Israel's core messages, listed below, argue for the justice of its
invasion of Gaza in late December, 2008, cast Israel as the victim and
endeavor that its "war on Hamas" not be seen against the background of
prolonged occupation, closure and sanctions, but of the broader Western
"War on Terror." The alternative view presented below argues otherwise.
As Israelis committed to human rights, international law and a just
peace as the only way out of our interminable and bloody conflict with
the Palestinians, we contend that security cannot be achieved
unilaterally, especially as Israel shows no signs of fully
relinquishing its 41 year Occupation so that a truly sovereign and
viable Palestinian may emerge. In that context, Israel's attack on Gaza
can be considered merely another attempt to render its Occupation
permanent by destroying any source of effective resistance. The
immediate pretext of Israel's attack, rocket fire from Gaza into
Israel, does not explain the disproportionality of its attack,
especially given the unrelenting sanctions, attacks and assassinations
carried out by Israel throughout the cease-fire. Indeed, we argue that
Israel could have avoided all attacks upon it over the last twenty
years, as well as the rise of Hamas to power, if it had accepted the
PLO's offer of a two-state solution proffered already in 1988 and has
entered into negotiations in good faith. Instead, Israel, the strong
party in the conflict and the sole Occupying Power, chose to
dramatically increase its settler population, construct a permanent
infrastructure of separation and control, remove "Greater Jerusalem"
from Palestine and encircle the West Bank with its expanded borders:
that of the Separation Barrier incorporating Israel's major settlement
blocs and the "security border" of the Jordan River. Israel is not a
victim; it is the active perpetrator of a permanent apartheid regime
over all of Israel/Palestine. It is toward that goal that Gaza is being
violently pacified today, Israel's killing with impunity scores of
Palestinian civilians constituting nothing less than State Terrorism.
The following pages present the essential elements of the Israeli
government's framing of its assault on Gaza, followed by a critical
re-framing that introduces context, policies and aims which the
government's version purposely omits.
· Israeli PR: Like all countries, it has a right and duty to
defend its citizens.
An alternative framing: To pursue offensive policies of prolonged
occupation as well as sanctions, boycotts and closures which rob
another people of its rights, aspirations and very livelihood, and to
then refuse to truly engage with that people's elected leaders (a
policy preceding Hamas's rise to power), is what puts your own people
at risk. To expect your citizens to live in security while a million
and a half subjugated people just a few kilometers away live in misery
is both unrealistic and presumptive. Israel will only be able to defend
its citizens – which is indeed its duty – if it addresses the causes of
their insecurity, which is a 41 year-old occupation which the oppressed
will resist, by "legitimate" means or not.
· Israeli PR: Israel had no choice but to attack in response to
the barrage of 8,500 Hamas rockets fired from Gaza into Israel over the
past eight years that have killed 20 Israeli civilians.
An alternative framing: Israel had a choice. In the past three years
alone Israel – together with the US, Europe and Japan – imposed an
inhumane siege of Gaza while conducting a campaign of targeted
assassinations and attacks throughout the cease-fire that left 1,700
Palestinians dead. This war is no "response:" it is merely a more
deadly round of the tit-for-tat arising out of a political vacuum.
Hamas firings on Israel were for the most part, if not exclusively,
responses to Israeli actions either not reported in the press or
discounted as legitimate unilateral action – such as assassinating
leaders of Hamas and other Palestinian organizations, often with a high
toll in civilian casualties. To present the "barrage" as an independent
variable disassociated from wider Israeli policies that led to them is
disingenuous. Indeed, had there been a genuine political process which
offered the Palestinians hope for self-determination, the rocket
firings could have been avoided altogether.
· Israeli PR: Hamas is a terrorist organization that refuses to
recognize Israel or enter into a political process.
