In August 2011, when the Israeli army bombed the Gaza Strip for nearly a week, killing 26 and injuring 89 more Palestinians, they at least had a pretext, no matter how transparently false — one which was immediately proven bogus by both their own Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) spokeswoman and subsequent investigations.
Four days ago on March 9, 2012, when the Israeli army assassinated two Palestinians via a precision-fired “drone” (UAV, the technically accurate name) missile, they didn’t even have the pretense of a pretext to cling to. The missile, which hit a car in Gaza City’s Tel el Hawa district, killing two Palestinian resistance fighters, was the first of almost non-stop bombing that has continued throughout Monday. As of Monday evening, the death toll was 25 Palestinians, with another over 80 injured — many with critical, life-threatening injuries — and 3 Israelis injured from the crude, unguided rockets Palestinian resistance fire, with no signs that Israel would cease its murderous campaign. In the first attacks, the IOF assassinated Zuhair al-Qaisi, the secretary general of the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC), and PRC member Mahmoud Hanani.
Samer, a university student from Beit Hanoun, spoke Monday of the injured he saw at northern Gaza’s Kamal Adwan hospital: “The injured I saw there yesterday were all children and women.” Indeed, if the death toll is accurate, while a great many of the assassinated have been resistance fighters, the martyred — and nearly all of the injured — also include civilians, children, and elderly.
In Jabaliya refugee camp, one of the many Israeli bombings on Monday killed 65-year-old Mohammed Mustafa al-Hasumi and his 30-year-old daughter Faiza. Early Monday morning, IOF warplanes targeted the three-storey home of the Hammad family in Ezbet Abed Rabbo, injuring 33, including two critically so, and including nine below the age of 10 years old. Also on Monday, in the Strip’s northern Beit Lahiya, the IOF killed Nayif Qarmout, 14, and injured five other students wounded when the IOF-fired missile hit near them. On Sunday, Israeli bombing in a residential area killed Ayoub Assaliya, 13, and injured his seven-year-old cousin.
The Israeli attacks began Friday with the assassination of resistance fighters who were not participating in acts of resisting the occupation, but rather were travelling through a residential area of Gaza City. Enshrined in international law is the right to resist occupation. In contrast, the targeted assassination of people not engaged in combat is forbidden under international law. Specifically:
Extrajudicial executions are gross violations of universally agreed human rights that enshrine the right to life in accordance with Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and further cemented in Article 6 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights. Extrajudicial executions are acts outside the realm of rule of law and hence deprive the targeted individual(s) of their right to life, as well as the right to defend themselves against charges against them.
According to provisions of IHL, people who live under foreign occupation enjoy special protection under Common Article 3 of the four Geneva Conventions. The Article stipulates that:
“[t]he passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court, affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples” are prohibited at all times and in all circumstances. Civilians are moreover protected against acts that constitute collective punishment. Collective punishment, intentional attacks against civilians and extrajudicial executions constitute war crimes in IHL.
Jenny Graham, an Irish citizen living in Gaza City, describes on her blog the pandemonium following the first Israeli attacks on March 9:
A day of bombardment from air, sea and land, The martyred and injured taken to Al Shifa. To the North, South, East and West and everywhere in between, no where escaped. Loud explosions constantly rattled the windows and shook the building.
… not only can Gazans not report their stories, share their fears or spread word of an attack, many can now no longer keep check on friends and family members [due to the 20 hour long power outages throughout the Strip].
… The father of one of the Martyrs sits on the ground outside, oblivious to the crowds surrounding him, his eyes vacant and empty, he will never see the world the same again.
Omar Ghraeib, a 25-year-old Palestinian who blogs when he has electricity, said:
I live in Tel el Hawa, Gaza City. The first bombings last Friday — which ignited the latest escalation — happened in Tel el Hawa. Since then, basically, from south till north Gaza, from east till west, nowhere is safe. They even bombed populated area and high-traffic areas. The bombing affects everyone, including myself and my family; it is not safe to go to work or school. But if I could leave, I wouldn’t! I want to stick with my people here, I am not better than them, and we are all in this together. Some might leave, but the majority won’t leave their lands, houses, and country.
An online letter from various Palestinian civil society groups, including the One Democratic State Group and different BDS groups, reads:
[Gaza has been] bombed by Apache helicopters and F-16 and V-58 fighter planes. Gaza has been enduring Israeli policies of extermination and vandalism since June, 2006. The Palestinian people have already been under siege for more than six years as collective punishment. Israel has turned the Gaza Strip into the largest concentration camp, reminiscent of Bergen Bilsen and Auschwits, with the largest population of prisoners in the world.
Mahfouz Kabariti, from Gaza City’s port area, says the bombing escapes no area: “The other day they bombed behind our house, maybe 500 metres away. Three were killed.” But like most Palestinians, he is accustomed to the tragedies of the occupation. “We are used to this life… but it is the kids dying, that’s the hardest thing.”
Saber al Zaneen, living in Beit Lahiya, said Monday evening: “The situation is extremely difficult in Gaza It’s very, very dangerous here. There are bombs every five to ten minutes, from warplanes, from zananas (UAVs). Today’s the fourth day we’ve been under Israel’s war … and no one is doing anything to stop it. It’s the beginning of a new war on Gaza, and it already feels as bad as the last war on Gaza in 2008-2009. The Israelis are bombing everywhere again: people’s homes, schools, cemeteries…No one is on the street, everyone is afraid.”
