Israel's War on Gaza

Revolutionary Worker #1242, May 30, 2004, posted at

On May 18--as the Israeli military began its largest operation in the Gaza Strip since the 1967 Six Day War--U.S. President Bush declared in a speech in Washington that Israel "has every right to defend itself from terror."

What kind of actions by Israel was Bush supporting and embracing?

During this latest offensive--aimed especially at the Rafah refugee camp on the southern edge of the Gaza Strip next to the Egyptian border--Israeli troops have killed dozens of Palestinian people. Hospitals in Gaza are overflowing with the seriously wounded and the bodies of the dead, many of them children.

The occupation army has laid total siege to whole neighborhoods, cutting off electricity, food, and water, and enforcing curfews with sniper fire.

Israeli tanks and bulldozers have destroyed yet more Palestinian homes, making hundreds newly homeless. A report just issued by Amnesty International said Israel had demolished over 3,000 homes since September 2000 as part of its collective punishment against Palestinians. The report called these demolitions "war crimes."

Such acts of mass terror against a people are what Israel calls "self-defense."

And Bush and the class he represents (including the Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry) loudly declared--and have repeatedly made clear--that the U.S. supports the "right" of Israel to carry out such brutal acts, in the name of "self-defense" and "war on terrorism." This speaks volumes about the real nature of the U.S.'s whole worldwide "war on terrorism."

Israel's Sharon government justified the new military offensive in the southern Gaza Strip as a move to stop the smuggling of weapons across the border with Egypt. Israel's UN ambassador ranted, "The whole of Gaza, and Rafah in particular, is on the verge of becoming a missile base aimed at Israel's cities and civilians."

The Israeli military accused Palestinians living in houses near the border of hiding tunnels used to transport the arms. They revealed a plan to demolish hundreds of Palestinian homes in the area and to widen the Philadelphi route, the barren "security" corridor that Israel has built along the Gaza-Egypt border.

Israel has one of the most powerful militaries in the world, backed up by billions of dollars in U.S. aid each year. This is a fortress state that bristles with high-tech missiles, bombers, tanks, attack helicopters, and nuclear weapons. What could be more ridiculous and hypocritical than the Israeli officials' claiming that small arms that might be smuggled through underground tunnels pose a major "threat"?

The real message of the Israeli offensive is that the Palestinian people are not allowed to resist the occupation, especially if they pick up arms. By Israeli definition, any armed Palestinian resistance is "terrorism."

Even before this new military operation, Israel had accelerated the pace of house demolitions in Gaza. Last year an average of 65 homes were destroyed each month. In the first months of this year, Israeli demolitions climbed to 104 a month. In the first 15 days of May, Israel bulldozed 191 houses in Gaza.

When they heard about Israel's new plan for massive demolitions, Palestinians living in the targeted area petitioned the Israeli Supreme Court for a stop to the razing of their homes. The Supreme Court gave its answer--a stamp of approval for the Israeli military's plan. Here was another example of Israeli "democracy" in action--the "democracy" constantly extolled by the U.S. imperialists, including by Bush in his May 18 speech.

People in Rafah knew what was coming next--they had seen too many homes reduced to rubble by Israeli troops. Thousands of people began moving out of the threatened area. The streets of Rafah were packed with horse-drawn carts, trucks, and cars filled with whatever belongings people could take out of their homes.

For many Palestinians, the scene brought back memories of al-Nakba--the "catastrophe"--when massacres carried out by Zionist armed units and threats of even more atrocities forced more than 700,000 Palestinians out of their land at the time of the 1948 establishment of the state of Israel. Many refugees ended up in camps in the West Bank and Gaza. Now thousands in Gaza were refugees from their refugee camp.

On early Tuesday, May 18, Israeli armored bulldozers backed by helicopter gunships moved into the camp to begin demolitions.

