On December 27, 2008, the Israeli government launched the might of its U.S.-supplied military against the 1.6 million people of Gaza and the leadership that they– along with their compatriots in the West Bank– had elected to power back in January 2006. The Israeli war aim was to inflict such pain on the residents of Gaza that they would rise up against the quasi-government that Hamas had been running in Gaza since 2006/7. (In June 2007, Israel and the U.S. had tried to use their allies in Mohamed Dahlan’s wing of the Palestinian movement to overthrow Hamas via a coup; but that coup attempt was aborted.)
The Israeli attack of December 2008 was given the stunningly accurate name ‘Operation Cast Lead’. By the time it ended 23 days later– and with Hamas still in power in Gaza– Israel had killed more than 1,400 Gaza residents and left many thousands more maimed or wounded. It had destroyed tens of thousands of homes, just about all of Gaza’s previously bustling network of small manufacturing and ag-processing businesses, and numerous schools, bridges, and other items of vital civilian infrastructure.
International law clearly defines as terrorism any attempt to use force or violence against civilians in order to try to prod them into effecting political change. But in 2008, 2009, as in all of the past 40-plus years, Israel has enjoyed the special protection of the United States. Thus, the Israeli leaders of the time (PM Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, and the rest) were never called to account for the quintessentially terrorist attack of 2008-09.
Earlier this month, two rightwing Israeli strategic “experts”, Efraim Inbar and Eitan Shamir, published in Hebrew a study describing Cast Lead as just one example of what they say now constitutes a large part of Israel’s security doctrine: A strategy obscenely called “Mowing the Grass”, which they say, is designed to:
destroy the capabilities of [Israel’s] foes, hoping that occasional large-scale operations have a temporary deterrent effect in order to create periods of quiet along its borders.
I actually believe that Inbar and Shamir are painting too “rosy” a picture (from Israel’s POV) of Israel’s achievements in Cast Lead and the other examples they give of its “grass-mowing” military actions. Certainly, in both Cast Lead and in the prolonged assault against Lebanon that preceded it in 2006, the prime war goal articulated at the time by Israeli leaders was regime change within the country/territory targeted. And by that metric, on both those occasions they failed miserably. It was only around a year ago, in November 2012, when yet another Israeli PM (Netanyahu) launched yet another completed unwarranted military operation against Gaza– just because he could!– that the “goal” of all such operations since Defensive Shield in 2002 became ex-post-facto redefined as “merely a bit of grass-mowing”, not actual regime change as such.
Be that as it may… The whole idea of launching mega-lethal, anti-humane “grass-mowing” attacks against one’s far less powerful neighbors is quite obscene– as is the tolerance with which most of the bought-and-paid-for U.S. political elite has responded to these uses (abuses) of the military support that the U.S. has continued unwaveringly to supply to Israel. These military assaults are particularly obscene, and indeed actually criminal under international law, when they are launched against communities like those in the West Bank or Gaza Strip that are under Israeli military occupation and that are are therefore supposed to enjoy special protection from the occupying power.
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The deliberate and cruel way in which Israel employed its military force against Gaza’s people in 2008 constituted an important turning point in the way many traditionally pro-Israel people in the United States and other western countries came to view Israel. For many westerners who had previously been politically “progressive” on every topic except Israel, after Cast Lead, they shed that exception and determined that the government of Israel should be held to the same standards of international behavior as every other government in the world. They became transformed from being “progressive, except on Israel” to being “progressives, including on Israel,” or as the shorthand goes: from PEP’s to PIP’s. Over the five years since the launching of Cast Lead, the numbers of PIP’s in the United States have, blessedly, been multiplying.
As for the people of Gaza, the vast majority of them did survive the horrors of Cast Lead in one way or another; and most importantly, the integrity of their society survived it. They were not broken. I have had the good fortune to visit Gaza twice since January 2009 (building on the numerous previous visits I made to the Strip over the preceding twenty-plus years.) On both the most recent visits I found the key institutions in the Strip functioning fairly well. The Strip’s (elected) Hamas leadership continued to field some military forces within the Strip– the same ones that had managed to repulse the Israeli ground forces’ repeated attempts to seize control of Gaza City and other key locations during the latter stages of Cast Lead. But as I drove around the Strip in November 2009 and again in June 2011, there were very few signs indeed of a general militarization of society… and no sign at all of the kind of heavy-handed security presence that the rival (U.S.-backed) branch of the PA sees fit to deploy in the Swiss-cheese areas of the West Bank that they are allowed to police.
Over the past year, I have been working with Refaat Alareer, an inspiring and committed lecturer in the English Department of the Gaza Islamic University, to publish a collection of short stories written in English by young writers from Gaza. Our goal was to bring this book out to mark the fifth anniversary of Cast Lead– and we have succeeded! The formal publication date for Gaza Writes Back, Short Stories from Young Writers in Gaza, Palestine, edited by Refaat Alareer, is January 15, 2014– three days before the fifth anniversary of the end of Cast Lead. But we started shipping copies of the book out to interested readers about ten days ago, and many readers now have copies in their hands.
The book contains 23 stories. So starting tomorrow, December 27, Refaat and I want to ask everyone who can get hold of a copy of the book to read (and reflect upon) one story each day… which will take us all to the end of this somber, five-year anniversary.
Here on the U.S. east coast, we’re still on December 26th, so I’m going to start by re-reading the Introduction that Refaat wrote to the book.
On pp.16 and 17, he wrote this:
During the offensive, Palestinians in Gaza realized more than ever before that no one, no matter who and no matter where, is immune from Israel’s fire. Israel cast lead indiscriminately hither and thither, aiming to melt not just our bodies, which it did, but also our allegiance and our hope and our memories, which it could not do. Twenty-three days later, the people of Gaza rose to dust themselves off and to start an arduous journey of rebuilding houses and infrastructure, and reconstructing what the missiles had dispersed and scattered. Twenty-three days of nonstop Israeli hate and hostility—and Gaza rose from it like a phoenix.
The people who queued at the morgues and bade farewell to their loved ones days later queued at bakeries that did not raise their prices, and went out to the grocery stores that also did not raise their prices. And they came back home to distribute what little they bought to the people who were unable to buy because they did not have the money. The people of Gaza were never this close before. Gaza was now more deeply rooted not only in the hearts of every Palestinian, but also in the hearts of every free soul around the globe… But this is not to romanticize war. War is by all means ugly. “There was too much pain in those twenty-three days, and some of us who wrote about Cast Lead, did so to heal some of the pain caused by the horrendous memories. And no matter how beautiful the spirit of resistance that overwhelmed us, this beauty should never override the ugliness of pure injustice,” as [book contributor] Sameeha Elwan put it.
The social psychology of what Refaat was describing there would be quite familiar to, for example, any British people like my father who survived the Blitzkrieg that Nazi Germany launched against London in 1940…
So now, over the next 23 days, we’re going to be posting a short excerpt from each of the stories, every day, on the Gaza Writes Back Facebook page. I’d like to invite all readers of Just World News to buy a copy of the book (which you can do here, if you haven’t done so already: Note that we’re offering free shipping worldwide if you place your order before December 31!) And also, to join the conversations about the stories as we post the excerpts from them on the Facebook page… and of course, to recommend this amazing and important book to all your friends!