After the Destruction

Against the Current, No. 139, March/April 2009

The Editors

AS BARACK OBAMA mounted the Washington, DC inaugural stage on the euphoric morning of January 20, 2009, in Gaza the sounds of Israel’s invasion — the U.S.-supplied F-16s’ bombing runs, the artillery shells that accurately hit their targets of hospitals and clinics and refugee schools with children inside, the clearly-marked made-in-USA canisters of white phosphorus that burn people alive from the inside, the newly field-tested “DIME” bombs that efficiently tear multiple limbs off the victims — had gone at least temporarily silent.

No doubt the Obama team’s message had gone out quite explicitly to the Israeli leadership that it would be seen in very bad taste to upstage president Obama’s inauguration and first days in office by continuing this massacre. The Israeli government proclaimed a “unilateral ceasefire.” Both Israel and Hamas could claim “victory.” How many more such “victories” can Palestinians or Israelis can survive?

The destruction of Gaza was accomplished about as thoroughly as could be done within the constraints imposed on this particular Israeli operation. This time around, a three-week Israeli campaign killing 1300 Palestinians was acceptable (acceptable to whom? To U.S. imperialism, to Europe and to the complicit Arab regimes), but three months and killing twelve or thirteen thousand was not. This is no guarantee that the same limits will apply in the future.

As ATC goes to press, the postwar Israeli election has produced a near-deadlock. The next governing coalition will likely be dictated by the “kingmaker” Avigdor Lieberman, the leader of the ascendant fascist party (Israel Beitenu) that openly calls for a Zionist state loyalty oath, and stripping citizenship from those — mainly Arab Palestinian citizens of Israel — who refuse.

The military objectives stated by the Israeli leadership, fully embraced by the Bush administration, were secondary — although relevant to Israel’s domestic politics. The real objective was the physical destruction of Gaza to the point where the democratically elected Hamas-led government would be utterly unable to function at the level of meeting people’s most primitive survival needs. Gaza’s police stations and government buildings, the medical infrastructure including civilian and Red Cross ambulances, the university, and the facilities of UNRWA (the United Nations agency providing relief in the Occupied Palestinian Territories) which is a major employer in the devastated Gazan economy — these were primary targets, and not by accident.

It must be admitted that the level of destruction and overwhelming human misery is impressive, and a tribute to both the efficiency of Israeli planning and the U.S.-Israeli special relationship. The lying pretext that the action was caused by Hamas breaking a six-month truce — a truce that Israel never honored for a single day, as its 18-month blockade and near-starvation of Gaza, with the full cooperation of the Egyptian regime, continued throughout — mobilized the majority of Israeli Jewish public opinion in support of the slaughter.

Meanwhile support for Hamas has grown not only in Gaza but in the West Bank too. Israel’s Arab Palestinian minority expressed its growing outrage, supported by the small movement of principled Israeli Jewish antiwar forces. Meanwhile that political extortion machine known as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) wagged its finger and achieved near-unanimity in both houses of the United States Congress for the cynical destruction of Gaza.

Internationally a wave of anger has exploded. The new Obama administration has the job of shielding Israel from this rage — and will undoubtedly exploit its enormous international credibility and goodwill to do so — but in turn it cannot afford to be discredited by highly visible, unrestrained Israeli brutality. Hence the timing of the cease-fire.

Worse to Come?

All the words available to describe the Gaza massacre — atrocity, crime against humanity, holocaust — have been taken. We have no new ones. But the cease-fire does not mean that the dying has ended. The people of Gaza do not have drinking water. The hospitals do not have medicines. The main UNRWA warehouse of food supplies went up in flames. A few dozen aid trucks trickle through the crossing points daily, where hundreds at a minimum are needed.

The blockade of Gaza must end and the crossing points opened immediately. Every social justice organization in the world should place this emergency demand on the governments of Israel, Egypt and the United States. Everyone concerned with basic human decency should call for the end of all U.S. military aid to Israel.

Every organization committed to human rights should apply its own principles to the crisis in Palestine just as it would to any other. Where those principles would call for boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against regimes conducting massacres and ethnic cleansing elsewhere in the world, they should be applied to the state of Israel. The movement to do just that is growing both internationally and in the United States.

In a broader perspective, Gaza can be seen as the dying Bush administration’s parting gesture, completing its path of devastation — from Iraq eastward to Afghanistan and Pakistan, westward to Lebanon, Palestine and Somalia, to say nothing of the destruction of New Orleans and the U.S. economy. But it’s also an ominous warning. These three weeks of horrific war against a whole population have done nothing — nothing — to solve the underlying crisis of Gaza itself, let alone the Occupied Palestinian Territories as a whole.

Most of Gaza’s 1.5 million residents are the families violently uprooted from their lands and villages in southern Israel during the 1948 Nakba. Its once-thriving agriculture has been crippled by the poisoning and salinization of the water, by desperate overcrowding and by the destruction of orchards and fields for Israel’s “security zones.” Its growing population has no room to expand and no viable means of economic survival.

Without peace with justice for Palestine, the next eruption of crisis in Gaza, the West Bank or inside Israel may see horrors on a previously unseen scale. In the current political dispensation, neither of these — real peace, or some catastrophic “Final Solution” — is on the immediate horizon. But the time may be growing short.

We present in the following pages some material that is relevant to both the history and present context of the crisis. For ongoing updates and statements, we urge our readers to look at the website of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation,

ATC 139, March-April 2009