The Israeli army claimed that it initiated the assault on Gaza in order to kill two alleged militants who supposedly “masterminded” a brazen and deadly terror attack near the Israeli city of Eilat in August of last year. The army also claimed the two were planning a new operation.
As is so often the case, the Israeli army is lying. According to the army’s own investigation of the Eliat attack last year, the attackers were not from Gaza as Israeli government spokespeople initially claimed — they were Egyptian.
Finally, in November, Egyptian security forces arrested the suspected mastermind of the Eilat plot, shattering the Israeli army’s initial claims about Gazan culpability. By then, however, Israeli forces had already killed 30 Gazans in retaliation for an attack they had absolutely nothing to do with.
This weekend, the Israeli army reverted to falsely blaming Gazans for last August’s Eilat attacks, contradicting its own investigation and heaps of evidence proving the attacks were planned in Egypt and carried out by Egyptians. The army has no proof that the men it assassinated on Friday — Al-Qaissi and Al-Hannani — were involved in the Eilat attacks, or that they were planning any military operations. So in to manufacture a violent confrontation, the Israeli military simply concocted a lie that conceals what appears to be political considerations.
Blumenthal sees the recent Israeli attacks on Gaza as a means of garnering support for Netanyahu after a visit to the U.S., which did not result in the hoped for immediate go-ahead for an attack on Iran.
The renewed assault on Gaza coincided with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s return to Israel after days of discussions in Washington with President Barack Obama about Iran’s nuclear program.
… Almost as soon as he limped back to Jerusalem in frustration, Netanyahu gathered with his generals to gin up a case for pounding Gaza. The Gaza Strip, with its warehoused population of stateless refugees, would serve as their punching bag and pressure release valve. They could not have their war on Iran — not yet, at least — but they could assault Palestinians in Gaza without fear of repercussions from Washington.
Likewise, Ali Abunimah’s recent in-depth analysis highlights a similar hypothesis — that Israel benefits from starting and continuing attacks on the 1.6 million people locked into the Gaza Strip:
So given 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:
Advocates of 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 when Iran’s nuclear project is completed. When that happens, seven million Israelis will be under the threat of fire and nuclear fallout.
…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 good for Israel — that is, for that part of Israel that wants to strike Iran.
Further in his article, Abunimah elaborates on further reasons for the Israeli bombings throughout the Gaza Strip:
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.
… Perhaps the most chilling explanation of why Israel was bombing Gaza came, again, from Yaakov Katz in The Jerusalem Post:
the IDF 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.
Finally, and critically, he cites statistics that are rarely cited, buried in the pages of Israeli propaganda:
… 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 extensive damage caused.
In 2011, the projectiles fired by the Israeli military into Gaza have been responsible 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.
“To top things off,” Omar Ghareib writes, “Gaza’s Energy Authority announced that Gaza’s only power plant will be shutting down — completely — today, for the third time in a month, because of the lack of fuel. Gaza will sink under darkness again, but will be lit by the Israeli war machines.”
Dr. Hassan Khalaf, Deputy Health Minister in Gaza, said Monday that the combination of the latest Israeli attacks, the prolonged medicines shortage, and the continued lack of electricity meant for a critical health services situation in the Strip:
It is very critical, 180 of 450 of patients’ drug items are at zero stock; 200 of 900 of essential medical items are at zero stock. We lack many essential drugs, including those needed for anaesthesia, antibiotics, specialized milk for infants, treatments for neurological conditions like epilepsy, and cancer medications.
No electricity means no medical service. Electricity is the life of medical service, for all machines; the ICU is completely dependent on electricity, as is the operating theatre, kidney dialysis…
In his blog post, Abunimah links to a video interview with Shifa hospital’s Dr. Ayman Al Sahbani early on in the Israeli attacks, who says:
We don’t know what type of weapon was used. It led to severe burn from the upper torso; severe burn, black. We don ‘t know the type of chemical weapon used, because it is different from the other type of weapons. Used to kill, not to injure, to kill. The twelve martyrs, all of them severe shrapnel, severe injuries, and many of them without heads. In the past we saw burns, but last night, many of them direct trauma, many of them completely without their heads.
Some Palestinians in Gaza fear the worst for future days.
Saber Zaneen said Monday, “People hear rumours that Barack and Netenyahu want to send tanks in, for a big attack worse than 2008. We have no idea what’s going to happen.”
Posturing in the media, Netanyahu said on Sunday: “We extracted a high price from them and will continue to do so.” On Monday, he said that the Israeli army is “prepared to expand its activities [in the Gaza Strip] as much as is necessary.”
Asking, “is it enough yet?” Jenny Graham writes Monday night of the 25 martyrs and more than 85 wounded, including 27 children, 13 girls and five elderly since Friday evening.
Omar Ghraeib notes what many Gazan Palestinians have said: “The situation in Gaza is unbearable. No one would cope with it, but Gazans do, because they are used to darkness, lack of power, lack of fuel, lack of gas, lack of water, cold weather, and dire conditions. And in addition to all that, we remain under siege.”
Eva Bartlett is a Canadian and was an International Solidarity Movement member in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead.