The third anniversary of the conclusion of Israel’s “Operation Cast Lead” attack on Gaza has passed and so approaches an appropriate moment to reflect on the events of that bleak mid-winter war, with a thankfulness that for more than a thousand days, nothing of its kind has been suffered by any citizen in the Holy Land since – although this may soon change.
Where as some appear to review the security achievements of Israel’s “shock and awe” operation with a bloodless analysis that deploys an acuity akin to an intellectual sleight of hand, it may be worth taking a more critical approach to soberly review the legacy of human suffering wrought in those few fatal weeks.
In doing so, it is necessary to return to a collection of facts that counter quasi-objective reviews of its “success”, a notion untenable in any cogent ethical sense.
A good starting point would be to attend to the central claim that apologists make in order to legitimise the sustained severity of the assault – that there was no other way for Israel to respond to on-going rocket attacks on Southern Israel coming from Gaza. In fact, in contravention of the well-known guiding “Caroline principle”, or indeed any litmus test of necessity to legitimise sustained violence, Israel was not left with no choice but to spend three weeks attacking Gaza to solve this problem. An offer of an extended ceasefire was made by Hamas prior to the war, which was refused by the Israeli government who had already shown their commitment – or otherwise – to the same, by decisively breaking former agreements (already marred mutually by a series of incidents) on 4 November 2008.
The operation was carefully planned for, even as the June 2008 truce was agreed, according to a credible Israeli newspaper report that cited insider sources. Military strategy and common sense alone dictates that in-depth planning of the offensive must have taken weeks.
All of which suggests that Israel’s ferocious, Sabbath-day launch of operations was intended to have the effect it achieved: to pound Gaza City, Khan Younis and Rafah at a time when children were returning from school and the streets were dense with civilian activity. Within minutes, a multitude of targets were struck, simultaneously resulting in hundreds dead and more injured in what can only be assumed as a planned consequence of the timing and nature of the attack.
The operation began with a strike that was directed at a graduating ceremony for police officers, killing at least forty of them, according to reports. In the coming weeks, the offensive destroyed or damaged crucially important infrastructure and civilian objects in the area. These included: hospitals, medical clinics, universities, schools, sanitation plants, wastewater treatment facilities, UN centres and thousands of homes (so many, in fact, that the notion that these were mere accidents suggests an implausible degree of incompetence from the region’s most sophisticated military force). The diesel supply to Gaza’s only power plant was also cut, forcing hospitals to run on generators.
The widespread attacks on infrastructure were no small matter for the already immiserated strip, where 80% of people were living on less than $3 a day, and the same percentage being reliant on international aid for basic food. This situation was imposed by Israel on security grounds with the support of the EU, Mubarak’s Egypt and the United States. Among the items deemed necessary to deny the men, women and children of Gaza were chocolate, jam, plastic toys, shoes and fruit juice.
Then there was the Zeitoun incident, involving the near-annihilation of an entire family of 100 people- many of whom were ordered by the IDF into a house that was subsequently shelled, killing dozens. Red Cross officials were reported by international news sources as asserting that medics were hindered trying to help the wounded and described finding “children clinging to dead or wounded parents in Zeitoun, two full days after the incidents [that killed them] took place.”
In the midst of the immense human suffering on display in the region, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, hiding behind an utterly pusillanimous and self-serving chimera, told the world defiantly that “there is no humanitarian crisis … and therefore there is no need for a humanitarian truce”- an assertion that contradicted the view of the UN, aid agencies and human rights groups.
At the turn of the year, an article in the Jerusalem Post, as well as comments made by senior military figures, indicate that, along with a potentially disastrous attack on Iran, Gaza may have to brace itself and expect a “Cast Lead 2” this year.
The prospects of this for Israel’s relations with the Arab world are hardly comforting. For anyone who wants to see Israeli civilians free from retaliatory violence or indeed foresee the shipwrecking of the already devastated possibility of a negotiated, workable peace, the idea appears masochistic in the extreme.
Nonetheless in the words of the under-appreciated Professor Avi Shlaim of Oxford University, the Israeli political elite “are of course free to repeat the lies and mistakes of the past.” Conversely, however, as Shlaim dryly observed “it is not mandatory to do so.”
Neither is it mandatory for Israel to self-destructively pursue “security” by way of martial-minded strategy. There are plenty of sane alternatives, for those who care to look.
Image from: http://www.solidarity-us.org/site/node/2658
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