So once again, Israel has opened the gates of hell to the Palestinians. Forty civilian refugees dead in a United Nations school, three more in another. Not bad for a night's work in Gaza by the army that believes in "purity of arms". But why should we be surprised?How does one practise restaint with a missile or a tank shell, incidentally? It's either not fired or fired, and if it is the latter, then it difficult for it to be restrained, any more than it ca be persuaded to discriminate in its targets.
Have we forgotten the 17,500 dead – almost all civilians, most of them children and women – in Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon; the 1,700 Palestinian civilian dead in the Sabra-Chatila massacre; the 1996 Qana massacre of 106 Lebanese civilian refugees, more than half of them children, at a UN base; the massacre of the Marwahin refugees who were ordered from their homes by the Israelis in 2006 then slaughtered by an Israeli helicopter crew; the 1,000 dead of that same 2006 bombardment and Lebanese invasion, almost all of them civilians?
What is amazing is that so many Western leaders, so many presidents and prime ministers and, I fear, so many editors and journalists, bought the old lie; that Israelis take such great care to avoid civilian casualties. "Israel makes every possible effort to avoid civilian casualties," yet another Israeli ambassador said only hours before the Gaza massacre. And every president and prime minister who repeated this mendacity as an excuse to avoid a ceasefire has the blood of last night's butchery on their hands. Had George Bush had the courage to demand an immediate ceasefire 48 hours earlier, those 40 civilians, the old and the women and children, would be alive.
Other than that, Fisk repeats a lot of material which he has described before:
The Sabra and Chatila massacre was committed by Israel's right-wing Lebanese Phalangist allies while Israeli troops, as Israel's own commission of inquiry revealed, watched for 48 hours and did nothing. When Israel was blamed, Menachem Begin's government accused the world of a blood libel. After Israeli artillery had fired shells into the UN base at Qana in 1996, the Israelis claimed that Hizbollah gunmen were also sheltering in the base. It was a lie. The more than 1,000 dead of 2006 – a war started when Hizbollah captured two Israeli soldiers on the border – were simply dismissed as the responsibility of the Hizbollah. Israel claimed the bodies of children killed in a second Qana massacre may have been taken from a graveyard. It was another lie. The Marwahin massacre was never excused. The people of the village were ordered to flee, obeyed Israeli orders and were then attacked by an Israeli gunship. The refugees took their children and stood them around the truck in which they were travelling so that Israeli pilots would see they were innocents. Then the Israeli helicopter mowed them down at close range. Only two survived, by playing dead. Israel didn't even apologise.Fisk is right to excoriate the Israeli government for its barbarous and likely pointless attack on the civilains refugees of the Gaza strip. He is also correct in that any one criticising the actions of the actions of the Israeli government runs the risk of being labelled 'anti-Semitic.' And he is also right that we will ask, when bloody atrocity is visited on us, "why do they hate us?" in genuine confusion.
Twelve years earlier, another Israeli helicopter attacked an ambulance carrying civilians from a neighbouring village – again after they were ordered to leave by Israel – and killed three children and two women. The Israelis claimed that a Hizbollah fighter was in the ambulance. It was untrue. I covered all these atrocities, I investigated them all, talked to the survivors. So did a number of my colleagues. Our fate, of course, was that most slanderous of libels: we were accused of being anti-Semitic. (2)
Where Fisk misses a crucial point, however, which is that this situation hasn't come about soley through the actions of the Israeli government. Wars happen, as a rule, because two parties want them to happen. In this case, Hamas have also made as play as cynically brutal as that of the Israeli government. They allowed a ceasefire to lapse, and recommenced rocket attacks on Isreal. Israel used these pathetically ineffectual attacks as a justification for launching their own devastatingly effective counterstrike on Gaza. But Hamas are the party who gave them that justification. And they would have done it knowing what the likely response would be. After all, the IDF are still looking to reestablish their reputation, post-Labanon, 2006. A short, sharp, relentlessly brutal war against an irregular enemy, this time with the right result? How could they resist?
And from this we can infer that Hamas thought they had more to gain by embroiling Israel in Gaza than they would lose. Cynically, they would have figured the Palestinian refugees would be the ones that woul bear the brunt of Israel's wrath. And that will suit Hamas as much as it will the Israel politicians. They may be hoping for - at best - an opportunity to further humiliate the IDF - though if so, they will probably be surprised by the ferocity of the Israeli respons e- no chances will be taken here. Failing that, a brutal assault on Palestine by the IDF will reinforce Hamas's rasion d'etre - it exists negatively, thriving in the face of Israeli brutality and oppression.
Ultimately, it is likely both the IDF and Hamas will get precisely what they want from this conflict - but caught between these two equally ruthless, immoral and unscrupulous agents, what chance do ethe Palestinians have? What chance do the people of Israel have?
1 - "Why do they hate the West so much, we will ask" by Robert Fisk, published in the Independent, 7th of January, 2008. (http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/fisk/robert-fisk-why-do-they-hate-the-west-so-much-we-will-ask-1230046.html)
2 - ibid.