Israel in Gaza: A Critical Reframing

A Palestinian family reacts as they rush past a burning building after an Israeli missile strike in the Rafah refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip, Sunday, Dec. 28, 2008. Israeli warplanes pressing one of Israel's deadliest assaults ever on Palestine dropped bombs and missiles on a top security installation and dozens of other targets across Hamas-ruled Gaza on Sunday. Israel's Cabinet authorized a callup of at least 6,500 reserve soldiers, suggesting plans to expand an offensive against Gaza rocket squads that has already killed some 280 Palestinians. (AP Photo/Eyad Baba)

 

by Jeff Halpe, Saturday, January 10, 2009

Israel’s core messages, listed below, argue for the justice of its cause in Gaza , cast Israel as the victim and ensure that its war is seen not in terms of occupation but of the broader Western struggle against terror. The critical reframing we offer, that of Israelis committed to human rights, international law and a just peace as the only way out of this interminable and bloody conflict, argues that security cannot be achieved unilaterally while one side oppresses the other and that Israel’s attack on Gaza is merely another attempt to render its Occupation permanent by destroying any source of effective resistance. It argues that Israel could have avoided all attacks upon it over the last twenty years, and the rise of Hamas, if it had genuinely negotiated a two-state solution with the Palestinian leadership. Israel , the strong party and the Occupying Power, is not the victim. Indeed, its attack on Gaza is a form of State Terrorism.

 

  • Israeli PR: Like all countries, Israel has a right and duty to defend its citizens. Israel , acting as any life-loving nation would, has a right to be a normal country living in peace and security.

    Critical Reframing: To pursue offensive policies of prolonged occupation as well as sanctions, boycotts and closures that impoverish a civilian population, and to then refuse to engage with that population’s elected leaders, is not defending ones’ citizens. To expect your citizens to live in security while a million and a half subjugated people just a few kilometers away live in misery is both unrealistic and presumptive. Israel will only be able to defend its citizens – which is indeed its duty – if it addresses the causes of their insecurity, a 41 year-old occupation.

 

  • Israeli PR: Israel had no choice but to attack in response to the barrage of 8,500 Hamas rockets fired from Gaza into Israel over the past eight years that have killed 20 Israeli civilians.

    Critical Reframing: In the past three years alone Israel – together with the US , Europe and Japan – imposed an inhumane siege of Gaza while conducting a campaign of targeted assassinations and attacks throughout the cease-fire that left 1,700 Palestinians dead. Hamas’ barrage did not exist in a vacuum. This war is no “response:” it is merely a more deadly round of the tit-for-tat arising out of a political vacuum. The rocket firings could have been avoided had there been a genuine political horizon. To present the “barrage” as an independent event disassociated from wider Israeli policies that led to them is disingenuous.

 

  • Israeli PR: There is no occupation – in general, but specifically in Gaza . Israel ended its occupation of Gaza in 2005 with the “disengagement.” Gaza could have flourished as the basis of a Palestinian state, but its inhabitants chose conflict.

    Critical Reframing: Economic development, not to mention a political process which might have prevented the violence on both sides, was actively prevented by both Israel and its international supporters, which share responsibility for the present tragedy in Gaza . At no time since the “disengagement” did Israel ever relinquish or even loosen its control. The closure remained in force, including by sea; Gazans were never allowed to reopen their sea or air ports; nor were any conditions conducive to economic development allowed. Israel ’s claim that there has never been an occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza is rejected by every member of the international community. Neither does it accept Israel ’s claim that occupation ended in 2005, since the definition of occupation in international law has to do with exercising effective control of a foreign territory, which Israel obviously does over Gaza .

 

  • Israeli PR: Only Hamas violated the cease-fire, and thus it carries full responsibility.

    Critical Reframing: Israel and Hamas agreed to a truce (through Egypt ) by which Israel would allow the opening of the Gazan border crossings (at least partially) in return for an end to rocket fire on Israel . Hamas largely, though not entirely, kept its part of the bargain; Israel almost never did. Killings of Palestinians from the air continued, and on the American election day in early November it attacked the tunnels (which functioned as alternative means of supplying Gaza in the absence of open borders, which would have allowed control over the movement of arms), killing a number of Hamas people. In response Hamas launched rockets and….the truce began breaking down.

 

  • Israeli PR: Israel is only attacking the “infrastructure of terror” in Gaza and only targets Hamas fighters.

    Critical Reframing: Being the elected government, all the infrastructure, from traffic cops to schools to military installations, “belong” to Hamas. It is clear that Israeli attacks go beyond “the infrastructure of terror.” Who’s a “Hamas fighter?” The graduating class of traffic cops that was slaughtered in the first aerial attack on Gaza ? Professors and students who attend the “Hamas” Islam ic University? Family members of Hamas military figures? People who voted for Hamas? All, but for those actively participating in hostilities, would be defined as civilians under international law.

 

  • Israeli PR: Civilians may die, but it’s because Hamas hides its fighters and weapons factories among ordinary people.

    Critical Reframing: Israel’s military headquarters are located in the center of Tel Aviv, the military headquarters over the West Bank are in the densely populated civilian settlement Neveh Ya’akov in East Jerusalem, the Pentagon is located in downtown Washington D.C. and the British Ministry of Defence is located in central London. Hamas, of course, as both a government and a military organization, carries responsibility for protecting the civilian population and keeping the fighting away from them but the question that should be asked, and never is, is why western nations who do the same are not faced with such criticism?

 

  • Israeli PR: Hamas is a terrorist organization that refuses to recognize Israel or enter into a political process.

    Critical Reframing: Which Israel should Hamas recognize? 1947 U.N. partition borders? 1967 borders? With annexed East Jerusalem ? With the settlement blocs? So long as Israel refuses to define its borders then there is only an abstract concept available for recognition. Hamas has openly declared that it will de facto recognize Israel on the 1967 borders. Israel has made no such offers to any Palestinian faction, government or representatives.

 

  • Israeli PR: Hamas is a global problem, part of Islam ist fundamentalism together with Iran and Hezbollah and therefore Israel is only doing its part in the West’s agreed-upon War on Terror.

    Critical Reframing: Hamas started as a social welfare organization that was allowed by Israel to develop as a political force in Occupied Palestine to weaken the standing of the secular PLO. There also, was no Hezbollah prior to the 1982 Israeli invasion. The theocrats in Iran were an organized but quite small political force until the U.S. overthrew Iran ’s democracy. The local population will always resist when foreign countries try to oppose their will and the resistance will not always be pretty. Painting Hamas as part of a global conspiracy when it’s a product of the Occupation itself is disingenuous and a gross distortion of history.

 

Dr. Jeff Halper, an American-born Jew and founding director or The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, gives the following analysis and important reframing of the talking-points we so commonly hear from the Israeli PR machine.  As an Israeli citizen for the last 35 years, Jeff offers a vital perspective, from personal experience.

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