An alternative framing: "Terrorist" is a problematic term. States
always use it to delegitimize and demonize non-state actors who resist
their oppressive policies, as apartheid South Africa did, for example,
with the ANC. The term assumes that states, bad as they may be, have
the right to employ military force as they see fit. If, however, we
take "terrorism" to mean the killing, harming or intimidation of
non-combatant civilian populations, then states are far more
terroristic, kill far more innocent civilians, than do non-state
groups. In the eight years since the second Intifada broke out
(September 2000), almost 500 Israeli civilians have been killed by
Palestinians while almost 5000 Palestinians have died at the hands of
Israelis. All attacks on civilians are unacceptable, no matter how just
the cause. Yet it is only the Palestinians to whom the term "terrorist"
An alternative framing: Presenting Hamas as merely a "terrorist
organization" removes the political element from their struggle and
presents them as a criminal organization. This not only distorts
reality in a fundamental way but, by preventing negotiations, it
ensures the perpetuation of mutual suffering. Hamas has its military
wing – though nothing compared to the Israeli army – but it is
essentially a grassroots religious-political movement that
democratically won the Palestinian elections in 2006 and earned the
right to establish a government – which was denied it by Israel, the
US…and the Fatah part of the Palestinian Authority. It does deny
Israel's legitimacy, as any colonized people would, and there is no
reason why it should accept the loss of 78% (or more) of its historic
homeland. But Hamas has agreed, as a signatory to the "Prisoners'
Document" and in repeated public pronouncements, to respect the outcome
of negotiations of other Palestinian parties (like Fatah) with Israel,
if they result in a complete withdrawal from the Occupied Territories.
So despite its militant and scary image, despite the fact that it will
not legitimize what it considers another people's colonization of its
homeland, Hamas does accept, as a practical political matter, a
two-state solution. Given the fact that negotiations with Israel since
the Madrid Conference of 1991 have yielded nothing – indeed, Israel's
massive settlement enterprise has perhaps eliminated the possibility of
a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel – Hamas's resort to armed
resistance is understandable. All attacks on civilians are prohibited
in international law. In this regard both Hamas and Israel engage in
terrorism, with the later taking by far the greatest of civilian dead,
injured and traumatized.
· Israeli PR: There is no occupation – in general, but
specifically in Gaza. Israel ended its occupation of Gaza in 2005 with
the "disengagement." Gaza could have flourished as the basis of a
Palestinian state, but its inhabitants chose conflict.
An alternative framing: Israel claims there has never been an
occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza; instead, these
are "disputed" territories with no clear claimant – and certainly not
the Palestinians who, in Israel's view, do not constitute a people with
rights of self-determination in the Land of Israel and who never
exercised sovereignty over any part of Palestine. This position is
rejected utterly by the international community. Indeed, the Road Map
initiative uses the term "occupation" explicitly. Neither does it
accept Israel's claim that the occupation of Gaza really ended with
"disengagement" in 2005, since occupation is defined in international
law as exercising effective control of a foreign territory, which
Israel obviously does over Gaza.
To then argue that Gaza could have developed under these conditions is
unfair and unreasonable. Neither Israeli control exerted over Gaza
since 1967 nor the economic closure imposed upon it in 1989 ever
ceased, even if Israel removed its settlers and army. Gazans were never
allowed to open their sea or air ports, nor were any conditions
conducive to economic development allowed to develop. And then, in
early 2006, less than six months after "disengagement," Gaza was
sanctioned and hermetically isolated by Israel and the international
community as punishment for voting the wrong way. John Dugard, the UN
Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, wrote
that this was the first time in history the oppressed was sanctioned
and the Occupying Power freed of any responsibility. Economic
development, not to mention a political process which might have
prevented the violence on both sides, was actively prevented by both
Israel and its international supporters, which share responsibility for
the present tragedy in Gaza.
Let us also remember Israel's special responsibility towards the people
of Gaza. These "civilians" are, for the most part, refugees driven from
their homes in Israel in 1948 and their descendants, people dying and
suffering at the hands of Israel for the past 41, if not 60, years.
This adds a particular poignancy to the assault – yet another assault.
· Israeli PR: Only Hamas violated the cease-fire, and thus it
carries full responsibility.
An alternative framing: Israel and Hamas agreed to a truce (through
Egypt) by which Israel would allow the opening of the Gazan border
crossings (at least partially) in return for a end to rocket fire on
Israel. Hamas largely, though not entirely, kept its part of the
bargain; Israel almost never did. Killings of Palestinians from the air
continued, and on the American election day in early November it
attacked the tunnels (which functioned as alternative means of
supplying Gaza in the absence of open borders, which would have allowed
control over the movement of arms), killing a number of Hamas people.
