By: David Mandel
Originally submitted to the Sacramento Bee, but was rejected.
The latest violence in Gaza [August 5-7] disappeared from headlines in record time, after “only” three days of heavy Israeli bombardment and in response, rocket fire from Gaza toward Israeli territory.
But even in that brief time, the damage wrought was overwhelming horrific. At least 49 Palestinians were killed, including 17 children, and hundreds wounded, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. There were no serious Israeli casualties.
While some of the Gaza casualties were apparently caused by rockets that fell short, they would not have been launched if not for Israel’s self-described “pre-emptive strike,” itself a blatant violation of international law.
Beyond the immediate carnage, anyone who cares about the fate of Israelis, Palestinians and others affected in the region should not let this episode fade into the background, as has happened so many times before.
Since 2008, Israel has now waged five major assaults on the Gaza area, plus frequent additional attacks, killing nearly 4,000 people – one-quarter of them children – and destroying tens of thousands of homes and businesses. They previous ones lasted much longer before cease-fires were arranged, only to be broken again.
Why the outbreak this time, and why only three days? Analysts, citing formal and informal statements by the parties, have proffered several reasons:
- A flexing of military muscle by Israel’s leaders is a common pre-election tactic to solidify support among hawkish Israeli voters. Interim Prime Minister Yair Lapid is gearing up toward a Nov. 1 contest, for the fifth time in four years pitting the loyalists of former premier Binyamin Netanyahu against a diverse, shifting and also mostly hawkish coalition, united only around its opposition to him.
- But Israelis also have a habit of disaffection from the inconveniences posed by lengthier wars. So the quick cease-fire too was likely seen as an electoral asset.
- With fuel supplies cut off by Israel along with other crucial goods, shutting Gaza’s only power plant amid a heat wave and no clean water, failure to stop fighting would have downgraded conditions from hellish to doubly deadly, making Israel look bad.
- At least some elements of the international community may be losing patience with repeated bloody episodes of Israeli attacks on the Gaza fish barrel, so the short “mowing of the lawn,” as Israeli leaders have referred to their periodic initiatives, may have been meant to avoid further alienation, with short memories conveniently taxed by Ukraine, Taiwan and other current global flashpoints as well as domestic situations.
- Hamas, the ruling party in Gaza, abstained from joining the fray. Had the exchanges continued, it might have felt obligated to join in. So by halting the assault, Israel maintained political divisions among Palestinians along with its de facto arrangements with Hamas for slight easing of life for Gazans.
Nevertheless, the situation remains dire for Gaza’s 2 million-plus inhabitants, most of them descendants of refugees forced from their homes during Israel’s establishment in 1948. Israel and Egypt continue to impose full closure on the territory, with minimal – and fluctuating – exceptions to head off mass catastrophe. Health, nutrition, livelihood are all precarious.
Meanwhile, in various parts of the occupied West Bank, 2022 has seen a steady uptick in land takeovers with expulsions of Palestinians, city dwellers and rural farmers alike. These are invariably accompanied by brazen settler violence, abetted by the military, and by further crackdowns on any semblance of political resistance. The recent visit by President Biden underscored the utter lack of a diplomatic horizon.
The latest attack’s brevity seems to have been mostly successful in eliciting the desired response in Washington: many senators and representatives (“progressives” among them) had no comment at all, leading some optimists to conclude that they refrained from cheering for Israel when unlike in other rounds, there was no doubt this time about “who started it.” But almost all of those who did speak up mouthed the usual reflexive phrases about Israel’s “right to defend itself,” no matter how hollow it echoed.
It’s a nearly sure bet that the latest round will spawn calls in Congress for additional funding for Israel’s Iron Dome anti-rocket batteries (of dubious value, according to some experts) and other arms. Suddenly, Ukraine has supplanted Israel as by far the largest “beneficiary” of such transfers of our tax dollars to the U.S. arms industry via the ever-expanding “defense” budget.
When will we conclude that it’s time to devote our scarce resources instead to human needs at home and globally, and to planetary survival?
For starters, let’s stop pretending that the vast majority of us benefit from U.S. support of regimes that occupy their neighbors and repress democracy, including Israel.