For the third time in the last six years, Israel has cruelly unleashed the full fury of its military machine against the defenceless 1.7 million people of Gaza, inflicting heavy civilian casualties and further devastation on the long besieged and impoverished Gaza Strip.
With cynical disregard of the realities of this latest confrontation between Israel and Palestine, instead of condemning such recourse to massive violence as “aggression” that violates the UN Charter and fundamental international law principles, the reaction of western diplomats and mainstream media has perversely sided with Israel. From the UN Secretary-General to the president of the United States, the main insistence has been that Hamas must stop all rocket attacks while Israel is requested ever so politely to show “maximum restraint”.
Up to now, the Israeli attacks have caused over a hundred deaths (more than half of whom are women and children) and several hundred injuries, while the reported firing of over hundreds of rockets from Gaza have yet to cause a single death or injury, although there are reports that nine Israelis sustained injuries while fleeing to shelters.
Granted that such indiscriminate rocket attacks are unlawful forms of resistance, but to single out this lesser type of violence and overlook the greater violence distorts the context in biased and unacceptable ways. Surely, the greater occasion of terror is that being inflicted on the hapless Gazans as disclosed by comparing the casualty figures, and surely the political condemnation by responsible governments and even more so by the UN should be directed at the aggressor, who also happens to be the only political actor with the means to end the escalating violence.
The international reaction to this latest crisis confirms for all with eyes to see that geopolitical alignments, not law or justice, dominate the diplomacy of leading western states and the UN, when it comes to the Middle East, and especially if it concerns Israel-Palestine, and never more so than in relation to Gaza.
After several days of the Israel attack, self-servingly code-named “Protective Edge” by Israel, US President Barack Obama has offered to mediate a return to the 2012 ceasefire that had been arranged through the good offices of Egypt after the earlier onslaught on Gaza.
Whether the US government, the undisguised patron and unconditional supporter of Israel, has the credibility to play such a mediating role is rather doubtful. It is possible that Hamas, weakened by developments in Egypt and elsewhere in the region, and by the desperation of a terrorised and totally vulnerable people, might accept such a move even if excluded from participating directly in the negotiations, which would mean depending on the Palestinian Authority to represent Gaza’s interests.
After all, Hamas, although prevailing in fair elections back in 2006, remains “a terrorist organisation” according to the western diplomatic establishment, even though it has been in recent years mostly on the receiving end of Israeli state terrorism, and should be allowed to act diplomatically on behalf of Gaza.
At present, the issue may be moot as Benjamin Netanyahu belligerently insists that no amount of international pressure will lead Israel to stop its attack until the goals of the military operation have been attained.
An aspect of the distorted approach to responsibility for the violence in Gaza is the refusal of the West to take note of the connection between Protective Edge and the June 12 kidnapping and killing of the three Israeli settler teenage children and the surge of revenge violence, which culminated in the grisly murder of 17-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir.
Without ever disclosing evidence linking Hamas to such an atrocious crime, the Netanyahu government and Israeli media reacted hysterically, immediately inciting a vicious campaign against Hamas throughout the West Bank and East Jerusalem, including air strikes in Gaza and provocatively calling upon the Israeli citizenry to strike back at the Palestinians. In this inflamed atmosphere, the Israeli government undertook a massive campaign of collective punishment, itself a war crime: hundreds of Palestinians thought to be associated with Hamas were arrested and detained; house demolitions of the homes of suspects; killings of six Palestinians; lockdown of entire cities; air strikes against Gaza.
All this was done despite the mounting belief of independent observers that the crime against the Israeli youths was carried out by two Palestinians unaffiliated with Hamas, perhaps with an initial plan to bargain for the release of Palestinian prisoners in an exchange. Never has it been asserted in high profile diplomatic circles of the West that the horrible crime provided Netanyahu with a pretext for an anti-Hamas campaign, which seems less motivated by a response to the kidnapping/murder than by the political objective of punishing the Palestinian leadership for defying the Netanyahu government for recently achieving a measure of reconciliation between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. Further in the background is the Israeli interest in shifting responsibility away from themselves for the failure of the Kerry negotiations that collapsed at the end of April.
So far, Israel has met calls for restraint and a ceasefire with contempt. Rumours of Hamas’ receptivity to a ceasefire have been ignored. Israel’s leaders have responded defiantly, suggesting that Protective Edge will not cease until the Hamas infrastructure is destroyed, supposedly to ensure that no rockets will ever again be fired from Gaza. When Palestinian civilians are killed in the process of pursuing such an elusive goal, this is rationalised by Israeli officials as a regrettable side effect of what Israeli leaders are claiming to be a legitimate military undertaking. In a characteristic warped statement, Netanyahu declared: “We are not eager for battle, but the security of our citizens and children takes precedence over all else.”
Some Israeli top officials went beyond the prime minister. Defence Minister Moshe Yalon called for the total destruction of Hamas, which is tantamount to seeking a hunting license in relation to the entrapped people of Gaza and the oppressed population of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The deputy minister of defence, settler notable Dani Dayon, publicly urged Israel to cut off fuel and electricity to Gaza. If such a policy is implemented, it would virtually guarantee a grotesque humanitarian crisis.
While Gaza burns, the fiddlers at the UN content themselves by worrying about the text of a proposed Security Council resolution. Israel and the US were reported to be using all the leverage at their disposal to avoid condemnations of the Israeli air strikes on civilian targets in Gaza and even hoping that the final text of any resolution will include language about every sovereign state having the right to protect itself. It now seems that there will be no resolution, as the US is refusing to accept the language of the drafters.
On the basis of this disillusioning global response to Israeli aggression, it should become clear that the Palestinian struggle for self-determination and justice needs to be waged worldwide primarily at the grassroots level. It has never seemed more reasonable and morally necessary for persons of good will to lend maximum support to the BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) campaign that has been in any event growing rapidly. It is also time to demand that governments adopt sanctions seeking Israeli withdrawal from the occupation of Palestine.
An appropriate further response would be for the UN General Assembly to recommend an arms embargo imposed on Israel. This would be a largely symbolic gesture as Israel has become a major weapons maker, exporting arms to many countries with a sales pitch stressing the benefits of “field-tested” weaponry.
It is painfully evident that state-to-state diplomacy and the UN have failed to produce a just peace despite decades of fruitless talks.
It is time to acknowledge that these talks were carried on in bad faith: while the diplomats sat around the table, Israeli settlements relentlessly expanded, apartheid structures deepened their hold on the West Bank and Jerusalem, and Gaza was cordoned off as a hostage enclave to be attacked by Israel at will and a bloody sacrifice exacted.
At least, the Secretary-General of the Arab League, Nabil al-Araby, condemned the “dangerous Israeli escalation”, urged the Security Council to “adopt measures to stop Israeli aggression against the Gaza Strip”, and warned of the humanitarian consequences. Turkey and Iran issued official statements along similar lines.
There is so much regional turbulence at present that it is unlikely to hope for anything more than scattered verbal denunciations from authorities in the region preoccupied with other concerns, but given the gravity of the situation, attention needs to be refocused on the Palestinian ordeal.
Pressure on Israel is urgently needed to protect the Palestinian people from further tragedy. Israel’s Arab neighbours and the European states that long held sway in the region, are challenged as never before to do the right thing, but it is doubtful that any constructive action will be taken unless regional and global public opinion becomes sufficiently enraged to exert real pressure on these governments. To pursue this goal now should be made a top priority of the Palestinian global solidarity movement.
Richard Falk is Albert G Milbank Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University and Research Fellow, Orfalea Center of Global Studies.He is also the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights.