Middle East / Israel-Palestine

US-Sponsored Massacres Abroad

After more than six decades of unconditional aid to and diplomatic protection of Israel, I guess for US officials of both parties, support for Israel has become a reflex reaction. So, the spokesperson for the White House’s National Security Council,  John Kirby, probably not remembering why he has to be an apologist for Israel, said, in reaction to Israel’s offensive against Gaza in August: “We remain unwavering in our commitment to Israel’s security and will continue to work to strengthen all aspects of the U.S.-Israeli partnership.” He further reiterated Israel’s right to self-defense against Gazans. As the only Palestinian on the campus of Bowdoin College, I feel the obligation to challenge this common presumption.

Let me start with the basics. What is Gaza? Gaza is a narrow Mediterranean strip of around 365 square kilometers, which, due to the systematic Israeli expulsion of Palestinians from the land that became Israel in 1948, received 210, 000 refugees, who overwhelmed the indigenous population of around 80,000. Today, Gaza’s population is 70% registered refugees and descendants of refugees, and is among the most densely populated areas in the world. Out of Gaza’s population of 2 million, half are children under the age of 18.

Gaza fell under Egyptian administration (but not annexation) after 1949, and became the victim of Israeli occupation and settlement from 1967 till 2005. In 2005, there was an Israeli settler withdrawal from Gaza, after which Israel claimed to no longer be the occupying power. However, this claim did not stand  even the most shallow scrutiny, as Israel maintained the occupation by controlling Gaza externally. In the words of Human Rights Watch (HRW): “Whether the Israeli army is inside Gaza or redeployed around its periphery, it remains in control.” The motivation behind the withdrawal was, as Prime Minister Sharon said, to destroy the prospect of Palestinian self-determination in the occupied territories and maintain Israeli settlements in them. One leading Israeli scholar on the occupation, Idith Zertsal, described the “disengagement” as follows:

 “[I]n Gaza, Israel left behind scorched earth, devastated services, and people with neither a present nor a future. The settlements were destroyed in an ungenerous move by an unenlightened occupier, which in fact continues to control the territory and kill and harass its inhabitants by means of its formidable military might.”

Towards the end of 2005, the Palestinians had an internationally monitored election. Due to the immense corruption of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the devastating consequences of the Oslo accords, Hamas won the election.  Israel immediately implemented a harsh land and sea blockade of Gaza, while the United States began organizing a military coup, which Hamas later preempted. In 2008, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) published a report titled: “The impact of the blockade on the Gaza Strip: a human dignity crisis.” The study found that, within 18 months, as a direct impact of the blockade, many Gazans had no electricity for up to 16 hours per day; 80% of the water in Gaza became unfit for human consumption; 50% of Gazans became food-insecure; 50% of Gazans became unemployed; 20% of essential drugs reached zero level; and 20% of patients suffering from cancer, heart disease, and other severe conditions were denied permits for medical care abroad. In the words of former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson: “Their whole civilization has been destroyed, I’m not exaggerating.” The US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) declared that the blockade “amounts to collective punishment, a serious violation of international humanitarian law.” Even though this view was shared by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), the blockade continues to the present.

Self Defense?

State Department spokespeople and most of the media tend to react to Israeli assaults on Gaza as if they are separate incidents, but they have been following a pattern ever since Israel’s “disengagement” in 2005. The pattern was described by Noam Chomsky following Operation Protective Edge in 2014:

“The [ceasefire] agreement [reached after Operation Protective Edge] calls for an end to military action by both Israel and Hamas, as well as an easing of the Israeli siege that has strangled Gaza for many years.

This is, however, just the most recent of a series of ceasefire agreements reached after each of Israel’s periodic escalations in its unremitting assault on Gaza.  Throughout this period [January 2006 till the present], the terms of these agreements remain essentially the same. The regular pattern is for Israel, then, to disregard whatever agreement is in place, while Hamas observes it—as Israel officially recognized—until a sharp increase in Israeli violence elicits a Hamas response, followed by even fiercer brutality.”

The pattern described by Chomsky can be seen in the countdown to Operation Cast Lead (the most extensively documented atrocity, after which Israel barred human rights organizations from entering Gaza). Israel maintained the siege of Gaza and refused to abide by the June 2008 ceasefire agreement, which called for “allow[ing] the transfer of goods that were banned and restricted to go into Gaza” until Hamas returned a captured Israeli soldier, Gilat Shalit. “A flimsy excuse, given that Israel held 8000 Palestinian detainees from the occupied territories at the time- 730 of whom in administrative detention- had kidnapped two Gazan civilians the day before Shalit was captured, and was the first country in history to have legalized hostage-taking. Israel blatantly broke the ceasefire agreement on November 4th, 2008, by raiding the Gaza strip and killing six Hamas militants. Despite that, on December 20th, Hamas attempted to renew the ceasefire; Israel rejected it. Israel then launched its “operation.”

