customers in Israel. So let’s recap and remember – and insist on international action.

Last March, Israeli officials met with Condi Rice and then approved a plan for a war on Gaza. By their own admission, Israel signed onto the June 19 cease-fire in order to buy time for preparing for that war – and while Hamas honored the cease-fire, Israel used the world’s focus on the Obama election on November 4 to launch an incursion into Gaza, killing 6 Palestinians – knowing this would provoke a Hamas reaction since it was an act of war. That reaction was then used as an excuse for further Israeli incursions and as the justification of a siege of Gaza, blocking all shipments of food, medicine and fuel to the residents who live in a virtual prison, unable to leave, unable to live with no electricity, starvation level food supplies and a compromised water supply since the fuel needed for the water sanitation plants was not let in. The people of Gaza were reduced to eating bread made from animal feed – and when that ran out, grass. Even with this continuous collective punishment of the people of Gaza, their elected government announced – multiple times – that they would agree to a new cease-fire on the condition that the blockade of supplies be lifted.

Instead, Israel – with its massive PR campaign – claimed that Hamas refused a new cease-fire – and then launched a vicious attack on Gaza.

Over 1300 Gazans have been killed, over 5,000 wounded – one third of those children – and the casualties included medics trying to rescue wounded families, journalists, and more than 50 Gazans who had fled to UN schools for refuge from the fighting. The UN warehouse and all the humanitarian aid in it were destroyed when Israel bombed it– apparently using white phosphorus, setting the building on fire.

There can be no real peace for the people of Gaza until they are allowed self-determination – in the meantime, at least we can insist that Israel open the borders and allow in the humanitarian aid they so desperately need. Let’s not forget them while the world shifts its attention t the celebrations in Washington this week.

We have this chance to take a new direction. With Obama in office, we’ll be leaving Iraq to determine its own way forward. We’ve failed to learn a harsh lesson from the wars of the past several years: we cannot solve terrorism with bombs. We cannot bring peace by raining down destruction. America tried and failed. Israel tried, and I guarantee you that they will also fail.

Peace, if it comes, will be brought about by tough compromises. We cannot call every government we do not like a “terrorist organization.” We cannot continue starving populations in order to bend them to our will. We have to start building up rather than tearing down. And we have to grant these people the same rights we hold precious: the right to self-determination, to live without threat of annihilation, to be able to work hard and raise families, to eat and drink and live another day.

We need a Marshall Plan for the Middle East. More will be accomplished by helping them build strong economies and functioning societies than would ever be accomplished at the point of a gun. We need to give aid, help them find a path to peace, but not impose our will on them. We need to give them the tools and the room to discover their own solutions to their internal problems. We need to find ways to work together, and we need to be patient, because the wounds we’ve inflicting will be a long time healing. Our whole attitude to the region will have to change, or the bombs will fall again.

It’s time to give Palestinians and Iraqis the most precious gift of all: a future.

Gaza: Unilateral Cease-Fire

It’s nice that the bombs have (mostly) stopped falling, but I call bullshit:

JERUSALEM – Israel declared a unilateral cease-fire in the Gaza Strip on Sunday meant to end three devastating weeks of war against Hamas militants, but just hours later militants fired a volley of rockets into southern Israel, officials said, threatening to reignite the violence.

No one was injured in the assault in which five rockets were fired and four landed. But shortly afterward, security sources in the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun reported an airstrike that wounded a woman and her child. The Israeli military had no comment.

In another incident after the truce took hold, militants fired small arms at an infantry patrol, which directed artillery and aircraft to strike back, the military said.

“Israel will only act in response to attacks by Hamas, either rockets into Israel or firing upon our forces,” government spokesman Mark Regev said. “If Hamas does deliberately torpedo this cease-fire, they are exposing themselves before the entire international community as a group of cynical extremists that have absolutely no interest in the well-being of the people of Gaza.”

Regev would not say what level of violence would provoke Israel to call off the truce.

So, Israel unilaterally declares the war over – for now. Why unilaterally? Because they don’t want to deal with Hamas. A bilateral agreement would mean that Israel has to make concessions it doesn’t want to make, and would take a few days longer. So hey, presto! temporary peace, unless of course they break it.

Hamas isn’t terribly impressed with the whole idea:

In a televised address, Mr Olmert warned militants in Gaza that if they “decide the blows they’ve been dealt are not sufficient and they are interested in continuing the fight, Israel will be prepared for such and feel free to continue to react with force”.

The ceasefire came into effect at 0200.

Hamas has rejected the move, saying any continued Israeli presence in Gaza would be regarded as an act of war.

“The occupier must halt his fire immediately and withdraw from our land and lift his blockade and open all crossings and we will not accept any one Zionist soldier on our land, regardless of the price that it costs,” Hamas spokesman Farzi Barhoum said, shortly before the ceasefire began.

I can guarantee you Israel knew that’s precisely what Hamas would say. This, my darlings, is a publicity stunt. Listen to what Olmert says and it shouldn’t leave you in doubt:

Israel’s “goals have been achieved, and even more”, Mr Olmert said.

Hamas was badly damaged both militarily and in terms of government infrastructure; rocket factories and dozens of smuggling tunnels had been destroyed, he said.

But the success of the ceasefire depended on Hamas, he said.

Troops would remain in Gaza for the time being and if Hamas held fire, the military would “consider pulling out of Gaza at a time that befits us”.

Note the studious ignoring of one of Hamas’s major conditions: Israel will pull out of Gaza when it damned well feels like it. Which is guaranteed to provoke Hamas into continuing its attacks, as we’ve already seen. On top of this, Olmert’s claim that Israel made all of its goals and more is utter, unvarnished bullshit. Observe:

Israel stopped its offensive before reaching a long-term solution to the problem of arms smuggling into Gaza, one of the war’s declared aims.

And furthermore:

Israel succeeded in hurting Hamas and in creating an international awareness of the need to prevent weapons from being smuggled into the Gaza Strip, but not all the operation’s objectives were accomplished. Rocket fire from the Strip into Israel continued throughout, and it will take a few weeks to determine whether they will stop. A humanitarian crisis in Gaza was not averted and it is not clear whether the likelihood of securing the release of abducted IDF soldier Gilad Shalit has increased.

[snip]

But Hamas’ gains cannot be ignored: It has won international legitimacy and sympathy, and its forces still control the Gaza Strip.

So I agree with those observers who believe that Israel stopped bombing at this moment because they want no dead children distracting from Obama’s inauguration, which may rather get up Obama’s nose at a time when they need to ingratiate him. They stopped bombing in such a way as to almost guarantee Hamas keeps firing rockets at Israel, which will allow Israel to play the victim once more. “See? We wanted peace. We stopped hitting them, all we were doing was everything that led to this conflict in the first place – minor little things like trying to starve Gaza into submission, trying to force a puppet government on them, destroying what little economy and infrastructure they have left.”

If the Palestinians resist hitting out after all of the suffering they’ve endured and will continue to endure under the Israelis, they’ll be candidates for sainthood.

These are some of the pieces they’re left to pick up.

The group of boys gather defiantly to play soccer each day, war-weary after three weeks of near-constant shelling and dearly in need of some childhood release.

This border town of a couple hundred thousand people has been especially hard hit during the 22-day Israeli assault against Hamas militants in Gaza as Israel seeks to destroy hundreds of tunnels used to smuggle in weapons — but which also provide an economic lifeline for destitute Gazans.

[snip]

The children, along with much of the population, have grown indifferent to the roaring fighter jets overhead and the all-powerful thuds of explos
ions nearby.

“We’re not afraid of the bombs anymore, we play football everyday,” 13-year-old Mohammed Gheiss said Saturday. Gheiss is the goalkeeper for the small team of boys playing in a relatively safe wasteland about a mile from the more dangerous border area.

“What’s sad is that we’re not as many as before,” he said, pointing at the improvised tent nearby for the wake of his friend, Eissa Ermallat.

Eissa, 12, died a day earlier, hit by an unmanned Israeli warplane attack while collecting firewood, said his father, Mohammed Ermallat, who led the group of mourners.

Eissa’s friend, 12-year-old Amir Jeradat, was unable to attend the wake, laid up in an-Najar hospital just 100 yards away with a fractured arm from the same attack.

“We heard the drone but we didn’t see it until it fell a meter from us,” the boy said. “We were just playing, it was calm, I don’t understand.”

How do you explain such things to children? How will they grow up remembering anything other than bombs falling senselessly as they try to play?

