Sunday, December 28, 2008

White House, US Media, Pick Sides In Israeli Terror Bombings

Three updates are at the bottom of the article.

By now, no one should be surprised that the White House is taking its usual, uneven and heavy-handed approach in reacting to the gargantuan Israeli shock-and-awe bombing of densely populated areas of the Gaza Strip.

Rather than using American influence – if there is any left in the region after eight years of Bush – to try brokering a renewed cease fire between Hamas and Israel, the administration is

Gordon Johndroe, a junior White House spokesman stuck doing holiday duty, says Hamas is responsible for the outbreak of violence, calling its rocket attacks “completely unacceptable. These people are nothing but thugs. Israel is going to defend its people against terrorists like Hamas.”

By “thugs” Johndroe means the Gaza police chief and around 100 of his officers as well as the hundreds of men, women and children killed during repeated Israeli air strikes. If any Hamas extremists were the original target, they were snuffed out only by coincidence.

Condaleeza Rice is chiming in, declaring, “Hamas (is) responsible for breaking the cease-fire and for the renewal of violence in Gaza. The cease-fire should be restored immediately. The United States calls on all concerned to address the urgent humanitarian needs of the innocent people of Gaza.”

A compliant American media is parroting Washington, solemnly ignoring the reality that while Hamas may have fired the first rockets into Israel, they were pushed into doing so by the Attica-like lockdown Israel slapped on Gaza months ago. Except on rare occasions, this keeps even food, fuel and medical supplies from reaching Palestinian civilians.

Balanced Israeli Reporting

Yet in surfing foreign media, I find sharp criticism of the Israeli government and a detailing of the suffering being inflicted. Even Haaretz in Jerusalem is carrying accounts with more balance than we’re seeing in the US coverage.

"A million and a half human beings, most of them downcast and desperate refugees, live in the conditions of a giant jail, fertile ground for another round of bloodletting. The fact that Hamas may have gone too far with its rockets is not the justification of the Israeli policy for the past few decades, for which it justly merits an Iraqi shoe to the face.

“Israel embarked yesterday on yet another unnecessary, ill-fated war. On July 16, 2006, four days after the start of the Second Lebanon War, (we) wrote: 'Every neighborhood has one, a loud-mouthed bully who shouldn't be provoked into anger ... Not that the bully's not right - someone did harm him. But the reaction, what a reaction!' Two and a half years later, these words repeat themselves, to our horror, with chilling precision. Within the span of a few hours on a Saturday afternoon, the IDF sowed death and destruction on a scale that the Qassam rockets never approached in all their years, and Operation 'Cast Lead' is only in its infancy."

In Britain, The Independent writes,

"These bombs were launched by Israel, as we had known they would be. The world watched the situation simmer then boil over, but did nothing. There are some who believe that hell is divided into different classes. The ordinary people of Gaza have long been caught in the tormenting underworld. Now, if the world does not heed what has happened here, our situation will worsen. We will be trapped in the first class of hell."

But words cannot convey the emotion of images and this report from al-Jazeera English shows what is happening in Gaza even as I write this piece.

Ehud Olmert, Israel's caretaker prime minister, is hinting at a wider war as he masses Israeli troops along its border with Gaza: "Israel wishes to make clear that it will continue to act against terrorist operations and missile fire from the strip which is intended to harm civilians."

The Arab League is convening an emergency meeting on Wednesday. Meanwhile, Egypt – until now, Cairo has been cooperating with Israel in sealing off Hamas – is opening its border with Gaza to allow injured people to be treated.

Both Sides Wrong

Before I am deluged with right wing and neo-con e-hate or am accused of being the Jewish Clarence Thomas – a horrid and undeserved curse – let me say unequivocally that both sides are wrong.

Hamas will not improve conditions for its poor, starving people by lobbing homemade rockets into Southern Israel willy-nilly. Nor will Israel find peace for its people by staging massive air strikes into populated areas; indeed, all this strategy will produce is moderates in the Arab world going from trying to find a liveable solution to backing its Palestinian brothers.

Oh, and by the way, somebody might want to remind Olmert – and Washington – what happened the last time Israel thought it could destroy a Hamas faction sitting on its northern border. That folly didn’t turn out so well, as I recall.

UPDATE 1 (Dec 29 – 09.45EST) – This morning, Glenn Greenwald at Salon makes the same argument as I did yesterday about the Israeli attacks on Gaza. And he received many of the same type of hysterical comments that were posted here. Here is Greenwald’s response to his commentators:

“Many of our nation's most grizzled super-tough-guy cheerleader/warriors -- the ones who insatiably crave those sensations of vicarious power from play-acting the role of warriors from a nice, safe distance – are responding to my post yesterday by beating their chests, swaggering around and citing General Sherman to explain (in their best John Wayne voices) that war is hell. All good warriors (like them) know that anything and everything done to those who "start a war" is justified.

“Of course, if you ask Hamas why they blow themselves up in pizza parlors and shoot rockets at homes in Southern Israel as a response to the 40-year Israeli occupation and recent blockade, they'll tell you the same thing. If you ask Hezbollah why they kidnap Israeli soldiers and lob rockets into Israel in response to Israeli incursions into Lebanon, they'll make the same claim. If you ask Al Qaeda why they fly civilian-filled airplanes into civilian-filled buildings in response to American hegemony (and endless military actions) in their region of the world, they'll explain that jihad is hell and anything done to advance it is justified. You'll hear the same thing if you ask Russians why they destroyed Chechnyan residential blocks, or if you ask Serbian leaders about their genocide, or if you inquire with Rwandan tribal leaders about the brutality of their attacks, or if you ask virtually any other war criminal why they had to resort to such extremes.

“(One person who comments) points out that Professor Bernstein is either ignorant of or ‘pretending not to know the difference between jus ad bellum (justifiable war) and jus in bello (just action in war).’ That distinction, at least since Nuremberg, has ostensibly been central to Western justice. But just like Hamas and Al Qaeda, many blindly loyal cheerleaders for any American and/or Israeli war – as the last eight years conclusively demonstrated – simply don't believe in it. It's clarifying of them to say so this explicitly.”

UPDATE 2 (Dec 29, 14.55EST) – Both leading Israeli newspapers, The Jerusalem Post and, in particular, Haaretz, have criticised the government for overreacting, over-reaching and launching the attacks with no purpose or exit strategy. I’d say to people that jumped all over me – and, by extension, Greenwald – that if Israeli voices of reason are criticising their government then maybe Glenn and I are taking reasonable positions.

UPDATE 3 Dec 30, 16.43EST)– Writing in Haaretz yesterday, David Grossman calls on the Israeli government to announce a unilateral cease fire and negotiate to stop the current carnage.

"That is what Israel should do now. Is it possible, or are we too imprisoned in the familiar ceremony of war?" he wonders.

And another column in Haaretz by Yoel Marcus begins, "When Ehud Olmert declared this week that ‘the patience, determination and endurance of people on the home front will determine our ability to complete the job,’ all my fuses blew. This man dragged us into the 33-day Second Lebanon War and turned the rear into the front. How does he have the nerve to preach to us and tell us what is needed for the war against Hamas to end in victory? What achievement did the Second Lebanon War bring us, other than exposing Israel's soft underbelly and eroding its deterrence?"