Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Operation Cast Lead one year on

Operation Cast Lead was launched on 27 December 2008 on the spurious pretext of preventing Hamas rocket fire into southern Israel. It followed months of pledges by senior Israeli ministers to level parts of Gaza, and inflict a "Holocaust" on the territory. It followed Israel's most explicit violation of a ceasefire agreement on November 4th, when it launched a series of raids on Gaza. It followed the intensitification of a blockade that left 9 out of 10 Gazans living below the poverty line, with some families forced to live on grass to survive. Mary Robinson, a former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and fairly conventional supporter of a two-state settlement, described how the blockade was affecting Gaza: "their whole civilisation has been destroyed, I'm not exaggerating ... It's almost unbelievable that the world doesn't care while this is happening." There is a great deal more to be said about context but, suffice to say, the aggression was merely the latest phase in a war on the civilian population of Gaza, a sustained punishment beating it was enduring for resistance: specifically, for having maintained its elected government despite a successful Israeli-backed Fatah putsch in the West Bank in the summer of 2007, which one would infer had been planned since Hamas' electoral victory in early 2006. That this punishment is continuing - of which, more later - is reason in itself to revisit the last year's blitzkrieg.

The brutality of Operation Cast Lead shocked some of Israel's most devoted supporters, and divided the pro-Israel camp. Even as it was happening, some of the most shocking accounts of IDF conduct were emerging. These included sealing off a neighbourhood, bombing and shelling it, blocking medical and humanitarian entry, and knowingly leaving children to slowly die next to their already deceased relatives. They included the targeting of hospitals and ambulances, and the repeated targeting of schools. UN casualty statistics reflected a particularly onerous burden on the civilian population - 42% of those killed, they said, were women and children. Some news reports falsely suggested that this meant that 'only' 42% of those killed were civilians, which involved the racist supposition that Palestinian males over 16 no longer count as civilians with the full protection of humanitarian norms and laws. As it happens, the re-definition of the category of 'civilian' was integral to Israeli doctrine during the war, and it was essential to their military plans. The 'Dahiya Doctrine', the parameters of which informed Israeli operations in Gaza, involved precisely this shift, as General Gadi Eisenkot explained:

"What happened in the Dahiya quarter in Beirut in 2006 will happen in every village from which Israel is fired upon. We will apply disproportionate force upon it and cause great damage and destruction there," he said. "From our standpoint, these are not civilian villages, they are military bases."

“This is not a recommendation. This is a plan. And it has been approved”. [Emphasis added]

Such genocidal logic, congruent with the promises of a 'Holocaust', was consistently expressed in Israel's methods and targeting, not to mention the uplifting sentiments expressed by IDF soldiers while defacing Palestinian homes. Since the end of Operation Cast Lead, we have had numerous reports into Israel's conduct of the operation, though less attention has been paid to the supposed rationale behind the attacks. The Goldstone Report [pdf] has documented in forensic detail an astonishing level of premeditated and sadistic violence toward civilians. It documented deliberate attacks on hospitals, mosques, and perhaps most chillingly the assault on the al-Samouni area resulting in the calculated massacre of the al-Samouni family. Focusing on 36 specific incidents of such aggression, with detailed consideration of evidence in each case, it concluded that the war had either in whole or in part been against the "people of Gaza as a whole". This was quite remarkable for such a report, produced by a UN team led by a "Zionist" who "loves Israel". It also concluded that "the operations were in furtherance of an overall policy aimed at punishing the Gaza population for its resilience and for its apparent support for Hamas". As a consequence of such conclusions, the report demanded that Israel should pay reparations to the Palestinians affected by its actions, noting that its internal structures left few avenues open for Palestinians to sue for reparations themselves. It also encouraged the UN to refer the report to the ICC, and called on the ICC to act on legal appeals from the "Government of Palestine". Predictably, the report was subject to a barrage of ignorant rubbish, suggesting that it was the result of a mission biased against Israel (forgetting that its remit actually included studying alleged war crimes by armed Palestinian groups), and that its findings were based "largely on interviews with Hamas" (utter garbage). Numerous rebuttal websites have been set up, including a rather slick one by CAMERA, with the aim of blowing smoke over the findings. But all of this is so much acting out by an increasingly bellicose and shrill minority.