There’s so much that’s inexplicable:

Being from Gaza these days is a burden. Everyone who knows me is asking about my family. And all I can answer is how they were four days ago when I could reach them last. They have no electricity now, and I can only hope they are alright.

I can tell you how they were when I last checked on them.

My cousin Rabah’s house was hit directly by an Israeli strike. This is tragic irony. Rabah opposes Hamas deeply. But missiles do not care about such things.

His brother Yehia, also a critic of Hamas, is a local journalist. His office was hit.

[snip]

Until seven days ago, Beit Lahia, our town, had been relatively safer. My family’s five-story home suffered substantial damage. In addition, my family’s neighborhood mosque was one of the 70 hit by Israel. Seventeen worshipers lost their lives as they were praying. Abu Mazin, my father, is probably not surprised by the worsening situation. He often said, “The past is the good part. At least we know how painful it was. The future is scary because it always gets worse for us Palestinians.” He also told me that our town has been hit by what he can only describe as a time machine that took them 50 years backward.

[snip]

Three days ago, I read my cousin’s name on the internet, Amal (Arabic for Hope). She was 22 years old. Standing at the kitchen sink, she was fatally wounded. A sniper shot her in the head and she fell to the ground on Omar, my nephew who told me the story, was mortified. Amal passed away when her heart gave up.

Why seventy mosques bombed? Why was a young woman shot in the head by a sniper doing no more than standing at her own kitchen sink? What explains violence this senseless?

Apologists for Israel try. They try to explain (h/t):

Your unit, on the edges of the northern Gaza town of Jabaliya, has taken mortar fire from the crowded refugee camp nearby. You prepare to return fire, and perhaps you notice — or perhaps you don’t, even though it’s on your map — that there is a United Nations school just there, full of displaced Gazans. You know that international law allows you to protect your soldiers and return fire, but also demands that you ensure that there is no excessive harm to civilians. Do you remember all that in the chaos?

This was the Steven Erlanger’s lead on a front page story in the New York Times today that went on at great length rationalizing Israeli conduct during their assault on Gaza. It ran the same day that Israel hit a fourth UN school. Four of them. The Times cannot even publish its rationalization of the last UN school bombing before a new one is hit.

Reading it made me physically ill. Move the context to, say, Bosnia. Imagine a front page story in the Times sympathizing with the tough calls that had to be made by those poor Serb gunners bearing down on the besieged city. Or better, to the Warsaw ghetto during the Second World War. You know, the place where those sneaky Jewish irregulars refused to come out and fight like a legitimate army and instead hid among the civilian population.

Four UN schools. Seventy mosques. Countless houses where civilians had been told they should gather for safety. All bombed. And sometimes, yes, there were Hamas militants fighting and then fading away. But not in the vast majority of cases. In most, witnesses, including international observers (in case you’re one of those who doesn’t believe a word those self-serving Palestinians say), advised there had been no rockets fired, no bullets shot. Just sudden and catastrophic death unleashed by an Israeli tank or warplane, for no reason anyone could discern.

And now we have a unilateral cease-fire that does nothing to address any concerns for Israel’s. Somehow, some way, the Palestinians are supposed to accept this as their lot. Their fault their children were maimed and killed. Their fault they have lost nearly everything. Their fault they are penned in like cattle, denied food and fuel and a scrap of human dignity.

Israel promises that things will be better if the Palestinians just stop shooting their rockets, but that’s been tried and failed. They have no trust left:

And Abu Moustafa does not trust the Israelis to provide for people in Gaza.

“We depended on the tunnels for all our supplies,” he said.

“They were our lifeline. Now we are totally cut off from the outside world. The Israelis promise to open the crossings – but they have made those promises before.”

So for the moment, while the rockets may have stopped, many of the same uncertainties remain.

There is only temporary relief here. The longer-term future of the Gaza people is as precarious as ever.

Israel believes it gained something with this war. I don’t see it. All I see is loss:

But with this latest ceasefire, the town of Rafah is now counting its losses.

Every family has been touched by this war.

At the morgue they were still queuing on Saturday for the bodies. In the corner of the room a small boy wept – a son without a father.

And there are plenty of fathers without sons.

Ziad Al Absi lost three of his boys
. A rocket attack on his house destroyed his bedroom, where his children were sleeping around him.

But neighbours say Mr Absi is nothing to do with Hamas.

“I only support Palestinians who kills Israelis,” said Mr Absi. “Because the Israelis believe all our children are terrorists.”

Deeper hatred

And therein lies the dangerous legacy of this war. The hatred runs deeper than ever, with the next generation of Palestinians already vowing revenge.

There may be a cease-fire. It might even hold for a day, ten days, a few months. But after all of the destruction, lasting peace seems to be among the casualties.

Gaza: What Will Change When the Bombs Stop Falling?

Israel may stop dropping bombs on Gaza as early as today:

Israel’s security cabinet is expected to meet Saturday night to declare a cease-fire in Gaza and will keep its forces there in the short term while the next stage of an agreement with Egypt is worked out.

“It looks as if all the pieces of the puzzle are coming together,” Mark Regev, a spokesman for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, said Friday. “There will be discussions tomorrow morning, and it looks like a cabinet meeting will take place tomorrow night. Everyone is very upbeat.”

What amazing timing. I wonder why Israel is suddenly all joyous over the prospect of a cease-fire, when just a few weeks ago they were so anxious to begin this war and haven’t shown any signs of letting up since? Surely this wasn’t a cynical war of opportunity:

The Israelis attacked now because of two non-military cycles: the news cycle and the presidential cycle. This was like a war by an astrologer: the stars had to be in exactly the right position before the Apaches could start blasting and the Merkavas could roll.

The most important cycle of all is the news cycle. This war happened during international media dead week, between Christmas and New Year. Ordinary people are drunk or hungover or snowed in, and the people who matter, the media players, are off in Cancun and Phuket, soaking up rum and sun with their blackberries turned off. They’re not going to bum out their call girls watching the news from Gaza.

And the Israelis wanted a time when everybody was distracted for a simple reason: asymmetrical war isn’t pretty.

[snip]

The other cycle is more of a gamble: the presidential cycle. I can’t believe nobody’s saying the obvious here: the Israelis want to do this now, once and for all, while Bush is still in office. They know that Bush will let them do whatever they want. Bush and Cheney are literally more extreme than about half of the Israeli electorate.

And on Tuesday, America inaugurates its first African-American president. Barack Obama is something of an unknown quantity. This war is proving costly in the goodwill-toward-Israel category. Forgive me for thinking that the Israeli rulers are thinking along those lines, and deciding that now would be a good time to hammer through a cease-fire. Let a couple of days pass without a fresh atrocity, let the world get distracted by Obama’s inauguration, and maybe all of those pictures of dead kids won’t be so heavy on everyone’s minds.

Is that it, Israel? Is that why everyone’s so “upbeat”?

Some people aren’t likely to forget so soon:

The medical director of al-Quds hospital has not wept since he helped evacuate several hundred people from the blazing Palestinian Red Crescent (PRC) compound on Thursday night, but he says: “My heart is crying.”

He says he is standing next to the smouldering remains of a pharmacy filled with bandages, medicines and other medical supplies, describing the chaos as intensive care patients and premature babies were wheeled onto the street.

The compound was hit twice during heavy fighting between Israeli forces and Hamas militants in the Tel al-Hawa district in the west of Gaza City.

[snip]

Staff from the hospital say they do not know exactly what hit the building, but the UN has said Israeli tank shells struck three hospitals, including al-Quds, in Thursday’s fighting.

When you’ve targeted UN buildings, family homes, hospitals and countless civilians, simply declaring a cease-fire won’t allow people to forget the relentless horror visited upon them.

Some people aren’t likely to forgive so soon:

The Palestinian doctor provided Israeli TV viewers with regular updates on Gaza fighting’s human toll. But Friday’s report was different — with sobs he told how his three daughters and a niece were killed by an Israeli shell.

“I want to know why my daughters were harmed,” Ezzeldeen Abu al-Aish said on Channel 10. “This should haunt (Israeli Ehud Prime Minister) Olmert his entire life.”

Throughout the 21-day war, Abu al-Aish has brought accounts of war’s tragedy to Israeli living rooms, making him for many the voice of Palestinian suffering.

[snip]

Gazan officials identified Abu Al-Aish’s slain daughters as 22-year-old Bisan, 15-year-old Mayer and 14-year old Aya. His niece was identified as 14-year-old Nour Abu al-Aish.

