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Putting Israel’s “Perspective” in Perspective

israeli-tanks.thumbnail.jpgAs we hear that the IDF is bombing universities and killing United Nations personnel in addition to the hundreds of Gazans already dead in the three days of the Israeli attack on Gaza, we will hear the inevitable cry "but Hamas has been lobbing rockets at Israelis for years from Gaza!"

Juan Cole tells us about these rockets, and provides some perspective:

Israel blames Hamas for primitive homemade rocket attacks on the nearby Israeli city of Sederot. In 2001-2008, these rockets killed about 15 Israelis and injured 433, and they have damaged property. In the same period, Gazan mortar attacks on Israel have killed 8 Israelis.

Since the Second Intifada broke out in 2000, Israelis have killed nearly 5000 Palestinians, nearly a thousand of them minors. Since fall of 2007, Israel has kept the 1.5 million Gazans under a blockade, interdicting food, fuel and medical supplies to one degree or another. Wreaking collective punishment on civilian populations such as hospital patients denied needed electricity is a crime of war.

The Israelis on Saturday killed 5% of all the Palestinians they have killed since the beginning of 2001! 230 people were slaughtered in a day, over 70 of them innocent civilians. In contrast, from the ceasefire Hamas announced in June, 2008 until Saturday, no Israelis had been killed by Hamas. The infliction of this sort of death toll is known in the law of war as a disproportionate response, and it is a war crime.

But of course you won’t see this on your evening news, not unless you live outside of the US. You’re more likely to know about this if you live in Tel Aviv than if you live in Milwaukee.

Johann Hari backs up Cole’s numbers on the rocket casualties, and offers a response to the Israelis’ stand that they pulled out of Gaza in 2005 and the Gazans responded with rocket attacks:

The Israeli government did indeed withdraw from the Gaza Strip in 2005 – in order to be able to intensify control of the West Bank. Ariel Sharon’s senior advisor Dov Weisglass was unequivocal about this, explaining: "The disengagement [from Gaza] is actually formaldehyde. It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that’s necessary so that there will not be a political process with the Palestinians… Effectively, this whole package that is called the Palestinian state has been removed from our agenda indefinitely."

Ordinary Palestinians were horrified by this, and by the fetid corruption of their own Fatah leaders – so they voted for Hamas. … It was a free and democratic election, and it was not a rejection of a two-state solution. The most detailed polling of Palestinians, by the University of Maryland, found that 72 percent want a two-state solution on the 1967 borders, while fewer than 20 percent want to reclaim the whole of historic Palestine. So, partly in response to this pressure, Hamas offered Israel a long ceasefire and a de facto acceptance of two states, if only Israel would return to its legal borders.

Rather than seize this opportunity and test their sincerity, the Israeli government reacted by punishing the entire civilian population. They announced they were blockading the Gaza Strip in order to "pressure" its people to reverse the democratic process. They surrounded the Strip and refused to let anyone or anything out. They let in a small trickle of food, fuel and medicine – but not enough for survival.

Dov Weisglass’ comment was that the Gazans were being "put on a diet." Turns out it’s a starvation diet: Oxfam says only 137 trucks of food were allowed into the Gaza Strip this November — an average of 4.5 per day, compared to the December 2005 average of 564 per day. Gaza has nearly 1.5 million people crammed into 139 square miles — 137 food trucks wouldn’t begin to cover their needs, especially since the inhabitants aren’t allowed to go outside of Gaza to seek work. The UN says poverty there has reached an "unprecedented level." Not exactly the conditions that engender feelings of brotherly love.

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