The Israeli war drums were already announcing an offensive against the Gaza Strip days before it was launched, in July 8, 2014. One year ago, Israel inaugurated “Operation Protective Edge”, when 1.8 million Palestinians in the besieged territory were attacked during 51 days of strikes from air, land and sea. This series of articles intends to analyse the third Israeli offensive against Gaza in five years and the developments after the accusations of war crimes.
By Moara Crivelente | Originally published in Portuguese at Portal Vermelho
A well-known script explains the escalation that culminated in “Protective Edge”. In Hebrew, the operation was dubbed “Tzuk Eitan”, or “Resolute Cliff”, a name also given by a couple from Tiberias, up north, to their baby, born that very Tuesday. The name “signals the power, commitment and resilience of the Israeli people”, Professor Yagil Levy — who lectures Sociology, Politics and Communication at the Open University of Israel — tells the Times of Israel the same day. Steven Poole, on the other hand, analysing the language of “modern war” in an article for The Guardian,interpreted the message as an assurance of the “futility of resistance.”
What matters is that Israeli narrative on the choice for another war against Gaza — the 12th since 1948, according to French Historian Jean Pierre Filiu, writing for the dossier compiled by the Journal of Palestine Studies — was steadily and carefully built by officials and the international or national traditional media. Little or no questioning is raised over the facts transmitted by official sources, mainly from the Army or the Security cabinet. When questioning arises, Haaretz’ columnist Gideon Levy said over the phone, the very readers, mobilized by a nationalist and warmongering discourse, harass the dissidents.
Another offensive against the West Bank and East Jerusalem came almost a month before the attack on Gaza, a thin coastal enclave, the most densly inhabited territory in the world, besieged since 2007. Since that year Gaza is governed by Hamas, which is framed as a “terrorist organization” by Israel and some of its allies. There — says Jurist Lisa Hajjar, in an article for Jadaliyya — is the explanation for the Israeli self-conceded permission to kill, quite indiscriminately, according to Israeli soldiers who gave their testimonies to the veteran organization Breaking the Silence, for the report “This is How We Fought in Gaza”.
The Israeli military operation in the West Bank and East Jerusalem — named after a Biblical reference, “Brother’s Keeper” — was launched on June 12 allegedly to search for three young settlers who had disappeared. From the onset, Hamas was accused of the kidnapping of Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar and Naftali Fraenkel, residents of Gush Etzion — a bloc with 22 settlements and over 70,000 inhabitants located between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, in the occupied West Bank. A couple of weeks later the three boys were found dead near Hebron — evidence showed they were killed shortly after kidnapped.
In 10 days the Israeli forces arrested over 350 Palestinians and the violence reached heinous peaks. In July 2nd, Mohamed Abu Khdeir, a 16-year-old Palestinian, was kidnapped in Shufat (East Jerusalem), beaten and burnt alive by Israeli settlers. Other attacks followed, motivated by “revenge”, according to the very perpetrators, who remain mostly benefitted with impunity. Between June and August, 27 Palestinians were killed, hundreds were arbitrarily arrested and the official return to house demolitions as “punitive measures” — previously maintained at an informal level — set the Israeli authorities’ position; 27 people were made homeless (including 13 children), according to the Israeli organization B’Tselem.
A new war on Gaza
In this context, Palestinian brigades launched rockets from the Gaza Strip against the Israeli territory. As usual, the Israeli narrative explained that, due to the Palestinian attacks, the Army — named “Israel Defense Forces” — decided to launch a great offensive against Gaza, to “deter” Hamas of future armed actions.
“The attacks will be firmer”, said an “official” to Haaretz in July 7th, when Israel was already launching missiles against Gaza. “Each passing day will be worse for Hamas. We will intensify the attacks to make it clear for them that it is in their interest to stop rocket fire.” The underground tunnels — frequently used as an alternative around the blockade of the territory to import essential goods and even enable people t0 move in and outside — were framed as great threats to the Israeli people, “innocent civilian victims”, the news repeated, while the Palestinians were “terrorists”, Hamas’ “human shields” — as termed by the Israeli Army — and any other term or tool that helped justify their deaths.
According to the report published last June by the commission of inquiry mandated by the UN Human Rights Council — but confronted with every possible obstacle imposed by the Israeli authorities — 1,462 of the over 2,200 people killed by the bombardments were civilians, including over 500 children. Of the 72 Israelis killed, 66 were officials or soldiers in combat and six were civilians; a Thai worker was also killed.
Strikes from air, land and sea caused a widespread devastation, as the above footage shows. The recording was made by a drone in March this year. Over 10,000 homes, Mosques, Churches, schools, clinics and cemeteries were destroyed, as well as the infrastructure needed for survival. The sole energy plant in Gaza was struck, leaving 1.8 million people served by only three hours of energy per day, dependant on generators run by scarce fuel. Palestinians in Gaza struggled to tell their own stories, and they did so in an instrumental way for those confronted with a simplistic coverage, mainly determined by war propaganda.
Packed hospitals did not escape the strikes either, said Dr. Belal Dabour, who answered the phone call for the interview from the rooftop of Al-Shifaa hospital, the biggest in Gaza, where the staff worked in alert level A, in 24-hour shifts. In July 21st, the number of fatal victims had already surpassed that of 460 people; the Palestinian authorities published lists with names, ages and residence, so people were not turned into mere statistics.
Mustafa Barghouthi, Secretary-General of the Palestinian National Initiative, tasked with following the Palestinian case through the International Criminal Court, showed a Brazilian group visiting the West Bank, last April, dozens of pictures of the devastation and the employment, by the Israeli forces, of “barrel bombs” — which cause indiscriminate damage and victims. This is an example of the accusations of war crimes pending on Israel, since the principle of “distinction” between civilians and combatants is essential in the International Humanitarian Law.
Barghouthi (right) shows images and numbers of the destruction in Gaza. Photo: Moara Crivelente
Judge Mary McGowan Davis, head of the UNHRC’s inquiry commission, considered that “the extent of the devastation and human suffering in Gaza was unprecedented and will impact generations to come.” Last week, the UNHRC approved a resolution — with only one negative vote, the US’ — responding to the report published in June 22nd, on the situation in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the fragmented and occupied Palestinian territories.
All European members of the Council, including the UK, France and Germany, voted for the document, which emphasized “the need to ensure that all those responsible for violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law are held to account through appropriate fair and independent domestic or international criminal justice mechanisms”.
Since April 1st, 2015, the State of Palestine is an effective member of the ICC and, even though Israel is not, the case is already evaluated, in “preliminary examinations”, by the Prosecutor’s Office. Just as the UNHRC, the ICC is harassed by the Israeli authorities and their allies. The US — and a detailed document recently published by the White House shows the great lengths it went to assure Israel of its alliance — tried to prevent the establishment of the UNHRC inquiry commission with the only negative vote, in July 2014, and considered the cause in the ICC “counterproductive”. It is time to follow the case and demand that, for starters, the historical impunity sustaining this cycle of massacre and devastation, and the very Israeli occupation of Palestine, be finally ended.