The Martyrdom of Gaza: A Never Ending Saga
Gearóid Ó Loingsigh
16 November 2023
Israel uses white phosphorus munitions in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead.
Norman Finkelstein published a book a number of years ago entitled Gaza: An Inquest Into Its Martyrdom. In it he looked at various major episodes in the long bloody onslaught on the people of Gaza, amongst them Operation Cast Lead and also the attack on the boat Mavi Marmara and the Goldstone Report, amongst other issues. He could have written it yesterday about the current genocidal plans of the Israeli state.
The current Israeli offensive is just one more in a long line of massacres. This is not a review of Finkelstein’s book, though any book by him is worth reading and should be read. Rather I just want to use the book to show that what is happening now is not new, it is just more intense. Israel has murdered before, it has lied, it has committed war crimes and it has always received the support of western states.
Above all we should be clear that we are where we are partly due to Oslo Accord and also the role played by the Palestinian Authority and the PLO. They cannot wash their hands of the affair.
“One of the meanings of Oslo,” former Israeli foreign minister Shlomo Ben-Ami observed, “was that the PLO was . . . Israel’s collaborator in the task of stifling the intifada and cutting short . . . an authentically democratic struggle for Palestinian independence.” In particular, Israel contrived to reassign to Palestinian surrogates the sordid tasks of occupation. “The idea of Oslo,” former Israeli minister Natan Sharansky acknowledged, “was to find a strong dictator to . . . keep the Palestinians under control.” “The Palestinians will be better at establishing internal security than we were,” Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin told skeptics in his ranks, “because they will not allow appeals to the Supreme Court and will prevent the Association for Civil Rights in Israel from criticizing the conditions there. . . They will rule by their own methods, freeing, and this is most important, the Israeli soldiers from having to do what they will do.”(1)In other words, Gaza has bled under the passive gaze of the bureaucrats of the Palestinian authorities and of course of the reactionary Arab regimes that have never lifted a finger to help their Palestinian brothers and sisters, not even threatening to cut off the supply of oil to the West, something they could do right now, but won’t. It has also happened under the gaze of those on the left who run around shouting Implement Oslo! Two State Solution! They ignore the fact that Oslo represented an ideological, political and military defeat for the Palestinians. The PLO accepted its role as puppet, administrator of a small urban city like council and as chief repressor of those who continued to fight for Palestinian freedom.
A look at the Oslo II Accord, signed in September 1995 and spelling out in detail the mutual rights and duties of the contracting parties to the 1993 agreement, suggests what loomed largest in the minds of Palestinian negotiators: whereas four full pages are devoted to “Passage of [Palestinian] VIPs” (the section is subdivided into “Category 1 VIPs,” “Category 2 VIPs,” “Category 3 VIPs,” and “Secondary VIPs”), less than one page—the very last—is devoted to “Release of Palestinian Prisoners and Detainees,” who numbered in the many thousands…However, Israel is now militarily weak. Finkelstein points to a number of attacks where it has shown its weakness. Its predilection is for attacks on the civilian population that can’t fight back. In 2006, it opted to bomb civilians in Lebanon rather than engage in a proper fight with Hezbollah “terrorizing Lebanese civilians appeared to be a low-cost method of “education.”(3)
The barely disguised purpose of Oslo’s protracted interim period was not confidence building to facilitate an Israeli-Palestinian peace but collaboration building to facilitate a burden-free Israeli occupation.(2)
In Gaza in Operation Cast Lead in 2008/9, it followed a similar path of aerial bombardments of civilians rather than land invasions, that would see its troops face the wrath of Hamas and other armed organisations. So first they relentlessly bombed Gaza before any troops went in. When the troops went in, the civilian population was their preferred target then as it is now. The murder of civilians is not new. It is part of an Israeli strategy of claiming easy victories.
