Another Israeli assault on Gaza will produce more red herrings.
These include an obsessive focus on Israeli suffering, linked to an insistence on equivalence between intensive Israeli air raids on a tiny and highly populated strip of land killing at least 81 Palestinians and wounding 615 thus far, most of them civilians, and inaccurate Palestinian rocket-fire which has reached distant targets but has harmed no Israelis so far. With these red herrings come the utter obliteration of any background or context. Background such as that Palestinians have been subjected to nearly five decades of illegal occupation, colonization, subjugation and humiliation. Context such as that two young Palestinians were killed in cold blood by Israeli troops in May, a month before three settlers were kidnapped and killed. Or that Israel launched a massive search-and-destroy campaign against Hamas in the West Bank long before the first rocket barrage was fired from Gaza. Or that Israeli security sources confirmed that even while hundreds of Hamas adherents were being rounded up in these raids, Hamas tried for days to restrain other groups’ rocket fire from Gaza. The red herrings are essential, of course, to distract us from what is really going on: the occupation regime and its infernal settlement project are operating on all cylinders while racism and thuggish incitement against Arabs have infected broader and broader segments of Israeli society.
Despite its potential for getting out of the control of the protagonists, and despite the psychological impact of the rocket attacks on Israelis, this conflict has certain advantages for the Israeli government. Its forces are once again using potent American weapons to shoot human fish in the barrel that is Gaza, an open air 360 sq. km. prison for 1.8 million people. This is taking place under dehumanizing and racist rubric dear to Israeli security specialists of “mowing the grass” – as if the civilians who are falling by the score are no more than inanimate weeds. This video game war (that is what it is for the Israeli drone operators and pilots doing the bombardment) serves to let off ultra-nationalistic Israeli steam while simultaneously changing the subject at a moment when, for the first time, the West has really gazed at settler violence and the regular abuse of children by Israeli state, after the burning alive of a Jerusalem boy and the brutal beating of his young cousin. Those atrocities, well reported, with video footage of the beating and graphic detail about the murder, were too awful to ignore. Even the spin which tried to describe the perpetrators as outcasts in Israeli society could not disguise the fact that, as an Israeli journalist wrote, those who carried out the atrocity are “the children of the nationalistic and racist generation –Netanyahu’s children.” That said, we have yet to see the US media report regularly on the 1407 Palestinian children NOT engaged in hostilities who have been killed by Israel troops and settlers since 2000, with an average of over two of them dying every single week of those 14 years. Nor have we heard about the Palestinian minors regularly kidnapped, detained (214 of them were being held in May 2014) and even tortured by Israeli forces without charge or trial.
Earlier, the murder of three young Israelis living in a West Bank settlement gave the Israeli army the excuse to launch its dragnet across the West Bank, targeting Hamas (which to this day has not claimed the kidnapping-killings). This was mainly designed to achieve another cherished Israeli objective: wrecking the recent Palestinian unity government. Heaven forbid that the Palestinians unify their ranks and strengthen their debilitated national movement. This is unacceptable from Netanyahu’s point of view, as it might enable them better to resist Israel’s so far unstoppable colonial land-rush. Advancing this colonial settlement project is the core objective of the Netanyahu government, as it has been the core objective of most of its predecessors since at least 1977.
Rockets fired from Gaza also have the inestimable value for Israeli leaders of letting them do whatever they want to Gaza while receiving the usual pious US support for Israeli “self-defense.” This blanket support enables them to disregard the recent warning of a White House official that “Israel confronts an undeniable reality: it cannot maintain military control of another people indefinitely. Doing so is not only wrong but a recipe for resentment and recurring instability.” As usual, the besieged and incarcerated people of Gaza will pay the highest price, while those of the West Bank and East Jerusalem will continue to suffer the humiliation and routine brutality of occupation and dispossession. And as usual the media will swallow the standard hasbara red herrings, will ignore background and context, and will report this story with the clock starting a month ago with the abductions of the three Israeli settlers, or with the first rockets fired from Gaza.
But like most recent Israeli encounters with the Palestinians, like every previous assault launched against Gaza, this will be a losing maneuver. In the long run it will it backfire, producing another crack in the edifice of Israel’s illegal and morally bankrupt project of perpetual occupation and unceasing colonization. Just the other day, Netanyahu let slip what he had never uttered before: in future negotiations, Israel will insist on permanent occupation, meaning permanent subjugation of the Palestinians. All of this is in service of the Revisionist-Likud dream of unlimited settlement to achieve a greater Eretz Israel. However, the ongoing unrest in Arab East Jerusalem and the rest of the occupied territories as well as in Palestinian communities within Israel is another warning. It is the third such warning since the first intifada began in 1987, that this inhuman and racist project is unsustainable, and there is simply no way that it will pass: it cannot proceed in calm and tranquility, as some dream, because it cannot force the Palestinians to submit.
Khalidi’s latest book is Brokers of Deceit: How the U.S. Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East.
Rashid Khalidi is the Edward Said professor of Arab Studies at Columbia University and author most recently of Brokers of Deceit: How the US Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East.