At least two other daughters were injured.

[snip]

Abu al-Aish, a 55-year-old gynecologist, is a rarity among Palestinians, a Hebrew speaker who trained in two Israeli hospitals. He is also is a known peace activist who was involved in promoting joint Israeli-Palestinian projects, and an academic who studied the affects of war on Gazan and Israeli children. He works at Gaza’s main Shifa Hospital.

[snip]

“Everyone knew we were home. Suddenly we were bombed. How can we talk to Olmert and (Foreign Minister) Tzipi Livni after this?” Abu al-Aish told television reporters at the border crossing.

“Suddenly, today when there was hope for a cease-fire, on the last day … I was speaking with my children, suddenly they bombed us. The doctor who treats Israeli patients.”

Israel, you murdered a peace activist’s daughters. Listen to him: “How can we talk… after this?” If what you wanted was to hammer the Palestianians until they were soft and pliable, you failed.

Let’s take a look at what you wanted, and what, despite your pretty propaganda, you have failed to gain:

Nobody could have anticipated that Israel couldn’t bomb its way to peace with Palestine.

Israel hoped that the war in Gaza would not only cripple Hamas, but eventually strengthen its secular rival, the Palestinian Authority, and even allow it to claw its way back into Gaza.

But with each day, the authority, its leader, Mahmoud Abbas, and its leading party, Fatah, seem increasingly beleaguered and marginalized, even in the Palestinian cities of the West Bank, which they control. Protesters accuse Mr. Abbas of not doing enough to stop the carnage in Gaza — indee
d, his own police officers have used clubs and tear gas against those same protesters.

The more bombs in Gaza, the more Hamas’s support seems to be growing at the expense of the Palestinian Authority, already considered corrupt and distant from average Palestinians.

[snip]

This is a pretty familiar outcome – what rises from the ashes of an attack like this is typically not more moderate or agreeable to the offensive power. Fatah was already disliked and now they are seen to be cooperating, either directly or indirectly, with the bombing of civilians.

And mothers change their minds (h/t):

Luay Suboh, 10, from Beit Lahiya, lost his eyesight and some skin on his face Saturday when, his mother said, a fiery substance clung to him as he darted home from a shelter where his family was staying to pick up clothes.

The substance smelled like burned trash, said Ms. Jaawanah, the mother who fled her home in Zeitoun, who had experienced it too. She had no affection for Hamas, but her sufferings were changing that. “Do you think I’m against them firing rockets now?” she asked, referring to Hamas. “No. I was against it before. Not anymore.”

There are a lot of mothers, Israel, who because of your actions are going to send their surviving children to become suicide bombers. Because they’ve learned they can’t trust you. Because all they’ve seen from you is a determination to utterly destroy them:

In October of this year, Haaretz published a report regarding the strategies the IDF intended to use to fight “the next war.” The article’s title: “IDF plans to use disproportionate force in next war”:

In an interview Friday with the daily Yedioth Ahronoth, [GOC Northern Command Gadi] Eisenkot presented his “Dahiyah Doctrine,” under which the IDF would expand its destructive power beyond what it demonstrated two years ago against the Beirut suburb of Dahiyah, considered a Hezbollah stronghold.

We will wield disproportionate power against every village from which shots are fired on Israel, and cause immense damage and destruction. From our perspective, these are military bases,” he said. “This isn’t a suggestion. This is a plan that has already been authorized” . . . .

What can the Palestinian people do, in the face of that? When you impose a “peace” on them that continues to starve, impoverish and humilate them? The kindness and compassion of Israeli dissenters won’t be enough to overcome the horrors of what they’ve seen.

You say you had to defend yourselves. But even reporters who covered the towns that suffered the fear and uncertainty, the occasional injury and even more rare death from Hamas’s rocket fire, are realizing the truth:

For the first time I turned on an Arab channel, al-Jazeera, to get an update on what was going on. And then I knew it was impossible to give any equivalency between the situation in the Israeli towns in the south with the tragedy that was unfolding in Gaza.

That night I felt sick, I couldn’t sleep – I could only see images of children, and children, and more children. The ones who had been blinded, the ones who had lost their limbs, or just that picture of the small girl’s head, her eyes wide open. It was only her head, nothing else.

Are those images likely to make people turn to the puppets you install for salvation, or will they be looking at the fighters who stood against you despite the odds? Do you really think the people will turn against those fighters, or turn to them? I think all of us but the war-blind bastards who started this slaughter know the answer. But let’s try a thought experiment, just to see what the outcome might be:

Nearly seventy ago, in the course of World War II, a heinous crime was committed in the city of Leningrad. For more than a thousand days, a gang of extremists called “the Red Army” held the millions of the town’s inhabitants hostage and provoked retaliation from the German Wehrmacht from inside the population centers. The Germans had no alternative but to bomb and shell the population and to impose a total blockade, which caused the death of hundreds of thousands.

Some time before that, a similar crime was committed in England. The Churchill gang hid among the population of London, misusing the millions of citizens as a human shield. The Germans were compelled to send their Luftwaffe and reluctantly reduce the city to ruins. They called it the Blitz.

This is the description that would now appear in the history books – if the Germans had won the war.

Absurd? No more than the daily descriptions in our media, which are being repeated ad nauseam: the Hamas terrorists use the inhabitants of Gaza as “hostages” and exploit the women and children as “human shields”, they leave us no alternative but to carry out massive bombardments, in which, to our deep sorrow, thousands of women, children and unarmed men are killed and injured.

[snip]

From the point of view of the population, the Hamas fighters are not a foreign body, but the sons of every family in the Strip and the other Palestinian regions. They do not “hide behind the population”, the population views them as their only defenders.

Therefore, the whole operation is based on erroneous assumptions. Turning life into living hell does not cause the population to rise up against Hamas, but on the contrary, it unites behind Hamas and reinforces its determination not to surrender. The population of Leningrad did not rise up against Stalin, any more than the Londoners rose up against Churchill.

Israel. You knew this. The history of countless countries is filled with praise for those who faced impossible odds and did not give in, who faced imminent destruction and did not flinch. So many times when relentless attacks did not crush people’s will, but reinforced it. And when the people you are fighting have absolutely nothing left to lose, when you’ve taken from them their sons and daughters and offered them no peace, no security, and no dignity, when you’ve given them every reason to believe that what you want is nothing more than their utter annihilation, they won’t turn to your puppets for their salvation. They will turn to those who refuse to give in.

It didn’t have to be this way. You could have given the Palestinians reasons to turn away from Hamas, by making sure they weren’t starving, sick and desperate. By treating them as human beings with rights and dreams
of nationhood instead of as a despicable underclass needing to be cast out and subjugated.

How much different it might have been if, instead of trying to beat the Palestinians down, you had instead lifted them up.

Gaza: Helpless as the Shells Fall

Gideon Levy describes a waking nightmare:

The streets of Gaza Thursday looked like killing fields in the midst of the “third stage” and worse. Israel is arrogantly ignoring the Security Council’s resolution calling for a cease-fire and is shelling the UN compound in Gaza, as if to show its real feeling toward that institution. Emergency supplies intended for Gaza residents are going up in flames in the burning warehouses. Thick black smoke is rising from the burning flour sacks and the fuel reserves near them, covering the streets.

In the streets, people are running back and forth in panic, holding children and suitcases in their hands, helpless as the shells fall around them. Nobody in the diplomatic corridors is in any hurry to help those unfortunates who have nowhere to run.

For a moment, it seemed a cease-fire could be close. As early as Saturday, the bombs might have stopped falling. But negotiations broke down:

Hamas will not accept Israeli conditions for a cease-fire in Gaza and would continue armed resistance until the offensive ends, Khaled Meshal, the leader of the Palestinian Islamist group, said on Friday.

Speaking at the opening of an emergency meeting on Gaza in Doha, Meshal called on the leaders present to cut all ties with Israel.

It might seem that Hamas is being unreasonable – until you read further. Until you realize what those Israeli conditions were:

However, the proposal does not require Israel to withdraw from Gaza during the initial truce, and Hamas has said it will not accept the proposal unless that omission is corrected.

Salah al-Bardawil, who was Hamas’ Gazan representative to the talks with Egypt, said his organization demands that Israel completely withdraw within five days of whenever the initial cease-fire takes effect.

Hamas also insists that the agreement include a deadline by which the border crossings must reopen.

