Bringing the death toll from strikes since March 10 to 17 and dashing Hamas hopes of restoring a tacit truce
By Sunday evening in Gaza, a weekend of relentless Israeli bombing has left 18 people dead and dozens wounded. Israeli propaganda insists that the attacks are about preventing “terrorism” and stopping “rockets.” But in fact, Israel provoked this violence and according to some Israeli commentators its goals are to escalate pressure for war with Iran and to drag Hamas away from diplomacy and back into
Sunday’s victims of the Israeli bombing included Ayoub Useila, 12, of Jabalya refugee camp, whose seven year-old cousin was injured, and Adel al-Issi, 52, a farmer near Gaza City. Others suffered horrifying injuries, as recounted by doctors at Gaza’s al-Shifa hospital. On Monday, another 5 people were reported killed, and dozens more injured, bringing the reported total of dead to 23.
Israel launches attack on Friday
The Israeli assault began on Friday, when Israeli forces carried out the extrajudicial executions of Zuhair Al-Qaisi and Mahmoud Al-Hannani of the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC), whom Israel alleged were “masterminds” of an attack near Eilat last year. Except, as Max Blumenthal demonstrated, this is untrue, as even Israel previously acknowledged.
This weekend’s attacks have followed a typical pattern. Israel launches a lethal attack knowing full well that Palestinian resistance factions will respond. It then uses the response—dozens of rockets falling on Israel rarely causing injuries or damage—as the very pretext for continued bombing. Israel also claims to have shot down several dozen incoming missiles using its US-subsidized “Iron Dome” anti-missile system.
On Twitter, the Israeli military spokesperson even praised Israel forits “restraint” as if Israel hadn’t started the violence itself on a completely false pretext:
Recall that after the Eilat attack lastAugust, Israel launched a ferocious assault on Gaza, also on false pretexts, killing 14 people including a 2-year old child, a 13-year-old boy and a doctor.
Beyond the propaganda, informed Israeli commentators, even those supporting the action, acknowledge that Israel chose to initiate the current escalation of violence – In the Jerusalem Post, Yaakov Katz wrote: When the IDF decided on Friday afternoon to assassinate the leader of the Popular Resistance Committees in the Gaza Strip, it knew what it wasgetting itself into. Assessments ahead of the decision to bomb the car carrying Zuhair Qaisi predicted that around 100 rockets could be fired into Israel during each day of the round of violence expected to erupt. This was a price the government felt it was capable of paying.
In other words, Israel was prepared to carry out an extrajudicial execution, a war crime, knowing that there would be retaliation. Israel’s routine policy of executing Palestinians in occupied territories without charge or trial, based on flimsy allegations made bythe killers themselves, is a major violation of international humanitarian law and makes a mockery of Israel’s claim to be a “democracy” by any possible measure.
Even in China, Iran, and the United States, all prolific users of the death penalty where no doubt many innocent people have been put to death, authorities at least go through the formality of a trial. Not so in Israel, where in the past decade hundreds of Palestinians have been sentenced to death in secret and then executed in their beds, on the street, while riding in cars, or even when confined to wheelchairs, along with hundreds of bystanders. Of course now, the Obama administration has openly adopted Israeli-style extrajudicial execution even of its own citizens—just another example of the “shared values” US and Israeli leaders are always eager to proclaim.
Israeli commentators cut through the official propaganda
InHaaretz, Gideon Levy undercut the official propaganda, that extrajudicial executions—“targeted killings”—are ever justified, let alone in this instance: Who started it? The IDF and the Shin Bet security service did. The impression is that they carry out the targetedkillings whenever they can, and not whenever it is necessary. When are they necessary? Do you remember the debate on targeted killings sometimein the distant past? Then, it seemed the targets had to be “ticking time bombs” en route to carry out their attacks. In any event, such a vague standard no longer applies. In 2006, in his last court ruling handed down before his retirement, then Supreme Court President Aharon Barak barred such killings when they were meant to be “a deterrent or punishment.”
