This article was originally published on The Electronic
Intifada, 11 January 2007
On this stage, not so long ago, I
claimed that Israel is conducting genocidal policies in the Gaza Strip. I
hesitated a lot before using this very charged term and yet decided to adopt it.
Indeed, the responses I received, including from some leading human rights
activists, indicated a certain unease over the usage of such a term. I was
inclined to rethink the term for a while, but came back to employing it today
with even stronger conviction: it is the only appropriate way to describe what
the Israeli army is doing in the Gaza Strip.
On 28 December 2006, the
Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem published its annual report about the
Israeli atrocities in the occupied territories. Israeli forces killed this last
year six hundred and sixty citizens. The number of Palestinians killed by Israel
last year tripled in comparison to the previous year (around two hundred).
According to B’Tselem, the Israelis killed one hundred and forty one children in
the last year. Most of the dead are from the Gaza Strip, where the Israeli
forces demolished almost 300 houses and slew entire families. This means that
since 2000, Israeli forces killed almost four thousand Palestinians, half of
them children; more than twenty thousand were wounded.
B’Tselem is a
conservative organization, and the numbers may be higher. But the point is not
just about the escalating intentional killing, it is about the trend and the
strategy. As 2007 commences, Israeli policymakers are facing two very different
realities in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. In the former, they are closer
than ever to finishing the construction of their eastern border. Their internal
ideological debate is over and their master plan for annexing half of the West
Bank is being implemented at an ever-growing speed. The last phase was delayed
due to the promises made by Israel, under the Road Map, not to build new
settlements. Israel found two ways of circumventing this alleged prohibition.
First, it defined a third of the West Bank as Greater Jerusalem, which allowed
it to build within this new annexed area towns and community centers. Secondly,
it expanded old settlements to such proportions so that there was no need to
build new ones. This trend was given an additional push in 2006 (hundreds of
caravans were installed to mark the border of the expansions, the planning
schemes for the new towns and neighborhoods were finalized and the apartheid
bypass roads and highway system completed). In all, the settlements, the army
bases, the roads and the wall will allow Israel to annex almost half of the West
Bank by 2010. Within these territories there will be a considerable number of
Palestinians, against whom the Israeli authorities will continue to implement
slow and creeping transfer policies — too boring as a subject for the western
media to bother with and too elusive for human rights organizations to make a
general point about them. There is no rush; as far as the Israelis are
concerned, they have the upper hand there: the daily abusive and dehumanizing
mixed mechanisms of army and bureaucracy is as effective as ever in contributing
its own share to the dispossession process.
The strategic thinking of
Ariel Sharon that this policy is far better than the one offered by the blunt
‘transferists’ or ethnic cleansers, such as Avigdor Liberman’s advocacy, is
accepted by everyone in the government, from Labor to Kadima. The petit crimes
of state terrorism are also effective as they enable liberal Zionists around the
world to softly condemn Israel and yet categorize any genuine criticism on
Israel’s criminal policies as anti-Semitism.
On the other hand, there is
no clear Israeli strategy as yet for the Gaza Strip; but there is a daily
experiment with one. Gaza, in the eyes of the Israelis, is a very different
geo-political entity from that of the West Bank. Hamas controls Gaza, while Abu
Mazen seems to run the fragmented West Bank with Israeli and American blessing.
There is no chunk of land in Gaza that Israel covets and there is no hinterland,
like Jordan, to which the Palestinians of Gaza can be expelled. Ethnic cleansing
is ineffective here.
The earlier strategy in Gaza was ghettoizing the
Palestinians there, but this is not working. The ghettoized community continues
to express its will for life by firing primitive missiles into Israel.
Ghettoizing or quarantining unwanted communities, even if they were regarded as
sub-human or dangerous, never worked in history as a solution. The Jews know it
best from their own history. The next stages against such communities in the
past were even more horrific and barbaric. It is difficult to tell what the
future holds for the Gaza population, ghettoized, quarantined, unwanted and
demonized. Will it be a repeat of the ominous historical examples or is a better
fate still possible?
Creating the prison and throwing the key to the sea,
as UN Special Reporter John Dugard has put it, was an option the Palestinians in
Gaza reacted against with force as soon as September 2005. They were determined
to show at the very least that they were still part of the West Bank and
Palestine. In that month, they launched the first significant, in number and not
quality, barrage of missiles into the Western Negev. The shelling was a response
to an Israeli campaign of mass arrests of Hamas and Islamic Jihad activists in
the Tul Karem area. The Israelis responded with operation ‘First Rain’. It is
worth dwelling for a moment on the nature of that operation. It was inspired by
the punitive measures inflicted first by colonialist powers, and then by
dictatorships, against rebellious imprisoned or banished communities. A
frightening show of the oppressor’s power to intimidate preceded all kind of
collective and brutal punishments, ending with a large number of dead and
wounded among the victims. In ‘First Rain’, supersonic flights were flown over
Gaza to terrorize the entire population, succeeded by the heavy bombardment of
vast areas from the sea, sky and land. The logic, the Israeli army explained,
was to create pressure so as to weaken the Gaza community’s support for the
rocket launchers. As was expected, by the Israelis as well, the operation only
increased the support for the rocket launchers and gave impetus to their next
attempt. The real purpose of that particular operation was experimental. The
Israeli generals wished to know how such operations would be received at home,
in the region and in the world. And it seems that instantly the answer was ‘very
well’; namely, no one took an interest in the scores of dead and hundreds of
wounded Palestinians left behind after the ‘First Rain’ subsided.