Human Shields and Other Hasbara

Human Shields. Ever since the international outcry from Israel’s murderous invasion of Lebanon in 1982, Israel has reiterated the claim that militants in Lebanon and Gaza hide among the civilian population and use them as human shields. The implication that Israel has the right to kill the human shield is questionable even in normal circumstances, but there is no evidence to support that claim in the first place. In the case of Lebanon, HRW concluded a thorough study titled Why They Died, referring to civilians on both sides, as follows: “[W]e found strong evidence that Hezbollah [the fighting force in Lebanon] stored most of its rockets in bunkers and weapon storage facilities located in uninhabited fields and valleys, that in the vast majority of cases Hezbollah fighters left populated civilian areas as soon as the fighting started, and that Hezbollah fired the vast majority of its rockets from pre-prepared positions outside villages.” As for Gaza, Amnesty International (AI) concluded after an on-the-ground investigation of Operation Cast Lead that “contrary to repeated allegations by Israeli officials of the use of “human shields,” Amnesty International found no evidence that Hamas or other Palestinian fighters directed the movement of civilians to shield military objectives from attacks. It found no evidence that Hamas or other armed groups forced residents to stay in or around buildings used by fighters, nor that fighters prevented residents from leaving buildings or areas which had been commandeered by militants. After Israel justified its bombing of ambulances, while they carried patients, on the grounds that they were used by militants, AI noted that Israel “provide[d] no evidence for even one such case.” While the Israeli soldiers’ testimonies collected by Breaking the Silence, an organization of Israeli veteran soldiers which  strives to end the occupation,  make it clear that the mass destruction of houses in Gaza was a policy to create “better firing and observation conditions,” Israel claimed that they were targeted for storing weapons. AI, however, noted that “the Israeli army has provided no evidence to substantiate its allegations that the houses were used as combat positions, as military command centers, or to manufacture or store weapons – or for any other purpose which, under certain circumstances, would have made it lawful to target them.”

Rockets. The “operations” are justified by horror stories told about the Gazan rockets. Given that the Palestinian conditions for a ceasefire after each escalation have always been to lift the illegal blockade of Gaza, Israel has the ability to stop Hamas rockets by obeying international law and ending the blockade. But can the Palestinian projectiles be called rockets? During Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012, horror broke out in Israel as the range of the Gazan projectiles increased; however, the increased range was only the result of the reduction of the already tiny warhead. One Israeli official dismissed them as “flying pipes.” While the low casualty rate in Israel can be attributed to Israel’s alarm and bomb shelter system, the virtual nonexistence of damage to the Israeli infrastructure is only explained by the fact the Palestinian “rockets” are not different from what we use on the 4th of July. The myth of Palestinian “rockets” is maintained by a mutual Israel-Hamas interest in doing so.

Iron Dome. Israel claims that it would suffer huge casualties and damage had it not been for the Iron Dome miracle. However, Theodor Postal, the nuclear and ballistic weapons scientist at MIT, examined the photographic evidence provided by Israel and media outlets of the Iron Dome interception and explained, in an article for the Bulletin of atomic scientists, that “[i]t is absolutely clear: There is no evidence in the public record to show that Iron Dome is performing at an intercept rate of nearly 90 percent.” Instead, the “best estimate was that the intercept performance of Iron Dome was likely 5 percent or less.” Other than being a scam of the American taxpayer, the Iron Dome preserves the myth that Palestinian “rockets” exist.

Warnings. Israel boasts about its warnings of Gazans through Arabic leaflets and phone calls. The Hasbara (Israeli propaganda) is particularly brazen on this matter that AI noted that “[i]n a BBC interview, Israel’s Interior Minister, Meir Sheetrit, stated that: ‘the army called 250,000 telephone calls to the people to leave their houses.’ There are barely 250,000 households in Gaza. If indeed the Israeli army called that many families to tell them to leave their homes, this would mean that virtually every family was told to do so.” The main problem with these warnings is that they do not specify where safe places are. When they are specific, they instruct Gazans to go to places equally or more dangerous. For example, during Operation Cast Lead, Israel provided leaflets for Gazans in the rural areas to evacuate to the strip’s city centers in late December 2008. However, the UN shelter in Gaza City, where those evacuated resided, was attacked with white phosphorus shells in early January 2009. Another humanitarian display by “the most moral army in the world” is the “knock on the roof” technique where a small missile hits the roof of a house to warn the residents to leave before a big missile blows it up. The first time this technique was deployed, Palestinians did not know that the small missile was a warning and often chose to stay inside. Not to mention that the “small missiles” often destroyed houses and killed inhabitants all on their own.