The latest target killed was Zuhair al-Qaissi, the secretary general of the Popular Resistance Committees in Gaza. IDF sources said he was responsible for the terrorist attack on the Egyptianborder last August – which would make his killing an act of “deterrenceor punishment.” But to be on the safe side, it was also noted that he had “led and directed plans to carry out a terror attack within Israel, which was in its final stages of preparation.”
This convoluted announcement by the IDF spokesman was enough to get the Israeli public to accept this latest regular dose of targeted killing with automatic understanding and sympathy. And who knows what the late al-Qaissi had planned? Only the Shin Bet does, so we accept his death sentence without unnecessary questions. Also in Haaretz, Zvi Bar’el cast further doubt on the Israeli claim that the executed PRC men posed a threat that wouldjustify the Israeli attack:
It is hard to understand what basis there is for the assertion that Israel is not striving to escalate the situation. One could assume that an armed response by the Popular Resistance Committees or Islamic Jihad to Israel’s targeted assassination was taken into account. But did anyone weigh the possibility that the violent reaction could lead to a greater number of Israeli casualties than any terrorist attack that Zuhair al-Qaisi, the secretary-general of the Popular Resistance Committees, could have carried out?
“Mowing the lawn”
Perhaps the most chilling explanation of why Israel was bombing Gaza came, again, from Yaakov Katz in The Jerusalem Post: theIDF is using this as an opportunity to do some “maintenance work” in Gaza and to mow the lawn, so to speak, with regard to terrorism, with the main goal of boosting its deterrence and postponing the next round of violence for as long as possible. So 12 year-old Ayoub Useila is not even an animal. He’s just part of a “lawn” of faceless nameless Palestinians, to be bombed into submission as routinely as an Israeli settler on stolen West Bank land maintains his suburban-style yard and swimming pool.
Hamas “completely uninvolved”
Katz continues: This is essentially the situation in the Gaza Strip since Operation Cast Lead ended in January 2009. Every few months, something happens, setting off a round of violence that usually lasts a few days until it suddenly ends just like it began. Onceit is an antitank missile attack against an Israeli school bus and the next time a targeted killing of a top terrorist.
Either way, the scenario is pretty much played out the same way. The main difference today is that Hamas is completely uninvolved in the sense that its operatives are not firing rockets into Israel. On the other hand, Israeldoes believe that Hamas could be doing more to stop the fire into Israel. Katz himself had already acknowledged that Israel set offthe round of violence by its assassination of the PRC activists but then he goes on to admit that Hamas isn’t even involved. Hamas, the usual bogeyman and justification for Israel’s aggression on Gaza “is completely uninvolved in the sense that its operatives are not firing rockets into Israel.” That’s quite an admission. Indeed it has been reported that leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad are completely uninterested in escalating violence with Israel and are committed to a “ceasefire.” That would be consistent with their long-term policies which are to retaliate against Israeli aggression but not to seek out confrontation.
“The escalation in Gaza is good for Israel”
Sogiven all this, why has Israel decided to kill people in Gaza for no discernible reason? According to Bar’el in Haaretz it has everything to do with Israel’s effort to build support for an attack on Iran: Advocatesof a strike on Iran couldn’t have hoped for a more convincing performance than the current exchange of fire between Israel and Gaza. “A million Israelis under fire” is only a taste of what is expected whenIran’s nuclear project is completed. When that happens, seven million Israelis will be under the threat of fire and nuclear fallout. This is what happens when “only” the Islamic Jihad fires Grad rockets, when Hamas stays out of the fight, and when the “miraculous system” that prevents missiles from falling on kindergartens still works. Under the threat of a nuclear Iran, miracles won’t help, and people in Tel Aviv will also be forced to hide in bomb shelters or escape to Eilat. Here’sthe proof: There is no alternative to striking Iran and there is no better time than the present, when the weather permits and world diplomacy is preoccupied with Syria. For Israelis, there is no better proof that no harm will come to them as a result of an attack on Iran than the performance of the Iron Dome anti-rocket system, which has demonstrated a 95% rate of effectiveness. The escalation in Gaza is goodfor Israel – that is, for that part of Israel that wants to strike Iran.
