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Israel always the victim… especially when it’s the executioner

Nile Bowie is a political analyst and photographer currently residing in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He can be reached on Twitter or at nilebowie@gmail.com

Published time: July 31, 2014 09:18
A Palestinian firefighter participates in efforts to put out a fire from the wreckage of a house, which witnesses said was destroyed in an Israeli air strike, in Gaza City July 31, 2014 (Reuters / Mohammed Salem)

A global outpouring of sympathy for the Palestinian cause has again arisen since Israel launched Operation Protective Edge in Gaza earlier this month. And the only people who seem unmoved by scenes of indiscriminate bloodletting are Israelis themselves.

As the operation enters its fourth week, the death toll has reached almost 1,400, while over 7,000 have been injured. Cases of entire families being killed in airstrikes have become routine. Images depicting mangled and dismembered men, women and children showcase the appalling violence that the people of Gaza are forced to endure.

Gaza's only power plant, which supplies the territory with two-thirds of its energy needs, has recently been destroyed, which further impedes the work of overcrowded and under supplied medical facilities tasked with treating the thousands of injured civilians who have fallen victim to Israel’s strikes from air, land and sea.

Hospitals, schools, refugee camps, and mosques have been targeted by Israel, whose leadership has defied international calls for an unconditional ceasefire. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has signaled that the operation will continue in the long-term, appeasing hawkish ministers and media figures that have called for an expanded assault on Gaza.

Israel claims the ongoing operation is necessary to impede the military capabilities of Hamas, which it accuses of launching unprovoked rocket fire into Israel’s territory. Another precursor was the kidnapping and murder of three teenage Jewish settlers who were hitchhiking in the West Bank, whose bodies were discovered in late June.

It is crucial to understand the context that led to the launching of Israel’s ongoing campaign in Gaza. Despite any evidence to implicate Hamas in the killing of the three boys, Israel credited the Palestinian resistance organization with the crime and promised a tough response, launching an extensive search-and-destroy campaign against Hamas in the West Bank.

Before any rockets were fired from Gaza, Israeli forces rounded up and arrested over 500 activists and killed more than half a dozen, in addition to a 16-year-old teenager who was abducted and burned alive by Jewish settlers in a reprisal attack.

Although Israel failed to produce any evidence demonstrating Hamas’s involvement in the kidnapping of the three settlers, it launched attacks in the Gaza strip that targeted and killed Hamas members.

Contrary to the Israeli narrative that it is reluctantly responding to Hamas’ unjustified rocket fire, it is clear that Israeli provocations precipitated a forceful response from Hamas, to which Israel responded with a punishingly disproportionate military operation, which can acceptably be defined as an act of collective punishment, a violation of the laws of war and the Geneva Conventions.

Smoke rises following what witnesses said were Israeli shelling and air strike near a market in Shejaia in the east of Gaza City July 30, 2014 (Reuters / Ashraf Amrah)

The military campaign in Gaza has also laid bare the mendacity of Israeli slogans and talking points, which are used to legitimize and make permissible any degree of punishment deemed necessary. The narrative spun by Israel depicts Gazans as an inherently hostile and belligerent people, and centers obsessively on a focus on Israeli suffering, creating a false sense of equivalence in the military actions taken by Israel and that of Hamas.

An accusation that has become frequently alleged by Israel throughout the ongoing operation is that Hamas uses civilians as human shields and deliberately puts Palestinian civilian lives in danger by denying them the opportunity to evacuate targeted areas. Hamas and activists in Gaza vigorously deny this charge.

The claim that Hamas intentionally prevents civilians from evacuating targeted areas has not been corroborated by independent reports from journalists covering the conflict. There is no evidence that Hamas coerces civilians. Even in the event that Hamas did indeed use civilians as human shields, which would be illegal under international law, it would not justify Israel’s bombardment of populated residential areas and housing structures.

