Massacre has become a habit. Every two or three years, Israel launches a massive military assault upon largely unarmed Palestinians in Gaza. It did this in December 2008 to January 2009. It did it again in November 2012. On each occasion hundreds of Palestinians are murdered and thousands more maimed.
Every time, Israel claims the moral high ground for its brutal, barbaric action. It blames Hamas, an important component of the Palestinian liberation movement, for the present cycle of violence. It alleges, without an iota of proof, that Hamas was responsible for the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teens on 12 June 2014. Hamas has denied any involvement. The death of the teens - a despicable act - provided the justification for a large-scale operation against Hamas and other so-called militants. Israeli authorities arrested a number of activists including those who were released earlier.
While the global media has highlighted the killing of the Israeli teens, it has ignored a critical bit of background information that may have a connection with the tragic episode. On 15th May 2014, the Israeli army killed two unarmed Palestinian teens and wounded a third. The media has also failed to provide a context to this unconscionable murder of children in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Between 29 September 2000 and 23 June 2014, 1,523 Palestinian children were killed by Israelis as against 129 Israeli children killed by Palestinians. It is also worth noting that between the two dates, 6,876 Palestinians were killed by the Israeli occupiers compared to 1,110 Israelis by Palestinians.
If the media has concealed these statistics from the public, it has also presented a rather distorted picture of how the present violence had unfolded. It is mainly because of the huge emotional torrent unleashed by the anti-Arab venom spewed by some politicians and religious personalities in the wake of the killing of the Israeli teens that some Israeli settlers may have killed a Palestinian teen and burnt his body on the 2nd of July. This incident --- not unexpectedly --- provoked thousands of Palestinians to launch angry protests in not only Gaza but also the West Bank. The Benjamin Netanyahu regime retaliated with harsh punitive measures including missile strikes and the collective punishment of entire communities.
It is against this backdrop that one should look at the primitive rockets launched by Hamas against targets in Israel. Only one person has been killed so far. It is true that these rockets have generated some fear among segments of the Israeli population. This fear, and the rockets, serve as “evidence” for Netanyahu to convince the world that Israel is under threat and is forced to defend itself and to protect its people. This is why one wonders whether as a strategic option the rockets serve a purpose.
If anything, the rockets have helped to divert attention from the underlying motives for Israel’s current aggressive offensive. What are these motives?
One, the offensive, ostensibly directed at Hamas, actually demonstrates Israel’s overwhelming military power in the region. Its neighbours are reminded at regular intervals that no one should try to trifle with West Asia’s most formidable armed forces. The projection of power in this manner is consistent with Israel’s singular obsession with its security. For the nation’s security, in the Israeli psyche, is equated with its ability to dominate the region, militarily. Hence its opposition to any other state in West Asia possessing even the remotest capacity to produce nuclear weapons. Besides, Israel is determined to show friend and foe that it is above the law, that the norms that apply to other states bear no relevance to it. It is “exceptional” because the Jews are a “chosen people.”
Two, the need to project its power is all the greater at this moment in view of the reconciliation agreement reached between Hamas and its rival Fatah on the 23rd of April 2014. Israel perceives a united Palestinian liberation struggle as a major threat to its agenda of domination and control through the strategy of divide and rule. If, as a result of a Hamas-Fatah unity government, Gaza and the West Bank are brought together, the Israeli plan of keeping them apart --- and weak --- will be thwarted.
Three, the Netanyahu regime is also worried that more and more people especially in Europe are beginning to appreciate the justice of the Palestinian cause as reflected in the growing support of big corporations and universities for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel’s post -1967 occupation of Palestinian land. In order to check this trend, Netanyahu is once again playing the victim card especially with Europe in mind: Israel is still under a grave threat, its survival is at stake. Do not abandon Israel.
Four, playing victim has acquired a new urgency in light of a recent development. This is the attempt to resolve the longstanding dispute between Iran and the US over the former’s nuclear programme. Though no agreement has been reached so far, and the talks between Iran, on the one hand, and the US and other big powers, on the other, have been extended by a few months, there is a possibility that some consensus will be reached soon. This is something that Israel does not want. As we have hinted, for Israel, an oil-rich Iran with a strong scientific base and a clear Islamic ideological orientation, is a challenge to its security, read dominance. It xplains why it has gone all out to foil Iran’s rapprochement with the US in particular. The present offensive which attempts to link Hamas’s rockets with Iran is both an endeavour to make Iran look like the culprit and to underscore Israel’s vulnerability.
Since the motives reveal an extremely myopic perspective on Israel’s interests, all the more reason why an immediate ceasefire in Gaza is critical. But it has to be a just ceasefire that not only brings the fighting to an end but also provides some relief and hope to the besieged population in Gaza. There is no sign of that happening. On the contrary, the situation is getting worse with Israel launching a ground assault on 17th July which has already increased the Palestinian death toll by a significant margin.
However, even if there is a just ceasefire in the coming days, it is not a solution in itself. There will continue to be massacres of this sort in the future unless the fundamental cause of the Israeli-Palestinian/ Arab conflict is addressed. It is widely accepted that the root of the conflict is Israeli occupation of Palestinian/Arab land. It is because of their abject situation--- their dispossession --- that Palestinians and other Arabs are sometimes even prepared to resort to violence in order to restore their dignity.
This is something that the Israeli elite and its backers in the West should understand. As it has been said on numerous occasions, there will be no security for Israelis unless there is justice for the Palestinians and other Arabs.
Dr. Chandra Muzaffar is President of the International Movement for a Just World (JUST).
21 July 2014