In response Hamas launched rockets and….the truce began breaking down.
· Israeli PR: There is no humanitarian crisis; Israel is only
attacking the "infrastructure of terror."
Alternative View: Being the elected government, all the infrastructure,
from traffic cops (non-combatants under international law) to schools
to military installations, "belong" to Hamas. It is clear that Israeli
attacks go beyond "the infrastructure of terror." Gazan sources claim
that some 5000 homes have been demolished and the Islamic University
has been severely damaged. According to the UN OCHA report of January.
5, the tenth day of the war:
ü "More than a million Gazans still have no electricity or water,
and thousands of people have fled their homes for safe shelter;.
ü Gaza's water and sewage system is on the verge of collapse, 75%
of Gaza's electricity has been cut off;
ü The sewage situation is highly dangerous, posing serious risks
of the spread of water-borne disease;
ü Hospitals are unable to provide adequate intensive care to the
high number of casualties. There is also an urgent need for more
neuro-, vascular-, orthopedic- and open heart surgeons.
· Israeli PR: Israel only targets Hamas fighters.
An alternative framing: Who's a "Hamas fighter?" The graduating class
of traffic cops that was slaughtered in the first aerial attack on
Gaza? Professors and students who attend the "Hamas" Islamic
University? Family members of Hamas military figures? People who voted
for Hamas? Attacking a grassroots political-religious-social movement
engaged in military resistance to occupation in densely crowded urban
settings makes it either impossible or inconvenient for an invading
army to distinguish between civilians and fighters.
· Israeli PR: Civilians may die, but it's because Hamas hides
its fighters and weapons factories among ordinary people.
An alternative framing: Gaza being such a barren, exposed and tiny area
(360 sq.km./223 sq. miles, half the size of London), separating
civilian from military areas, though desirable, is impossible,
especially since, in concept, Hamas is a people's militia. It's worth
noting, however, that Israel's military headquarters are located in the
center of Tel Aviv, the military headquarters over the West Bank are in
the densely populated Neveh Ya'akov neighborhood of Jerusalem, Israel's
center for biological and chemical warfare is located in the town of
Ness Tziona, close to Tel Aviv, its main weapons development centers or
in Haifa, and most settlements in the West Bank have military camps
embedded within them – or vice versa.
Hamas, of course, as both a government and a military organization,
carries responsibility for protecting the civilian population and
keeping the fighting away from them. In a situation where this is
impossible, as in Gaza, an invading force like Israel should avoid
engagement, or engage only when legitimate military and political aims
(such as defense) are genuinely endangered – which is not the case
here. Israel has political and negotiating options that can end both
the immediate threat of rockets and the longer-term conflict, but it
chooses not to use them.
A terrifying development: According to the Israeli press, Israel has
decided to ignore the distinction between civilians and combatants
which lies at the root of international laws of warfare. Citing what
the IDF calls the "Georgia rules," the two military correspondents of
Ha'aretz (Jan. 6 and 7) explain:
[IDF Chief of Staff Gabi] Ashkenazi had said in earlier discussions
that use of major fire power would be inevitable even in the most
densely populated areas. The Israeli solution was thus to be very
aggressive to protect the lives of the soldiers as much as possible.
These are 'Georgia rules,' which are not so far from the methods Russia
used in its conflict last summer. The result is the killing of dozens
of non-combatant Palestinians. The Gaza medical teams might not have
reached all of them yet. When an Israeli force gets into an
entanglement, as in Sajaiyeh last night, massive fire into built-up
areas is initiated to cover the extraction. In other cases, a chain of
explosions is initiated from a distance to set off Hamas booby-traps.