Abu Taha, a 34-year-old cab driver, said, "It was about 3 a.m. A loudspeaker said, `Get out of your homes or be killed.' "

His cousin, Nahid Abu Taha, gathered his family into one room as bulldozers began tearing into their house. "I lifted my children in the air and shouted to the bulldozer driver to stop, but he did not stop, so we escaped."

As bulldozers knocked down buildings, Israeli helicopters fired missiles, killing at least 12 Palestinians and wounding many more.

Two of those killed that day were 16-year-old Asma Mughayer and her 13-year-old brother Ahmed. Their family said Asma and Ahmed were killed by Israeli sniper fire as they fed pigeons and collected laundry on the roof of their home.

But Israeli officials claimed that the two kids were killed in a "work accident"--an explosion of a Palestinian bomb intended to be used against Israeli troops. At the hospital where Asma and Ahmed were pronounced dead, Dr. Ali Moussa showed reporters the bodies of the sister and brother. Both had bullet holes to the head--and no other wounds.

Dr. Moussa said furiously, "They are liars, liars, liars, because these children have bullet wounds to the head. The Israeli propaganda is that they were killed in a work accident. These are the kind of lies they tell all the time. They say they do not deliberately kill children, but about a quarter of the dead from the first day of shooting are children. The evidence is here in the morgue. Does this girl look as if she were blown up by a bomb?"

On May 19, a crowd of demonstrators gathered in central Rafah. Kids and teens were in the front as the people marched down Bahar Street toward Tel Sultan, one of the neighborhoods under complete lockdown. The marchers wanted to protest the siege and help the wounded reach hospitals.

At an intersection, the people saw Israeli tanks several hundred yards away. The march continued ahead.

Suddenly, an Israeli tank opened fire.

A report in the Washington Post described what happened: "The shell hit an electrical support and detonated.sending razor-sharp fragments of the support structure and the shell casing through the demonstrators. Said Zourob, 20, said he was with the group when the firing began. Five people fell from the first round, he said. Then the tank fired another shell, which was followed by missiles from a helicopter hovering overhead.

"Witnesses and survivors said soldiers gave no warning before opening fire. After what witnesses described as deafening explosions, children screamed amid the blood and body parts. Some of the crowd panicked and ran, while others tried to sweep up the wounded and drag them to safety. Men raced through the crowd, cradling wounded boys in their arms and searching desperately for an ambulance or medical assistance."

At least 10 people were killed and many were wounded in this cold-blooded attack. More than half of the victims were children.

Once again, Israeli officials blamed the Palestinians themselves for the bloodshed. They claimed that "gunmen" were mixed in among the demonstrators. But news reports make clear that the shooting was totally one-sided.

An Israeli government spokesman said, "This is a fight against terrorism. We are extremely careful not to hurt or damage in any way the civilian population. We target the terrorists." This is the cold-blooded logic of these unjust occupiers: Anybody killed by our forces deserved to die because we've declared them "terrorists." And if non-combatants are killed or hurt, this is justified because it's a "war on terrorism."

After four days of intense attacks, the Israeli military was reported to be partially pulling back from Rafah. But an Israeli army spokesman said the operation was not over. And the plan to demolish hundreds of Palestinian homes in the border area still stands.

As the news of the Israeli military offensive in the Gaza Strip sparked outrage around the world, the U.S. government was forced to back off a bit from its usual unqualified backing of the Israeli state. When the UN Security Council passed a resolution condemning the house demolitions and other crimes by the Israeli military in Rafah, the U.S. abstained instead of vetoing the measure, as it usually does with UN resolutions criticizing Israel.

Because of its larger strategic concerns, the U.S. may at times criticize the Israeli government for going "too far" in its actions, or pose as a "peacemaker" between Israel and the Palestinian people. But, as Bush made clear on May 18 as Israeli tanks rolled into Rafah, the U.S. insists on the basic "right" of Israel to use overwhelming military force to crush Palestinian resistance. The "security" of the Israeli state is vital to U.S. imperialist interests globally and in this region--and that is at the core of U.S. backing for Israel.