by Paul Donahue

30 January 2009

Since the Israeli attack on Gaza began on December 27th, many pundits and commentators have bemoaned the very complex nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, labeling such conflicts “complex” is a frequent ploy for ducking the obvious. In reality, there’s no great complexity here. Simply put, since 1967 Israel has been illegally occupying the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and the Palestinians want them to leave. Forty years of a brutal military occupation is more than enough.

Facts count. Here is a listing of some relevant facts that warrant repetition…

Israel is the undisputed champion of international lawlessness, having violated far more UN Security Council Resolutions than any other country. Even that understates the case because most attempts to pass UN Security Council Resolutions regarding Israel are defeated by a US veto. Several resolutions that have passed, beginning with UN Security Council Resolution 242, mandate that Israel withdraw from the territories it seized in the 1967 war, including the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Gaza is still illegally occupied by Israel. It is true that Israel withdrew its troops and abandoned its colonial outposts (euphemistically called “settlements”) within the Gaza Strip in August 2005, but it continued to control land, air and sea access to Gaza, turning it into the world's largest prison. Under international law, if you control access, then you are considered an occupying power. It is widely believed that Israel abandoned its settlements in Gaza not to free the Palestinians, but rather so that it could inflict greater pain on the Palestinian population, something it could not easily do with Jewish settlers living there.

The International Court of Justice has ruled that all Israeli colonial outposts in the West Bank are illegal. These colonial outposts also violate a number of UN Security Council Resolutions, but Israel continues to build even more of them. Israeli colonization activity in the occupied West Bank has increased for another consecutive year. More than 1,200 new structures were built in 2008, an increase of 57 percent over 2007.

The 20 foot-high electrified separation wall or “apartheid wall” constructed around the West Bank and Gaza by Israel is illegal. In 2004, the United Nations passed a number of resolutions calling for Israel to remove the wall. The International Court of Justice declared the illegality of the wall and also called for it to be removed. Israel has not done so, but instead continues with the final stages of construction.

Hamas is the democratically elected government of the Palestinians. Israel and the US may not like that fact, but too bad, it’s still the democratically elected government. That's the downside to democracy and freedom: sometimes people use their freedom to elect people you don’t like. In elections in the West Bank and Gaza in January 2006 Hamas won a majority of seats in the Palestinian legislature. These elections that brought Hamas to power were closely monitored by international observers and were considered to be very fair. Just the same, that did not stop Israel from responding with an economic blockade. Nor did it stop President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice from signing off on a plan for the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, to remove the Hamas authorities in Gaza. The plan called for US allies in the region to funnel arms and funds to Fatah fighters who would lead an uprising against Hamas.

Hamas is not out to wipe Israel off the map. Hamas has repeatedly stated that it is willing to accept a Palestinian state that followed the 1967 borders and that they would accept the right of Israel to live as a neighbor next door in peace if Israel recognized the Palestinians' national rights. They made that offer numerous times before the invasion, and as recently as January 28th, after the invasion.

As an occupying power, Israel has a legal obligation to protect the citizens of Gaza. Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention requires an occupying power to respect the safety of occupied civilians. For starters, that generally means that you don’t starve them through blockades and fire missiles at them from Apache helicopters.

The Israelis began planning the invasion of Gaza back in March 2008 and it was Israel, not Hamas, that broke the June 2008 ceasefire, with an attack in November 2008 that killed 6 Hamas members. The fact is that Israel never honored the terms of the ceasefire in the first place, not loosening its brutal blockade of Gaza, causing severe shortages of medicine, food and fuel. For that reason, while the rocket attacks from Gaza dropped off dramatically, they did not completely stop. Some commentators have declared that the Gazans “launched hundreds of rockets into Israel despite a six-month truce.” Not true. During the six-month truce the number of rockets fired into Israel dropped to about a dozen per month. The Israeli invasion of Gaza came on the heels of the crippling 18 month siege. Even without the invasion, under international law, the Israeli siege of Gaza constitutes an act of war. The Israelis argued this fact themselves in the buildup to the Six-Day War in 1967.

The evidence is overwhelming that during the 22 day invasion of Gaza the Israeli forces deliberately targeted civilians and civilian infrastructure - hospitals, clinics, schools, a UN food warehouse, mosques, water and electrical facilities, private homes, etc. - and this in the most densely populated place on Earth, where the Palestinians were locked in and not allowed to leave. An estimated 15% of all buildings in the Gaza Strip were completely destroyed or collapsed. This was not accidental, it was intentional. Targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure are violations of international humanitarian law, specifically the First Protocol to the Geneva Conventions, and constitute war crimes. Collective punishment of the civilian population is also a violation of international law, specifically Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, and a war crime. Whether or not Hamas used Palestinian civilians as human shields is totally irrelevant to the illegality of Israel’s actions.