It is a method that leaves a swath of destruction taking in entire
streets, and does not distinguish military targets from the homes of
The incident in which some 40 Palestinian civilians were killed when
Israel Defense Forces mortar shells hit an UNRWA school in the Jabalya
refugee camp Tuesday surprised no one who has been following events in
Gaza in recent days. Senior officers admit that the IDF has been using
enormous firepower. "For us, being cautious means being aggressive,"
explained one. "From the minute we entered, we've acted like we're at
war. That creates enormous damage on the ground ... I just hope those
who have fled the area of Gaza City in which we are operating will
describe the shock. Maybe someone there will sober up before it
What the officer did not say explicitly was that this is deliberate
policy. Following the trauma of the war in Lebanon in 2006, the army
realized that heavy IDF casualties would erode public (and especially
political) support for the war and limit its ability to achieve its
goals. Therefore, it is using aggressive tactics to save soldiers'
lives. And the cabinet took this into account when it approved the
ground operation last Friday, so it has no reason to change its mind
Nor is it likely that Tuesday's incident, with its large number of
civilian deaths, will result in an immediate cease-fire…. Until
Tuesday's incident, the world appeared relatively indifferent to
Palestinian civilian casualties. On Monday, 31 members of the Samouny
family were killed when a shell hit their house in Gaza City; that same
day, 13 members of the Al-Daiya family where killed by another Israeli
bomb. Yet international media coverage of these incidents was
This is an absolutely unacceptable development in modern warfare –
particularly urban warfare which involves and entraps large populations
of civilians – and must be condemned and rejected by the international
community. If the Israeli-Georgian "rules" become a de facto norm of
warfare, the entire edifice of human rights and international which has
been constructed over the past 60 years will collapse and we will enter
into a new age of barbarism. Again, All attacks on civilians must be
opposed, whether sanctioned or not by military doctrine.
· Israeli PR: Hamas is a global problem, part of Islamist
fundamentalism together with Iran and Hezbollah.
An alternative framing: Hamas was allowed by Israel to develop as a
political force in Occupied Palestine in the late 1980s in order to
counterbalance the secular PLO, which Israel regarded then as its real
enemy but today considers a "moderate" force which should be supported
in order to counterbalance Hamas(!). It has roots in the Muslim
Brotherhood of Egypt, but is a particularly Palestinian phenomenon that
arose in response to increasing Israeli repression, the loss of
Palestinian land, rights and honor, and the corruption and
high-handedness of the ruling Fatah party. It cannot be conflated with
the Shi'ite Hizbollah (which emerged in Lebanon only in the wake of
threw 1982 war), al-Qaida (which has a completely different global
agenda and ideology) or Iran (in which the theocrats were an organized
but quite small political force until the U.S. overthrew Iran's
democracy in 1954 and installed the repressive regime of the Shah – for
whom Israel trained his dreaded SAVAK security police, noted for their
widespread torture of "dissidents"). Painting Hamas as part of a global
conspiracy when it's a product of the Occupation itself is disingenuous
and a gross distortion of history. Indeed, as the history of Hamas,
Hizbollah and the Iranian clerics shows, Israel itself had played a
significant role in the rise of political Islam.
An alternative framing: have to get beyond such simplistic and
self-serving terms as "terrorists" and "terrorism" – especially since
the Western politicians that use them refuse to apply them to
themselves, as in the case of Israel in Gaza. It will do no good to
dismiss Hamas as a "terrorist organization." The issues, grievances and
demands upon which it arose must be addressed. From the point of view
of its voters, who include many who do not share Hamas's religious or
political agenda, Hamas is a quintessential liberation movement, a
Palestinian liberation movement. Attempts by Israel to delegitimize
Hamas and disassociate it from the Palestinian people, even to have the
gall to suggest that the carnage created by Israel in Gaza will benefit
the people by "releasing them from Hamas's grip," only serve – as they
are intended to do – to neutralize Hamas as an effective source of
resistance to Israel's Occupation.
· Israeli PR: In attacking Hamas in Gaza, Israel is only doing
its part in the West's War on Terror.
