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Synthesis/Regeneration 49   (Spring 2009)

Getting Catastrophe Down to a Science

by Stan Cox

A cease-fire between the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and the military wing of Hamas has gotten Israeli troops out of Gaza, at least for now. But the 23-day air-and-ground campaign by Israeli forces killed more than 1300 Palestinians - one-third of them children - while destroying around 4000 homes, leaving 50,000 people homeless, and racking up an estimated $1.9 billion worth of further damage in an already-devastated place.[1]

Ten Israeli combatants were killed, four of them accidentally by their own troops. Rockets fired from Gaza by Palestinians killed three civilians in Israel.

The IDF said they will keep large forces on the border with Gaza, and, they told a Ha'aretz reporter that if Hamas or other groups fire any more rockets, IDF will launch another "massive, disproportionate assault."[2] A post-cease-fire analysis by the New York Times concluded that in trying to cow its enemies, the Israel government likes to cultivate an image of itself as "a madman who cannot be controlled." After the carnage of the four-week assault, it won't be difficult to convince the Palestinians of that.

When it comes to "disproportionate assaults," the IDF are world champions. Among the targets they bombed during this most recent onslaught:

In destroying the UN warehouse compound, Israeli forces reportedly used white-phosphorus explosives.[3] Use of white phosphorus is banned in international law, except to create smokescreens during combat; civilian sites are, of course, off-limits altogether. John Ging, head of UN relief operations in Gaza, explained why the entire warehouse complex was destroyed by the bombs: "These are phosphorus fires, so they are extremely difficult to put out, because if you put water on it, it will just generate toxic fumes and do nothing to stop the burning." The fires destroyed thousands of tons of food and medical supplies.

...Israeli forces reportedly used white-phosphorus explosives.

Earlier use of white phosphorus, in attacks on Gaza city and the Jabalya refugee camp on January 9-11,[4] had left at least 55 people with serious burns; the bomb material imbedded in such wounds continues to burn until it's exhausted.

In the bombing and ground assaults that began December 27, Israel is reported to have used, in addition to white phosphorus, tungsten-alloy Dense Inert Metal Explosives (DIME), cluster munitions, and GBU-39 "bunker busters."[5] DIME bombs are highly effective in severing limbs. They apparently were used in a January 6 attack that killed 42 civilians in the UN-operated Fakhura school. Dr. Mads Gilbert, a Norwegian who treated victims of the attack, said, "Almost all of the patients we have received have these severe amputations." He added that he and a colleague had not seen people killed by DIME explosives "because they are normally torn to pieces," but that "we have seen a number of very brutal amputations without shrapnel injuries," which display a ripping rather than cutting of flesh that is characteristic of DIME damage.[6] On returning to Norway, Gilbert told reporters, "There's a very strong suspicion I think that Gaza is now being used as a test laboratory for new weapons."

"There's a very strong suspicion I think that Gaza is now being used as a test laboratory for new weapons."

The UN announced that there had been no combatants and no military activity in the Fakhura school at any time.[7] The building was being used as shelter for about 400 people who were fleeing the bombing of their own neighborhoods. The UN said it had earlier given the Israeli military the coordinates of all of its schools and refugee centers in Gaza, in the hope that they'd be spared.

In early January, relief workers with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) found four starving children sitting next to their dead mothers, along with numerous other corpses, in a bombed-out home. The top ICRC official in the area told reporters, "The Israeli military must have been aware of the situation, but did not assist the wounded. Neither did they make it possible for us to."[8]

The old Israeli tactic of deflecting criticism of its military actions, even the most barbaric, by saying, in effect, "The other side started it!" - a claim duly echoed by officials in Washington - must be forcefully condemned. Such an excuse, even if true, is morally bankrupt. The nature of the destruction inflicted by the parties should be judged independently, regardless of who moved first. And Israel's claim that Hamas made the first move is not even factual.

A truce between Israel and Hamas that began in July had been highly effective in preventing death by guns and bombs, despite a few minor violations by both sides. But Israel's long economic siege of Gaza - in itself a disproportionate assault - had virtually cut the crowded, impoverished strip of land off from the outside world and the barest necessities of life. The UN was estimating that more than three-fourths of Gazans were in need of urgent humanitarian assistance, and they were not getting it. Then, the truce took a major blow on November 4 when Israeli forces entered Gaza and skirmished with Hamas military men, killing seven.

A search by Jim Lobe and Ali Gharib showed that major newspapers in the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia recognized that the incursion put the cease-fire in grave jeopardy.[9] But the attack's timing, on the day of the US presidential elections, helped ensure that it would be virtually ignored by the American media. Retaliation by Hamas, in the form of Qasaam rockets, did not succeed in killing anyone, but it provided all the cover Israel needed to launch its lightning attack.

...the attack's timing, on the day of the US presidential elections, helped ensure that it would be virtually ignored by the American media.

The UN has said that half of the 1300 Palestinian dead were combatants, but that would mean that almost 9 out of 10 adult males who died were fighters - an unlikely result, given that Hamas men were reported to have dispersed and hunkered down among the 1.5-million-strong general population instead of directly confronting the Israeli troops and tanks.[10] And if it is indeed the ambition of Hamas fighters to inflict terrible punishment on Israel, their highly ineffectual rockets have fallen pitifully short of that goal.

Viewed from the United States, this may seem like someone else's tragedy, but American voters and taxpayers are fueling slaughter in Gaza, whether we like it or not. There is the continuing flow of almost $2.5 billion in military aid to Israel each year. And the US appears to have been rushing war hardware to the IDF before and during the latest crisis. Reuters reported on January 9 that the US Navy's Military Sealift Command was looking to hire a merchant vessel to haul 325 shipping containers laden with thousands of tons of ammunition from Greece to the Israeli port of Ashdod.[11] An arms broker observed that a contract for an ammo cargo of such magnitude "is pretty rare."

...American voters and taxpayers are fueling slaughter in Gaza...

An even bigger shipment of US weaponry - according to Reuters, 5.8 million pounds of net explosive weight - apparently departed North Carolina for Israel in mid-December, less than two weeks before the bombardment of Gaza began.

The cease-fire includes an international effort to block the flow of arms into Gaza. That's good, but if the Obama administration is serious about helping bring peace to the Middle East, two other actions are necessary: a cutoff of military aid to Israel and an embargo on our arms trade with Israel. That won't end the conflict, but it will let the two sides know that when we talk peace, we mean what we say.

Obama must also tell Israel: in exchange for an end to Hamas rocket fire, end your barbaric and criminal siege against the 1.5 million civilian residents of Gaza. It is time for the resumption of normal commerce and humanitarian supplies into the Palestinian community.

Stan Cox (t.stan@cox.net) is a plant breeder and writer living in Salina, Kansas and is author of Sick Planet: Corporate Food and Medicine.

Notes 1.http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123378816463649535.html?mod=googlenews_wsj
2. http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1056652.html
3. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/middle_east/article5526929.ece
4. http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2009/01/10/israel-stop-unlawful-use-white-phosphorus-gaza
6. http://palestinechronicle.com/view_article_details.php?id=14648
7. http://www.thehindu.com/2009/01/08/stories/2009010860041700.htm
8. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/7817926.stm
9. http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=45330
10. http://www.theday.com/re.aspx?re=a7c9efa7-244e-4b4b-abf9-b8a455990464
11. http://www.reuters.com/article/domesticNews/idUSTRE50875320090109

[26 sep 09]

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