With Israeli soldiers targeting UN buildings and homes where they’d previously herded civilians, it’s completely understandable that Hamas would find their continued presence unacceptable. But it’s the border crossings that are the most important. People are starving:

In a column entitled “An Unnecessary War,” [former President Jimmy] Carter describes the tragic misjudgments on both sides – as well as their reasonable grievances. “I know from personal involvement that the devastating invasion of Gaza by Israel could easily have been avoided,” Carter wrote.

“After visiting Sderot last April and seeing the serious psychological damage caused by the rockets that had fallen in that area, my wife, Rosalynn, and I declared their launching from Gaza to be inexcusable and an act of terrorism.

“Although casualties were rare (three deaths in seven years), the town was traumatized by the unpredictable explosions. About 3,000 residents had moved to other communities, and the streets, playgrounds and shopping centers were almost empty. …

“Knowing that we would soon be seeing Hamas leaders from Gaza and also in Damascus, we promised to assess prospects for a cease-fire.

“From Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, who was negotiating between the Israelis and Hamas, we learned that there was a fundamental difference between the two sides. Hamas wanted a comprehensive cease-fire in both the West Bank and Gaza, and the Israelis refused to discuss anything other than Gaza.

“We knew that the 1.5 million inhabitants of Gaza were being starved, as the U.N. special rapporteur-on-the-right-to-food had found that acute malnutrition in Gaza was on the same scale as in the poorest nations in the southern Sahara, with more than half of all Palestinian families eating only one meal a day.

Hamas negotiated a six-month ceasefire in large part so that people could be fed. Israel agreed to allow humanitarian shipments to resume – and then choked them off to a fraction of what they had been before, a fraction of what was needed. Now, what supplies get through frequently can’t be delivered, or burn after Israelis shell the buildings they’re stored in. There’s little enough of Israeli promises for Hamas to trust, few compromises they’re inclined to accept, and for good reason.

As for America’s credibility in the negotiations, it may be a little hard for us to persuade Hamas to accept peace when we’re the ones supplying the fuel Israel’s using to shatter Gaza:

It’s well known that the U.S. supplies the Israelis with much of their military hardware. Over the past few decades, the U.S. has provided about $53 billion in military aid to Israel. What’s not well known is that since 2004, U.S. taxpayers have paid to supply over 500 million gallons of refined oil products — worth about $1.1 billion –- to the Israeli military. While a handful of countries get motor fuel from the U.S., they receive only a fraction of the fuel that Israel does — fuel now being used by Israeli fighter jets, helicopters and tanks to battle Hamas.

[snip]

The U.S. fuel shipments are part of a sustained policy that has widened the energy gap between Israel and its neighbors. Over the past few years, the Israel Defense Force has cut off fuel supplies and destroyed electricity infrastructure in the Gaza Strip and Lebanon. Those embargoes and attacks on power plants have exacerbated a huge gap in per-capita energy consumption between Israelis and Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza. And that sharp disparity helps explain why the Palestinians have never been able to build a viable economy.

[snip]

In late June 2006, Israeli aircraft fired nine missiles at the transformers at the Gaza City Power Plant, the only electric power plant in the Occupied Territories. (One of the original partners in the project was Enron, but that’s another story.) The missiles caused damage estimated at $15 million to $20 million and, for a time, made Gaza wholly reliant on electricity flows from Israel. The 140-megawatt power plant, owned by the Palestine Electric Co., was insured by the Overseas Private Investment Corp., an arm of the U.S. government. Thus the
U.S. was providing fuel and materiel to the Israeli military, which destroyed the plant, but it was also paying to fix the damage. Call it cradle-to-grave service.

You begin to notice a pattern. Israel uses our military aide to destroy its neighbors’ infrastructure with impunity, and we blindly cheer them on. Israel can do no wrong. Palestinian suffering is meaningless. Too many officials and opinion-makers in America will read reports such as this and decide, solely on the basis that the victim is a Palestinian, that this destruction is just:

In one of the most moving accounts of the war in Gaza, Ibrahim Barzak, the Associated Press’s chief correspondent there for 17 years — called “the best reporter in Gaza” by a Jewish colleague — today wrote of watching his own home destroyed on YouTube. But who is Ibrahim Barzak?

First, his account. Here is full link, but an excerpt now:

I live alone in my office. My wife and two young children moved in with her father after our apartment was shattered. The neighborhood mosque, where I have prayed since I was a child, had its roof blown off. All the government buildings on my beat have been obliterated. After days of Israeli shelling, the city and life I have known no longer exist.

And:

Three days after Israel began its airstrikes against Hamas militants on Dec. 27, my apartment building was shaken by bombs aimed at a nearby Hamas-run government compound. My brother took a picture of the room where my boys, 2-year-old Hikmet and 6-month-old Ahmed, once slept. Their toys were broken, shrapnel had punched through the closet and the bedroom wall had collapsed. I don’t know if we will ever go back.

There are other pictures that haunt me. The Israeli army issued a video of the bombing of the Hamas-run government compound, which it posted on YouTube. In it, I also can see my home being destroyed, and I watch it obsessively.

His suffering doesn’t matter to America’s hawks. He’s Palestinian. For them, that is the end of his credibility – no matter what a Palestinian loses, no matter what he or she endures, it’s deserved. And have you noticed how so many right-wing apologists wave away anything a Palestinian reporter says by claiming it’s just “bias”? It’s been that way as long as I can remember. If the source is a Palestinian, he’s immediately dismissed as spreading terrorist propaganda.

Those neocon hawks will probably never read far enough down that article to see what a Jewish colleague has to say about Barzak:

He is an assiduous, just the facts reporter. He never raises his voice and always asks the tough questions. He has risked his life more than once for his job, and more than once for pissing off the Palestinian powers that be.

So I bristle — I bristle hard — when some moron who thinks he is making some kind of case for Israel writes about how Palestinian reporters are implacably biased (and I wonder whether these fools realize how hard those accusations make it for Israelis and Jews who are reporting in the region).”

They don’t. All they can see is the glory of their war. Their tunnel vision won’t allow them to see the innocent lives they’re destroying. They refuse to understand that what they are doing will only lead to ever-spiraling, vicious cycles of violence:

An Israel Air Force strike in Gaza on Thursday killed Hamas’ Interior Minister Said Sayyam, one of the Islamist militant group’s three most senior leaders in the coastal strip.

A Hamas official vowed vengeance for Siam’s death. “The blood of Said Sayyam will be a curse on the Zionist entity,” Mohammed Nazzal told Al-Jazeera television.

Sayyam, 50, was killed in an air strike that targeted the home of his brother Iyad. Also killed in the attack were his son, his brother, as well as Salah Abu Shreich, head of internal security in the organization and the person responsible for the liaison between the political and military wings of Hamas.

[snip]

The air strike on Sayyam was apparently an attempt by Israel to deliver an image of victory in its offensive against Hamas. The Israel Defense Forces understands that Hamas’ agreement in principle to the Egyptian proposal for a cease-fire in Gaza signals that the campaign is nearing its end.

They have a point to prove. Never mind that in so doing, they’re destroying the fragile gains made in negotiations. But do they really want peace? I wonder. It seems they’re determined to drive Hamas over the edge, raining down enough death and humiliation to force them into retaliation so that they can then proclaim, self-righteously, that Hamas can’t be negotiated with.

The man they killed as a gesture of power and domination understood that all too clearly:

In an interview with Haaretz in November 1995, Sayyam said, “I do not hate [Israelis] for being Jewish or Israeli but because of what they have done to us. Because of the acts of occupation.”

In response to a question about whether he saw a chance for change in relations between Palestinians and Israelis, he said, “It is difficult to forget what was done to us. If the reason for the hate will not exist, everything is possible.

“But if the reason remains, it is impossible to love. First we must convince in general and in principle that we have been wronged, then we can talk about ’67 or ’48. You still do not recognize that we have rights. The first condition for change is recognition of the injustice we suffered.”

Over thirteen years later, Palestinians are still awaiting that recognition.

Gaza: Blood on Our Hands

It does not seem that Israel is making any effort at all to limit civilian casualties. That’s the inescapable conclusion I’ve reached after reading report after report speaking of bombs hitting the places where Gaza residents have fled in a vain attempt to avoid being killed.

In the small hours of this morning, the AP reports:

Witnesses and United Nations officials say Israeli shells have struck the U.N. headquarters in the Gaza Strip.

The compound has been serving as a shelter for hundreds of people fleeing Israel’s devastating offensive in Gaza. U.N. spokesman Chris Gunness says at least three people were wounded.