The American Fig Leaf. Israel claims that its intelligence agencies obtain evidence from Palestinian collaborators in Gaza, and that it carries out its attacks on certain buildings and houses.  Based on that evidence, in other words, no attack is unjustified. To protect the Palestinian collaborators, Israel does not make the evidence public, but transfers it to American intelligence agencies that process it. If that is the case, it sure is odd that Israel has repeatedly refused to cooperate with UNHRC fact-finding missions and international and Israeli human rights organizations’ investigations. In a revealing incident, when Israel destroyed a building in Gaza hosting the offices of the Associated Press (AP) and Al Jazeera media outlets in May 2021, it made the usual claim that the evidence for the building being used by militants was transferred to the CIA. However, US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, said that no such evidence was received. Around a year later, the spokesperson for the Biden administration, Ned Price, told an AP reporter that concerns regarding the incident still exist.

Hamas Charter. As for the abhorrent Hamas charter, which supposedly proves that Hamas violence would continue regardless of the blockade, it was recently replaced by another charter that accepts a two-state settlement on the 1967 borders and a long truce, not that the first one meant anything to begin with. Moreover, for people who like to ponder over meaningless charters, the charter of the Likud, which is the political party that ruled Israel for more than 13 years, considers Jordan to be part of the Jewish state.

Display of Savagery

Deliberately pressuring civilians to dispose of their belligerent leadership has always been part of Israel’s military doctrine. In Israel, this is described openly as the Dahiya doctrine. The Goldstone Mission noted that “Major General Gadi Eisenkot, the Israeli Northern Command chief, expressed the premise of the doctrine: What happened in the Dahiya quarter of Beirut in 2006 will happen in every village from which Israel is fired on. […] We will apply disproportionate force on it and cause great damage and destruction there. From our standpoint, these are not civilian villages, they are military bases. […] This is not a recommendation. This is a plan. And it has been approved.” Prominent military analyst, Zeev Schiff, summarized this policy: “[T]he Israeli Army has always struck civilian populations, purposely and consciously.” One particularly revealing atrocity is the Israeli use of drones to target civilians. As the military expert for HRW, Mark Galasco, explains: “Israeli drones are equipped with high-resolution cameras and advanced sensors, which allow drone operators to view objects on the ground in detail during both day and night,” and yet, HRW determined that “in all [drone strikes investigated,] the Israeli military directed their strikes on individuals who were all found to be civilians. In none of the cases did Human Rights Watch find evidence that Palestinian fighters were present in the immediate area of the attack at the time. None of the targets were moving quickly or leaving the area, so the drone operators would have had time to determine whether they were observing civilians or combatants….In one daytime attack on December 27, the first day of the Israeli offensive, an IDF drone-launched missile hit a group of students who were waiting for a bus in central Gaza City, across the street from the headquarters of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), killing nine students, two of them women, and three other civilians. The IDF has failed to explain why it targeted the group on a crowded central street with no known military activity in the area at the time.” 

Soldier testimonies are perhaps the most valuable evidence for Israel’s intentional collateral damage, which is why Israel attempted to cut foreign funding for Breaking the Silence. In the 2009 invasion of Gaza, they described killing Palestinians using close-range firearms. “In one of the worst cases, a soldier described how an Israeli sniper shot dead a Palestinian mother and her two children.” Deliberate killing, using close-range firearms, was combined with indiscriminate artillery fire and the use of White Phosphorus on UN facilities, including schools, and hospitals.

On the rare occasion that Israeli attacks are precise, they often attack militants while they are engaged in civilian activities. One Israeli drone operator described the targeting of a militant in his house to +972 magazine: “I told the commander, who was a lieutenant colonel, that I could not fully identify the target. I asked not to confirm the shooting. He said: ‘I don’t care,’ and confirmed it. He was also right. It was the correct target. They killed the Hamas military operative, and the little boy who was next to him.”