An alternative framing: This brings us to why Israel actually attacked
Gaza and why the slaughter has gone on far beyond Israel's declared
goal of ending the rocket fire through negotiations. Immediate causes
played their role, to be sure. Public pressure to end the rocket fire,
especially in an election period, could not be ignored, nor the need to
assert national pride. But this does not explain the immense scale of
the operation; the rocket firings were the immediate trigger (and Hamas
may have erred in its brinksmanship), but not the true reasons, which
First, the invasion of Gaza was an exercise in pacification. On one
level, it is an attempt to destroy Hamas as a political force, the only
effective Palestinian resistance to Israel's ability, through the
Annapolis Process, of imposing an apartheid regime on Palestine. On
another level it seeks to pacify the Palestinian people by delivering
"a message:" If you keep resisting, this is what is waiting for you.
You have no hope to force Israel to withdraw from its settlements and
expanded borders. Second, it is an attempt to resuscitate Israel's
image as an effective ally in the War on Terror after the humiliation
of the Second Lebanon War in 2006. This is crucial for Israel's
security politics, especially vis-à-vis the US, and the Palestinians
are paying the price for Hizbollah's success. Third, it is an exercise
in urban warfare, an opportunity to field-test new weaponry and tactics
of counterinsurgency in dense urban environments that can be exported –
both as part of Israel's security politics (earning its place with the
Big Boys at the table of the War Against Terror) and as part of its
economic export strategy (60% of Israeli export firms deal in
security). "Tested in Gaza" (or Nablus or Fluja) is one of Israel's
most effective marketing pitches.
Gaza demonstrates in microcosm the shift in Israeli priorities and
policies as its long-standing commitment to hold onto the Occupied
Territories for both nationalist and security reasons comes into
conflict with its broader regional and global agendas, centered today
around its campaign to neutralize Iran's nuclear potential. The Saudi
Initiative, endorsed by the Arab League, holds out the tantalizing
offer of Israeli integration into the Middle East – meaning that
Israel, whose foreign policy interests match those of the "moderate"
Arab states, could assume a regional role. But because of public
opinion in the Arab and Muslims worlds, this offer is good only if
Israel relinquishes enough of the Occupied Territories that the
Palestinian leadership could sign off on an agreement. Hence Israel's
courting of PA President Mahmoud Abbas, Egyptian President Mubarak and
even Assad of Syria and the Saudis. And hence Israel's readiness to
offer Abbas yet another "generous offer – short, however, of
dismantling its major settlement blocs, relinquishing control over
"greater" Jerusalem or giving up control of the border with Jordan, for
which no Israeli government has a mandate. Caught between the necessity
of maintaining its settlements – a position Netanyahu still endorses –
and its desire to assume a role as one of regional hegemons, Israel is
trying to find a way to finesse its way through. This explains Olmert's
sudden readiness to change direction and talk of the necessity for a
two-state solution, as well as the hasty Annapolis Process. Hence Abbas
and Mubarak's support for Israel's action in Gaza (with mild,
perfunctory criticism of its excesses). Their virtual collaboration
with Israel raises even further in the eyes by many Palestinians and
other Arabs the standing of Hamas as the only genuine source of
So there are high stakes involved in the Israeli-Hamas war, which
diminish the seemingly decisive role the firing of rockets into Israel
had. We do not believe that Israel can either impose an apartheid
regime on the Palestinian people nor sustain its Occupation. If
anything, as is becoming obvious, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,
emblematic as it is throughout the entire Muslim world and beyond
(among, for example, progressives civil society on every continent),
will impact negatively on European and especially American efforts to
stabilize the global system, and in particular the volatile Middle East
where the US remains bogged down. It is our role as proponents of human
rights, international law, decolonization, the integrity of cultures
and a just peace in Israel/Palestine and elsewhere to highlight the
injustice and unsustainability of Israel's Occupation both on the
ground and globally, the quicker to bring it to an end. May the
suffering of the both peoples in this war on Gaza, one oppressed and
the other held hostage to an image of the Palestinians as "permanent
enemies," be the last straw. A just peace in Palestine will relieve a
major obstacle towards global justice.
· Israeli PR: Israel, acting as any life-loving nation would,
has a right to be a normal country living in peace and security.
An alternative framing: By now you should be empowered to provide a
critical response of your own.
The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions is based in Jerusalem
and has chapters in the United Kingdom and the United States.
Please visit our websites:www.icahd.orgwww.icahduk.orgwww.icahdusa.org