The entire area is engulfed in smoke and it’s not clear whether anyone is still inside the compound.

The compound includes the headquarters of the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, a school and other offices. Gunness says large amounts of aid supplies, as well as fuel trucks, could soon be destroyed.

[snip]

Israeli tanks shelled downtown Gaza City on Thursday and ground troops thrust deep into a crowded neighborhood for the first time, sending terrified residents fleeing for cover and increasing pressure on Hamas rulers to accept a proposed cease-fire to end Israel’s devastating offensive.

Gideon Levy, a Haaretz correspondent in Israel, is not impressed by his country’s protestations that Hamas hides amongst the civilians, and thus bears responsibility for so many deaths. He places the blame squarely back in Israel’s hands (h/t):

The fighting in Gaza is “war deluxe.” Compared with previous wars, it is child’s play – pilots bombing unimpeded as if on practice runs, tank and artillery soldiers shelling houses and civilians from their armored vehicles, combat engineering troops destroying entire streets in their ominous protected vehicles without facing serious opposition. A large, broad army is fighting against a helpless population and a weak, ragged organization that has fled the conflict zones and is barely putting up a fight. All this must be said openly, before we begin exulting in our heroism and victory.

This war is also child’s play because of its victims. About a third of those killed in Gaza have been children – 311, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry, 270 according to the B’Tselem human rights group – out of the 1,000 total killed as of Wednesday. Around 1,550 of the 4,500 wounded have also been children according to figures from the UN, which says the number of children killed has tripled since the ground operation began.

[snip]

One can say Hamas hides among the civilian population, as if the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv is not located in the heart of a civilian population, as if there are places in Gaza that are not in the heart of a civilian population. One can also claim that Hamas uses children as human shields, as if in the past our own organizations fighting to establish a country did not recruit children.

A significant majority of the children killed in Gaza did not die because they were used as human shields or because they worked for Hamas. They were killed because the IDF bombed, shelled or fired at them, their families or their apartment buildings. That is why the blood of Gaza’s children is on our hands, not on Hamas’ hands, and we will never be able to escape that responsibility.

It might be instructive, at this moment, to take a step back and see what led to this. When we look more closely, Hamas doesn’t emerge as the wholly-evil terrorists that Israel and the U.S. would have us believe them to be. In fact, the U.S. can’t escape responsibility for the atrocities visited upon the Palestinians any more than Israel can. Our hands are just as bloody (h/t):

Hamas never called for the elections that put them in power. That was the brainstorm of Secretary Rice and her staff, who had apparently decided they could steer Palestinians into supporting the more-compliant Mahmoud Abbas (the current president of the Palestinian authority) and his Fatah Party through a marketing campaign that was to counter Hamas’s growing popularity – all while ignoring continued Israeli settlement construction, land confiscation, and cantonization of the West Bank.

State Department staffers helped finance and supervise the Fatah campaign, down to the choice of backdrop color for the podium where Mr. Abbas was to proclaim victory. An adviser working for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) explained to incredulous staffers at the Embassy in Tel Aviv how he would finance and direct elements of the campaign, leaving no US fingerprints. USAID teams, meanwhile, struggled to implement projects for which Abbas could claim credit. Once the covert political program cemented Fatah in place, the militia Washington was building for Fatah warlord-wannabee Mohammed Dahlan would destroy Hamas militarily.

[snip]

Simultaneously, the US military team expanded its efforts to build the Mohammed Dahlan-led militia. President Bush considered Dahlan “our guy.” But Dahlan’s thugs moved too soon. They roamed Gaza, demanding protection money from businesses and individuals, erecting checkpoints to extort bribes, terrorizing Dahlan’s opponents within Fatah, and attacking Hamas members.

Finally, in mid-2007, faced with increasing chaos and the widely known implementation of a US-backed militia, Hamas – the lawfully elected government – struck first. They routed the Fatah gangs, securing control of the entire Gaza Strip, and established civil order.

Its efforts stymied, the US has for more than a year inflexibly backed Israel’s embargo of Gaza and its collective punishment of the Strip’s 1.5 million residents. The recent six-month cease-fire saw a near cessation of rocket fire into Israel and calm along the border, yet the economic siege was further tightened.

Gaza’s economy has collapsed, and the population, displaced for decades from their farms and villages, relies ever more on food aid from Hamas and the UN. The US expresses shock that Gazans resort to using smuggling tunnels for survival rather than passively accepting the suffering inflicted by the embargo. What would we expect Americans to do in the same circumstances? With no easing of the blockade, the missile launches have increased in range and frequency, yielding massive Israeli response.

Keep the above facts in mind the next time someone tries to defend the righteousness of this war by claiming Hamas to be terrorist usurpers who murdered their innocent political rivals and attacked Israel relentlessly. As is status quo for the Bush regime, those tales are, at best, wild exaggerations meant to drum up support for the war they wanted, in this case a proxy war started by Israel but cheered on by America.

Right now, in Egypt, Hamas is working for peace:

Egypt and Hamas are close to a deal for a 10-day cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinian militant group in Gaza, where the death toll from the Israeli offensive exceeded 1,000, officials said Wednesday. Egyptian and Hamas officials expressed optimism that an agreement for a temporary halt in fighting could be sealed soon and presented to Israel. But even if all sides sign on, further talks will be needed to resolve contentious disputes over policing Gaza’s borders and ensure a longer-term truce.

“We’re working with Hamas and we’re working with the Israeli side. We hope to reach an outcome soon,” Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hossam Zaki told the British Broadcasting Corp.

[snip]

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met late Wednesday with Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni to discuss the cease-fire efforts. In a sign of progress, Israel’s chief negotiator, Amos Gilad, planned to fly to Egypt on Thursday to present Israel’s stance, a senior defense official said. Gilad had put off the trip in recent days, saying the time was not yet ripe.

You notice that Israel has been anything but eager to come to the table. And Bush, who is still nominally President of the United States, has no interest in stopping the killing:

Today during the White House press briefing, a reporter asked press secretary Dana Perino if President Bush is “okay with” the conflict between Hamas and Israel continuing as he leaves office and if “there any kind of sense within the White House that he’d like to wrap things up or at least achieve a resolution” before next Tuesday.

Perino said that when it comes to protecting and caring for Palestinian civilians, “there is no time limit on that.” But a second reporter noted that Bush had previously said he would “sprint to the finish” and wondered if he was “working the phones” to get a deal done. Perino brushed off any notion of Bush working on the issue, claiming that its more “appropriate” for Rice to be doing the talking…

[snip]

Last January, Bush did set a time limit on the Israel-Palestine situation, saying “there will be a signed peace treaty by the time I leave office,” adding, “I am on a timetable — got 12 months.” So perhaps Bush has just checked out and is no longer interested in Middle East peace. After all, last week, he said he is “eager for a more carefree life in Dallas.”

I think Bush’s idea of “peace” was that Hamas would be crushed, Palestinians would beg to allow Israel to get whatever it wanted as long as the beatings stopped, and amenable puppets installed as Palestine’s “democratically elected” rulers. Since none of these things have happened, Bush could care less. He didn’t give a rat’s ass about 100,000 Iraqi civilians killed by his long-desired war. We can’t expect him to show any concern for Palestinian casualties.

On a day when Osama bin Laden called for a jihad against Israel and horrified American Jews closed the Israeli consulate in Los Angeles for war crimes, Dennis Kucinich readies a resolution that puts America in the position it should have been in all along:

Representative Dennis Kucinich plans to introduce a resolution in the House soon calling for an immediate ceasefire. There are a number of whereases in the draft, recounting the human toll of the war and the blockade, but the punchline is very simple:

Resolved, That the House of Representatives calls on the Government of Israel and representatives of Hamas to implement an immediate and unconditional ceasefire and to allow unrestricted humanitarian access in Gaza.

“A resolution has co-sponsors,” a Kucinich staffer once said. It’s great that Dennis is on the floor of the House telling the truth. But it’s terrible for the prospects of changing disastrous U.S. policies towards the Palestinians for Dennis to be standing alone. Who will co-sponsor the Kucinich ceasefire resolution?

So far the original cosponsors include John Conyers, Keith Ellison, Maurice Hinchey, Marcy Kaptur, Jim McDermott, Nick Rahall, Diane Watson, and Lynn Woolsey.

You can add your voice to that resolution here. America needs to stop blindly supporting Israel’s short-sighted and ultimately self-defeating military misadventures. America’s government needs to stop cheering on the deaths of innocent men, women and children and the suffering of over a million more.