One point that the Goldstone report also emphasised was that the punishment of the Palestinian population was continuing in the form of a blockade, which it considered to be "collective punishment". On Sunday, a new report [pdf] by numerous NGOs including Amnesty, Christian Aid, CAFOD, Oxfam, Trocaire and Medical Aid for the Palestinians looks at the impact of the blockade. Its main conclusions are shared by the International Committee of the Red Cross. It finds that all attempts to regenerate Gazan society and economy since Operation Cast Lead have been frustrated by the ongoing blockade. Most of the $4bn of international donor money has not been spent, not for lack of determination, but because the conditions of the blockade make it impossible to carry out the necessary reconstruction:

"the civilian population and the United Nations and aid agencies that aim to help them are prohibited from importing materials like cement or glass for reconstruction in all but a handful of cases".

The inability to reconstruct damaged homes has left tens of thousands displaced, some living in tents.

"And this is to say nothing of the backlog of need from those homes severely damaged in previous military actions, those new houses left half-built due to lack of materials and existing properties condemned as unhygienic or unsafe to live in that cannot be replaced."

Not only are homes not being rebuilt, but power stations necessary to maintain production, keep hospitals and public services functioning, and maintain sanitary water, remain destroyed. Israel regularly refuses to allow generators into Gaza. And industries are going idle. 120,000 jobs in the private sector were lost because of the blockade. Even before Operation Cast Lead, "98% of industrial operations in Gaza were idle because of the blockade". Because of the destruction to power stations, sewage systems and water piping, 8,000 people lack any access to piped water at all, and the remainder of the population has to suffer sporadic supplies when the power cuts out as it regularly does: water shortages and power cuts are particularly liable to take place during winter. The shortage of clean water is causing a shocking rise in diarrhoea, which is behind 12% of young deaths.

The blockade has reduced the categories of goods entering Gaza from approximately 4,000 to about 35, and those items that are theoretically allowed in (some medicines, basic foods and humanitarian supplies) are subject to arbitrarily shifting restrictions. The blockade had also severely restricted agricultural production, and Operation Cast Lead destroyed 17% of cultivated land in Gaza. Israel's imposition of a depopulated 'buffer zone' "inside of the walls and fences surrounding Gaza" has resulted in between "a quarter and a third of Gaza's agricultural land" being subsumed into the 'buffer zone'. The combined effect of Cast Lead and the ongoing blockade has been to put 46% of Gazan agricultural land out of production.

While southern Israel "blossoms", Gaza is constantly regressing in its ability to reproduce itself as a society and economy. Earlier this year, a leaked UN report said that the ongoing blockade was resulting in a process of "de-development", with "increased aid dependency" among the population - already, 75% of Gazans depend on food aid to survive. The report by Amnesty et al concludes, with language that is becoming all too familiar, that the blockade amounts to "collective punishment". It is worse than collective punishment, and that tag will simply not do any more. Baruch Kimmerling has characterised Israel's war on the Palestinians as 'politicide': an attempt to wholly destroy the fabric of any potential Palestinian state. But, as Martin Shaw has written, the proliferation of -cides with respect to the crimes of war - femicide, democide, infanticide, etc - really adverts to the genocidal logic that they are all too often embedded in. The logic of Israeli policy vis-a-vis the Palestinians is dictated by its twin drives to maintain control of Gaza and the West Bank with the long term aim of incorporating both as official Israeli territories, and its determination to remain a 'Jewish state' with a substantial Jewish majority. Either the Israeli state must give up one of these goals (and no one is applying sufficient pressure to make it do so), or it must find a way of disposing of the Palestinian population. Ethnic cleansing is one such means. Imposing conditions such as are intended to make life and its reproduction almost impossible, and unbearable, is another. The war on the population of Gaza is an attempt to break Palestinian resistance by means of destroying, in part, the aforementioned population.