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Operation Protective Edge, ethnic cleansing and the issue of genocide

Dr. Can Erimtan is an independent scholar residing in İstanbul, with a wide interest in the politics, history and culture of the Balkans and the Greater Middle East. He tweets at @theerimtanangle

Published time: August 08, 2014 11:03
Smoke rises following what witnesses said was an Israeli air strike in Gaza City August 8, 2014. (Reuters)

Last Tuesday, the Israeli government decided to bring its near month long campaign of destruction and devastation of the Gaza Strip to a halt with a temporary ceasefire (arguably meant to hold longer), claiming its immediate objectives had been achieved.

These goals seem to have been the wanton destruction of Palestinian lives and property, though the official line states that the Israeli Defense Forces targeted Hamas by destroying their hide-outs and tunnels. The New York Times' Steven Erlanger and Ben Hubbardaug insightfully say that "Gazans emerged to view a shattered landscape," as the fighting stopped and Hamas remained in charge over the tiny sliver of land cradled between Egypt and Israel.

The ceasefire had been brokered by Egypt and both Israel and Hamas sent delegations to Cairo. They were meant to hammer out long-term deals and conditions for the resumption of peace, or rather lack of deadly, unilateral attacks on ill-fated inmates happening to live in the world's largest open air prison. The place has now been reduced to all but a "shattered landscape," or as RT's Paula Slier put it, "Gaza is in tatters" following four weeks of bombardments and attacks.

The pretext used by Israeli Premier Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu to unleash the awful might of the US-funded IDF was the killing of three Israeli teenagers. Netanyahu lost no time to ascribe blame and single out suspected killers and plan the execution of a punishment: "Hamas is responsible, and Hamas will pay." Among the first to cast doubt on Bibi's seemingly unwavering conviction was the Buzzfeed Middle East Correspondent Sheera Frenkel, indicating that the abduction and murder of the teenagers was carried out by locals without any regard for repercussions, or consequences or even direct links and connections with the Islamic Resistance Movement or Hamas. In hindsight, it seems that Protective Edge (the code name given to this fourth war against Hamas in the past eight years) was a pre-planned and organized operation, carried out at the drop of a hat once a sufficient pretext or impetus was found or possibly fabricated.

Whenever violence erupts in the Holy Land, as Occupied Palestine-now-known-as-Israel is sometimes referred to, charges of anti-Semitism are never far off to detract from serious criticism of the military actions carried out by the Jewish State.

A Palestinian woman carries her daughter as she leaves her house near the remains of residential buildings in Beit Lahiya town, which witnesses said was heavily hit by Israeli shelling and air strikes during the Israeli offensive, in the northern Gaza Strip August 7, 2014. (Reuters)

Bibi as well as other members of his government kept repeating the mantra that "Israel has a right to defend itself," against all but impotent Qassam rockets either landing in uninhabited fields or being intercepted by Israel's much-vaunted Iron Dome (or kippat barzel, in Hebrew), the Jewish State's mobile air defense system developed by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd, one of Israel's many high-tech manufacturing firms. The Israeli mantra also keeps being repeated in the mainstream media and mouthed by pro-Israeli pundits and television personalities.

For example, the American comic Bill Maher, whose HBO show is highly popular around the world via the internet and who himself does not mince words when it comes to either "smoking pot" or being an atheist, is a telling example of such a TV personality not shying away from condemning Hamas and defending Israel. As such, Maher's dislike of the Muslim faith actually verges on the very edges of Islamophobia, hence his utter abhorrence of the organization of Hamas, even tweeting about it on 17 July:

Thereby he succeeded to appear sexist, racist and insensitive to the mentally ill, which is quite a feat for a self-professed liberal. During one of his shows (aired on 1 August), Maher literally said that “it’s a war that Hamas started. And somehow when Israel reacts to this, they have to do everything in a way that doesn’t kill any civilians,” even adding that “people die in wars” arguably referring to the 1,875 Palestinians killed in the Gaza Strip over the past weeks, with at least 430 of these dead aged 18 or younger (as confirmed by the Gaza health ministry). The health ministry spokesperson Ashraf al-Qudra added that more than 60 families have been "massacred." Among these "people [that] die in wars" were 24-day old Mustafa Wael al-Ghoul as well as 99-year Mohammed Mazen Faraj Daher. Or, perhaps Maher was thinking about the 67 Israelis that perished during the IDF attacks, including 64 soldiers, two civilians and one foreign national. His remark seems particularly callous, flippant and highly insensitive - "people die in wars."

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) recorded the testimony of a nine-year-old girl from Rafah, given to an UNRWA (or United Nations Relief and Works Agency) counselor, in its Gaza Emergency Situation Report (published on 3 August 2014, 1500 hrs): "I watched the missile falling on my home. My home burned. It burned all my toys, clothes and my room. I think I will not survive." However, a few days earlier, the Israeli Premier, apparently utterly serious and devoid of any traces of irony or sarcasm, told a cabinet meeting that the "IDF is a moral army without peer. It is vigorously fighting an enemy whose brutality is without peer. It tries, as much as possible, to avoid harming civilians."

Maher was also one of those repeating the mantra that "Israel Has a Right to Defend Itself" as well as the statement that Hamas uses "civilians" as "human shields," a statement used to justify the IDF deliberately bombing family homes, UN shelters, schools, mosques, hospitals, water infrastructure and other "civilian" targets. The US government, as an active participant in Israeli life, also weighed in on this thorny issue: in its House of Representatives, the Republican , Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, with 76 co-sponsors (47 Republicans and 29 Democrats) introduced Resolution 107 “Denouncing the use of civilians as human shields by Hamas and other terrorist organizations in violation of international humanitarian law" (16 July 2014). While, in the Senate, the notorious Republican Ted Cruz, co-sponsored by Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat, introduced a similar resolution, calling "on the international community to recognize the grave breaches of international law committed by Hamas in using human shields" (24 July 2014).