hence since ‘First Rain’ and until June 2006, all the following operations were
similarly modeled. The difference was in their escalation: more firepower, more
causalities and more collateral damage and, as to be expected, more Qassam
missiles in response. Accompanying measures in 2006 were more sinister means of
ensuring the full imprisonment of the people of Gaza through boycott and
blockade, with which the EU is still shamefully collaborating.
capture of Gilad Shalit in June 2006 was irrelevant in the general scheme of
things, but nonetheless provided an opportunity for the Israelis to escalate
even more the components of the tactical and allegedly punitive missions. After
all, there was still no strategy that followed the tactical decision of Ariel
Sharon to take out 8,000 settlers whose presence complicated ‘punitive’ missions
and whose eviction made him almost a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize. Since
then, the ‘punitive’ actions continue and become themselves a strategy.
The Israeli army loves drama and therefore also escalated the language.
‘First Rain’ was replaced by ‘Summer Rains’, a general name that was given to
the ‘punitive’ operations since June 2006 (in a country where there is no rain
in the summer, the only precipitation that one can expect are showers of F-16
bombs and artillery shells hitting people of Gaza).
brought a novel component: the land invasion into parts of the Gaza Strip. This
enabled the army to kill citizens even more effectively and to present it as a
result of heavy fighting within dense populated areas, an inevitable result of
the circumstances and not of Israeli policies. With the close of summer came
operation ‘Autumn Clouds’ which was even more efficient: on 1 November 2006, in
less than 48 hours, the Israelis killed seventy civilians; by the end of that
month, with additional mini operations accompanying it, almost two hundred were
killed, half of them children and women. As one can see from the dates, some of
the activity was parallel to the Israeli attacks on Lebanon, making it easier to
complete the operations without much external attention, let alone criticism.
From ‘First Rain’ to ‘Autumn Clouds’ one can see escalation in every
parameter. The first is the disappearance of the distinction between civilian
and non-civilian targets: the senseless killing has turned the population at
large to the main target for the army’s operation. The second one is the
escalation in the means: employment of every possible killing machines the
Israeli army possesses. Thirdly, the escalation is conspicuous in the number of
casualties: with each operation, and each future operation, a much larger number
of people are likely to be killed and wounded. Finally, and most importantly,
the operations become a strategy — the way Israel intends to solve the problem
of the Gaza Strip.
A creeping transfer in the West Bank and a measured
genocidal policy in the Gaza Strip are the two strategies Israel employs today.
From an electoral point of view, the one in Gaza is problematic as it does not
reap any tangible results; the West Bank under Abu Mazen is yielding to Israeli
pressure and there is no significant force that arrests the Israeli strategy of
annexation and dispossession. But Gaza continues to fire back. On the one hand,
this would enable the Israeli army to initiate more massive genocidal operations
in the future. But there is also the great danger, on the other, that as
happened in 1948, the army would demand a more drastic and systematic ‘punitive’
and collateral action against the besieged people of the Gaza Strip.
Ironically, the Israeli killing machine has rested lately. Even
relatively large number of Qassam missiles, including one or two quite deadly
ones, did not stir the army to action. Though the army’s spokesmen say it shows
‘restraint’, it never did in the past and is not likely to do so in the future.
The army rests, as its generals are content with the internal killing that rages
on in Gaza and does the job for them. They watch with satisfaction the emerging
civil war in Gaza, which Israel foments and encourages. From Israel’s point of
view it does not really mater how Gaza would eventually be demographically
downsized, be it by internal or Israeli slaying. The responsibility of ending
the internal fighting lies of course with the Palestinian groups themselves, but
the American and Israeli interference, the continued imprisonment, the
starvation and strangulation of Gaza are all factors that make such an internal
peace process very difficult. But it will take place soon and then with the
first early sign that it subsided, the Israeli ‘Summer Rains’ will fall down
again on the people of Gaza, wreaking havoc and death.
And one should
never tire of stating the inevitable political conclusions from this dismal
reality of the year we left behind and in the face of the one that awaits us.
There is still no other way of stopping Israel than besides boycott, divestment
and sanctions. We should all support it clearly, openly, unconditionally,
regardless of what the gurus of our world tell us about the efficiency or raison
d’etre of such actions. The UN would not intervene in Gaza as it does in Africa;
the peace noble laureates would not enlist to its defense as they do for causes
in Southeast Asia. The numbers of people killed there are not staggering as far
as other calamities are concerned, and it is not a new story — it is
dangerously old and troubling. The only soft point of this killing machine is
its oxygen lines to ‘western’ civilization and public opinion. It is still
possible to puncture them and make it at least more difficult for the Israelis
to implement their future strategy of eliminating the Palestinian people either
by cleansing them in the West Bank or genociding them in the Gaza
Ilan Pappe is senior lecturer in the University of
Haifa Department of political Science and Chair of the Emil Touma Institute for
Palestinian Studies in Haifa. His books include, among others, The Making of the
Arab-Israeli Conflict (London and New York 1992), The Israel/Palestine Question
(London and New York 1999), A History of Modern Palestine (Cambridge 2003), The
Modern Middle East (London and New York 2005) and his latest, Ethnic Cleansing
of Palestine (2006).