Anatomy Of An Atrocity

In the early morning hours, just after midnight on July 23, an American-made F-16 fighter jet, paid for with American tax dollars granted to Israel, launched a missile at a Gaza City apartment building, with the goal of killing Sheikh Salah Shehada, a leader of Hamas’ military wing. Fifteen people were killed in the attack, including Shehada and his bodyguard. That thirteen other people were killed is a crime. But that barely scratches the surface. Of those thirteen others killed, nine — NINE — were children. The ages of the children were 15, 11, 6, 5, 4 1/2, 4, 4, 1 1/2 and 2 months. This is the worst of the crime, but the crime does not stop there.

Israel has claimed that this attack was a mistake, or an intelligence error. They have claimed that as many as eight previous attempts on Shehada’s life were aborted because of the risk to civilians nearby. They have claimed that intelligence reports indicated that there would be no civilians near Shehada during this attack. Yet the building Shehada was in was not some anonymous hideout. It was his apartment; yes, an apartment, one unit among several. The attack was launched an hour or so after midnight, at an apartment building, in a residential neighborhood of one of, if not THE most densely populated cities in the world. And we are to believe that Israeli intelligence believed that no civilians would be nearby? IDF statements after the attack bemoaned the fact that Shehada had chosen to surround himself with “human shields”. The IDF spokesman said “Regretfully, this is what can happen when a terrorist uses civilians as a human shield and their homes for places of refuge.” Shehada was in his own home, with his family. Can anyone accept the notion that a combatant, or a criminal or wanted person of any kind is responsible for the killing of his family and neighbors simply by going home? Would we accept the police in our community, or even the military if we were in a real war, killing us and our children because our neighbor, a wanted person, whatever his crimes, had chosen to come home to his apartment? Or would we accept the excuse of an intelligence failure that claimed to have somehow missed the fact that civilians would be present on a residential Brooklyn street in the middle of the night? Such claims would be dismissed as being absurd on their face.

But this is not the full extent of the crime either. Only a day before, the spiritual leader of Hamas, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, had announced that Hamas would be willing to agree to a cease-fire, including a halt to suicide bombings, in exchange for Israeli withdrawal from the areas that had previously been under Palestinian administration under the Oslo agreements. This seemed to be dramatic, but understandably with such an apparently sharp turn of direction, somewhat suspicious. That is, until it was revealed in Yediot Akhronot, the major Israeli daily, by their military correspondent (whom no one would ever accuse of being a “peacenik” or Palestinian sympathizer), Alex Fishman, that this statement was made in conjunction with an agreement reached with the Tanzim militia. After a long period of work and negotiation between European diplomats and Palestinian military leaders, the Tanzim had composed a statement renouncing all violence against non-combatants, and had gotten some buy-in on this idea, tenuous though it may have been, from all of the other major paramilitary groups amongst the Palestinians, as the Hamas statement demonstrates. According to a report in Ha’aretz yesterday, the United States was also aware and at least somewhat involved in these talks. Can we honestly believe that Israel was completely unaware of it, as has been claimed? Or that the timing of this attack, sure to produce massive rage among Palestinians and to impede or scuttle this cease-fire initiative, is mere coincidence?

Nor did the crime stop there. The statements the morning after were nothing short of monstrous. Ariel Sharon called the operation a “great success”. Perhaps we might expect nothing better from Sharon. And we might expect nothing better from George Bush, as well. But I was nevertheless enraged at hearing the President and his spokesman both term this attack as merely “heavy-handed”. For some this actually constituted US criticism of Israel. But the term “heavy-handed” seems appallingly light to describe an attack that destroyed six buildings, killed 13 innocents, including nine children and injured over 100 others, in order to kill one man. The United States went even further. On the very day of the attack, the House of Representatives approved a nearly 30 billion dollar spending package for the “war on terror” which included an additional 200 million dollars for Israel (this is over and above the annual aid that Israel gets), by an overwhelming margin of 397-32. As the UN Security Council was set to begin discussions about how to respond to Israel’s attack on Gaza, the US team made it clear that it would veto any resolution condemning or even criticizing Israel, effectively pre-empting any possibility of UNSC action in response to this crime. These are the ways of George Bush, the “compassionate conservative” and Ariel Sharon, the “man of peace”.

Israel claims that Shehada was planning a “mega-terror attack” prior to his death. To be sure, Shehada was responsible for many Hamas attacks, but the convenient thing about such killings is that Israel can claim anything it wishes about his plans. In any case, it is unlikely that if such an elaborate attack was in the offing, the killing of one leader would completely destroy such plans. And the attack itself is sure to lead to further loss of Israeli life as well, as is always the case in such actions. The idea that this attack saved any Israeli lives is best peddled to those in the market for a bridge connecting Brooklyn and Manhattan. On the contrary, this attack torpedoed a chance to make some progress at stemming the flow of blood in Israel and Palestine, and thus cost even more lives than the 15 killed in the attack itself.

The story of the attack on Gaza is in many ways a microcosm of the conflict as a whole. It is a case of the intent of war and violence, with deliberation, snuffing out a glimmer of hope under the false guise of national interest. But even more, it is further demonstration of how the United States continues to not only tolerate such atrocities, but to enable them, through funding and through diplomatic protection. Israel cannot continue its occupation, and its concomitant atrocities against Palestinians and Israelis, without that funding and protection. The United States is an accessory both before and after the fact of this horrendous crime, and only its citizens can call this government on their illegal, immoral and unacceptable behavior.

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