Ultimately, it’s in Israel’s best interests to stop the killing. We can best show our support of Israel’s continued existence by providing a voice of reason. As one of the protestors at the Israeli consulate said,

Do most Jews support the idea of the state of Israel? Yes, most Jews do. But most Jews also want to see Israel living in peace with its neighbors, not going to war at every provocation, not taking over more or more land that does not belong to them, and not keeping another people under occupation and without rights or basic human needs.

It’s time for America to stop enabling Israel’s war fantasies. We have enough blood on our hands without reaching for more.

Gaza: Running Out of Places to Bury the Dead

The tiny Gaza Strip confronts a new crisis as its living try to bury their dead:

One family buried a slain son over his grandfather. Another bundled up the tiny bodies of three young cousins and lowered them into the grave of a long-dead aunt. A man was laid to rest with his brother.

More than two weeks into the Israeli offensive that has killed more than 940 Palestinians, Gazans are struggling to find places to bury their dead. Cemeteries throughout Gaza City that were closed for new burials have now reopened.

The Israeli assault continues to tear Gaza’s cities apart, ensuring those overflowing cemeteries will continue to fill:

A row of houses in Gaza City was demolished by a powerful air strike. The street was filled with rubble and furniture, severed electricity wires and telephone cables lay on the ground, and windows of nearby houses were shattered.

Four Palestinians, including at least two militants, were killed and 32 people were wounded in overnight fighting, Gaza hospital officials said.

Palestinians said aircraft also struck the Sheikh Radwan cemetery in Gaza City, destroying tombs and unearthing dozens of bodies. Gaza City residents, too terrified to venture out to the only area graveyard that has space for new graves, have reopened the Sheikh Radwan burial ground to bury their dead. The military had no immediate comment.

Early Wednesday, Israeli tanks resumed firing at civilian areas, using shells that ignited small fires before dissolving into clouds of white smoke that hung above the city center, witnesses said.

Those shells would be white phosphorus:

White Phosphorous is legal for use as a smoke bomb but the use of WP as a weapon targeting civilian areas is a violation of international treaties. The US and Israel however have refused to sign those treaties – and Israel is now claiming innocence by comparing its munitions to those used by … well, us.

Mark Regev, spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, said that Israel was only using legal weapons of the type used by other Western armies. “Israel military forces only use munitions that are acceptable under international law and international convention,” he said.

“The type of munitions used by Israel are similar, if not identical, to munitions used by other Western democracies, including Nato members.” His comments came a day after Dr Yusef Abu Rish, a doctor at Gaza City’s Nasser hospital, said he had treated at least 55 people suffering burns caused by controversial white phosphorus shells.

It’s not a stretch to assume that Regev is referring to the admitted use of White Phosphorous by the United States forces against Fallujah.

French Foreign Ministry spokesman in Paris, Eric Chevalier, recalled that “from a strictly legal point of view” the use of this weapon as a smokescreen “would be tolerated in principle according to international humanitarian law,” although he pointed out the HRWs warning to the “dangerous effects” on the population. “France joins the demand made by HRW to the Israeli authorities not to use these weapons, given their toxicity and the density of the population in Gaza, ” Chevalier affirmed.

In the open, those weapons may be “acceptable under international law.” In an area densely packed with civilians with nowhere to go, their acceptability becomes extremely questionable.

As does the insistence of Israel and its allies that they’re fighting a humane war:

Max Blumenthal reports from a pro-war rally staged by New York politicians and some local Jewish groups:

Sen. Chuck Schumer highlighted Israel’s supposed humanitarian methods of warfare by pointing to its text messaging of certain Gaza Strip residents urging them to vacate their homes before Israeli forces bombed them. “What other country would do that?”

Todd Gitlin observes that this is pretty ignorant and solipsistic:

The U. S., for one. According to the National Museum of the U. S. Air Force, the U. S. dropped millions of leaflets over North Vietnam during Operation Rolling Thunder of 1965-68…. [T]he U. S. also dropped such leaflets over Iraq during 2002-03.

Russia, for another, during the first Chechen war. Leaflets, that is, not text messages.

So they’re raining down leaflets along with the bombs, and sending text messages to people who likely don’t have electricity to charge a cell phone battery with. Even if they get the message, where are Gazans supposed to go? There’s nowhere for them to run:

According to the United Nations, about 30,000 people are living in schools it sponsors and an estimated 60,000 have fled to the houses of relatives. The figures still represent a small part of Gaza’s 1.5 million population but have doubled in the past four days, United Nations officials said, raising concerns about the humanitarian impact of a broader war.

“What began as very small, isolated numbers is now turning into a torrent,” said Aidan O’Leary, deputy director for the United Nations agency that deals with Palestinian refugees.

Maj. Jacob Dallal, an Israeli military spokesman, said units used leaflets to warn families to leave areas where they planned to operate. Aid officials say that with Gaza’s borders closed, choices for shelters in the 140-square-mile strip are slim and the shelters are not completely safe. Last week, as many as 43 people were killed near a United Nations school by an Israeli mortar strike that the military said was in response to a Hamas attack. The Israeli military disputes the death toll.

I’m sure they do. And I’m sure that when all is said and done, the cemeteries will speak louder than Israel’s military as to that death toll.

Egypt is trying to ensure the bombs will stop falling, but the signs aren’t good:

On the diplomatic front, Egyptian mediators pushed Hamas to accept a truce proposal and, in a hopeful sign, Israel sent its lead negotiator to Cairo for “decisive” talks on a cease-fire. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also headed for the region to join diplomatic efforts.

Israeli military officials say that depending on what happens with what they described as “decisive” talks in Cairo, Israel will move closer to a cease-fire or widen its offensive.

I have a feeling we’ll be seeing the latter. After all, the calculus here is impossible:

When Israel invaded Lebanon, it set its victory conditions “destroying” Hezbollah. Since that was impossible, day one it was clear that Israel could not and would not win the war. The scope of the loss was not yet clear, but that it would be a loss was not in question. Things aren’t quite as clear in the Israeli attack on Gaza. Still, Israel has set is victory conditions. To win it needs to either:

a) destroy Hamas and have Fatah take over; or,
b) stop the rocket attacks permanently.

To win Hamas needs to:

a) not be destroyed; and,
b) not stop the missile attacks unless they get the border crossings opened. Note that if they start the attacks up a month after the end of
the war, that’s good enough to show it wasn’t a victory.

We all know who those odds favor. And we know that Hamas has very little incentive to bow to Israel. Not after what happened the last time they agreed to a ceasefire, and then watched Israel choke the lifeblood out of Gaza before violating it.

A few lonely voices of reason are rising amidst the bombs. Perhaps as the killing continues, there will be more:

An Israeli soldier has been jailed for refusing to take part in the army’s offensive in the Gaza Strip.

The unnamed soldier refused because of the civilian deaths resulting from the 17-day incursion.

He has been jailed for fourteen days after being charged with, and convicted for, refusing to obey orders.

A number of reservists are believed to be considering not participating in the war after being called up in recent days.

[snip]

Meantime Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday demanded Hamas and Israel end the violence, and observe the recently passed UN resolution calling for a ceasefire.

“The fighting must stop. To both sides, I say, just stop now. Too many people have died,” he said.

“We have a Security Council resolution demanding an immediate and enduring ceasefire. This resolution must be observed,” he said.

I hope Israel
and Hamas listen to those voices, before the cemeteries can hold no more.

Gaza: Democracy Among the Dead and Wounded

While our horrified attention is captured by falling bombs and rising bodycounts, Israel makes a mockery of the idea that it remains a vibrant democracy:

If there’s a reasonable justification for this, it doesn’t come to mind.

Israel on Monday banned Arab political parties from running in next month’s parliamentary elections, drawing accusations of racism by an Arab lawmaker who said he would challenge the decision in the country’s Supreme Court.

The ruling by parliament’s Central Election Committee reflected the heightened tensions between Israel’s Jewish majority and Arab minority caused by Israel’s offensive in the Gaza Strip. Arabs have held a series of demonstrations against the offensive.

Parliament spokesman Giora Pordes said the election committee voted overwhelmingly in favor of the motion, accusing the country’s Arab parties of incitement, supporting terrorist groups and refusing to recognize Israel’s right to exist. Arab lawmakers have traveled to some of Israel’s staunchest enemies, including Lebanon and Syria.