The Massacre on August 5-8th, 2022

Another assault on Gaza was launched on August 5th this year. The Hasbarah this time around was that the assault was a preemptive strike against Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) in Gaza forty-four Palestinians were killed, among them seventeen children. The percentage of civilians among them is still unclear (usually 75-85%). Defense of Children International (DCI) is currently investigating explosions that lead to the death of the children. So far DCI has determined that five-year-old Alaa Qaddoum was killed in an Israeli airstrike on a gathering near a mosque in Shuja’iyya, ten-year-old Haneen Waleed was killed alongside her grandmother on August 8 when an Israeli drone strike hit her family’s car, and thirteen-year old Mohammad Iyad Hassouna was killed when US-made fighter jets fired at least six missiles into a Rafah housing complex without warning. Another explosion on August 7th killed five children in the Jabaliya refugee camp. Israel first blamed the atrocity on a Palestinian “rocket” misfiring, before admitting it was an Israeli airstrike.

Usually, pro-Gaza demonstrations were organized in the West Bank where Israeli police kill some protestors. Even without protests this time, Israel’s killing spree spread to the West Bank. One extrajudicial killing took place on August 15th, when 21-year-old Mohammed Shaham who was shot in the head after soldiers blew up his house’s front door in East Jerusalem. Israel took his body into custody and declared his death 40 minutes later. Israel claimed that he was shot because he had a knife and stabbed a soldier, an almost certain fabrication. The number of soldiers entering the house was so great that nobody would think of attacking them with a knife, not to mention that no soldier was injured. Mohammed’s father told the Palestinian Center for Human Rights: “I left my bedroom after my wife woke me up and told me there are Israeli soldiers knocking on the house door. At the time, I saw my son Mohammed leaving his room towards the apartment’s main door. I then saw IOF [Israel Occupation Forces] opening the door and raiding the house. When IOF saw Mohammed, they shot him at point-blank range and wounded him with a live bullet in his head. My son did not have a fight with the soldiers, who raided our house, but they opened fire at him without a prior warning and even without asking who he was.” Could have been me.

Our Responsibility

After the 1958 Middle East oil crisis, the US National Security Council noted a “logical corollary” of the opposition to “fanatic” Arab nationalism, which endangers US control of the region’s oil resources, “would be to support Israel as the only strong pro-West power left in the Near East.” After Israel’s smashing victory against Gamal Abdel Nasser’s secular nationalist Egypt in June 1967, and the overthrow of the US-installed Shah of Iran in 1979, the current relations of unconditional US financial, diplomatic, and military aid to Israel was established, effectively making Israel the United States’ military base in the Middle East. Today, US military aid to Israel stands at $3.8 billion every year. 

On May 16, 2021, Israel struck al-Wahida street with multiple 1,000 kg bombs without warning, killing 44 civilians, including an entire family.  Based on photographic evidence of the attack and munition remnants collected on the site, HRW concluded that “the al-Wahda Street strikes involved the use of 1,000-kilogram GBU-31 series air-dropped bombs mounted with a Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) guidance kit. This kit is produced by Boeing and exported by the United States to Israel.” HRW “did not find any evidence of a military target at or near the site of the airstrikes, including tunnels or an underground command center under al-Wahda street or buildings nearby.” The 2008/9 Israeli invasion of Gaza was such a murderous “operation” that even Amnesty International called for an arms embargo on both sides. All the air ammunitions, bombs, and missiles collected by AI during its ground investigation, with the exception of one bomb made in France, were made in the US and shipped to Israel in aid. AI also revealed that all of Israel’s Apache helicopters, fire jets, flechette bombs, and tank ammunition were made in the states. Furthermore, Israel’s tanks and drone technologies are made in collaboration with American gun manufacturers. When HRW investigated Israel’s use of White Phosphorus in the same “operation,” it concluded that “[a]ll of the White Phosphorus shells Human Rights Watch found in Gaza are from the same lot, manufactured in the United States… the manufacturer identification code denoting that the shells and contents were produced in April 1989 by Thiokol Aerospace, which operated the Louisiana Army Ammunition Plant.”

Article 16 of  Commission’s Articles on Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts states that “[a] State which aids or assists another State in the commission of an internationally wrongful act by the latter is internationally responsible for doing so.” AI clarifies that “[t]he responsibility of all states to prohibit international arms transfers that will facilitate serious violations of international humanitarian law and human rights derives from their obligation not to participate in the internationally wrongful acts of another state.” AI points out that military aid to Israel is illegal under domestic US law in violating the Leahy law of 1961, which states “no security assistance may be provided to any country the government of which engages in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights,” which include “flagrant denial of the right to life, liberty, or the security of person.” 

Don’t Americans have a better way to spend billions of dollars than a foreign killing machine?