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Israel’s Gaza policy: “The Essential Terrorist”


May 18, 2013 - Mainstream media outlets are marred with depictions of Palestinians as kuffiyeh-draped militants who indoctrinate in their children a "culture of hate" and take up arms against their morally superior, democratic and pluralistic Israeli opponent. Equally flawed and Orientalist in character, more subtle presentations frame debates in strictly policy-oriented lexicon and fail to contextualize Palestinian political violence against a historical backdrop of the infinitely greater violence inherent to forced dispossession, colonization and occupation. The late Palestinian intellectual Edward Said wrote in a 1986 essay, "Whether the deflection will be longstanding or temporary remains to be seen, but given the almost unconditional assent of the media, intellectuals and policy-makers to the terrorist vogue, the prospects for a return to a semblance of sanity are not encouraging." ...

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Israel’s Gaza policy: “The Essential Terrorist”

By Pat Strickland

May 18, 2013

JERUSALEM—Mainstream media outlets are marred with depictions of Palestinians as kuffiyeh-draped militants who indoctrinate in their children a "culture of hate" and take up arms against their morally superior, democratic and pluralistic Israeli opponent. Equally flawed and Orientalist in character, more subtle presentations frame debates in strictly policy-oriented lexicon and fail to contextualize Palestinian political violence against a historical backdrop of  the infinitely greater violence inherent to forced dispossession, colonization and occupation.

The late Palestinian intellectual Edward Said wrote in a 1986 essay, "Whether the deflection will be longstanding or temporary remains to be seen, but given the almost unconditional assent of the media, intellectuals and policy-makers to the terrorist vogue, the prospects for a return to a semblance of sanity are not encouraging."

Little has changed today.

Following in suit, The Daily Beast’s Open Zion blog recently ran a policy analysis penned by Benedetta Berti that examines Israel’s practice of isolating the Hamas-run Gaza Strip and prescribes expanding the terms of the November 2012 ceasefire agreement to sustain lasting stability between the Jewish state and the narrow coastal enclave.

Berti argues that indirect, Egyptian-brokered talks between Hamas and the Israeli government "represent a step in the right direction." In short, she postulates that "the terms of the November 2012 ceasefire agreement provides a chance" to add a political component to Israel’s Hamas-Gaza policy by "invest[ing] in the talks and mov[ing] with greater urgency towards revoking the isolation policy in Gaza, recognizing the window of opportunity to reach a stable ceasefire with Hamas."

She also notes that the Egyptian government plays a keystone role in the drama, adding that the Morsi regime can work to normalize the Rafah border and put an end to the lucrative tunnel smuggling which brings in not just weapons but food, vehicles, medicine, and other simple necessities of which Palestinians in Gaza are otherwise deprived.

While Berti’s final prescription—ending the asphyxiating blockade—is sound, her basic chronology of the post-November 2012 Israeli offensive fails to grasp the power dynamics of the ongoing violence.

"In the past few months, Israel began to lift the some of the restrictions in place," she writes. "For example, Israel has extended Gaza’s fishing zone by three nautical miles, and, for the first time since 2007, authorized the import of construction raw materials intended for the private sector."

She goes on to lament that the state has begun to renege on this easing of restrictions "in response to rocket attacks by Salafist groups within Gaza" on March 22 and April 8.

Putting aside the resounding irony that Hamas military commander Ahmad Jabari had the terms of a long-term truce in his hands at the moment he was killed in a targeted assassination on 14 November 2012, as revealed by Israeli peace activist Gershon Baskin, Israel began to renege on restriction easing much sooner than March and April 2013.  

Hollow Commitments

On 23 November, less than 24 hours after agreeing to stop firing on Gazans in the "buffer zone" between the Strip and southern Israel, soldiers shot and killed 20-year-old Anwar Qudaih for allegedly attempting to infiltrate Israeli territory.

Within three months of the agreement that put an end to the eight-day "Operation Pillar of Defense", Israeli military forces had killed four Gazans with live ammunition fire, injuring an additional 91 people. Furthermore, soldiers had shot on Gazans 63 times, executed at least 13 incursions, and arrested 30 fishermen for venturing past the three nautical mile marker off the coast. Despite additional concessions to ease limitations on economic traffic, exports from the Gaza Strip continued to hover around five percent of the pre-2007 levels.

