Terror in Gaza

The assault on Gaza does not constitute, as Israel claims, “retaliation” for an anti-tank missile fired by Palestinians.

The ratio of Palestinian civilian fatalities to Israeli civilian fatalities during Cast Lead was approximately 400:1 [AFP]

In honour of the latest installment of homicidal Israeli behaviour in Gaza, the Twitter account of the Israel Defence Forces (@IDFSpokesperson) has played host to a flurry of activity. 

Thursday afternoon, after 13 Palestinians – including several children – had been eliminated, the IDF congratulated itself on its humanitarian efforts with the following tweet: “As part of effort to minimise civilian casualties in Gaza, IDF dropped 1000s of leaflets in Arabic with this message“. 

Accompanying the tweet was a picture of a leaflet addressed to “the residents of the Gaza Strip”: 

“For your own safety, take responsibility for yourselves and avoid being present in the vicinity of Hamas operatives and facilities and those of other terror organisations that pose a risk to your safety.” 

Not explained in the charitable note is how Gaza residents are supposed to heed the IDF’s warning given the diminutive physical dimensions of the strip and the fact that Israel is the only entity endowed with the power to determine which human beings and infrastructure qualify as terror operatives and facilities – an arbitrary activity that has been known to result in the levelling of such institutions as the Rafah zoo

Granted, the zoo was perhaps to blame for recklessly situating itself in the vicinity of terrorists. 

Israel’s monopoly on retaliation 

The leaflet also informs its audience that Hamas is to blame for “once again dragging the region to violence and bloodshed” and that the “IDF is determined to defend the residents of the State of Israel”. 

As essayist Max Ajl has pointed out in Jacobin magazine, assigning blame to Hamas for initiating the current conflict is a transparent lie. Ajl lists three reasons the assault on Gaza does not in fact constitute, as Israel claims, “retaliation” for a Palestinian anti-tank rocket fired on November 10. 

First of all, a quick glance at the calendar reveals that November 10 falls after November 4, when the IDF murdered a mentally unsound Palestinian man, as well as November 8, when the IDF murdered a 13-year-old boy playing soccer. Secondly, the supposed “retaliation” shattered an Egyptian-brokered truce in effect at the time. Thirdly, Ajl writes: 

“[T]he category of Israeli ‘retaliation’ does not exist. The occupation is constant terror, and it is what breeds the Palestinian violence Israeli leaders can adduce as a retroactive justification for the policies they pursue in purported pursuit of the chimera of ‘security’.” 

The same disingenuous rhetoric that is being deployed to justify the present reduction of the population of Gaza also proved helpful during Operation Cast Lead (2008-09), when Israel managed to slaughter 1,400 persons – primarily civilians – in the coastal enclave in a matter of 22 days.  

This particular population management effort was also advertised as retaliatory in nature, with details such as Israel’s unilateral destruction of the ceasefire with Hamas excised from the official narrative. 

Logical acrobatics 

Israel’s ever-upbeat government spokesman Mark Regev offered the following reaction to the Cast Lead casualty count: “Israel, during the military campaign, made every possible effort to target enemy combatants only.” One can assume that, were Hamas to somehow kill 1,400 Israelis, most of them civilians, in three weeks, the organisation would not be lauded for its attentiveness to civilian life. 

Regev has now resurfaced with an appeal to humanity to comprehend the current conscientious killing in Gaza, and is quoted at the CNN website as remarking: “I would ask you, I’d ask any person around the planet: What would you do if your population was targeted day after day?” 

Seeing as the ratio of Palestinian civilian fatalities to Israeli civilian fatalities during Cast Lead was approximately 400:1, and that Israel has not in recent history been subject to an illegal and crippling blockade, it is possible that some inhabitants of the planet might more readily comprehend Regev’s question were it instead posed by a Palestinian. 

As for Regev’s claim that “you have to see our [current Gaza] operation as fundamentally defensive”, I have suggested elsewhere that the audition for the position of Israeli government spokesman might consist of reciting such phrases as “The guinea pig initiated violence against the boa constrictor” and “The armadillo attacked the wheel of the car” with a straight face. 

Indeed, Israel’s exclusive rights to the term “self-defence” and institutionalised habit of inverting logic have resulted in the construction of a narrative according to which the fatal bulldozing of American peace activists in Gaza and the murder in international waters of Gaza-bound humanitarian workers armed with construction tools, marbles and a metal pail are excused as defensive manoeuvers. 

Unfortunately, for the residents of Gaza who have been warned by IDF leaflets to “avoid being present in the vicinity of… terror organisations that pose a risk to your safety”, this does not appear to be possible as long as the Palestinian territory exists in the vicinity of the state of Israel. 

Belen Fernandez is the author of The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work, released by Verso in 2011. She is a member of the Jacobin Magazine editorial board, and her articles have appeared in the London Review of Books blog, Al Akhbar English and many other publications.