The 37-member committee is composed of representatives from Israel’s major political parties. The measure was proposed by two ultranationalist parties but received widespread support.

There are Arab members of the predominantly Jewish parties and Israel’s communist party, but the move doesn’t affect them. One-fifth of Israel’s population is Arab. No good can come of a decision like this one.

Israel has treated its Arab population as second-class citizens for a very long time, all the while proclaiming that its Arabs have rights and a voice and so nothing to complain about. I remember this argument being made again and again in books I’ve read about their history. They were proud of the fact that they gave their Arab citizens a voice within their democracy.

It looks like they’ve decided that weak voice was far too loud.

But Israeli PM Olmert’s is ringing out loudly enough to leave the U.S. cowering in a corner:

Last week, the U.S. curiously abstained from a voting on a United Nations Gaza ceasefire resolution, “an apparent reversal of earlier promises to Arab states.” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, despite voicing support for the resolution, raised concerns about “Egyptian mediation efforts” in explaining the abstention.

But in reality, Rice was essentially ready to support the resolution — until a last-minute intervention from President Bush. In a speech in Israel, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert bragged that he called Bush at the last minute, urging that the U.S. not vote to support the resolution. Bush acquiesced to Olmert’s demands:

“In the night between Thursday and Friday, when the secretary of state wanted to lead the vote on a ceasefire at the Security Council, we did not want her to vote in favour,” Olmert said.

“I said ‘get me President Bush on the phone’. They said he was in the middle of giving a speech in Philadelphia. I said I didn’t care. ‘I need to talk to him now’. He got off the podium and spoke to me.”I told him the United States could not vote in favour. It cannot vote in favour of such a resolution. He immediately called the secretary of state and told her not to vote in favour.”

Rice had worked extensively on the resolution with Arab, British, and French foreign ministers. “She was left shamed. A resolution that she prepared and arranged, and in the end she did not vote in favour,” Olmert said.

I wonder how Bush likes being this gloating fuck’s little bitch? At least we won’t have to wonder who’s going to be the girlfriend if the Hague throws them both in the same prison cell for war crimes.

Bush, along with the vast majority of the war-obsessed neocon fuckwits who love to cheerlead while other people get killed, is probably swooning over Olmert’s tough-guy rhetoric:

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert stood within Hamas rocket range Monday and warned Islamic militants that they face an “iron fist” unless they agree to Israeli terms for an end to war in the Gaza Strip. Hamas showed no signs of wavering, however, with its leader, Ismail Haniyeh, saying the militants were “closer to victory.”

[snip]

As diplomats struggled for traction in truce efforts, Olmert said Israel would only end military operations if Hamas stops rocketing Israel, as it has done for years, and is unable to rearm after combat subsides.

“Anything else will be met with the Israeli people’s iron fist,” Olmert said. “We will continue to strike with full strength, with full force until there is quiet and rearmament stops.”

[snip]

At least 20 Palestinians died Monday, some of them from wounds suffered on previous days, Gaza health officials said.

A girl, a doctor and a Hamas militant were killed in the northern Gaza Strip, said Basim Abu Wardeh, head of Kamal Adwan hospital.

The doctor rushed to evacuate the wounded from a building where two airstrikes had taken place and was killed by a third, Abu Wardeh said. Four other medics were injured, one critically.

That’s Israel’s iron fist. While Olmert and his military pretend it’s all about smiting militants, their iron fist crushes little girls and doctors. They have killed more people in a single day than they’ve lost during the entire duration of this war. And those ratios would be impressive if they weren’t bloated by so ma
ny civilians on the Palestinian side. That turns this war from a tour-de-force into a massacre.

But that’s okay. After all, these people are nothing. They’re just trash:

On Wednesday, Illinois Republican Congressman Mark Kirk spoke at a rally in Washington:

U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Reps. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Frank Wolf (R-Va.) all also strongly backed the Jewish state’s actions at the hourlong rally.

“To misquote Shakespeare, something is rotten in Gaza and now it’s time to take out the trash,” Kirk said.

No mention of diplomacy or of the brutality and human suffering on both sides. Just “taking out the trash.”

[snip]

I guess, for some people who’ve never been in the thick of the fighting in a combat zone, it’s easy to lose sight of what that process entails. And when people lose that perspective during a conflict, they sometimes make stupid statements aimed at burnishing their own credentials as big, tough, fighting men, even though that’s not what they are.

People who throw around such cavalier remarks have never watched a civilian bleed to death on a battlefield after being cut down in the crossfire. To people like Congressman Kirk, combat doesn’t involve real people in real situations. Just numbers, ideologies, terrorists, and “trash.” It’s the same reckless attitude that birthed George W. Bush’s “bring’em on” statement and many others like it.

Brandon Friedman’s essay includes a photo of what the “trash” looks like. It’s a very young Palestinian girl’s body being carried to a stretcher.

I wonder, if people like Kirk and Olmert and Bush had to carry the bodies of dead children out of the debris of the bombs they ordered dropped, if we would still hear phrases like “bring ‘em on” and “iron fist” and “time to take out the trash.”

But they’re not faced with that. They very carefully insulate themselves from the horrors they unleash, and ignore anyone who doesn’t cheer their efforts. The voices of those who demand they stop the killing of innocents may as well be mute. They don’t hear them.

Once again, the UN issues a condemnation Israel will be only too happy to ignore:

The United Nations Human Rights Council condemned Israel today for “grave violations” of human rights of the people of Gaza. The adopted resolution drafted by Arab, Asian, and African countries also called for the urgent dispatch of an international mission to investigate Israeli behavior in the Gaza Strip, and called on Israel to cooperate with it by immediately ending its attacks and withdrawing its military forces from Gaza:

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay stressed to told the Council on Friday that international human rights law must apply in all circumstances and at all times, and strongly urged the parties to the conflict “to fulfil their obligations under international humanitarian law to collect, care for and evacuate the wounded and to protect and respect health workers, hospitals, and medical units and ambulances.

“Accountability must be ensured for violations of international law,” she said.

The resolution also called for an end to “launching of the crude rockets against Israeli civilians that resulted in the loss of 4 civilian lives” but noted that Israeli attacks had brought some 900 Palestinian deaths and injured around 4,000. Canada cast the only negative vote for the non-binding resolution, which received the support of 33 of the Council’s 47 members, while 13 countries abstained.

Don’t be too surprised by the fact that Canada voted against condemning Israel. Remember that Stephen Harper and his merry band of neocons have done their level best to live up to the example Bush has set. And they, too, have their lobby of religious nuts wanting Israel to bring the whole world to Armageddon.

This is a perfect storm of compliant Western powers, religious insanity, and a refusal on all sides to face up to some harsh reality:

For many years, Israel has adhered to a number of basic assumptions that have never proven right. Some of these theories contributed to the operation in Gaza this time. According to one such assumption, inflicting hardship on Palestinian civilians will make the population rise up against its leaders and choose more “moderate” ones. Hence, when Hamas took over Gaza in 2007, after a short, sharp struggle with its secular rivals in Fatah, Israel imposed a blockade on the strip, pushing 1.5 million Palestinians to the verge of a humanitarian catastrophe. But Hamas has only become stronger. And here’s another false Israeli assumption: that Hamas is a terrorist organization. In fact, it’s also a genuine national and religious movement supported by most of the people in Gaza. It cannot be simply bombed away.

That voice of reason provided by an Israeli Jew.

Peace hasn’t been able to survive such spectacularly wrong assumptions. Based on Israel’s actions yesterday, it seems that democracy will soon be joining peace in its grave.

Gaza: World on Fire

As Israel pours reservists into urban areas, protesters in other countries take to the streets:

KARACHI, Pakistan — Security forces used tear gas and batons to repel anti-Israel protesters who tried to attack a U.S. consulate in Pakistan Sunday, as tens of thousands in Europe, the Middle East and Asia demonstrated against Israel’s offensive in Gaza.

A protest in the Belgian capital that drew 30,000 turned violent as well, with demonstrators overturning cars and smashing shop windows. And in Manila, Philippines, policemen used shields to disperse students protesting outside the U.S. Embassy.

[snip]

In Spain, as many as 100,000 attended rallies in Madrid and the southwestern city of Seville, urging Israel to “stop the massacre in Gaza” and calling for peace initiatives. Spain’s Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos will tour the Middle East starting Monday to promote solutions to the conflict.