It is hard to understand what basis there is for the assertion that Israel is not striving to escalate the situation. One could assume that an armed response by the Popular Resistance Committeesor Islamic Jihad to Israel’s targeted assassination was taken into account. But did anyone weigh the possibility that the violent reaction could lead to a greater number of Israeli casualties than any terrorist attack that Zuhair al-Qaisi, the secretary-general of the Popular Resistance Committees, could have carried out?
Bar’el sees at least one other compelling reason why Israel chose violence once again: the ‘threat’ from Hamas’ ever more determined turn to reliance on diplomacy over armed struggle—which Bar’el attributes in part to Hamas’ need to maintain good relations with Egypt: This dependence on Egypt has managed in the past to produce extended ceasefires which have proven themselves in recent months, especially after the signing of the reconciliation agreement with Fatah, which produced Khaled Meshal’s declarations that Hamas would restrict itself to nonviolent forms of struggle against Israel.
However, it seems that the change in Hamas not only hasn’t convinced Israel, but even stands in the way of its “no partner” policy and could sabotage its efforts to head off the creation of a Palestinian unity government, which would lead to renewed efforts at the UN to secure an independent Palestinian state. Thus, Hamas must be dragged toward military activity against Israel, and nothing is easier, at least in Israel’s estimation, than to launch a “unilateral” attack against a wanted non-Hamas man, to wait for the response to come, and hope that Hamas joins in. So far, it hasn’thappened. Hamas still prefers the diplomatic channel and has carried onintensive diplomatic contacts over the past two days with Egypt’s Supreme Military Council. Israel apparently needs to wait for another opportunity. What that “opportunity” will be no one yet knows, but what is sure is that innocent people will pay with their lives.
Facts behind Israel’s rocket propaganda
Wheneveryou hear Israel’s tired hasbara refrain about rockets, rockets, rockets, remember to ask the question Yousef Munayyer recently asked: Why don’t Israel’s spokespeople ever tell us how many rockets, missiles and bullets Israel has fired on Gaza? Of course the answer is because itis by orders of magnitude greater in both number and explosive power than anything Palestinian armed groups have or ever could muster againstIsrael. There are some data, however.
In one 18-month period between September 2005 and May 2007 in which Palestinian armed groups fired 2,700 rockets toward Israel killing four people, Israel fired 14,617 heavy artillery shells into Gaza killing 59 people, including at least 17 children and 12 women. Hundreds more were injured and extensivedamage caused.
This data comes from a 2007 Human Rights Watch reported titled Indiscriminate Fire, which states in addition that: A subsequent artillery attack on November 8  killed or mortally wounded 23 and injured at least 40 Palestinians, all civilians.
The report adds:
HumanRights Watch has been unable to find any report or claim that those killed or injured by artillery fire included persons believed to be combatants, and the IDF has not responded to a Human Rights Watch request about whether any Palestinians killed or injured by artillery fire into the Gaza Strip were combatants or believed to be combatants. Israeli artillery strikes in 2006 also left many unexploded shells strewn on the ground that constitute a continuing hazard to lives and livelihoods.
That report dates from 2007, but in the years beforeand since, thousands more Palestinian civilians were killed and injuredin Israeli attacks, by what must be tens of thousands of Israeli munitions. This included the 2008-2009 assault called “Operation Cast Lead” and Israeli fire has been an almost daily occurrence since its endclaiming many innocent lives.
And Operation Cast Lead itself waslaunched on the false pretext—echoed ad nauseam by media—that Palestinians were firing unprovoked barrages of rockets into Israel leaving it no choice to attack in “self-defense.” That too was a lie as Israel’s own official figures showed at the time.
As Munayyer notes, citing UN statistics:
In2011, the projectiles fired by the Israeli military into Gaza have beenresponsible for the death of 108 Palestinians, of which 15 where women or children and the injury of 468 Palestinians of which 143 where women or children. The methods by which these causalities were inflicted by Israeli projectiles breaks down as follows: 57% or 310, were caused by Israeli Aircraft Missile fire, 28% or 150 were from Israeli live ammunition, 11% or 59 were from Israeli tank shells while another 3% or 18 were from Israeli mortar fire. That is why Israeli official propaganda has to be so distorted and selective.
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