A combatant remembered a meeting with his brigade commander and others where the “rules of engagement” were “essentially” conveyed as, “if you see any signs of movement at all you shoot.” Other soldiers recalled, “If the deputy battalion commander thought a house looked suspect, we’d blow it away. If the infantrymen didn’t like the looks of that house—we’d shoot” (unidentified soldier); “If you face an area that is hidden by a building—you take down the building. Questions such as ‘who lives in that building[?]’ are not asked” (soldier recalling his brigade commander’s order); “As for rules of engagement, the army’s working assumption was that the whole area would be devoid of civilians ... Anyone there, as far as the army was concerned, was to be killed” (unidentified soldier); “We were told: ‘any sign of danger, open up with massive fire” (member of a reconnaissance company); “We shot at anything that moved” (Golani Brigade fighter); “Despite the fact that no one fired on us, the f ring and demolitions continued incessantly” (gunner in a tank crew). “Essentially, a person only need[ed] to be in a ‘problematic’ location,” a Haaretz reporter found, “in circumstances that can broadly be seen as suspicious, for him to be ‘incriminated’ and in effect sentenced to death.”(4)In all around 1,400 Palestinians were murdered in Operation Cast Lead, with 80% of them being civilians including 350 children. Israeli casualties were risible in comparison, just 10 combatants were killed, four of whom were killed by friendly fire.(5) Then as now, Israel wheeled out the old trope of human shields. Amnesty International found no evidence of that,(6) in fact, it found evidence of Israel using children as human shields.(7) It also found that Israel used then, as it does now, white phosphorous against schools, hospitals and even the UNRWA.(8) Furthermore, 99% of the air attacks were accurate.(9) If they murdered civilians, it is because the civilians were the target.
Following the operation, the Goldstone Report was published. It surprised no one when it found evidence of Israeli war crimes and to a lesser extent Hamas. It is a salutary lesson for those who now place their confidence in the International Criminal Court (ICC). Goldstone made various recommendations.
Individual states in the international community were exhorted to “start criminal investigations in national courts, using universal jurisdiction, where there is sufficient evidence of the commission of grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 1949. Where so warranted following investigation, alleged perpetrators should be arrested and prosecuted in accordance with internationally recognized standards of justice.”(10)We know that nothing of the sort happened. In fact, the western governments paid little heed to the report. Goldstone was forced to recant on the conclusions to his report. Netanyahu for his part announced that he wanted to amend the rules of war leading to Israeli historian Zeev Sternhell asking “What is it that Israel wants … Permission to fearlessly attack defenseless population centers with planes, tanks and artillery?”(11) Exactly.
And here we are today, with Israel unilaterally amending the rules of war, with the green light from the EU and the USA, amongst others. They murder civilians and no one proposes doing anything. In Operation Cast Lead, the harshest sentence emitted by an Israeli court was seven and a half months to a soldier who had stolen a credit card!(12) Minor financial crimes are of greater concern than war crimes or crimes against humanity. After this genocide in Gaza, we can’t expect much from the ICC.
Throughout its history the ICC has opened just 31 cases, including one for genocide. All of them against African leaders. This does not mean that those leaders did not deserve to be judged for their crimes, but the ICC is just the legal arm of imperialism. It has never attempted to put on trial the powerful in the west and despite everything even less so Israel. This year it issued a communiqué announcing that it would issue an arrest warrant for Vladimir Putin for war crimes and did so on its own initiative.(13)
In the case of Gaza, it will do nothing of the sort. Those who place their trust in the ICC or in the Palestinian Authority are fooling themselves. This situation is the result of turning a blind eye to Israel for many years whilst it commits all sorts of crimes. It didn’t act before and it won’t do so now. Neither will the Arab regimes do much, unless their own populations force them. They fear the Palestinians and their own people as they know that the struggle against Zionism is also a struggle against them. The more revolutionary Palestinian groups used to say that the path to Jerusalem went through Amman and Damascus. They were right, it does pass through those capital cities and also Beirut, Riyadh, Cairo and all the others and not through the ICC. In fact, one day the judges and prosecutors of that body should be put on trial for their complicity in Israel’s war crimes and crimes against humanity through their inaction and omission.
It is beyond the scope of this article to deal with the role of Amnesty International in its own reports on Palestine. They are what Finkelstein refers “as far from being the exception that proved the rule, Amnesty actually constituted a variant of the rule: instead of falling silent on Israeli crimes during Protective Edge, Amnesty whitewashed them.”(14) I will leave it to the reader to look at the book for more information on that particular betrayal. Suffice to say, we can expect little from such organisations. At best they gather data we can sometimes use.
(1) Finkelstein, N. G. (2018) Gaza: An Inquest Into Its Martyrdom. California. California University Press. pp 6 & 7
(3) Ibíd. p.26
(5) Ibíd., p.68
(6) Ibíd. p.70
(7) Ibíd. p.71
(8) Ibíd., p. 75
(9) Ibíd., p. 204
(10) Ibíd., p. 91 & 92
(11) Ibíd., p.93
(14) Finkelstein, N.G. (2018)
Op. Cit. p.238