The purpose of this accusation is to absolve Israel of wrongdoing by shifting the blame to Hamas, and also to deny agency to the Palestinian resistance. In a shameful display of intellectual dishonesty, the Israeli narrative affirms a thought process that deprives the Palestinian dead of their victimhood. Even as Israeli forces bombard the dispossessed and humiliated people of Gaza in their F-16 fighter jets and drones, they paradoxically blame Palestinian deaths on Palestinians themselves.

Israeli society has been utterly propagandized by emotionally manipulative and militaristic sloganeering, and while there are certainly dissenters and people who adamantly oppose the status quo, the majority of Israelis widely support the ongoing campaign against Gaza, primarily because they have been conditioned by the state to believe they are victims of both history and the present.

Israel’s leadership has shamefully preyed upon the historical trauma and persecution of the Jewish people to legitimize its occupation; it equates legitimate criticism with anti-Semitism, and any resistance to the state’s dehumanizing colonialism as an existential threat to the Jewish people. These tendencies have given rise to a rabid brand of ultra-nationalism that has clouded the Israeli conscience.

A powerful example of Israel’s moral corruption comes from the southern city of Sderot, located less than one mile from the Gaza strip, where residents reportedly assembled on a hilltop at night to watch the Israeli bombardment of Gaza, which they joyfully celebrated while eating popcorn and smoking water pipes. The act of celebrating another people’s subjugation and killing can only be a demonstration of one’s lack of humanity.

Palestinians gather near the minaret of a mosque that police said was destroyed by an Israeli Air strike in Gaza City July 30, 2014 (Reuters / Finbarr O'Reilly)

When the Israeli leadership claims that no other country would tolerate rockets falling on its cities, it exposes a glaring contradiction: that the Israeli understanding of self-defense implies that they are the only people entitled to it. Israel, as an occupying power, has an obligation and a duty under international law to protect the civilians under its occupation.

The notion that Israel takes measures to avoid civilian causalities is a self-evident fantasy. In Gaza, Tel Aviv is effectively employing the ‘Dahiya Doctrine,’ coined during Israel’s indiscriminate aggression on Lebanon in 2006, which refers to the deliberate targeting of civilians and the use of disproportionate force to undermine popular support for armed resistance. This strategy has emboldened Hezbollah and the same will be true for Hamas.

In practice, Israel denies Palestinians the right to govern themselves and simultaneously declares war on them. When the international community allows Israel to use weapons of industrial warfare against a helpless civilian population with impunity, it cannot also deny the right of the Palestinians to use force to defend themselves.

As a dispossessed people living under the brunt of an occupying power, the Palestinians have a legitimate right to respond with force, provided that civilians are not intentionally targeted. Hamas’ rockets are indeed indiscriminant and pose a danger to Israeli civilians, however they are almost entirely ineffective. The asymmetric death toll is indeed a testament to Hamas’ rocket fire being a symbolic gesture of resistance more than anything else.

The bottom line is that average Israelis want security and their fear of Hamas’ rockets shouldn’t be derided. However, the actions taken by Israel only ensure that another generation of brutalized and traumatized Palestinians will seek revenge through force because the occupation has destroyed their lives. Israel’s use of force is entirely self-defeating; it makes no one safer.

There is much to criticize in the conduct of Hamas, but it must be acknowledged that they speak for the majority of Gazans in rejecting a ceasefire with Israel unless the blockade is lifted and border crossings opened as a minimum requirement. Israel appears unwilling to yield.

Israelis who support their government’s offensive should ask themselves a simple question: Why are the Palestinians firing rockets? The people living in the West Bank and Gaza are the families of refugees that were forcibly expelled from what is referred to as Israel more than five decades ago by Jewish settlers who wanted an exclusive state of their own.

The answer is that a people can only be humiliated, dehumanized, and cornered into violence for only so long before they fight back: for their dignity and their right to exist. Israel’s main objective in this operation is to maintain the occupation and prevent the emergence of a unified Palestinian resistance.

Until the Israelis overcome the delusion that they can suppress the Palestinian right to self-determination, there will be tunnels, there will be rockets, and there will be stones. In trying to legitimize the occupation, Israel is delegitimizing itself.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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