Palestinians sit outside their destroyed house in Beit Hanoun town, which witnesses said was heavily hit by Israeli shelling and air strikes during the Israeli offensive, in the northern Gaza Strip August 7, 2014. (Reuters)

In contrast, the Channel 4 News presenter Jon Snow, for his part, declared the following: "I was on the streets of Gaza last week for several days. And I have to say the idea that these people are human shields – you see people being wounded and killed simply because strikes hit the street they're on. I mean, they are not human shields. This is a densely populated area in which there are ordinary people living ordinary lives, in as far as is possible in this extraordinary situation. They're not human shields."

Even the BBC's senior Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen wrote in the New Statesman that his "impression of Hamas is different from Netanyahu’s. I saw no evidence during my week in Gaza of Israel’s accusation that Hamas uses Palestinians as human shields." When Bowen's twitter feed suddenly fell silent on 22 July, voices immediately popped up accusing the BBC of caving in to Israeli intimidation. Alas, as expressed by a BBC spokesperson: "Claims that Jeremy Bowen has been removed from Gaza under Israeli pressure are nonsense. After reporting from Syria, Iraq, Israel and Gaza he is on holiday, but will be returning to the Middle East very soon.”

But Bill Maher is far from being the only television personality to defend the State of Israel -- a purported nation state that "entitles any Jew in the world to settle in Israel and acquire its citizenship," by means of its "Law of Return (1952)", which is "Israel's basic citizenship law". And according to Shlomo Guberman, a retired Deputy Attorney General (Legislation), the "question [of] 'Who is a Jew', for the purpose of The Law of Return" was resolved in the following manner: "In 1970 the Law of Return was amended to include a definition of 'Jew', according to which a Jew was one who was born to a Jewish mother or had converted to Judaism and does not belong to another faith."

Hence, Israeli citizenship is commensurate with arguably nominal or possibly actual adherence to the tenets of the faith of Judaism. Hence the State of Israel is a nation state in all but name, as it purports to offer a home to anybody professing to be a believer (either by accident of birth or active conversion).

Judaism is the first of the so-called Abrahamic faiths, tracing its roots to the legendary figure of the Prophet Abraham (who is supposed to have lived in the early 2nd millennium BC). According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, he was the "first of the Hebrew patriarchs and a figure revered by the three great monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam."

Sam Harris, another outspoken atheist, equally well-known for his Islamophobic tendencies, in this context appears rather rational, saying that he thinks that the "idea of a religious state is ultimately untenable," while still upholding his defense of Israel. But the reality is that religion is gaining ground in the land of Israel. Orthodox Jews were but a small minority when the Jewish State was set up in the late forties, but in the further development of Israel they have now come to the fore.

At present, only the political party Jewish Home, as part of the ruling coalition, can be seen to represent this religious strain in Israeli society, the party's ultimate aim being the creation of a polity governed by Jewish law. But three years ago, The Economist reported that Orthodox Jews comprise "over 40 percent of new army officers and combat soldiers," even adding that Orthodox Jews' "power is set to mount," given that "their birth rate is more than double that of secular Jews."

Israeli tanks are seen in a staging area near the border with the Gaza Strip August 7, 2014. (Reuters)

As I have argued earlier, the Jewish State subjects non-Jews to "veritable apartheid treatment." As long ago as 2006, former US President Jimmy Carter stated that when "Israel does occupy ... territory deep within the West Bank, and connects the [then] 200-or-so settlements with each other, with a road, and then prohibits the Palestinians from using that road, or in many cases even crossing the road, this perpetrates even worse instances of apartness, or apartheid, than we witnessed even in South Africa." The West Bank barrier that Israel started erecting in 2002 is a stark physical manifestation of the enforcement of policies of separation and apartheid that Israel is pursuing.

The recent Israeli attack on Gaza seems like a natural consequence of this policy, given that the wanton destruction of Palestinian lives and property in the Strip really seems tantamount to an act of genocide, the ultimate result of an exercise in ethnic cleansing that the IDF has actively applied over the past weeks and the State of Israel over the past years in the whole of the Occupied Territories. In fact, the Israeli historian Ilan Pappe spoke of an “incremental genocide” with regard to these policies in 2006, while the current operation Protective Edge has merely replaced the adjective "incremental" with "actual" in specific reference to the Gaza Strip – the ever-inventive Pepe Escobar even speaking of "Operation Kill Women and Children in Gaza" on social media.

As if to confirm the journalist's hyperbolic statement, the Deputy Speaker of the Israeli Knesset and member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling Likud Party, Moshe Feiglin also took to social media announcing that the "conquest of the entire Gaza Strip, and annihilation of all fighting forces and their supporters" was the aim and goal of operation Protective Edge. And against this backdrop, the now more than notorious if not celebrated Glenn Greenwald came out to say that "new Snowden documents illustrate a crucial fact: Israeli aggression would be impossible without the constant, lavish support and protection of the US government, which is anything but a neutral, peace-brokering party in these attacks. And the relationship between the NSA and its partners on the one hand, and the Israeli spying agency on the other, is at the center of that enabling."

As a result, the picture now emerging shows an American behemoth actively propping up a religious welfare state that is in the process of ethnically cleansing its immediate environs with the aim of arriving at a pure Jewish homeland, where the need for a two-state solution no longer exists.

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