While it is unlikely that the escalating violence in Gaza will be placed into proper context by United States media, who report on it in the context of Israel’s blockade and occupation of Palestinian land, it is also just as unlikely that there will be any meaningful coverage on how Israel justifies bombing civilian infrastructure in Gaza.
Israel decimated the Gaza City office of Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, who was elected in the legislative elections in 2006 but later dismissed by President Mahmoud Abbas. He has continued to exercise authority and is a head of state yet, if one saw the headline at the New York Times they would not see a headline explaining how a Gaza Prime Minister’s office was bombed. They would see one that read, “Israel Destroys Hamas Prime Minister’s Office.”
The Times reported spokesperson for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Mark Regev, stated, “Government buildings had been targeted because Hamas ‘makes no distinction between its terrorist military machine and the government structure…We have seen Hamas consistently using so-called civilian facilities for the purposes of hiding their terrorist military machine, including weapons.”
Under this concept, it is hard to see how Israel would not be able to justify hitting any part of Gaza and killing any person inside or nearby that infrastructure. Saturday morning, according to Haaretz, Israel’s air force targeted Gaza’s police headquarters, other government buildings and a mosque in Rafah. It also is impossible to see how a cease-fire can be brokered if Israel is going to destroy the offices of political leaders elected in disputed or undisputed Palestinian elections.
The United Nations’ fact-finding mission in 2009, after the Gaza conflict that year that left over 1400 Palestinians dead, did not accept Israel’s concept of Hamas “supporting infrastructure.” The mission found it “particularly worrying” as it “appeared to transform civilians and civilian objects into legitimate targets.” This made it possible for Israeli political and military leaders to make it seem like in order to respond to Hamas it had to carry out “disproportionate destruction” and create “maximum disruption in the lives of many people as a legitimate means to achieve not only military but also political goals.”
The mission determined Israeli armed forces had launched “numerous attacks against buildings and persons of the Gaza authorities.”
…As far as attacks on buildings are concerned, the Mission examined the Israeli strikes against the Palestinian Legislative Council building and the Gaza main prison…Both buildings were destroyed and can no longer be used. Statements by Israeli Government and armed forces representatives justified the attacks arguing that political and administrative institutions in Gaza are part of the “Hamas terrorist infrastructure”. The Mission rejects this position. It finds that there is no evidence that the Legislative Council building and the Gaza main prison made an effective contribution to military action. On the information available to it, the Mission finds that the attacks on these buildings constituted deliberate attacks on civilian objects in violation of the rule of customary international humanitarian law whereby attacks must be strictly limited to military objectives… [emphasis added]
This indicated Israel had committed a “grave breach of extensive destruction of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly.”
It believed four years ago that it was acceptable to strike the office of Ismail Haniyeh. This was a statement the government made claiming it did not need to distinguish between military and civilian targets:
…While Hamas operates ministries and is in charge of a variety of administrative and traditionally governmental functions in the Gaza Strip, it still remains a terrorist organization. Many of the ostensibly civilian elements of its regime are in reality active components of its terrorist and military efforts. Indeed, Hamas does not separate its civilian and military activities in the manner in which a legitimate government might. Instead, Hamas uses apparatuses under its control, including quasi-governmental institutions, to promote its terrorist activity…
Because Israel considers the democratically elected Hamas to be a “terrorist organization,” Gaza technically has little in the way of structures for administrative or traditional government functions that could not be characterized in some way as part of Hamas’ “terrorist organization.” And so, that is why it is not a war crime to Israel to hit an office where he met Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Qandil the day before.
The United States, which provides $150 million in military aid or more each year to Israel, has no problem with this concept justifying the targeting of civilian infrastructure. Deputy national security adviser for strategic communication for US President Barack Obama stated, according to Haaretz, “The Israelis are going to make decisions about their own military tactics and operations. What we want is the same thing the Israelis want, which is an end to the rocket fire coming out of Gaza. We wouldn’t comment on specific targeting choices by the Israelis other than to say that we of course always underscore the importance of avoiding civilian casualties. But the Israelis again will make judgments about their military operations.”
The mention of “civilian casualties” is a token gesture to a Palestinian people the US is willing allow Israel to continue to subject to a blockade in Gaza and policies of apartheid.
Moreover, Haaretz has reported that Interior Minister Eli Yishai said on Israel’s operation in Gaza: “The goal of the operation is to send Gaza back to the Middle Ages. Only then will Israel be calm for forty years.” It is hard not to interpret that as a commitment to further devastate Gaza to force it to submit even more to Israeli dominion.