Israel is pissing away what international good will it had. It seems its government is determined to follow in the footsteps of the Bush regime, turning a legitimate grievance into an excuse for unrestrained assault, world opinion be damned:

Prime Minister Olmert “slammed international calls for restraint by IDF forces in Gaza” during today’s Israeli Cabinet meeting:

“For many years we’ve demonstrated restraint. We reined our reactions. We bit our lips and took barrage after barrage,” said Olmert …

Olmert called the war “an unprecedented national effort that restored the spirit of unity to the nation…”

And maybe his words wouldn’t be quite so hollow if it wasn’t for the bodies of hundreds of children. Maybe, if Israel had truly had no other choice, his words wouldn’t sound like the posturing of a genocidal fool. But they had a choice. Hamas gave them one:

A rather pertinent fact that seems to have been left out of the official story:

WASHINGTON, Jan 9 (IPS) – Contrary to Israel’s argument that it was forced to launch its air and ground offensive against Gaza in order to stop the firing of rockets into its territory, Hamas proposed in mid-December to return to the original Hamas-Israel ceasefire arrangement, according to a U.S.-based source who has been briefed on the proposal.

The proposal to renew the ceasefire was presented by a high-level Hamas delegation to Egyptian Minister of Intelligence Omar Suleiman at a meeting in Cairo Dec. 14. The delegation, said to have included Moussa Abu Marzouk, the second-ranking official in the Hamas political bureau in Damascus, told Suleiman that Hamas was prepared to stop all rocket attacks against Israel if the Israelis would open up the Gaza border crossings and pledge not to launch attacks in Gaza.

[snip]

The readiness of Hamas to return to the ceasefire conditionally in mid-December was confirmed by Dr. Robert Pastor, a professor at American University and senior adviser to the Carter Centre, who met with Khaled Meshal, chairman of the Hamas political bureau in Damascus on Dec. 14, along with former President Jimmy Carter. Pastor told IPS that Meshal indicated Hamas was willing to go back to the ceasefire that had been in effect up to early November “if there was a sign that Israel would lift the siege on Gaza”.

That wasn’t all that Hamas did. If you continue reading at the link quoted above, you discover this:

The ceasefire agreement that went into effect Jun. 19, 2008 required that Israel lift the virtual siege of Gaza which Israel had imposed after the June 2007 Hamas takeover. Although the terms of the agreement were not made public at the time, they were included in a report published this week by the International Crisis Group (ICG), which obtained a copy of the understanding last June.

In addition to a halt in all military actions by both sides, the agreement called on Israel to increase the level of goods entering Gaza by 30 percent over the pre-lull period within 72 hours and to open all border crossings and “allow the transfer of all goods that were banned and restricted to go into Gaza” within 13 days after the beginning of the ceasefire.

Nevertheless, Israeli officials freely acknowledged in interviews with ICG last June that they had no intention of opening the border crossings fully, even though they anticipated that this would be the source of serious conflict with Hamas.

The Israelis opened the access points only partially, and in late July Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni declared that the border crossings should remain closed until Hamas agreed to the release of Gilad Shalit, an IDF soldier abducted by Hamas in June 2006. The Hamas representative in Lebanon, Usam Hamdan, told the ICG in late December that the flow of goods and fuel into Gaza had been only 15 percent of its basic needs.

Despite Israel’s refusal to end the siege, Hamas brought rocket and mortar fire from Gaza to a virtual halt last summer and fall, as revealed by a report by the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center (ITIC) in Tel Aviv last month. ITIC is part of the Israel Intelligence Heritage & Commemoration Centre (IICC), an NGO which is close to the Israeli intelligence community.

[snip]

The report recalls that Hamas “tried to enforce the terms of the arrangement” on other Palestinian groups, taking “a number of steps against networks which violated the arrangement,” including short-term detention and confiscating their weapons. It even found that Hamas had sought support in Gazan public opinion for its policy of maintaining the ceasefire.

Hamas tried to hold up their end of the bargain. Israel didn’t. Israel repeatedly violated the ceasefire agreement. Even with that, Hamas was willing to give the ceasefire another go. Remember that, when you start to swallow Israeli propaganda. Hamas isn’t a perfect bunch of innocent angels, but their behavior was certainly no worse than Israel’s, or the United States’s. In some respects, it seems it was better.

And Israel goes right on violating its agreements, such as that three-hour window for humanitarian aid:

The writer at In Gaza gives us a sense of what those three hour truces are like: (the reporting here is very worth following – h/t markfromireland)

Yousef and I had discussed the violations of Israel’s unilaterally-imposed 3-hour-ceasefire [which a Lebanese journalist summed up: “How would you like it if I was shooting at you and then told you I’d give you a minute to dance around before I kill you?” ]. John Ging, director of UNRWA in the Gaza Strip, sums it up more diplomatically: “For 3 hours, the people of Gaza have some safety. That’s all it is.” During the first day of the innapropriately-named time period between 1 and 4pm, Israeli forces killed 3 sisters (ages 2, 3, 10), one woman (31), 2 elderly men (60 and 87), and targeted paramedics, shooting one in the leg, as the explosions continued all over the Gaza Strip. At 6 pm, 2 hours after the ‘cease-fire’, the official killing did indeed continue: 5 dead in northern Gaza, returning from the bread lines with a prize bag of bread, bombed in their car, including ages 10, 12, 15, cousin 20, and father 45. And later, after 9pm, another medic shot in the leg while trying to perform his duties.

Tell me something, Israel. What did five people, many of them children, do to deserve a bomb with their bread? What did those three sisters, two of them toddlers, do that made your vaunted IDF decide to violate a ceasefire to kill them? Why are paramedics being shot, seemingly deliberately targeted? Can you explain this? Can you give me a reason why?

They keep mumbling about militants hiding among civilians. But they won’t let reporters in to see that this is so. We here in America know now what that means. It means the government is telling lies.

Their violence is spilling over their borders now:


Two Egyptian children and two police officers were wounded by shrapnel from Israel Air Force bombs near a crossing point at Egypt’s border with the Gaza Strip on Sunday, security sources said.

The children, aged two and five, and the two officers were the first Egyptians to be wounded by Israeli bombs since the Israeli offensive against Gaza began on Dec. 27, and were taken to hospitals in el-Arish.

[snip]

Israel has expanded its air campaign to the southern Gaza Strip, aiming at smuggling tunnels running under the border with Egypt.

One Egyptian border guard has been killed and two have been wounded in clashes with Palestinians trying to enter Egypt since the Israeli offensive began.

And we discovered that the Bush regime, in a rare moment of prudence, denied Israel the weaponry, the backing, and the airspace to attack Iran:

The New York Times‘ David Sanger has a fascinating item today, reporting on a secret request from the Israeli government last year for “specialized bunker-busting bombs it wanted for an attack on Iran’s main nuclear complex.” Bush declined, thanks in part to the sound counsel of his Defense Secretary.

The White House denied that request outright, American officials said, and the Israelis backed off their plans, at least temporarily.

[snip]

The interviews also indicate that Mr. Bush was convinced by top administration officials, led by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, that any overt attack on Iran would probably prove ineffective, lead to the expulsion of international inspectors and drive Iran’s nuclear effort further out of view. Mr. Bush and his aides also discussed the possibility that an airstrike could ignite a broad Middle East war in which America’s 140,000 troops in Iraq would inevitably become involved.

The piece is worth reading in its entirety — it paints a picture of Israel pressuring Bush to support a confrontation, but the president becoming convinced that a strike would prove counterproductive. Of particular interest was not just Israel’s request for bunker-busting bombs, but also for permission to fly over Iraq to strike Iran.

Where will it stop? With Gaza on fire, the Middle East, the world? We can consult the word of one of Israel’s rabbis to get an idea of just how much death is too much (h/t):

All civilians living in Gaza are collectively guilty for Kassam attacks on Sderot, former Sephardi chief rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu has written in a letter to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Eliyahu ruled that there was absolutely no moral prohibition against the indiscriminate killing of civilians during a potential massive military offensive on Gaza aimed at stopping the rocket launchings.

[snip]

“If they don’t stop after we kill 100, then we must kill a thousand,” said Shmuel Eliyahu. “And if they do not stop after 1,000 then we must kill 10,000. If they still don’t stop we must kill 100,000, even a million. Whatever it takes to make them stop.”

That’s not war. That’s extermination.

6,000,000 Jews once died for a philosophy very similar to the one Rabbi Eliyahu espouses. I fail to see any significant difference between the two. And that horrifies me more than I have the words to express.

Israel. Selah. You are walking into a darkness you may never walk out of again.