Throughout this entire period, which concluded on 22 February, a mere two mortar shells—and zero rockets—had been hurled into southern Israel.

In late March, Palestinian NGO Al-Mezan and Israeli NGO B’Tselem each released reports condemning the excessive arrests of fishermen. According to Al-Mezan, by this time "Israeli forces arrested 44 fishermen, confiscated nine boats, and damaged fishing equipment on five separate occasions" since the ceasefire went into effect.

B’Tselem concluded that "a fishing range of six nautical miles is far from meeting the needs of the population in the Gaza Strip and guaranteeing the livelihood of those who are dependent on the fishing industry," adding that Israel is required to allot Gazans with a zone of 20 nautical miles under the Oslo Agreements.

The Jerusalem Fund has also kept a scrupulous and up-to-date list documenting dozens of unprovoked and one-sided ceasefire violations on Israel’s part, such as firing on civilians near the border, using a gunboat to assault a fisherman within one nautical kilometer of Gaza’s shore, and using tanks and bulldozers to destroy homes and farmland, among other contemptible breaches.

While Israel only formally retightened said restrictions in April, its initial commitment to them had been largely confined to words.

Balance as Bias

By insinuating that Israel only started to dismiss the terms of the ceasefire in March and April this year, and as explicit responses to rocket fire from anonymous "Salafist groups" in Gaza, Berti ignores the fundamental power imbalance between an encaged population of 1.7 million Palestinians (some 1.1 million of which are registered refugees from 1948) and a country with an ostensibly bottomless barrel of American funding and military aid.

The November 2012 "war" is apt testimony to this conclusion: According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Human Affairs, at least 103 Palestinian civilians died, 1,399 were injured, and 450 homes were destroyed or severely damaged. Israel, on the other hand, incurred five fatalities, three of which were civilians.

Supporters paint the country as a fragile entity being pushed towards destruction rather than one of the world’s largest military powers, and the New York Times and its corporate media cadres parrot absurd claims about the roots of the latest bout of fighting, ignoring history and the boundless suffering inflicted by Zionist colonialism, and depicting it as a scuffle between two roughly tantamount forces—a ludicrous misrepresentation.

But Israeli policy, the siege of Gaza included, has always strived to entrench its hegemonic designs on the remains of Palestinian land by imposing geographical, political, and social divisions to obstruct Palestinian unity by using a web of colonial tactics. Framed always in ahistorical and security-related terms, these policies have been draped in pearls and sold to a largely sympathetic post-9/11 Western audience.

Key facts tend to escape popular analyses, which generally assume that the West Bank is the entirety of Palestinian land under occupation following the 2006 disengagement from Gaza.  Never mind that Israel completely controls access to the strip by land, air, and sea; that Israeli forces designate the amount of calories that each person in Gaza can consume each day; that "years of conflict and closure have left 80 percent of the population dependent on international assistance," according to UNRWA; and that extrajudicial targeted assassinations have continued without pause.

And what of the fact that Hamas, mere mention of which ostensibly justifies all Israeli transgressions, virtually had to be dragged kicking-and-screaming into the November 2012 fighting?

Intent aside, Berti’s call to end the isolation of Gaza joins this tone deaf choir by furthering the myth that Israel’s Gaza policy is informed solely by security considerations and as a reaction to supposedly uniform Palestinian militancy and not another bloody attempt to maintain hegemony over a besieged people. As Palestinian spoken word poet Rafeef Ziadeh plainly put it, "These are not two equal sides—occupier and occupied."   

The most recent bombings of Gaza City—which solicited little response from a populace that has surely lost the capacity for surprise at the sight of warplanes, drones, and other machines that deliver indiscriminate murder—drive home the broader picture. While Israel yet again pummels Gaza into submission, its colonial settler front, motivated by a toxic blend of nationalism and zealous religiosity, continues to chop up the West Bank at a breakneck pace.

Meanwhile, the mainstream media will trudge on presenting Palestinians in colorless shades, what Edward Said referred to as "the essential terrorists," while most Western ears only tune in to the cries of the "civilized."

 

Patrick O. Strickland is a freelance journalist whose writing has appeared at Al Jazeera English, Truthout, In These Times, Al-Akhbar English, GlobalPost, Middle East Monitor, and others. Follow him on Twitter: www.twitter.com/p_strickland_  

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