The evidence is also overwhelming that Israel used white phosphorus as a weapon against the Palestinians, causing massive and painful burns to many Palestinians. Doing so constitutes another war crime.

Other than the fact that the Israeli attack on Gaza was carried out by a state rather than a “subnational group”, it perfectly fits the definition of terrorism contained in Title 22 of the United States Code, Section 2656f(d). That statute contains the following definitions: “The term "terrorism" means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience. . . .For purposes of this definition, the term "noncombatant" is interpreted to include, in addition to civilians, military personnel who at the time of the incident are unarmed and/or not on duty.”

On December 30th, in international waters 90 miles off the coast of Gaza, several Israeli naval vessels intercepted the “Dignity”, the vessel of the Free Gaza Movement. The vessel, headed for Gaza with the intent of breaking the Israeli’s criminal blockade, was carrying 16 passengers, including former Congresswoman and Green Party presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney, and three tons of medical supplies for the Palestinian people. Gunboats fired their machine guns into the water around the “Dignity”, then, without warning, one of the gunboats rammed the “Dignity”, causing heavy damage and forcing the vessel to head to a port in Lebanon. The attack was a blatant and serious violation of maritime law. To quote MIT professor Noam Chomsky, “Ramming and almost sinking a boat in international waters is a much more serious crime than piracy off the coast of Somalia.”

Since Hamas rocket attacks began on Israel in 2001, in response to the ongoing occupation and blockade, a total of 24 Israeli’s have been killed, with the first death not coming until 2004. In the same period, Israel has killed 5000 Palestinians. During the 22 day invasion of Gaza, 13 Israelis were killed. Only 3 of those were civilians in Israel. The remainder were Israeli soldiers, and 4 of those were killed by “friendly fire”. On the other hand, Israel’s military, the 4th largest in the world, killed well over 1300 Palestinians, about a third of them children, and wounded and maimed thousands more. This violates the long-accepted principle of proportionality, contained in Articles 51 and 57 of the First Protocol to the Geneva Conventions.

Ultimately, wars, all wars, are about resources. Off the coast of Gaza lie important reserves of natural gas. These reserves legally belong to the Palestinians, however, the Israeli’s want the gas for themselves. Even more importantly, they want to be sure that the revenue from the gas does not get into the hands of its rightful owners, the Palestinians. Talks between Israeli officials and British Gas are ongoing, trying to negotiate a deal that will exclude the Palestinians.

In October 1973 on CBS' "Face the Nation", Senator J. William Fulbright of Arkansas, Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee stated, "The Israelis control the policy in the Congress and the Senate." At an Israeli cabinet meeting in late September 2001 Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon stated to Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, "Every time we do something, you tell me Americans will do this and will do that. I want to tell you something very clear. Don’t worry about American pressure on Israel; we, the Jewish people, control America and the Americans know it."

While American citizens were about evenly split in expressing approval or disapproval for Israel’s recent attack on Gaza, AIPAC and the rest of the Israel lobby wielded their considerable power - what amounts to legalized extortion - with the result that the US Senate voted unanimously in support of Israel. The vote in the House of Representatives was not much different. What does that tell you about the veracity of Fulbright and Sharon’s remarks?

The attack on Gaza has ended, for now, but the devastation of the Palestinian people continues. Israel is the largest recipient of US foreign aid. During the Bush administration Israel received over $21 billion in US security assistance, including $19 billion in direct military aid. For Bush’s 8 years in office, that works out to over $7 million per day in military aid alone. That means US taxpayers are financing the devastation of Gaza.

Supplying Israel with weapons to use on the Palestinian citizens of Gaza is a direct violation of the US Arms Export Control Act, which requires governments that receive weapons from the US to use them for legitimate self-defense. The commission of war crimes is not legitimate.

Does Israel have a non-violent alternative for defending itself from rocket attacks? Yes, most definitely. To quote a recent speech by MIT Professor Emeritus and prominent political activist Noam Chomsky, “Israel has a straightforward means to defend itself: put an end to its criminal actions in occupied territories, and accept the long-standing international consensus on a two-state settlement that has been blocked by the US and Israel for over 30 years.”

The illegal Israeli attack and siege of Gaza would not be possible without the diplomatic, financial and military support of the United States. The Muslim world certainly recognizes the fact that the US is complicit in the slaughter of Palestinians, and it’s time that all Americans come to realize it. The blood of the Palestinians is on our hands and every single one of us should be expressing our outrage.

Paul Donahue
Pacifica, CA